By Kevin Henkin
You don’t meet a lot of people who are equally die-hard fans of both the Celtics and the Bruins. When it comes to these two sports, people tend to pick one or the other as a decided preference. As a writer for a Celtics blog, I obviously fall into the category of someone who prefers basketball. I’ve been to countless Celtics games over the last several years but cannot honestly remember my last attendance at a Bruins tilt. Considering my long absence from the game of hockey, I couldn’t refuse the offer when a free ticket for this past Saturday’s Bruins game fell into my lap. I also thought it might be useful to jot some thoughts down in terms of witnessing a Bruins game through the eyes of a devoted long-term Celtics fan. Here are the results:
We arrive at the highest level of the Garden to find our balcony seats. If we were seated any higher, we’d need oxygen, tents and Sherpas. We sit down just in time for the opening face-off. Five seconds in, the first fight takes place. The players do the usual “one hand grabs the opponent’s jersey while the other hand flails wildly at the guy’s head” dance. This goes on for a while until even the referees get bored and break it up.
Play resumes and a whole nine seconds later a second fight commences. It’s a pretty good fight but for my money, nothing quite lives up to watching Robert Parish deck Bill Laimbeer.
A couple minutes of actual hockey takes place before one of the opposing players somehow loses his stick over the ten foot high plexiglass and into the crowd. Play stops while an usher retrieves the stick from the unlucky fan and returns it over the boards. Loud booing ensues. It becomes evident that the finder-keepers rule doesn’t apply to anything but the puck when it comes to random pieces of equipment flying into the stands.
There are a large number of fans wearing Bruins uniform sweaters in the crowd. Many of the jerseys are adorned with the names of players who are either retired or playing elsewhere, like Bourque, Neely and Thornton. I theorize that there is a direct correlation between the percentage of player jerseys from previous eras and the success of the current team. In other words, the higher the percentage of old player jerseys, the greater likelihood that the present team stinks. Last year at Celtics games, there were a fair amount of Bird and even a few Antoine Walker jerseys. This year? A sea of Garnetts, Pierces and Allens. I rest my case, your honor.
At 13:43, the other team scores. The fans surrounding us are very discouraged by this sudden one goal deficit. One of the guys sitting behind me says, “There’s going to be some fights, some dropping of the gloves. I guarantee it.” This seems to make him feel better, the thought that if his team is going to lose, at least the other guys will get punched a few times in the face on their way to victory.
For the next several minutes, the Bruins and the Capitals take turns shooting the puck into the corner and around the boards behind the goalie until the other team recovers the puck, skates up to the other side of the rink and does the same exact thing. At this point, I switch from beer to strong coffee.
I won’t get into Bill Simmons-type details about my personal circumstances here but to make a long story short, my buddy and I who were sitting in the nosebleeds suddenly get invited to upgrade into one of the luxury boxes. Coming out of the elevator, the people in front of me fawn all over an older gentleman standing in front of us. I have no idea who he is until my buddy tells me it’s Johnny Bucyk. To translate this to Celtics fans, this would be like suddenly meeting Bob Cousy or John Havlicek. Even a non-hockey fan has to appreciate that.
Just before play resumes, a modified version of the T-shirt Patrol appears along the top rim of the lower bowl. All of the t-shirt throwers are attractive young women wearing tight Bruins t-shirts that are tied in a knot well above their navels. One of them even swaggers around with Lucky the Leprachaun’s massive t-shirt cannon, which just seems wrong to me. During this crowd-pleasing segment, “Girls” by the Beastie Boys blares from the P.A. system, which only heightens the cheese factor. I conclude it’s only a matter of time before Kate Darnton pens an indignant editorial piece for the Boston Globe and compares the buxom lady t-shirt tossers to hookers.
Play resumes. At one point, the Bruins have a 2-on-1 breakaway. The two Bruins deftly pass the puck back and forth in a way that eerily reminiscent of Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen in transition. It’s a thing of beauty until the shot hits the post and the teams go back to taking turns clearing the puck into opposite ends of the rink again.
While I’m shooting the breeze with someone in the box, I hear a loud reaction from the crowd. I ask what the big deal was. It turns out that one of the Bruins had laid a heavy hit on one of the opposing players into the boards. Five seconds later, however, the other team still has the puck and yet the crowd is still reveling in the hit. This is one of the issues I have with hockey, which is to say that much of what is most appreciated by the fans seems to have more to do with gratuitous emotion and less to do with the winning of the game. Compare this to the hard foul by Jason Maxiell on Rajon Rondo last week in the Detroit game. Maxiell laid a vicious forearm to Rondo’s head while he was in mid-air during a dunk, thus causing the guard to crumple to the floor in a heap with small birds circling his head. Based on pure human emotion, Rondo and his teammates had every right to gang tackle Maxiell and beat him to a bloody pulp. But they didn’t. They kept their heads in check despite the unfairness of the play and the needless potential of serious injury because winning the game was more important to them than retaliating.
The guy sitting next to me asks me a question about a play that had just occurred. Before I can fumble with an attempted response, an eight-year old kid two seats down gives an elaborate and seemingly correct explanation, thus confirming that eight-year old children know more about hockey than I do.
Not much happens until the Bruins get handed a 5-on-3 advantage with just under six minutes to play in the game. Based on what I’ve seen of the Bruins power play thus far, this is like handing Heathcliff Slocumb the ball with a two run lead. In other words, it will most likely be a wasted opportunity (It’s called Bruins).
I am proven ignorant of hockey yet again when the Bruins convert the power play into a game-tying goal. After play resumes, the P.A. guy announces the details of the score followed by a big “Woo!” The crowd responds with its own “Woo!” I have to admit, this is a cool sequence, this whole “Woo!” thing. I’m thinking maybe the Celtics can somehow incorporate the P.A. Guy “Woo!” into games, but only on rare occasions, like maybe whenever Brian Scalabrine scores or something.
With the game tied and time running down, the crowd is beyond energetic. The whole game has built up to these last four minutes. At 2:16, the Bruins score the go-ahead goal and the building erupts into sheer pandemonium. A long stretch of wild celebration. Scoring details on the P.A. Woo! Another Woo! Even I have to admit that basketball rarely has a moment in the game that can match up to the money shot feeling of a go-ahead goal late in the third period. Ray Allen’s daggers against Toronto and Charlotte obviously hold up but those are events that are more rare in frequency. It is a game like this that helps a philistine like me understand why someone might be passionate about hockey.
I walk away from the Bruins game happy for having been there, although I realize it is mostly because my team from Boston won the game in a compelling and emotionally gratifying fashion. As we exit the Garden heading into evening, I remember that the Celtics have a game that night. It is a humdrum largely meaningless road game against a terrible Memphis Grizzlies team and yet I still eagerly await it. And therein lies the difference when it comes to the levels of love for a sport.