One of the TV spots getting abundant air time in the build-up to Monday’s Winter Classic features Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman and Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby on the ice in a one-on-one matchup.
Taped in Las Vegas prior to the opening of the training camps in September, the spot features Sid the Kid, 35, peppering Swayman, then yet to turn 24, with a series of shots.
The two also exchange some playful banter, with Swayman left to deliver the spot’s punchline: “You wanna take this outside?”
The sublime Crosby entered the NHL as an instant sensation in 2005-06, back when Swayman was in elementary school in Anchorage, parked in Row 1 for every University of Alaska-Anchorage home game, transfixed and mimicking the home team goalie’s every move. Ken Swayman, Jeremy’s father and a podiatrist, was one of the team doctors.
On Jan. 1, 2008, in what remains the signature moment for the Winter Classic, Crosby put a puck behind Sabres goalie Ryan Miller for the game-winner. The snow fell at Orchard Park, N.Y., that afternoon as if conjured up by a Hollywood movie executive.
What would Swayman have thought if someone suggested, back in his elementary school days, that one day he’d be staring down Crosby, be it in the Winter Classic promo or in a Bruins-Penguins matchup?
“Pretty surreal,” said a smiling Swayman a few days ago in Ottawa. “It’s pretty funny . . . they asked me to chirp him [during the taping session] and I said no. ’No, no, I am not chirping Sidney Crosby.’ ”
Swayman went into Saturday’s matinee at TD Garden as the expected starter vs. the Sabres, with No. 1 Linus Ullmark the likely choice to be in net as the guy who’ll oppose Crosby et al when the puck drops Monday for real at Fenway.
Prior to Saturday, Swayman had appeared in all of 70 NHL games, playoff action included. Crosby will suit up for a 1,324th time and owns more hardware than Home Depot, Lowe’s, and your neighborhood Ace outlet combined.
So, yeah, not a guy for a goalie other than, say, Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, or Dominik Hasek to be chirping.
“Yeah, he was funny about it, too. A super outgoing guy,” said a smiling Swayman. “It was just really special to spend time with him, get to chat, and get to know him a little bit. He’s really awesome.”
Swayman is young enough, and with little enough time served and still with just enough wide-eyed amazement, to have felt a sense of awe around Crosby, who has a spot reserved for him in Toronto at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Absolutely,” Swayman said. “He’s an icon in so many guys’ eyes. I watched him when I was growing up. I’m sure he’s heard that so much. He probably doesn’t love hearing that [as a sign of age]. But I have so much respect for him, not only as a player but as a person. You see how he treated me and everyone else. There’s a reason he’s the best of the best and has the reputation he does.”
McKenney was ever a gentleman
Only Bruins fans with AARP cards well in hand will remember seeing slick center Don McKenney suit up for the Black and Gold during his eight-plus seasons in Boston (1954-63). Leo Labine and Real Chevrefils were his wingers for a number of those seasons.
For those who recall his playing days, or his many years coaching hockey at Northeastern, McKenney was ever the gentleman, his pleasant demeanor as smooth as his trademark skating stride.
“Really a beautiful skater,” recalled Eddie Sandford, 94, a fixture in the Bruins’ lineup when McKenney arrived in Boston as a rookie in 1954. “He skated better than anybody else. He had that great stride. A couple of steps and, boy, he’d be flying down the ice.”
McKenney, who also captained the Bruins for his final two seasons in Boston, died Dec. 19. He was 88.
Derek Sanderson, 76, had just begun his junior career in Ontario with the Niagara Falls Flyers when McKenney was nearing the end of his tour with the Bruins.
“But I remember always watching him on TV Saturday night when the Bruins played the Leafs,” recalled Sanderson. “Great skater. Smooth. Overall game, if you’re comparing, he was Jean Ratelle. Same kind of player. He didn’t have Ratty’s numbers, but Ratty had much better wingers over the course of his career. And McKenney could fly.”
Sanderson and McKenney were signed by the same Bruins scout, Harold Cotton, in the years before the draft. The Bruins were able to claim and sign Sanderson, McKenney, and other prospects, particularly across Ontario, because they sponsored the amateur teams that had those players on their rosters.
Defenseman Fernie Flaman and McKenney formed a lifetime friendship during their years with the Bruins. McKenney became the Bruins’ captain after Flaman’s long tour with the “C,” and he also followed Flaman to Northeastern, where he was his old pal’s assistant for a dozen seasons before succeeding Flaman as the Huskies’ bench boss for a two-year tour that began with the 1989-90 season.
