Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shaken, Not Stirred, but Boston Strong

It's now just over a week since the Marathon bombings rocked Copley Square and shook our world.  It's a very different place we live in just seven some odd days later.

In the aftermath of the explosions, the City of Boston, its residents and the local community banded together like never before. We came together in support of our city, our way of life, our family, our friends, our first responders, our emergency services, our doctors and those directly and indirectly affected by this tragedy.

And out of it emerged the concept of Boston Strong.

It wasn't a exactly a new ethos, it was always there.

Sure, we have a well deserved reputation of keeping to ourselves. We don't look at people in the eye when we pass by them on the street. We don't come off as the friendliest of people to strangers. We drive like jerks. We get vengeful for perceived slights against us. You want nice? Go somewhere else.

But we are fiercely loyal to our friends. We can give them crap and they can give it right back. But if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. We've got your back. We rally around a cause like no other.

And last Monday, someone messed with us. Big time.

They hit us in one of our softest spots - on the one day that we hold nearest and dearest to our hearts around here, a day that we consider so special because no one else has anything that comes close to it.  It's ours and only ours, yet we are more than willing to let so many others, people from all walks of life in fact, take part in and enjoy as we open our city to the world.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest and preeminent Marathon in the world. The best runners on the planet take part of it.  It is the mecca for long distance running.  But for the enormity of the event, it is still particularly a local undertaking.

It is a day full of tradition - the reenactment on Lexington Green in the early hours of the morning, the only morning game in Major League Baseball, the hordes of people crowding the 26.2 mile course cheering on friends, family and complete strangers, the runners raising inordinate amounts of money for charity, Rick and Dick Hoyt showing the perseverance of the human spirit, exhausted runners being cheered on to continue by the support of spectators, Heartbreak Hill, the screaming masses at Wellesley College. And sometimes, if we're lucky, we even get a Bruins game as a nightcap.

It's a scene that has been repeated for 116 times previously, in various permutations.  But the traditions have remained the same pretty much throughout the years.

Until Monday, April 15, 2013.

We all know what happened around 2:50 on that fateful day. I, along with a group of dear friends witnessed it nearly firsthand, being just over a block away from where it all took place.

My first reaction was to get away from the area as fast as possible, thinking about my four year old son.

My friend Brian (on the left), a Boston EMT, in action
(Getty Images)
But so many others, including EMTs, police, firemen, doctors, spectators and even runners sprinted into the fray and helped save countless numbers of injured people. I am amazed at the bravery of all of these people. I wonder what I would have done had I been on Boylston Street at the time of the attacks. I wonder if I saw the aftermath firsthand and whether or not I would have run into the action or away from it.  And I'm not sure.  But what I know is that I am eternally grateful for the people who helped out in any way.

I salute you all.

In the following days, we were glued to our TVs as we learned what truly happened. But we knew that this was a task best handled by our officials - the Mayor, the State Police, Boston Police, the FBI and assorted other authorities.

We give our authorities crap all the time - the nepotism, the bureaucratic red tape, the cops and donuts jokes. But we all know full well that in a time of need they will have our support and we know they are capable of protecting us while ensuring justice is served.

So we waited as they did their job. They asked people to send in any information that we might have - photos of the crime scene, tips, you name it. And we did. They identified the possible suspects and asked us to help name them. And we tried.

The Bruins played a game on Wednesday and it was our chance to publicly display our solidarity.  That we were Boston Strong. That we had each others' backs.We rocked the house with the Star Spangled Banner. It was a big middle finger to those who wished to scare us, to shatter our way of life, to bully us.

We would have none of it. We got knocked down.  But we dusted ourselves off and got back up.  We were ready to punch back.

Now, to be completely honest, I was scared.  I didn't want to show it outwardly because I didn't want the terrorists to know it. I felt completely safe going to the game at the Garden that night even though the suspects hadn't been caught because the Tip O'Neill Federal Building was right next door and was under complete lockdown.  And with the Garden just feet away with a major transportation hub on the ground floor, I knew that the building was going to be secure.

But parking in the Government Center Garage and walking down Canal Street I felt exposed.  Unlike that parking garage under the Garden, there were no security sweeps when I parked. There were covered recycling bins and bags of trash laid out on the sidewalks that didn't look safe.  There weren't cops and national guardsmen patrolling the street. I literally walked down the center of Canal Street and not on the sidewalks. I'm fairly neurotic to begin with, but this just made me straight out paranoid. But all the while, I didn't think I was without cause.

