Rick Middleton, a nifty defender

Earlier this season, Rick Middleton attained his rightful place among the greats. The Boston Bruins made his no. 16 the 11th number to be retired to the TD Garden rafters. And a quick look at the career numbers are enough to explain that — 448 career goals (402 with the Bruins), 20 or more goals a season 12 out of 14 years — along with his position among the leadership of an era of consistently excellent teams. He’s got a decent case for the Hockey Hall of Fame; his place in the rafters should be without question.

I never really got to see Middleton play at his peak. But even when I was a kid, I was enough of a student to have quickly gotten the picture that he was as smart and professional a skater as anyone. Knowing anything about the Bruins, that had to mean that he had what Jack Edwards often refers to as the 200-foot game. He was a captain and he was nifty and then he retired and Jozef Stumpel took his number.

So the reality that he’d been a one-way player — and one that coach Don Cherry wasn’t too keen on acquiring — was new to me. Continue reading

A brief history of the Captials’ ownership of Boston

The Bruins had a nice thing going recently. They’d won five in a row and they were just about back to full health (with just Charlie McAvoy out, and he’s reported to be on his way back soon). Solidifying one of the three automatic spots in an increasingly challenging Atlantic Division seems more likely now than it did a few weeks ago. Just about everything’s going well here.

Naturally, all this made the Capitals’ arrival in Boston perfectly timed.

For the 14th consecutive game, the Capitals had their way with the Boston. There are a number of reasons and explanations for all 14 of these losses, I suppose — timing, injuries, roster turnover, etc. — but it’s hard not to feel particularly victimized by goalie Braden Holtby and the indominable Alex Ovechkin. Continue reading

Torey Krug and cures for the winter blues

Welcome to the first days of the dead of winter. Work schedules have resumed, unabated by holiday cheer and all the festive goodies that come with it. Snow is starting to appear and the days are getting colder and colder as they ramp up towards the real stuff we’re likely due in February.

So when I come home, it’s nice to change into something comfortable, sit by my desk and have something pleasant to focus on, possibly in the background or possibly with rapt attention. A hockey game is great for this, of course. There’s the swishing of skates and pucks against the ice, the roars and groans of a crowd when appropriate, goal horns and whistles to signal your more significant moments, on and on.

But it’s more than just the sound. It helps to have a team to root for, and the Bruins have been that team for most of my life, with the added benefit of actually becoming a good team for most of my adult life. There’s Jack Edwards screaming about some improbable save or grave injustice, there’s Patrice Bergeron winning another faceoff, there’s Zdeno Chara clearing pucks and bodies away from Tuukka Rask. The constants are comforting, and the competitiveness just feeds into that compelling nature.

Another competitive constant has to be Torey Krug. He’s a frantic ball of energy on the blue line, and he’s prone to the occasional ridiculous play.

Continue reading

161 and counting with Mookie Betts

What makes for a successful season?

Expectations vary, and the noise around the Red Sox right now includes a vocal minority (hopefully) who will be quick to point out that, without a World Series trophy at the end of the next month, than the 107 wins earned through the first 161 games will have been worthless.

These people are dicks, clearly. Because if nothing else, through those first 161 games, we’ve had the privilege of watching Mookie Betts play this game 135 times. To watch what he’s done this year and still sit cynically waiting for the bottom to drop out is beyond me. This has been incredible, and it only seems right to get it down before the moment passes. Continue reading

Outcasts, antique stores and Larry Bird

Rare is the instance where I can recall myself as a little kid and not instantly cringe with regret. So bear with me while I hang onto one of those moments. All it took was a glance out a window while driving around in Tennessee, of all places.

Pigeon Forge, specifically, is where I spotted a sign reading “OLD BASEBALL CARDS” in the window of an antique shop this week, and I filed it away as an activity for later. I was hoping to find a cache of 1970s or early ’80s baseball cards, something where I could walk away with some cool, weird stuff without having to break a $10 bill.

Instead, sitting near old Life magazines and tin Coke ads, were dozens and dozens of Larry Bird basketball cards. And I cannot undersell the incredible percentage of Bird cards — all from between 1990 and 1993 — in this box. If there were 400 sports cards in top-loaders up for grabs at a dollar apiece, about 100 featured a mullet-free Bird at the end of his career. Fleer, Topps, Upper Deck, Skybox and NBA Hoops were all present and accounted for. There were a lot of duplicates and a few I remembered picking up in fifth grade, but none of them hit me until I noticed this one, a 1992-93 Fleer card. I don’t know if it’s even worth the dollar. Obviously, I grabbed it. Continue reading