Joe Bertagna, the former commissioner of Hockey East, held the same job for years with the ECAC, with the Flaman-McKenney Huskies then among the many Boston-area schools under the conference’s jurisdiction.
“Two very different guys as players,” noted Bertagna, reflecting on the Flaman-McKenney friendship and working relationship. “Fernie was this tough, hard Original Six defenseman. Not that you would have known that from just talking to him. And Don was this skilled, smooth-skating center, and one with some touch. He repeatedly scored 20 goals or more when that was a real benchmark.”
Never during McKenney’s two years as Northeastern’s head coach, said Bertagna, were there issues with the coach’s bench behavior or team play — items that too often require a commissioner’s attention.
“Everyone will use the word ‘gentleman’ when they describe Don McKenney,” added Bertagna. “He was so quiet. I mean, if you put him in a lineup and said, ‘Guess what this man did for a living,’ someone would say, you know, accountant or priest before they came to hockey player.”
In 798 NHL games, McKenney finished with 237 goals and 582 points, numbers all the more impressive when considering the Bruins’ many lean seasons during his years in Boston. In February 1963, during his second season as captain, he was dealt to the Rangers, along with Dick Meissner, for left winger Dean Prentice, whose scoring touch didn’t make the trip to Boston from Broadway.
McKenney, flipped from the Rangers to the Maple Leafs one year after the Prentice swap, won the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs in 1964. He delivered 12 points in 12 playoff games for that iteration of Punch Imlach’s championship Leafs.
McKenney and Sandford remained pals throughout the decades and Sandford, along with son, Mike, attended his wake Thursday in Norton. Mike Sandford was a defenseman on the Flaman-McKenney-coached Northeastern teams of the late ’70s.
“Wish I could have skated like that myself,” said Sandford, musing over his old pal’s fast, seemingly effortless stride. “But I couldn’t even come close to it.”
Boston-Pittsburgh rivalry goes way back
All but lost to time and memory, Boston and Pittsburgh were NHL opponents for a handful of seasons decades before the Penguins came along in 1967 as one of the six teams that doubled the size of the Original Six NHL.
In 1925, prior to the start of the Bruins’ second season, the NHL opened a new franchise, the Pittsburgh Pirates, as part of a three-team American Division that included the Bruins and the New York Americans.
Across the border, the Canadian Division included two Montreal teams (Canadiens and Maroons), along with the Toronto St. Patricks and Ottawa Senators.
The Pirates operated five seasons in Pittsburgh, into the spring of 1930, and then packed up to play the 1930-31 season as the Philadelphia Quakers before eventually disbanding because of financial woes amid the Great Depression. The NHL in 1931-32 had eight teams, including five in the United States: Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and the Americans and Rangers in New York.
The Pirates played their first NHL game in Boston, edging the Bruins, 2-1, Thanksgiving night at Boston Arena (now Matthews Arena). The Pirates won their next one, 1-0, in Montreal 48 hours later in what turned out to be the final game for legendary Canadiens netminder Georges Vezina (see: trophy).
In physical distress, including high fever, Vezina that night left the game after the first period, and he perished some four months later due to tuberculosis. Ever cool when between the pipes, the aptly nicknamed Chicoutimi Cucumber was 39.
Amid the flap between the Bruins and Penguins in 1980, when the Bruins were incensed that the Penguins intended to change their uniform colors to black and gold, Penguins executive Paul Martha noted historical precedent in defending the choice: The Pirates had used black and gold in their uniforms. The Bruins in those formative NHL seasons wore brown-and-yellow uniforms.
The Bruins may have had a gripe, but the Penguins had history.
Child’s play for Sanderson
Derek Sanderson, the NHL’s Rookie of the Year when finally cracking the varsity at age 21 in 1967-68, was claimed by the Bruins while in middle school. He recalled the other day that he signed his C-form, designating his pro playing rights to the Bruins, as a 12-year-old.
“Actually, it was my father who signed the C-form, for 100 bucks, put his name next to the X . . . 100 bucks for my professional rights,” recalled Sanderson. “My dad only made $26 in take-home pay, so to him that was a month’s pay — perfect! I don’t think my mother ever saw it, but, uh, yeah, 100 bucks.”