I was glued to the the TV. I felt a direct connection to what was going on, between being near the scene on Monday and the fact that this was the city I love so much.  From the time when I was in elementary school and made field trips to the museums and Columbus Park, to the times I was in summer camp and saved my money just to spend it at the candy store in Quincy Market, to my first Red Sox game at Fenway in 1985, my first Celtics game at the Garden in 1986, birthday dinners at Joe Tecce's and cannoli at Mike's in the North End, weddings at the Hampshire House above Cheers, god knows how many Bruins games, ransacking the old Garden in its final days after driving home overnight from college, taking the T here, there and everywhere, and proposing to my wife on the bridge overlooking the swan boats in the public garden.

I may live in the suburbs, but Boston is my city.

And I love it like no other.

When the manhunt was scaled down on Friday night, I initially felt sad.  I had stayed up through the night on Thursday into the wee hours of Friday morning following the action on TV while exchanging tweets with my friends and listening to the police scanner.  I knew the areas where the events were taking place - at MIT next to the Stata Center, a building around the corner from my wife's old workplace where I used to park on my way into Fenway. The gas stations on Memorial Drive where I've been stuck in traffic so many times on my way to Lechmere. Places all over Watertown including the Arsenal Mall where I've gone solely to see the old Boston Garden scoreboard, Arsenal Court where I've had many CAD training classes and Arsenal Square where I've had some great Greek meals. And I had a friend who lived about a half mile away from the action, concerned for her safety.

What I watched shocked and frightened me. So many people, officers and civilians were in harms way. Word of bombs being tossed and firefights ensuing. This could not be happening. We got word that an MIT policeman had been shot and killed (RIP, officer Collier) and that an MBTA policeman had been struck but was alive (get well soon, office Donahue). It was surreal. And we heard that one of the two suspects had been taken into custody, which buoyed our spirits somewhat, even though he died at the hospital.  One less threat was out there now.  But there was still one more guy on the loose.

The "Shelter in Place" order, 495 North, Friday afternoon
I had passed out around 4:00 Friday morning, my iPad in my lap.  When I woke up around 6:30, I had slept through my alarm. I threw on the TV immediately to find out what had transpired in the time I was away and my jaw dropped.  The city was shut down. We learned what a "Shelter in Place"  order meant. So many of my friends in the affected areas were stuck in their houses and couldn't move. The T wasn't running. No cabs. It was unlike anything we've ever seen.

The cops had cordoned off an area in Watertown where they believed the suspect was hiding. But there was no new news coming out. Everything was static. And then we had the news conference in the evening.  The cops were pulling back a bit. Things were secure, but the manhunt was being scaled back.

Initially, it was not a good feeling. It felt like we were losing.

But I thought to myself - wait, are they trying to make it look like they are letting their guard down and see if he makes a move?

A toast in memory of the fallen
and in honor of all those who helped out
And an hour later, we found out. He was cornered in a boat in a yard on a street just outside the secured perimeter. At this point, my spirits rose.  I sensed a conclusion to this ordeal and that the cops were on top of this.  We were safe. I was tweeting with a bunch of friends and we all felt the same way.  We started letting off some steam. It was the toughest week of our lives and we started to let go of all our pent up frustration, stress and anger. We made jokes. We used bad puns about the boat. We might have even laughed.

And then it was over.  The suspect was in police custody. And he was alive.  Sure, the legal fallout was to follow, but the worst of it was over.

And it was time to celebrate.  I popped open a bottle of champagne, offering up a toast in memory of the four we lost and the many who were injured and honored all those who fought courageously and selflessly helped out in our greatest time of need.  The TV broadcasts showed the cops smiling, exhausted but satisfied with their work.  The press conference with all the officials who helped bring a conclusion to this madness. The swarms of students and young people on the common waving flags and celebrating.

We made it through our collective strength and resolve.

We were Boston Strong. We are Boston Strong.

Saturday morning on the Southeast Expressway

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Get Right Back to Where We Belong

"Ooo and it's alright and it's comin' 'long
We got to get right back to where we started from
Love is good, love can be strong
We got to get right back to where we started from"

--Maxine Nightingale

I woke up yesterday morning and literally the first thing I did was grab my phone and post the following tweet: 

The first sporting event to be held in Boston after the Patriot's Day bombing tragedy was being played at the TD Bank Garden later that night and I was hellbent on being there.  The terrorist(s) thought they might break our collective soul, but I for one was not going to let that happen.  No local team epitomizes our region's "knock us down, get back up" spirit moreso than the Boston Bruins. I wanted to play my part in it. It wasn't defiance, it was solidarity.  It was a compulsion to positively deny the bombers any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.

