The Ghosts of Causeway Street

Boston’s got the ghosts. Vancouver doesn’t. That’s why the Boston Bruins are the Stanley Cup champions.

The Canucks, excellent hockey team that they are, still have no ghosts of their own. They can’t look back onto chapters and chapters of stories past.  They can’t call on their memories, both sweet and bitter, to sustain and inspire them. Boston can, Boston does, and Boston did.

Many Boston titans of former ages, thankfully, are still with us in the flesh as well as in spirit. Franchise patriarch Milton Conrad Schmidt is here. Milt played on two Stanley Cup winners before World War II, went off to war with the Royal Canadian Air Force, came back, and played in two more Cup Final series. He coached the Bruins to the finals twice. His eye for talent and his mastery of the trade routes, in the years when he was general manager, built the last two Bruins Stanley Cup champion teams.

Vancouver will get its Stanley Cup eventually. But as long as they play hockey out there, they’ll never have a Milt Schmidt. Nor will they ever see the likes of Bobby Orr, the game’s finest player ever.  Orr is here, along with most of the members of his rollicking retinue from the last golden era. They were watching tonight. You know their names: Esposito, Cheevers, Stanfield, Hodge, Bucyk, Sanderson, Cashman and compatriots. Joining them were so many others – O’Reilly, Bourque, Middleton, Neely and their mates – who battled valiantly in more recent years, carried the tradition with pride, but did not bring home the ultimate prize.

Higher up in the Virtual Boston Garden this evening, in the Second Balcony that we used to call the heavens, it was Standing Room Only. Eddie Shore, Frank Brimsek, Cooney Weiland, Art Ross, Bobby Bauer, Woody Dumart, Lionel Hitchman, Dit Clapper, Tiny Thompson and Dutch Gainor all cheered lustily. They’ve already reserved a place of honor in their club for Thomas and Chara – and let us hope that it will be many decades before those two show up to claim their seats.

Over on the Vancouver side of the house, it was empty. A couple of series ago, that part of the Virtual Garden was well populated when Rocket Richard, Toe Blake, Doug Harvey, Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliat, George Hainsworth, Jacques Plante, Georges Vezina and Bernie Geoffrion all showed up to yell for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge. On the lower levels, during that series, we saw a crew that included Cournoyer, Lemaire, Dryden, Lafleur, Laperriere and Gainey.  They matched Orr and his gang cheer for cheer, and this time they’re the ones who went home disappointed.

That’s the only thing missing from this wonderful Stanley Cup Final series. The ghosts of ancient rivalry. We cherish no memories of Boston against Vancouver in decades past. When we speak of Montreal and others, we bring back fond reveries, the tales of triumphs and tragedies that we tell and re-tell and have woven into the sporting soul of this great city. But these seven games, marvelous though they were, are like a summer fling, an intense and beautiful encounter that we know, deep down, will probably not ever be repeated.

The way that hockey has expanded and reorganized, it’s almost impossible to establish another traditional rivalry that’s appropriately rich and textured. Vancouver was capable of winning. But they didn’t, and I can’t help but wonder whether the Ghosts of Causeway Street gave the Boston Bruins an advantage that just couldn’t be overcome . We may never see the Vancouver Canucks again, in the context of a Stanley Cup Final series. No matter. Clap and cheer, my Boston friends, and know that you’ve got hundreds and hundreds more good and loyal Bruins hockey immortals clapping and cheering right along with you.

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