Fred Stanfield, the skilled centerman, linchpin to a highly productive line with John Bucyk and Johnny “Pie” McKenzie, and Bobby Orr’s power-play partner during the Big Bad Bruins glory years, died Monday. He was 77.
Stanfield, among the more understated members of the swashbuckling Bruins, was a key member of the offensive powerhouse that won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and ‘72.
He was a smooth, accomplished setup man as the No. 2 center behind Phil Esposito, pivoting perhaps the best second line in NHL history. Stanfield also possessed an accurate shot off the point, where he delivered smooth, accurate relays to the more daring and shot-ready Orr.
“Yeah, we had a pretty good line, and Freddy was a big part of it,” said Bucyk, reached Tuesday afternoon via telephone as he motored through Montana on his way home to New England. “He was the centerman and you always got a good pass from him. If you got open, he found you.”
In the late 1970s, the retired Stanfield founded an office furniture business in his name in the Buffalo suburbs of Amherst and Clarence and still resided in the area at the time of his death.
According to a report on Tuesday afternoon by Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, multiple sources said Stanfield suffered heart failure over the weekend.
“Disciplined player, played through a lot from some of the cheap-shot artists in the league back then,” praised Bucyk. “Did what he had to do.”
Unlike many of the more memorable players on the Boston roster, including Gerry “Cheesie” Cheevers, McKenzie, and Derek “Turk” Sanderson, the unassuming Stanfield was not tagged with a nickname during his tenure.
“I called him Fritz, but I think I was the only one,” Sanderson recalled late Tuesday afternoon. “Good guy and a great playmaker.”
Stanfield, though his game not nearly as complete or robust, particularly on defense, had a “calm, quiet manner” that compares, added Sanderson, with No. 1 center Patrice Bergeron on today’s Bruins roster.
“A good, good man,” said Sanderson.
With the club’s magic fading, in part because of Orr’s knee injuries and a lineup hobbled by defections to the rival World Hockey Association, then-general manager Harry Sinden traded Stanfield to the Minnesota North Stars in the summer of 1973 for Gilles Gilbert.
Cheevers had moved on to WHA Cleveland the season prior, and Gilbert came aboard as his replacement, pairing with Ross Brooks.
Stanfield lasted less than two seasons with the North Stars and was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres, not far from his hometown Toronto, midway through the 1974-75 season. Only weeks later, he played in his third and last Stanley Cup Final, the Sabres losing that spring to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Stanfield finished with a career line of 211-405—616 in 914 regular-season games and added 21-35—56 in 106 playoff games.
“He wasn’t shooting from the point with power but with accuracy,” said Sanderson. “Got it on net so Phil could tip it, or do something with it. If Phil missed it, he could get the rebound — that was the logic.”
Among the era’s most gentlemanly players, Stanfield never totaled more than 22 penalty minutes in a season and accrued a mere 8 PIMs in his 106 playoff games. Oddly, four of those minutes came in the Game 4 OT Cup clincher over the Blues on May 10, 1970, when Stanfield was tagged with two minors (one of them a roughing incident with Andre Boudrias). Even the cool-tempered Stanfield had his limits.
“He could break the puck out well, a great passer,” said Sanderson. “He could make the backhand pass in stride. As a matter of fact, he taught me how to do it. Johnny Bucyk told me, ‘Your hands are too low to make the backhand pass.’ Freddy overheard him and kind of drifted by me, and said, ‘Here, try this … when you get in stride, just flip it, throw it … throw it soft and lead him.’ He was right. Thank you, Freddy.”
Stanfield also was a central figure in one of hockey’s greatest trades, dealt to Boston from Chicago on May 15, 1967, along with Ken Hodge and Esposito. Then-GM Milt Schmidt yielded Gilles Marotte, Pit Martin, and Jack Norris in the swap.
In their six seasons together in Black and Gold, the Stanfield-Hodge-Esposito troika amassed 650 goals, 925 assists, and 1,575 points. Stanfield’s contribution: 135-274—409, an average of just less than 70 points per season.
Anita [Lavasseur] Stanfield, Fred’s wife of 50-plus years, died in November 2019. They are survived by a son, Dean, and daughter, Jill [Eckert].
Vic Stanfield, Fred’s youngest brother, played three seasons at Boston University in the early ‘70s and was a two-time All-American as a defenseman. His older brother Jack and younger brother Jim had short stints in the WHA (Jack) and NHL (Jim).
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.