Perhaps the oddest thing about watching the Bruins (Boston) Alumni versus Hab’s (Montreal Candiens) Alumni Game, played Dec. 13 at the Pictou County Wellness Centre, was seeing Bruins alum Terry O’Reilly and Canadiens alum Chris ‘Knuckles’ Nilan not trying to kill each other on the ice.
Two of the toughest players to ever suit up for their respective teams, O’Reilly and Nilan were part of vicious Boston-Montreal battles in the early 1980s.
O’Reilly, the rugged winger, was putting a wrap on a distinguished career at that point; one where he helped carry-on the image of the ‘Big Bad Bruins,’ from the early 70s.
Nilan, from the Boston area ironically, came out of little-to-no-fighting NCAA hockey to become one of the best pugilists of his era; taking on guys like O’Reilly, Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguard Dave Semenko, Bob Probert and all of the other top enforcers in the league who all, it appeared, had the advantage of size and weight on him.
I’m not sure any of them had his grit and tenacity.
To learn more about Nilan, the good, bad and ugly – and it does get very ugly – I suggest watching the documentary The Last Gladiators. In my opinion, one of the best documentaries ever made about the NHL and one, I think it’s safe to say, commissioner Gary Bettman and his colleagues would rather you don’t watch.
And forget just the NHL, it’s one of the best sport documentaries ever made – again, my opinion.
Of course O’Reilly and Nilan weren’t the only former NHLers suiting up in the game. The biggest draw for me, and no doubt many in attendance, was seeing Hall of Famer Ray Bourque who is considered, arguably, the Bruins’ second best defenseman of all time; and when you consider who number one is (Bobby Orr, of course), that’s about as lofty company as one can keep.
Bourque’s skills were still evident as he whipped up hard, accurate passes to his alumni teammates from all over the ice.
Rick ‘Nifty’ Middleton was one of those receiving the passes. He’ll be forever remembered in Bruins’ lore for a number of highlight reel goals; including one versus the old Quebec Nordiques you should YouTube at the end of reading this column.
Mike Krushelnyski was in the Boston line-up and the YouTube moment for him doesn’t come from his brief time with the Bruins (1882-84), but from his time as Gretzky’s teammate with the L.A. Kings; a game-six overtime goal versus Calgary. The ‘slow-motion’ goal is one of the NHL’s most surreal playoff moments.
Montreal didn’t exactly have the cream of their history crop in the line-up, but John LeClair will certainly never buy a drink in ‘la belle province,’ around anyone old enough to remember his heroics in the Habs’ 1993 Stanley Cup run.
Gary Leeman, who was also on that Cup winner, is better remembered for his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and being part of the ‘Hound Line’ with fellow youngsters, at the time, Wendell Clark and Russ Courtnall.
I actually thought Leeman looked like the best player in the alumni game, with the exception of Bruin Andrew Alberts, who was in the NHL as recently as 2013.
Also suiting up for Montreal was sniper Stephane Richer who was known for his heavy-shot and being part of two Stanley Cup winners; 1986 in Montreal and 1995 in New Jersey.
Only a few weeks ago, Richer made a number of new fans as he spent a day at Antigonish’s Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) prior to giving a very frank and heartfelt talk about mental illness, later that night, as the keynote speaker for the CACL’s Business Ability Banquet.
CACL director Jeff Teasdale talked about Richer’s ability to connect with folks at the workshop that day and between Richer’s own words and Teasdale account of his graciousness, I became a Habs’ fan that night.
Of course, I quickly reverted back to a Bruins’ fan (like about five minutes after the banquet), but it was great to see a good man like Richer and the rest of the former stars on Pictou County ice.
Now go check out those goals on YouTube.