You want to change us? Not going to happen.

I was close enough to the bombings on Monday that I was physically and mentally shaken by them.  This was my way of dusting myself up and getting back in the ring.

All throughout the day it kept occurring to me that this was not a national tragedy as much as it was a local one. Whereas the attacks on 9/11 were meant as an assault on the United States, its citizens and what it and we stood for, the events on Monday seemed to be a direct attack on what we, as Bostonians, treasure.  It was a day borne out the literal founding of our nation on our home turf and developed into a celebration of our city, its traditions, its institutions and it just so happened that we also invited the world to town to enjoy it with us.

This is the one day of the year that is unique to us.  When you live here, whether you are native or not, you just get it.

And the cowards who set off the bombs on Boylston Street tried to take it from us.

Not going to happen.

At the same time, I felt a strange juxtaposition. In 2001, I was in attendance at the first major international sporting event held in the US post 9/11, a World Cup qualifier between the US Men's National Soccer Team and their counterparts from Jamaica at the old Foxboro Stadium.  I remember vividly the sense of nervousness that hovered over all of us that day.  Yet we showed up en masse with a purpose, a bold sense of defiance in the face of terrorism as we rooted for the team representing our country and with it our ideals and way of life.  There were many highlights to be had that day, but one of the most notable was the way that the entire stadium, a crowd of 40,000 plus, stood together and belted out the loudest rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that I had ever heard.  It wasn't just loud though, it was the collective will of the crowd, our solidarity to the cause that made it so special.

And so I made my way into town after work as I've done hundreds and hundreds of times before. The long crawl on the Pike eastbound. The sun in my eyes as I exited the Tip O'Neill tunnel at Government Center. The T busses creating a bottleneck outside of Haymarket Station. The winding ascension to the upper levels of the Government Center Parking Garage.  The pregame meal and beverages with friends at the Fours.

It was all routine. But in a way, it wasn't at all.

There was the lane closure at the Pru tunnel due in part to the crime scene in Copley Square.  A heightened security presence on Causeway Street. The Garden opening its doors 30 minutes early to expedite the process of getting patrons into the building with security screenings. Guards with automatic weapons in front of the O'Neill federal building. Bag searches in the North Station concourses.

Like it or not, it was a new world we were living in.

Despite my fears, getting into the Garden and past security was very easy, seemingly faster than the last time the Garden had similar security measures in place post 9/11.  There was a definite buzz in the arena, but it was not a crazed excitement like the one I see before playoff games. It was a bit more subdued.

And so the seats filled up and we were treated to a fantastic video montage and tribute to those we lost, those who were injured and all those who helped respond in some fashion to the tragic events on Monday.  It was simple and poignant, in keeping with the high standards we've been accustomed to from the Bruins.

And then it was time for the national anthem.

It was known that longtime local legend Rene Rancourt would perform the Star Spangled Banner with the Boston Fire Department serving as the color guard next to him.  But no one could possibly ever imagine the awesomeness of what happened next :

It was completely and utterly organic. 17,565 people singing in unison.  United in the cause.

As amazing as it was to be part of it, I actually think the video does it more justice.

But at the same time, I did not feel the wave of nationalistic pride like I did back on October 7, 2001.  Rather, I think the anthem was a more of a conduit, a way of channeling our collective togetherness for our localized cause.  We were here for Boston, but the Star Spangled Banner was our way of showing it.

Sure, there were American flags all over the arena, but no more so that you would expect to see at a game against the Montreal Canadiens.

And then then it was time to drop the puck. Garden organist Ron Poster played his rendition of "For Boston", the Boston College fight song, for obvious reasons.  But his next selection was "The Spirit of Radio" by Rush, something he plays on a regular basis. And then it occurred to me:

We were back to normal.

Sure, there was the crowd doing a "We are Boston!" chant a number of times, a number of "Boston Strong signs dotting the seats, One Fund Boston ads on the corner boards, an incredible 8-Spoked Salute featuring 80 first responders from a number of different police, fire, EMS and military units, a celebration of all the marathon runners and spectators in the crowd and a stick salute by both teams at the end of the game, but as I said to my friend Garrett, if you walked in to the game 10 minutes late, you'd have a hard time knowing that Monday ever happened.

