Bruins Hall of Fame winger John Bucyk hoped to have one of his hips replaced in March, only to have the surgery delayed because of the logjam the coronavirus pandemic has created at hospitals around North America.
Bucyk’s operation initially was rescheduled for April 2, but that also was postponed, and now the Chief awaits word as to when surgeons can gain access to an operating room and ease his excruciating pain.
“The one hip is fine,” explained Bucyk, who will celebrate his 85th birthday May 12. "But the other one, the X-ray shows there’s no cartilage in there. Nothing, just bone on bone. Pretty painful. But, hey, I’ve got no complaints. It’ll get done.”
Bucyk, who is 25th on the all-time NHL scoring list (1,369 points), made those hips the signature of his physical play during his 23 seasons, all but the first two spent with the Bruins. A rock-solid 6 feet and 215 pounds, he perfected the art of the hip check, often sending unsuspecting puck carriers upside-down and sideways as they attempted to circle out from behind the net.
The hip check, much like the sweep check (the trademark of Bucyk teammate Derek Sanderson), is rarely seen these days. But it was effective, and punishing. Bucyk ultimately became best known for his offense, but his “big rump,” he noted, truly became one of his assets.
“The key to that was having someone chase the puck carrier around the net," recalled Bucyk, who often had linemate Bronco Horvath flushing out his prey. “If someone’s chasing you and you’ve got the puck, and he’s whacking you, then you’re going to be looking down to make sure you’ve got the puck.
"Then it’s just timing, you know, figuring out when to go in. Then there’s nowhere for them to go. They look up and there I am.”
Bruins teammate Leo Boivin, recalled Bucyk, also could deliver a wallop with his hips. And defenseman Brad Park, who played with the Rangers and Bruins, also had the build and the know-how to deliver those derriere-first smackdowns.
“He got me in New York one night, got me really good,” recalled Bucyk. “They took me off the ice … my head all split open, bleeding. The trouble was getting the stitches.
"I go into the medical room and the doctors are all playing cards — I had to wait for their game to end. Then I finally got stitched. Then we got back to Boston and it was still bleeding, so I had to go right to the hospital and get it all stitched over again. That’s when it really hurt.”
Bucyk, who was swapped to Boston in the summer of ’57 in a deal that returned goalie Terry Sawchuk to the Red Wings, played his final game in Black and Gold on April 9, 1978. He was just 33 days shy of his 43rd birthday.
On March 18 of this year, current Bruins captain Zdeno Chara celebrated his 43rd birthday, which came only eight days after what currently stands as his last NHL game (career No. 1,553, a total of 13 more than Bucyk). Big Z now is officially the oldest player ever to suit up for the Bruins, edging the Chief by a mere 25 days.
Bucyk didn’t plan for that April 9 game — a 5-2 loss to the Islanders on Causeway Street — to be his final bow. The Bruins went on to lose to the Canadiens in the Cup Final that spring, but coach Don Cherry opted not to suit up Bucyk for any of the 14 postseason games.
“It just worked out that way,” said Bucyk, noting that he hadn’t been planning to retire. “The front office was afraid I was getting too old and they didn’t want me to get hurt. They had things to offer me, and it worked out good because I went into the broadcast booth for 20 years with Bob Wilson. I had a lot of fun doing that.”
Bucyk also became the club’s traveling secretary over those years and continues today in an ambassador’s role, often seen visiting luxury suites for meet-and-greets. He also is a fixture in the team’s alumni suite for most of the home games — and plans to be back whenever the lights go on again at the Garden.
“And here I am, still working for the Bruins, and it’s been 62-63 years,” said Bucyk. "Who else can say they’ve been with the same place, any job, for that long?”
The lowdown from an expert
Derek Sanderson, who will turn 74 in June, has had multiple hip-replacement surgeries, including replacements to replace replacements, and is ever thankful that the doctors have been able to keep him upright, mobile, and on the golf course.
