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!