And I mean that in nothing but the most positive way.

After all, this game, this team and this crowd were all tasked with the job of getting the city and its people back on their feet and moving forward in the aftermath of the marathon tragedy. And to their credit, they wasted little time in doing so.  

Hell, the Bruins' power play was 0 for 2 and they blew a third period lead.  If that wasn't a sign that things weren't back to where they were before Monday, nothing was.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Sprint from A Marathon

Obviously, my blog is my attempt at a comedic look at my hockey adventures and uniform geekery.

But today I must veer away from that.

Based on the events of yesterday, I wanted to record what I, my wife and some of  my dear friends experienced firsthand as we made our way across town after the Red Sox game ended. I have no idea why I want a permanent record of it, I just feel compelled to do it for some reason. Maybe it's cathartic. Maybe it's therapeutic. I just don't know.

So after the Sox game our group made our way out of the bleachers (section 39) and out gate C onto Lansdowne Street. Obviously, it was a sea of humanity, with the street full of people and lines queued up with throngs of people trying to get into the adjacent bars for postgame festivities. There was a huge pack of people on motorcycles trying to make their way through the crowds, revving their engines as if it might get people to move out of the way (it didn't).

We made it down Ipswich Street, past the Muddy River and took a right up the embankment to the Charlesgate overpass. We crossed over the Pike and Newbury Street and down the ramp to Comm. Ave where we were able to watch a bit of the marathon as the runners approached the final mile to the finish line.

At this point, life was good. The sun was out. It was warm. The Sox won on a walkoff double by Mike Napoli to win 3-2 and sweep a 3 game series with the Rays. We were taking in the Marathon. And we were making our way back to Canal Street to get to the Fours to pregame before the Bruins-Senators game. In short, it was what Patriot's Day is all about and what it Patriot's Day should be.

We continued down Comm. Ave., along the marathon route, to Mass. Ave. This is the one location where we would be able to cross over the marathon (the route follows an underpass here) and get to the other side of Comm. Ave., allowing us to get to the other side of the city. We were walking up Comm. Ave., getting spread out a bit when we crossed Dartmouth Street. A Boston Fire Department ladder truck was coming down the street when it drove by us.


At first, I thought the fire truck hit a pothole. But it seemed too loud for that.


A second loud blast.

It wasn't the fire truck.  I turned back and saw a small plume of white smoke emanating from somewhere near Copley Square.  Then I saw my wife and Pete running towards Heather and me. Jen said a bomb just went off. I shook my head in disbelief. No fucking way.

Maybe it was a manhole explosion (those tend to happen in Boston, sadly). Maybe it was an electrical transformer explosion (those happen too, sadly).

Whatever the reason, people were running out of Copley Square. My friend Mike had just come from there to meet up with us for the rest of the afternoon. He was safe, thankfully, and now with us.

We all went to our phones.  Cell signals were gone. Too many people jamming the antennas. But my Twitter feed worked. Because so much of the Boston TV and print media were stationed in Copley for the marathon, they were able to provide a continuous stream of information (and a lot of speculation as well).  Reports of two explosions with mass chaos. The marathon was being stopped short of the finish line. A triage center was being set up at the medical tent.

All the while, the sound of sirens permeated the air. Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks. Flashing lights everywhere. It was surreal. And it was real.

I read a tweet saying to watch out for mailboxes as the bombs may have been stashed in some. Knowing our route back to the Garden area involved passing by the State House, City Hall and a couple of Federal buildings, I insisted that we cut through the back of Beacon Hill instead and avoid possible targets.  Internally, I was freaking out. It's hard not to think of 9/11 at a time like that. And there were so many unsecured areas.

Sarah was trying to get in touch with her friend who was running and couldn't get through. Jen was trying to get in touch with her brother who was working across from Fenway. Amy was trying to get in touch with her daughter who left the game early to pick up her in-laws from Logan. Nothing. No signals.

And it was weird.  We had people walking with us who were doing the same thing as us - getting updates via social media. But there were plenty of tourists milling about the Common who had no clue of what just transpired. Marathon runners in their insulated wraps walking back to Copley presumably to pick up their belongings and meet up with friends and family who had no phones on them so they were out of the loop.

