What is it like to play in a game against the Bruins Alumni?
The first time I found myself under the same roof as Rick Middleton was back in 1983. It was my first Bruins game at the old Boston Garden, and I was there with my dad, in obstructed view seats, to watch a playoff game against the New York Islanders. I was 7 years old, and I still remember the rush of adrenalin I felt when the Bruins stepped onto the ice.
Fast forward 35 ½ years, and once again I found myself in the same rink as “Nifty” Middleton, but this time I was on the ice with him, skating in a Boston Bruins Alumni game.
We were at the New England Sports Village in Attleboro, playing in a charity game to raise money for two causes: a scholarship in honor of Myles Owen Brastow, a young hockey player who died in an accident on his way to school in 2010, and the Michael Fernandes Research Fund, which supports research into bone marrow disorders.
I was on Team M&M, which mainly consisted of union workers from IBEW Local 104 and some of Brastow’s friends. They wanted to have some female hockey players in their lineup, and that’s how my friends and I got involved.
There were five women on Team M&M, and we skated together as a line. My friend Ali Peters and I played defense, Josy Raycroft played center, and Jessica Wagner and Katelyn Greene were on the wings.
Before the game, one of the Bruins alumni staff came into our locker room and, without a hint of sarcasm, told us to take it easy on the Bruins. We looked at each other and chuckled. Surely that wouldn’t be a problem.
When we got on the ice for warmups, I couldn’t help but notice Bruins tough guy Jay Miller glide by me, sporting his usual 5 o’ clock shadow. It was strange being at eye-level (well, nearly eye-level) with so many heroes of my youth. And damn, were they tall. It felt surreal. Instead of focusing on shooting and stretching my legs out, I couldn’t help but stare down at the other end of the ice to see which Bruins legends we’d be playing against.
Glen Featherstone. Bob Sweeney. Andrew Raycroft. Paul Mara. And, there was Middleton, wearing good ol’ number 16, which now hangs from the rafters of the Garden.
Once the game got going, the puck stayed in our end quite a bit. At one point I glanced over and saw Bob Sweeney standing in our crease. Not just straddling the border of the crease, mind you – he was completely inside the crease, standing between the net and our goalie. I play defense all the time, and under normal circumstances, that would never happen on my watch. But this was Bob Sweeney, all 6 foot 3 inches of him – and he was doing this as a joke. Our goalie stood there, looking perplexed. I did, too.
Remember Bruce Shoebottom? Die-hard hockey fans of a certain age may recall how “The Shoe” racked up big-time penalty minutes for the Bruins in the 1988 playoffs (42 minutes in 4 games) and made national headlines (after he left the B’s) when he scuffled with police during a minor league game in Oklahoma. The guy was a larger-than-life enforcer. Apparently he hasn’t changed, because he had no problem mixing it up with our line (all in good fun, of course).
At one point Shoebottom grabbed the ponytail of my defense partner.
When we finished our shift and hopped over the boards to the bench, Ali turned to me, with her eyes opened wide. “He pulled my hair!” she said. “My ponytail!” She couldn’t believe it. I just laughed.
The B’s stickhandling skills were spectacular, and Middleton and the rest of the gang dangled and weaved right into our zone. I witnessed firsthand – far more times than I’d like to admit – their incredible ability to control the puck. At times I felt like a plastic orange pylon out there, as they made one crisp saucer pass after another, with laser-like precision. The puck seemed to fly to the blades of their sticks like a magnet. Whenever our line got it out of our zone and into their end, the crowd in the stands cheered wildly.
Luckily for us, Team M&M had some guys who were big goal-scorers. They kept us in the game.
It was a close one, too: When the second period ended, the score was 10-8, and Team M&M was winning.
But our lead didn’t last long. The Bruins alumni stepped up in the third period and ended up claiming the victory.
After the game, I complimented one of our goalies. He shook his head.
“Those guys, I could tell when they wanted to score,” he said. “They could put the puck wherever they wanted.”
That Oct. 7 game was the first of the season for the Boston Bruins Alumni Association, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Middleton has been president of the alumni organization for 10 years, recruiting alumni to play in benefit games, putting together rosters, and getting former B’s involved in fundraising for all kinds of charities. They raised $800,000 last year alone.
Middleton said the players always appreciate the opportunity to lace up their skates and hit the ice for a worthwhile cause. It’s a chance for them to relive the glory days.
“I think one of the things the players enjoy most is being back in the dressing room, telling stories and having a few laughs,” said Middleton.
The Bruins Alumni usually play about 30 games a year, and this season they’ll be bringing their show to venues all over New England, suiting up in support of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Matt Light Foundation, Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, the Skate for the 22 Foundation, the New England Center and Home for Veterans, and various other nonprofits.
“One thing I really enjoy as I get older,” said Middleton, “is having the opportunity to play on the alumni with younger Bruins who I never got a chance to play with.”