It has been nearly two years since Herbert Warren Wind wrote in these pages that, in the postwar years, "Being a sports-minded resident of the Massachusetts colony has meant existing on a cheerless frontier of frustration. It sends shivers up the spine to think of the depths of despair that might have been reached had there been no Boston Bruins...."
Herb Wind told the story of the Bruins' recovery, under the inspirational leadership of Coach Milt Schmidt, from the terrible season of 1955-56, and of their feisty run at the hockey powerhouses of Montreal and Detroit. Then, as now, Boston had no superstar—no Howe or Richard or Bathgate to break up a game with a lightning thrust or two—but the team managed to claw its way into the Stanley Cup finals in each of the last two seasons.
This is to report that the Bruins are once again bringing a measure of hope to that cheerless frontier. To be sure, a Bruin fan considering the team last week might have felt like throwing himself into the Charles River. The Bruins had lost six of their last eight games, and three regulars were missing because of injuries. Prospects for the days ahead, however, in view of the team's undeniable abilities as shown in the pre-slump days, were far from disheartening.
In the opening weeks of this peculiar National Hockey League season (Montreal, for example, lost three straight games on home ice, and that's impossible), the big, bad Bruins jolted opponents all over the circuit with their customary roughhouse attack, stayed within a point or two of the Canadiens and even held first place for 24 hours in the second week of November. They did this in spite of the disastrous night of October 18 in Toronto, when both Bronco Horvath, the leading Boston scorer last season, and Doug Mohns, a fine rushing defenseman, suffered broken jaws.
"I predicted at the time," said Milt Schmidt, "that we could get along without them for a few games. But in the long run I knew we would be hurting. Look what's happened. We've won only one of the last eight games and tied one other. During that time we had 34 goals scored against us and scored only 21 ourselves—and we got eight of those in one game.
"When you begin to slump, several things happen. Number one, the defense goes sour. That's because everybody wants to score goals; everybody wants to help out. They try to make the breaks instead of playing good positional hockey and waiting for the breaks to come. So you get twice as many goals scored against you. Number two, the players begin to have a defeatist attitude. When things are going well there is a lot of noise in the dressing room after a game. Now it's so quiet you can hear a pin drop in there."
Schmidt, who was taking a break from a hectic day to wolf a corned beef and Swiss cheese sandwich while worrying what to do about the latest bad news—the powerful wing Jerry Toppazzini had just received a severe skate cut above the right knee in practice—still managed to work up a smile. "I'm not down by any means," he said. "I've never gone into a game in my life that I didn't think we could win. We'll definitely be heard from."
Although Schmidt, an intensely loyal team man, gave the impression that he could do nicely without a razzle-dazzle star, his colleagues in the front office thought otherwise.
"You need a great hockey player to win a championship," said Walter Brown, president of the Bruins. "We haven't had a bell cow since Schmidtty himself [center for Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart on Boston's famous Kraut Line] stopped playing. There is no use speculating whether we have one coming along on our farm teams. God makes great hockey players. If you're lucky, you get one.
"As for the season, I think Montreal may be a little too strong for the rest of us and Toronto perhaps not strong enough. You can put the other four teams in a bag and shake them up and where they come out is anybody's guess."
Down the hall, General Manager Lynn Patrick was as emphatic about the importance of superstars, and consequently unshaken in his conviction that the starless Bruins must play extra-aggressive hockey to succeed. "I like players to be rough," Patrick has said. "I want them to intimidate the other team if they can."
Well, the Bruins were rough, all right, as they defeated Detroit 2-1 in the Boston Garden last Saturday to end that long losing streak. They were right back in the merry scramble for the first five places in the standings; Horvath and Mohns were due to return within two weeks; and there was absolutely no doubt that the Bruins would be heard from, especially along the boards, where the going is roughest.