Ahh, the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry. May it live forever.
In this week’s recounting of Black-and-Golden memories from a half-century ago, several B’s noted they should have won the Stanley Cup in 1971, not just ‘70 and ‘72. “We had a better team,” Derek Sanderson said. The foil was rookie Ken Dryden and those hated Habs.
Surely the netminder on the other side, fellow Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers, wasn’t subconsciously thinking of that bitter end when he got in a dig at Montreal’s current goalie.
“I’m not a big (Carey) Price fan,” said Cheevers, 79, video conferencing from his home in Boca Raton, Fla., with Bruins season ticket-holders on Thursday in advance of Sunday’s 50th anniversary of the ‘70 Cup celebration. “Price hasn’t won. He loses certain games he shouldn’t lose.”
Cheevers’s opinion is not without statistical merit. Price, considered one of the top goalies of his era, won the Vezina Trophy in 2015. He is 25-31 in the postseason (believe what you will about team wins as a measure of a goalie’s worth), and the Canadiens have made it out of the second round once with Price, a 13-year veteran, in net. Unless the NHL widely expands its playoff field on return, the 24th-place Canadiens will miss the dance for the third straight year.
Cheevers, who split the net with Eddie Johnston in the Bruins’ ‘70 and ‘72 Cup seasons, was 53-34 in the postseason during his time in Boston (1965-80), not including a four-year stint (‘72-76) with Cleveland of the WHA. He became the Bruins’ coach for four-plus seasons (1980-85) immediately after retiring.
He is still known for his famous mask, white with black stitches drawn by trainer John “Frosty” Forrestal. He claims only one exists, created by Ernie Higgins, the Norwood craftsman who made them for numerous NHLers in the ‘70s. Though collectors have offered large sums, Cheevers said, he will not sell. It hangs on the wall in the room of his grandson, Jon, at the Florida home of his daughter, Sherril.
The iconic decoration, the self-effacing Cheevers said, was borne of his desire to get out of a Harry Sinden practice. One day, he took a soft shot up high (“it wouldn’t have cut me if I didn’t have my mask on”) and begged out due to injury. Sinden caught him in the locker room with the “racing form and a cigarette.” Forrestal, as a gag, painted an eight-inch scar on the mask, over the right eye, where the puck would have done its damage.
“That’s how it all started,” said Cheevers, whose mask steadily gained stitch after stitch. “We kept track. We embellished it a little bit.
“At times, I feel I was somewhat of a pioneer in hockey because I actually decorated my mask,” he said. “If you know goalies the way I do … none of them would probably be smart enough to put anything on their masks. If I didn’t do it, they might have all been white masks, and what good is that?”
Like the rest of the surviving members of the ‘70 team, Cheevers was eager to return to Boston for a reunion on March 24, now indefinitely postponed. With that crew back together, the stories would have soaked the room. Cheevers was a bit shy about spilling them to the public.
“Unfortunately, I have to go by the rule of what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” he said. “On the road, we had to go for one beer, no matter if you had parents there or what. We had to go to the same spot for just one beer, just in case there was a little frustration, it gets finished. We were a close-knit team.”
That Cup-winning year, he said, they were “mostly all business … We got together and we played to win.”
His perspective on Bobby Orr’s famous goal: it saved him.
“I let in two of the worst goals in history,” he said, bemoaning his performance in a game that saw the Bruins heavily favored over the expansion Blues. He did, however, give himself credit for making a point-blank stop on St. Louis forward Larry Keenan with about 15 seconds remaining, to preserve a 3-3 tie and push the game to overtime.
Fifty years after Orr soared, Cheevers predicted another Stanley Cup for the Bruins. “Soon,” he said.
Cheevers, unsurprisingly, is a fan of Boston’s starting ‘tender.
“I love Tuukka (Rask),” he said. “He’s big, he fills the net. I would say he’s in the top two or three in the league right now.”
What about all-time?
“Before my era, I’d pick (Terry) Sawchuk, (Glenn) Hall and (Jacques) Plante,” Cheevers said. “But I think Martin Brodeur, putting everything together, might be the best goaltender ever.”