It was so very weird.

We got down to Cambridge Street and crossed over by Mass. General Hospital.  Given the number of ambulances out and about helping with the trauma, the area was eerily quiet. The ambulances hadn't arrived yet and people were still milling about.

We crossed through the West End apartment complex and out by the Tip O'Neill Federal Building on Causeway Street where the building was on complete lockdown with guards stationed around the perimeter of the building and security vehicles parked out front.

We made it over to the Fours, still in total shock.  I saw one of the doormen at the Fours and told him something to the effect of  "normally I'd get in here and start pregaming, but right now I'm getting the fuck out of Dodge".  People in Bruins gear were starting to make their way into the bars, but I had a hard time believing the Bruins would have a game that night.  How could they secure the building? And more importantly, how could they ever justify diverting public emergency services and resources away from Copley Square at a time like this. No way was that game getting played.  Just then, Tyler Seguin drove by in his Maserati, presumably on his way to the Garden parking lot.

Mike and Sarah were headed back west of the city, but with the Green line shut down, they had nowhere to go. So they bunkered down at the Fours for a while.  Stacie needed to get back to Woburn (she had come into town on the commuter rail), so Jen and I offered her a ride.  Amy needed to get back to Quincy, so Heather and Pete gave her a ride.  And so we all made our separate ways.

In the car, I put on 98.5, my local sports station of choice, knowing full well they'd be offering up news coverage instead.  I was surprised to hear not a simulcast of their AM news station counterpart, but a stream of their TV coverage with Jack Williams.

In one last bit of safety/security/overthinking I decided to avoid the Zakim Bridge and took the Washington Street bridge to Charlestown instead. I just didn't want to put myslef in harms way, as preposterous as that sounds.  Along 93 north we kept seeing state police cars, both marked and unmarked racing south towards the city.

We dropped Stacie off and made our way home.  I climbed into bed with my iPad and iPhone and flipped on the TV to WBZ for continuing coverage.  Jen eventually went out to pick up Dana at daycare.  Thankfully, all of my friends in the city were safe and accounted for. I put up posts of Facebook and Twitter letting everyone know we we safe and sound as well. Well, physically, at least.  Mentally I was all over the place.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Poo, Part Deux

In my last post I explained my reconciliation with the Bruins' oft-criticized gold alternate sweaters worn between 1996 and 2006, commonly referred to as the Pooh Bear design.  It was actually quite the heartfelt introspection, but not too serious.  My jersey collecting is a fun effort, after all.

Subsequent to that, I was able to procure a blank Pooh Bear jersey, a CCM replica, size medium, for the relatively low sum of $40 via eBay.  I had been searching that site for quite some time, but finding a medium was proving to be a decided challenge. Ideally, I would have preferred to find a blank pro model in my size (44), but hey, beggars can't be choosers when looking for such an elusive prize. When I found said sweater was available with a "buy it now" option, I briefly consulted with fellow Team Pooh (#TeamPooh on Twitter) and the unanimous answer was to jump on it.


I had a standing offer from one of my friends who works for the Bruins to help me get my sweater sent out to Custom Crafted in North Attleboro, the longtime supplier to the Bruins for the actual team uniform stitching, so I knew it would be done up right.  And I just so happened to have a spare Bruins 75th anniversary patch I could have stitched on as well, should I go that route.

Now, the only question that remained was which player's name and number I wanted to get stitched on it.

A lot of my friends know my thought process regarding sweater customization as far as which players I will honor in tackle twill on my jerseys before, but for the uninitiated, let me give you a brief explanation:

I'm loyal to the Bruins. They're my team, I really don't root for any others. And with a roster of all time great players and such a rich tradition and history, it's easy to go with guys like Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely.  Hall of Famers are a given.  It certainly helps that I got to see Bourque and Neely in the prime of their careers. But even for me, you can only have so many 4s, 8s and 77s in your collection (I have at total of 7 sweaters for the aforementioned trio). So I started to diversify, a little.  I bought a Patrice Bergeron replica in 2006, confident in that #37 would make for a worthy investment as he made a profound impact on the franchise.  Then I went out on an even bigger limb and bought a Milan Lucic alternate in 2008 because I thought he had a chance to be a special player with qualities reminiscent of Terry O'Reilly and Cam Neely. Plus, I had an opportunity to meet him in his rookie season and was able to spend a few minutes talking to him and it was apparently that he got "it" - what it meant to be playing for the Bruins and what it meant to the fans in this market. He may have been 19 at the time, but he won me over. So much, in fact, that I had little hesitation in choosing #17 when it was time to pick up a Winter Classic sweater.

