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Tonight's the night

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Fear the bear

I became a hockey fan—specifically, a Boston Bruins fan—in the fall of 1974 while attending the State University of New York College at Fredonia.

Fredonia State is the westernmost campus in the state university system. It’s about an hour’s drive west-southwest of Buffalo on Interstate 90, so many Buffalo-area students choose to attend Fredonia instead of going to the University at Buffalo (a state school) or Buffalo State. Many other students, though, come to Fredonia from the Long Island-New York metropolitan area because they want to get as far from home as possible yet still attend a state school.

What does all of this have to do with hockey? Well, given where they live, a lot of Fredonia’s student hockey fans root for the Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers or New York Islanders (the New Jersey Devils didn’t exist then). Ever the contrarian, I decided to root for a team that was hated by fans of those other three teams. One of my two best friends at Fredonia was a guy named Ron Stover, and Ron was a Bruins fan. Everybody except Bruins fans hated the B’s back then. They were known as the Big Bad Bruins, and at the start of the 1974 playoffs, they had won two of the last three Stanley Cups.

In 1974 the Bruins made it to the finals but lost in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers. The score of the sixth game was 1-0, and the goal was a deflection off of a skate. This marked the start of 37 years of my rooting for a team that was nearly always good but never quite good enough to win it all.

Tonight, though, the B’s are in a place where they’ve never been since I’ve been a fan: one win away from the Stanley Cup. They’re playing the Vancouver Canucks, and they’re playing in Vancouver, where the Bruins have lost three one-goal games in the finals. On the other side of the continent, Boston thumped Vancouver in three games by a total score of 17-3. But a win’s a win, and each team has three, with Boston having won three of the past four.

Last spring the Bruins choked in epic fashion in the playoffs. Up three games to none against Philadelphia, the B’s watched the Flyers storm back to even the series. And up 3-0 in Game 7, the Bruins swallowed cotton and lost 4-3 when Philadelphia scored a power play goal after the Bruins had been called for too many men on the ice. It was that same call that cost the Bruins the chance to defeat the hated Montreal Canadiens in the 1979 semifinals—and back then, Montreal always, always, always beat Boston in the playoffs. When the referee signaled that penalty last spring in Game 7, I knew the Bruins were doomed.

Despite that humongous gag against Philadelphia, it's been fun being a fan this year. The B's are playing with enough truculence that the "Big Bad Bruins" label is back. Fans from across the league call the Bruins "goons" and accuse them of being no-talent thugs and cheap-shot artists. We B's fans love that kind of talk, of course.

Despite my smirking when the name-calling starts, I’ve been trying not to expect too much of Boston this spring. In the opening round, they lost the first two games (in Boston, no less) to Montreal, then rallied to win in seven. In the second round, they swept the hated Flyers. The third round saw them go seven games again, winning the final game 1-0 over an up-and-coming Tampa Bay Lightning team. And here we are at Game 7 again, this one for the most difficult championship to achieve in all of professional sports.

I am excited but have more than a little trepidation in my veins as I wait for the 8 o’clock opening faceoff. If the game were in Boston, I’d be feeling more confident, but the Bruins simply haven’t been their swashbuckling selves in Vancouver. The Bruins goaltender, Tim Thomas, has been spectacular in this round, having only given up eight goals total in six games. He’s perfectly capable of stealing a win tonight. So can the goalie at the other end, Roberto Luongo, provided the Bruins haven’t gotten too far into his head. Luongo has two shutouts in the three games played so far in Vancouver, and he allowed only two goals in the other game, but in Boston he’s been a sieve. He let in three quick goals Monday night in Game 6 and singlehandedly lost the potential Cup-clinching game for the Canucks. He has a shot at redemption tonight.

So tonight I’ll be in front of the television with clammy palms, cottonmouth, and a film of sweat on my forehead. If the Bruins get down early, I’ll probably change my position on the couch to bring the Bruins some luck. If they score a goal while I’m reaching down to pat one of my dogs on the head, I’ll keep on patting that dog. And if Boston is leading at any point of the game, I will be pretty much be a wide-eyed zombie who will only be jolted back into the moment when Vancouver or Boston goes on the attack.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stand it. I don’t follow any other sports, so this is a big game—in fact, the biggest game I’ve ever watched as a hockey fan. And if the Bruins win it, you’ll be able to hear me hollering off my back porch, regardless of where you live.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 15th, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC)
Good luck tonight. This has been a fun series between two teams that are pretty much unlikable outside their respective cities. The team that's played the more physical game has had the edge in most cases, and I'm a fan of that kind of hockey.

It's Vancouver's game to lose, since the home team should have an advantage and Luongo's been a lock at home. But Boston's been right there for the three games out west. If the B's can keep it close, I think they find a way to pull it out. If they give Vancouver some room to breathe, though, they're in trouble.

(The only things I'll miss about this series? The term "spoked 'B'" and any reference to how aggressive Tim Thomas plays.)
Jun. 15th, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
I'm looking for a monster game from Lucic. He's going to be the difference.

For a story about people with more money than brains, go to tsn.ca's hockey coverage and read the story about how much people are paying for tickets for tonight's game. Amazing.
Jun. 15th, 2011 11:49 pm (UTC)
Sports Business Journal's Eric Fisher (a Bona guy) was tweeting that the secondary ticket sales numbers were approaching those of this year's Super Bowl. And that was this morning. It's kind of surprising, even in Canada.
Jun. 16th, 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
That's just crazy. The view is better on TV, there aren't nearly as many drunks around, the food and drink are better and cheaper, and the rest room lines are much shorter.

You'll get a kick out of this: When I turned the game on, I set the volume level to 37—as in no. 37, Patrice Bergeron. I think I'll leave it there instead of turning it up to 63 or down to 17.

Turning it to 30 might be an option in the third period, though.
Jun. 16th, 2011 03:10 am (UTC)
Keeping the volume at 37 was a good choice, though no matter how superstitious hockey fans or players are, Boston was winning that game no matter what.

The better team raised the Cup tonight (and you're right about the Cup being the star of the show wherever it is). A team doesn't win that many Game 7's and doesn't send that many starting goaltenders to the showers early without the right mix of talent and intensity.

As far as I'm concerned, Tim Thomas is the standalone superstar goalie in the league. He's a fundamental nightmare, but he makes it work.
Jun. 16th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
When your goalie only allows eight goals in a seven-game series, you've got a good chance at winning the series.
Jun. 16th, 2011 12:37 am (UTC)
I'm pulling for the B's (a) because they trounced the Flyers - yeah! (b) because I thought it was a class act for them to trade Bourke, on the cusp of retirement, to a winning team a few years back so he could get his name on The Cup and (c) because I hate those little baby Sedin twins with their ridiculous matching beards. Grow up boys, you're adults now! Time to stop dressing alike. I hope those are good enough reasons.
Jun. 16th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)
I always say that anyone who roots for Boston is obviously a knowledgeable hockey fan.
Jun. 16th, 2011 03:20 am (UTC)
Congrats - you all beat Vancouver fair and square. Boston played a great game. I really enjoyed this series, and I don't follow hockey much at all.

Well done.
Jun. 16th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC)
I can't say last night's game was a nail-biter. That's because I was too nervous to bite my nails.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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