Bruins' Stanley Cup final brings memories, sadness, relief

file photoThis photo, signed by Bobby Orr, is the iconic image of him flying through the air after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues in 1970.

The image of Bobby Orr flying through the air after he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1970 is frozen in time, thanks to a statue outside TD Garden in Boston.

But long before the statue was created, the image was chiseled into the memories of Boston Bruins fans, including my neighborhood buddies and me.

That victory 49 years ago (hard to believe it's been that long) came at the expense of the St. Louis Blues, who got their revenge last week. Last Wednesday's seventh-game loss was a tough one for us Black and Gold fans to endure.

The whole experience of our Bruins playing the Blues in the finals took my mind back to my childhood in the Walnut Square neighborhood, the days of me and my friends pretending to be Orr and Phil Esposito and Gerry Cheevers: The list would go on.

The Bruins were our heroes, as they were for so many local kids those days. Haverhill and the rest of New England was infected with Bruins fever after the 1970 championship and the one that followed in 1972. (We all felt that team should have won a couple more Cups.)

Because of the Bruins' influence in those days, the state built a bunch of ice rinks across Massachusetts — everyone wanted to play hockey. That's how we got the rink behind Haverhill High School and that's why our first Hillie ice hockey team formed in the early 1970s. Street hockey became so popular back then because it was the next best thing to being on the ice.

Kids in neighborhoods across New England, including ours, got together after school and on weekends for street hockey games in parking lots and school playgrounds. Our "rink'' was the paved playground at Walnut Square School, that beloved old brick schoolhouse that is now more than a century old.

Every day after getting out of nearby Whittier Middle School, the guys from our neighborhood gathered at the Walnut Square School playground. Some of us would go to the garage at Rich Hosford's house and carry over the wooden nets we had built. (God bless Rich — he died a few years ago, way too young.)

You could set your watch by us. We'd start a little after 3 o'clock and play to around 5 — except of course when it got dark early in the latter months of the year. It might be too cold to play then anyway, but it had to be really cold to keep us from getting in at least a couple of games. If it was too cold to play, some of the guys might keep their skills sharp by shooting against the wall in the cellar of their homes or garages — anything to stay in touch with the game we loved.

If you're from Haverhill, you'll probably recognize some of the names from our Walnut Square bunch. There was Jeff Pike, son of Bill Pike of the local "Open Mic'' radio show and later a city councilor; the Enaire brothers, who were known for their wicked slap shots; big Stevie Boucher, who was a defensive specialist; the Wood brothers, Jamie and Donjay, whose older brothers would sometimes play. (Don also left us a few years ago, way too soon.) There were the Dow brothers, also with great slap shots; and Bobby Roche, later a Haverhill High football star, who would stop by for an occasional game. Sometimes his younger brothers would play.

Bobby Lynch and his brother Jay would come from the other side of Walnut Square, and speedy Timmy Donahue, later a high school track star, would run circles around many of us when he grabbed a stick and played a few shifts.

We had our share of catastrophes. Who among us can forget the time John Peltonovich was walking across Main Street after an afternoon of street hockey and was hit by a car, breaking his leg so badly that it spun upward and was pointing toward the sky? How about when Tommy Powers was running too close to a broken chain link fence at the edge of the playground and got his face caught in the fence, ripping right through his cheek?

There were also plenty of skinned hands and knees and elbows, but we could play through those. It took a lot to keep us off the "ice'' at Walnut Square.

These days I drive past Walnut Square School a lot. I look at the schoolyard and remember when. I look at the playground equipment that wasn't there when the schoolyard was our street hockey rink. I think about how lucky we were that in our glory days of the '70s it was an open sheet of pavement, perfect for our after-school game.

I get nostalgic, a little sad, missing those days.

I was also sad after the Bruins lost the seventh game to the Blues last week until my adult son, a Bruins fan who played high school hockey when he was younger, reminded me of something: The little girl who is battling cancer, the one who became a mascot of sorts for the Blues, got the thrill of her young life after their victory. With the help of her heroes, the Blues players, she was able to kiss the Stanley Cup and hold it overhead.

"That,'' my son said, referring to hockey players being known as the most charitable of professional athletes, "is what our game is all about.''

Bill Cantwell is the editor of the Gazette.


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