Long story short, you've got to be good, but you've also got to be a textbook Bruin.

Which brings me to the current challenge.

Now, I'm one of those people who refuses to customize a sweater with the name and number of a player who did not wear that specific style of sweater.  So that automatically forced me to look at players who were playing for the B's in the Pooh Bear era.  I wasn't going to go the Bourque or Neely route and as much as I liked Adam Oates, I don't think a #12 Pooh Bear would have done him justice. Besides, his best years in the Black and Gold occurred in the early 90s.

Rather, I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to salute the more underrated players of that era - guys who were respected by the fans, wore their hearts on their sleeves, got dirty, always played to win and made you proud to be a fan of the team, even in the lean years. So I compiled a list of guys I'd be happy to have on my back:

Don Sweeney, #32

Never a star and somewhat undersized for a defenseman, he was drafted by the Bruins out of Harvard and ended up playing 15 seasons for the team, appearing in nearly 1000 games for the Black and Gold while providing solid defense, often alongside Ray Bourque. They very definition of dependable.

Ted Donato, #21 or #40

Another Harvard guy, he played 9 seasons for the B's, joining the team mid-season following the 1992 Winter Olympics where he played for the US. After leaving the Bruins, he made a variety of stops all over the league before spending the 2003-4 season back in Boston, which was cut short by a bronken leg suffered late in the season. Always a solid player, never flashy but got the job done. Plus, he was a local guy.

P.J. Axelsson, #11

Though Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov were the heralded rookies in the 1997-8 season (with Sammy taking home the Calder Trophy), Axy ended up having the longest career in Boston, spanning 11 seasons.  He was the ultimate utility man - coaches had no problem rolling him out on any line, at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill. Surprisingly willing to get dirty in the corners, he was one of those guys the kept his head down and did whatever he was called on to do.

Ken Belanger, #16

This one might have people scratching their heads, especially considering he only played 3 seasons in Boston, but he was a physical player who was willing to drop the gloves when necessary.

And then, of course, was this:

I was there for this game and it was one of the few times I've applauded a guy for getting a boarding major. Ulf Samuelsson is probably the NHL player I hated the most.

Very few players have captured my heart like PJ Stock. No one brought more toughness, pound for pound, than this undersized pugilist. Gave everything he had in his 3 seasons with the B's before injuries curtailed his career. Watching him ply his craft brought a level of excitement to the Garden that very few others have been able to do.

Now, there a few other players that I bandied about, Glen Murray, Mike Knuble and even Dave Reid. But at the end of the day, there was one guy I never gave a second thought about going with.

Rob DiMaio.

Back when I first became a season ticket holder in 1998, the Bruins were coming off a rebound year where Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov made their debuts. Ray Bourque was the face of the team. Pat Burns had just won Coach of the Year. Things were looking up.

The team also featured a huge, 6-7 defenseman who played previously at Providence College. He was a local kid to boot, from Concord.  On paper, Hall Gill had all the physical attributes to be a Norris quality defenseman in the mold of what we now have in Zdeno Chara.

But what Gill did not have was the mindset for such a style of play.  Now this wouldn't stand out all that much, given that he often skated alongside Bourque, which obviously helped offset his deficiencies. But it was the presence of a much shorter, scrapper player on that roster, when juxtaposed to the much bigger defenseman, that made Gill look that much more worse a player.

That guy was Robbie DiMaio.

A 5-10 winger who had nine seasons in the books when the B's acquired him from San Jose (having been waived by the Flyers), DiMaio wasn't much of a scorer, but he was a great defensive shutdown guy who played with lots of jam. He never took a shift off and gave his all every time on he was on the ice.  When you saw Hall Gill loaf around like a traffic cone, you wished he had DiMaio's brain and heart because you knew someone who had that kind of size would be a killer if he played with the intensity of #19.

Some of my favorite memories were of him skating with PJ Axelsson and Tim Taylor on the third line, the defensive shutdown line at the time. It was so much fun seeing those three skate out there, often against the oppositions' top scorers and frustrate the other team.

Rob DiMaio was a perfect Bruin.