“No golf at the moment,” lamented Sanderson, reached the other day at his home on Cape Cod, within view of one of his favorite courses. “Beautiful weather. Would love to get out there. But you know … social distancing, right?”
Let it be noted: It took a pandemic to keep the Turk off the golf course.
Sanderson’s sweep checks typically found him violating all social distancing norms as he closed in on puck-lugging opponents. Knees bent to lower his upper body, the flamboyant and agile center would drop his stick shaft flush to the ice, close tight on the puck carrier, and make a one- or two-handed windshield wash across the surface that often would either disrupt a pass or allow him to filch the puck.
Lovers of the Big, Bad Bruins in those days grew to anticipate Sanderson’s sweep checks, John Bucyk’s hip checks, and even such idiosyncrasies as how Johnny “Pie” McKenzie would smack his own gloved hand hard into his shoulder pads before entering a fracas. We knew their moves as well as we knew the stitch marks inked across the front of Gerry Cheevers’s goalie mask.
“Nobody ever did it as well as I did,” said Sanderson, momentarily absent all humility, but lacking nothing in regard to his state-of-the-art sweep checks. “And that’s the truth. I mean, I used it all the time.”
The hip check is seen now and then to this day, a cherished ticket back to the Original Six. Ex-Bruin Johnny Boychuk, now an Islander, still lands one here and there. Ditto for current Black-and-Golder Connor Clifton.
But the sweep check, which Sanderson used with great efficiency as a superb penalty killer, is long gone and hard to find. And not likely to return.
“Fake like you’re going in one direction, and drop the stick down,” said Sanderson, detailing the technique. “You fake like you’re going to make the hit, and what do they do? They lift up their body and they leave the puck alone — they don’t protect it — and then, boop!, you turn your blade over, pull it to yourself, and you’re gone.”
Sanderson, who like Bucyk spent years as a broadcast analyst, his tenure at the shoulder of Fred Cusick on Channel 38 and NESN, figures Brad Marchand is the player on today’s Boston roster who could work the sweep effectively into his bag of tricks.
“He has the skill and balance to do it,” noted Sanderson. “He gets down low enough when he turns. If he would just turn that blade over and pull, he would steal more pucks than anyone can believe. Because people are afraid of the little bugger; he’s liable to run you."
Sanderson, who grew up just across the US border in Niagara Falls, Ontario, modeled his signature move off two well-known Maple Leafs, Ted "Teeder” Kennedy and Dave Keon, the latter of whom just celebrated his 80th birthday. Keon had been a mainstay in the Toronto lineup for seven seasons when Sanderson finally cracked the Boston lineup full-time in the fall of ’67.
“Keon was a little better at it than Kennedy,” Sanderson recalled. "Keon was a tremendous checker and had balance — great balance — so that’s who I watched. His checking was just so smart.”
Sanderson often had other forwards asking him to impart his wisdom on the sweep check, which already was becoming a lost art in the NHL in the ’70s and ’80s. His last tutorial came in the minors, when he was working his way back to the St. Louis lineup. A Blues prospect in Kansas City asked for help.
“He said, 'Derek, you gotta teach me that. I need all the help I can get,’ ” recalled Sanderson, uncertain of the player’s name all these years later.
Fine, said Sanderson, though making clear that the move came with abundant risk. Timing is critical. First and foremost, he told his student, beware the back tip of the opponent’s skates. The checker’s face, so low to the ice, is susceptible to be clipped by the back tip as the opponent tries to escape.
“I tried to tell him that,” recalled Sanderson. "But he went down too early and the skate went up his throat, under his tongue, through his jaw, up under his tongue. I’m out there, holding him in my arms, and the blood … it would amaze you.
"He pulled out four teeth on the bottom, all in one section, hanging on the side. Trainer rushes out, no doctors, poor kid never played again.”