A bantam at the time, Sanderson that night played up a level in age with a midget team in a tournament in Paris, Ontario, just outside of Brantford.
“The first time I ever scored four goals,” he recalled, noting that his father, Harold, informed him that night he had signed the C-form with Boston. “He says, ‘By the way, you’ve got some bragging rights.’ I say, ‘What’s that?’ And he says, ‘Well, the Bruins just bought ya.’ ”
Ex-Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, in his third season with the Blues, recently suffered a lower-body injury and this past week was put on long-term injured reserve, meaning he’ll be out for a minimum 24 days/10 games. It could be a crucial stretch for the Blues, who entered the weekend with a 17-16-3 mark and south of the wild-card cut line in the West. They’ve DNQ’d only once since 2010-11, and that was in 2017-18, the season before winning the franchise’s only Cup . . . The Devils, just handed a pair of defeats in Newark by the Bruins, were scuffling along at 2-7-1 in their 10 prior to Friday night’s game in Pittsburgh. Their needed lift could be on the way. Ex-Lightning forward Ondrej Palat, who signed for five years/$30 million over the summer, looks about to draw back into the lineup after a two-month absence following groin surgery. The Devils have a handful of young, very talented forwards, but it’s a lineup that needs Palat’s grit and guile up front . . . Don McKenney grew up in Smiths Falls, Ontario. The quiet town of some 10,000, located roughly 40 miles southwest of Ottawa, also delivered Terry Carkner, a Rangers first-round pick in 1984, and Gary McAdam, a Sabres third-rounder in 1975, to the NHL. But Smiths Falls’ biggest headliner looks as if it will be 25-year-old Brooke Henderson, who already counts 12 wins on the LPGA Tour, including the 2016 Women’s PGA Championship. The 5-foot-4-inch dynamo has a very smooth swing, of course . . . The Bruins will hit the road after the Winter Classic, with stops in Los Angeles (Thursday), San Jose (Saturday), and Anaheim (Sunday). The Ducks visited Boston Oct. 20 (Bruins with a 2-1 shootout win), but they were without injured back liner Urho Vaakanainen, the onetime Bruins prospect flipped to the Ducks in the March deadline deal for Hampus Lindholm. Vaakanainen finally made it back at the end of November, but stood 0-0–0 in his 10 games as the weekend approached. The Bruins surrendered their first-round pick in the 2022 draft to the Ducks. They used that pick, No. 22, to select Nathan Gaucher, a 6-foot-3-inch center with the Quebec Remparts. He had 29 points in 24 games this season before joining Team Canada for the ongoing World Junior Championship . . . Bruins prospect Fabian Lysell is back for a second tour with Team Sweden at the World Juniors and was a disappointing 0-0–0 for the Three Crowns, who carried their 3-0-0 mark into Saturday’s matchup with the Canadians. Gaucher carried a 1-2–3 line into the match against the Swedes. Lysell is fast and skilled but needs to increase his moxie quotient before he makes a serious bid for varsity employment with the Bruins. Keep in mind, he won’t turn 20 until Jan. 19 . . . The Rangers have been a bit better of late, and are in the thick of the wild-card mix, but ex-Boston College Eagle Chris Kreider remains in fighting-the-puck mode. He was blanked in his last three games entering weekend play and scored but three goals over his last 10 games. Kreider had a huge 2021-22 with 52 goals, including a league-high 26 on the power play. As of Friday morning, he had 16 goals, only four on the advantage. The Blueshirts ran red-hot in the playoffs last spring until hitting a wall in the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning. Their margins are too thin to do serious damage if Kreider isn’t a 40-45-goal version of himself . . . All talk of the Sharks dealing Erik Karlsson has cooled. Meanwhile, the ex-Senators star, whom the Bruins will see next Saturday night, is on his way to the first 100-point season of his career (prior best: 82). He was 13-37–50 as of Friday morning. If the Sharks do find a partner, the slick 32-year-old has the right to say no to any deal. Any team with a legit shot at the Cup would want him, but there’s that sticky issue of his $11.5 million cap hit, on the books for another four years. A logical landing spot would be the Rangers, where general manager Chris Drury helped mentor Mike Grier, now in his first season as Sharks GM. A back line with Adam Fox and Karlsson is scary to ponder. Harder to ponder still: how the Sharks and Rangers could work out the money.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.