And that is why I am proud to now own this:

PS: I'd like to give a special shout out to my good friend Tina for all of her assistance in helping me procure this thing of beauty. I could never have got this done without you!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Winning: The Pooh

bruinsoldalt.jpgI lied.

I said I would never, ever accept them, let alone buy one.

I thought they were an absolute abomination, completely unfit for an Original Six team with such a rich uniform history.

I saw them as a sign that even the Bruins could not escape the evil reach of Gary Bettman's modernization efforts.

Yet, here I am today. In possession of what I never thought I would own.

The Pooh Bear sweater.

Why? How could I pull such a 180 on something whose mere existence I  had been so diametrically opposed to? What the hell happened to me?

To understand where I am now on the subject, I must first look back on how it all started.

Back in 1995, as the NHL emerged from the first lockout of Gary Bettman's tenure as Commissioner, the Bruins were a fairly strong team featuring Bourque, Oates and Neely still at the top of their games. The team had bowed out in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils in what was the final postseason to be played at the historic Boston Garden.

But change was afoot, big time.

The Bruins were leaving the famed barn for the brand spanking new Fleet Center, located a mere nine inches behind the old building that they had played in since 1928.  And with the move the Bruins would be making another major change: new uniforms.

Now, keep in mind, the set they had worn up to that point was the only one I had ever known. That design made its debut in the 1974-5 season and save for some minor tweaks (mainly the addition of nameplates and some font changes) and the throwback set they wore in 1991-2 for the league's 75th anniversary, they stayed relatively the same up to 1995.

But wholesale changes were coming. Not only were the sweaters getting a total redesign including contrasting sleeves, three color numbers and a revised chest logo, but rumors  had it that there would be an alternate design set for introduction in the new year.

Keep in mind that websites such as Uni Watch, Chris Creamer's Sports Logos and SSUR didn't exist back then and uniform news was not readily available. All we really had were the newspapers, ESPN (yes, you read that correctly) and a few online bulletin boards.

Eventually, the designs were made public and they circulated quickly.  The league was looking to expand their foothold in the American sports scene (we were already smack in the middle of the Fox glowing puck era), with the Nordiques having relocated westward to Colorado and Winnipeg set to move to Phoenix.  Accordingly, teams were already introducing new uniform sets, including the now-infamous Islanders' "Gorton's Fisherman" set and the Capitals' teal eagle design.  Furthermore, as part of the League's marketing efforts six teams were going to introduce new alternate sweaters to be worn for select games in the second half of the season: Anaheim, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and the Bruins.

Uniform designs were clearly breaking away from their traditional design ethos and going in a completely different direction. Clip art logos, color gradients, cartoonish font faces and garish recolorizations were all aspects that helped foster in this new era of uniform design.

The new alternates ran the gamut of taste, from the classic simplicity of the Blackhawks' normal home template rendered in black to the Kings' "Burger King" set with sublimated sashes and the Mighty Ducks' "Wild Wing" set which was just plain terrible, even by Disney standards. Pittsburgh's thirds introduced gray into their color scheme, but that design worked well enough that they ended up adopting it as their full time road uniform until 2002.

Which brings us to the Bruins.

When the first photos surfaced of the new sweater, I was shocked.  I had long hoped for a gold alternate, but this was not what I had imagined. This was just plain fugly.

The Logo

Gentile Ben
While the 1977-1995 set featured an poorly rendered, yet somewhat ferocious bear head shoulder patch/alternate logo, the new alternates featured a large bear head that was little more than a chain stitched rendering of Gentle Ben.

In fact, the logo was based on a framed picture Harry Sinden had hanging in his office.

Whereas a number of teams decided to go with aggressive looking cartoonish characters for their logos, the Bruins went with the most timid looking bear they could find.  For a team that was known for its iconic spoked B logo, this was a huge change and certainly not for the the better.

The Template


This was not the first time the Bruins included a gold sweater in their uniform set, not was it the first time they introduced an alternate to be worn along with their normal home and away ones.

In 1940, the Bruins included a gold sweater to be worn a few times as an alternative to their standard white jersey.  They would wear this off and on for four seasons and would not wear another gold jersey until the 1955 season when they used the color on their primary uniforms.

The 1955 set was the first set to feature a home, away and alternate design.  They would wear gold sweaters through the 1967 season, but none thereafter until 1996.