NOTHING ROUTINE NOW
Krug describes it as 'withdrawal’
During his media conference call last week, Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said he figured players would need a week, maybe two, to get back into playing shape if a path opens for the NHL to resume the season.
Across the league, a number of other players noted the need for a one- or two-week re-entry, a likely indication that the Players’ Association will make that a mantra if the doors ever reopen, be it to continue the regular season or to start some form of playoffs. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, in a media conference call Friday, noted a similar timeline.
The bet here since late March has been that the season will be scrubbed, playoffs and all, and that absent a fast-tracked vaccine, the start of the 2020-21 season could be in peril.
Meanwhile, one of the questions to Krug was about how he has handled the abruptness of the season’s postponement. The Bruins played in Philadelphia the night of March 10, and the season was placed in suspended animation less than 48 hours later.
By Easter morning, no Bruin will have taken a shift in an NHL game for 33 days.
“A good way to put it is withdrawal,” said Krug. "I think most guys, from the psychology standpoint, the initial shock overwhelms you and probably takes over for that first three to seven days.
“For me, personally, after that, it’s let get back into a routine, whether that involves waking up each day with your kids, or getting out of bed at a certain time for the single guys, and restoring some sort of routine into your daily life. A workout at certain times. A meal at certain times.
"Because we’re robots. Every day we go to the rink. We have our routine. We get up. Set our alarms; if it’s a practice day or a game day, we’re setting our alarms for a certain time. I think most guys have two alarms on their phone.
"You get up, go to the rink, have breakfast, stretch, go to meetings, jump on the ice, get off the ice. Eat lunch. And then go on from there.”
Krug expertly skated around questions about how he thinks free agency will play out for him. Provided the postponement doesn’t alter the league calendar, he is scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency July 1. His offensive production in recent years fits him among a group of blue liners whose cap number next season will be $9.5 million. His current cap hit is $5.25 million.
The bet here: He stays put for a deal that will average in the $7.8 million-$8.2 million range, with a huge chunk ($20 million?) paid up front as a signing bonus. The larger the bonus, the lower the overall payout and cap hit.
Sweeney noted that the Bruins, per league request, have kept track of where every player in the organization is living during the lockdown. He said he was under the belief that Joakim Nordstrom, home in Sweden, would have access to ice there because Sweden has not had a social disruption on the scale of North America. “I haven’t asked Joakim if he’s been on the ice,” said Sweeney, “but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s been on the ice.” … John Bucyk remains one of only three NHLers to play 1,500 regular-season games without being assessed a five-minute fighting major. The other two: Jaromir Jagr (1,733) and Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564). Another 25 reached the 1,000-game plateau, including ex-Bruin Jean Ratelle (1,280). The list also includes the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, and goalies Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo … Ex-Bruin Dougie Hamilton, out of the Hurricanes lineup since fracturing his left fibula in mid-January, was cleared for a return last week. When he exited the lineup, Hamilton had delivered 0.85 points per game (14-26—40), which as of March 12 ranked him fourth among all blue liners, behind John Carlson (1.09), Roman Josi (0.94), and rookie Cale Makar (0.88) … When the Javits Center in New York recently opened for business, repurposed as a hospital to treat coronavirus patients, Terrence O’Shaughnessy acted as the lead military spokesman in an on-site interview with CNN. He is an Air Force four-star general and also commander of the US Northern Command. Born in Ontario, O’Shaughnessy spent much of his childhood in Framingham and played goal for Marian High School and later for the US Air Force Academy. Now in his mid-50s, O’Shaughnessy grew up with posters of Bobby Orr and Gerry Cheevers on his bedroom walls, but it was Montreal goalie Ken Dryden who was his main inspiration. Dryden, who won six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, starred at Cornell and then entered law school at Montreal’s McGill University when he launched his pro career. ”I saw Ken Dryden doing that,” O’Shaughnessy recently told nhl.com, “and it just kind of motivated me not only to play hard in hockey, but do well in school.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.