My father and I are watching a game together, and the announcer begins talking about the unprecedented success of Boston sports teams.
“You’ve got the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, even BC football...”
“What about the Bruins?,” my father asks the TV.
I nod and shrug my shoulders.
“We’re not doing that badly so far.”
And what about the Bruins?
Years of mismanagement and apathetic ownership—and the overall decline of hockey in general—have relegated the Bruins to near-irrelevance in the city they once owned.
I'm a hockey fanatic. I've been to six states to watch Boston College play hockey, and I'll be on my way to my seventh state when I head to Minnesota in a few weeks.
That love for hockey most certainly comes from my father.
Dan Shaughnessy once wrote that although fathers and sons naturally clash over cultural and political issues, when it comes to sports teams, you follow in your father’s footsteps.
My dad taught me to love all Boston sports teams (including BC football), but for both of us, the Bruins have always had a special place.
As he tells me over and over again, when he was a kid, nobody had even heard of the Patriots, because their games were never on TV. The Red Sox were terrible for most of his youth. And while the dominant Celtics were popular with the residents of Boston’s South Shore suburbs, the Bruins were the team of choice in the gritty working class neighborhoods like the ones my dad grew up in.
He tells me about the glory days of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Gerry Cheevers—and how in those days, it seemed like a new hockey rink was built every day in every city in the Boston metro area.
I grew up skating in one of those rinks built during the Age of Orr—the now-closed MDC rink in Revere. My story is a pretty typical one for a boy from Boston, but it’s becoming far less common.
At age three, I hit the ice for the first time, learning to skate using milk crates. After a few years, I shed the crates and was able to skate on my own. I suited up to play hockey for the first time at age six. Finally, when I was 16, I figured out that I wasn’t going to make the Show and gave it up.
"Bruins" was probably one of my first 10 words as a baby, and I knew the names of the Bruins of the early-to-mid 90s better than I knew the names of my own family members.
If you wander around the balcony section at a Bruins game, you’ll find a lot of stories like mine. For the people who still show up after all these years, hockey is in the blood.
It seems like everyone in the balcony plays hockey, coaches hockey, or has a kid involved in the game. People talk about intricacies of hockey strategy that I don’t even understand. It’s truly a fanatical audience.
Every team in Boston has its core of devoted loyalists. Then, of course, there are the legions of casual Boston sports fans always looking to glom on to a winner—and they’ve found winners of late in the Red Sox and the Patriots.
The relative lack of recent success for the Bruins, combined with hockey’s slide in the public consciousness, means that pretty much the only people you’ll find in the stands now are the True Believers.
And for these True Believers, the troubled state of Bruins is like an asterisk dangling over the success of Boston’s other teams.
People try to tell me that hockey in Boston is dead forever, but I honestly don’t believe that to be true. Yes, the NHL is struggling to gain TV viewers, but look at the attendance figures and the atmosphere in places with successful teams.
Ask someone in Buffalo, Detroit, Denver, or even Raleigh or Anaheim if hockey is dead.
True Believers know that if the Bruins return to glory, the fans will return to the Garden. Thus, every small success for the B’s energizes the team’s normally jaded fanbase.
A big win over a divisional rival, a spectacular offensive performance from a young superstar, or (of course) the appearance of a new player who’s willing to drop the gloves in traditional Bruins fashion brings back a small hint of the electricity that once filled the Garden.
For all Boston sports fans, this has been a time of great triumph and celebration. But a certain segment of the fan population can’t help but wonder when our Bruins are going to join the party.
The Bruins are off to their best start in the post-lockout era, but their fanbase knows to always prepare for the worst.
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