The template that was used for the 1996 design featured sublimated stripes on the hem and shoulders that were supposed to mimic bear fur.  Some people thought it evoked a Charlie Brown design aesthetic instead. It was so radically different from anything the Bruins had done previously and was unlike anything else in the league to that point.  For a hockey market full of traditionalists and die-hards, it was bit tough to reconcile.  It was something that the newer teams might be able to get away with, but not the spoked-B Black and Gold.

That said, the one design element that really worked for this sweater was the use of the black/white/black tackle twill for the names and numbers, as it really popped against the bright gold material.

The Shoulder Patch


One of the most overlooked failings of the 1996 alternate was the use of the Bruins' wordmark as a shoulder patch. In a textbook case of where less is more, slapping an oversized word on the shoulders was a huge mistake. Even the use of the spoked-B logo probably wouldn't have been much better.  I honestly think that leaving the patches off would have made this look significantly better.

The Nickname

More often than not, when uniform designs garner nicknames, it is not a term of endearment.  Look at some of the other uniforms of this era which have been nicknamed over the years: the Gorton's Fisherman,  Lady Liberty, Wild Wing, Burger King, The Mooterus, even the Flying Vee.  All of these refer to uniforms that are regarded with a large degree of ridicule. Its not a good sign when you can refer to a shirt with a nickname.

The Bruins' gold alternates quickly became known as the Pooh Bears.  It was embarrassing, yet incredibly fitting.

The Era

The introduction of the Bruins alternate sweaters coincided with a the start of a tumultuous time in Bruins history.  The 1996 team opened the Fleet Center with a decent regular season, but lost out to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs.  The next season was much, much worse with the B's finishing last in the east, Cam Neely battling injuries and Adam Oates being traded midseason. They'd miss the playoffs, but did manage to land the 1st and 8th picks in the 1997 Entry Draft which were used to draft Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov. But the Pat Burns era turned into the Mike Keenan era which begat the Robbie Ftorek era and segued into the Mike Sullivan era. All along, there were missed postseasons and poor performances when they did manage to make the playoffs.  Things bottomed out when Ray Bourque, the team's legendary defenseman and one of their all-time greats sought a trade to a contending team and managed to win the Stanley Cup 2 seasons later.

There was the Marty McSorley incident. Jason Allison's captaincy. The Joe Thornton trade. The post-lockout breakup of a promising 2003-4 squad and subsequent mess of a team in 2005. The loss to Montreal in seven games.

Despite the presence of fan favorite PJ Stock, these were not good times to be a Bruins fan. Season tickets numbered around 5,000. The team was hurting for fans. Draft picks were not panning out. Things were looking bleak.  And it just so happened that the Pooh Bears were around for this period.

So why my change of heart?

I've actually thought a lot about this. Did I have an epiphany or something? I'm not exactly sure.

The easy answer is that the statute of limitations on crappy sweater designs has expired, but I think that might be a cop out.

No, the more I think about it, the Pooh Bears remind me of a time when we had to work to be a fan of the Bruins. Though tickets were significantly cheaper than they are today, the building was significantly empty for a good number of game nights, particularly weeknight games before Christmas and games once the B's were eliminated from the playoff race. Unlike today, there were players you just could never like, but there were a few fan favorites: PJ Stock, PJ Axelsson, Bill Guerin, Don Sweeney.  You were a fan of the Bruins because you loved the team, the history, the game of hockey. Going to a Bruins game wasn't a merely a social activity.

I juxtapose that time to today. The Bruins have recaptured the Boston sports market. The team is wildly successful and the players are adored by the fans. Games are sold out and tickets are expensive and hard to get. Going to a Bruins game is THE thing to do in town.  Even after a ludicrous lockout, the local thirst for hockey remains at an all time high. It's easy to be a fan of this team because the team makes it so.

In addition, finding a Pooh Bear sweater today takes a good amount of effort. Much like when I was after my 75th anniversary sweater (almost 13 years ago), I did daily searches on eBay and online postings. What was once a prolific supply has been reduced to a slight trickle. It took me almost 2 years to find a blank throwback in my size back then.  This time it took me about six months to find a Pooh Bear in my size on eBay.

The only question that remains is which player name and number I want to get stitched on it. I've got a handful of names, ranging from the obvious (Stock) to the surprising (Donato) and everything in between.

In the end, I look at having a Pooh Bear jersey in my collection (14 and counting, by the way) as a reminder not to take what we have today for granted.  Sure, it's ugly as sin. But, much like people, its more about the inner beauty than the looks.