November 1, 1924 was a red letter day for both the city of Boston and the National Hockey League. On that day, Charles Francis Adams paid the NHL a rumored $15,000 and received in return a piece of paper entitling him to the first United States entry into the league.
Adams, a grocery chain tycoon from Vermont, held a contest to name his NHL club, laying down several ground rules. One was that the basic colors of the team be brown with yellow trim, the color scheme of his Brookside stores. The name of the team would preferably relate to an untamed animal embodied with size, strength, agility, ferocity and cunning, while also in the color brown category. He received dozens of entries, none of which were to his satisfaction until his secretary came upon the idea of “Bruins”.
Adams, who remained president of the club until 1936, when he turned the reins over to his son Weston, made perhaps his smartest move in naming Art Ross to the positions of General Manager and coach.
Ross, a native of Naughton, Ontario, was managing a sporting goods store in Montreal when hired by Adams to run the franchise. A strong and innovative hockey man, he invented the beveled-edge pucks, as well as mesh nets that allowed the pucks to stay in rather than bounce back onto the playing surface. He also developed the fiber guard for the back of skates which protects the vulnerable Achilles tendon from injury.
On December 1, 1924, the Boston Bruins played their first National Hockey League game, defeating the Montreal Maroons at the Boston Arena by a 2-1 score, with Fred Harris and Carson Cooper scoring the Boston goals. It was to be the high point in a truly dismal season which saw the home team win only six of 30 games, three each at home and on the road.
The horizons brightened considerably during the 1926-27 season. Charles Adams bought the Western Canada Hockey League, bringing an influx of new talent to the Bruins, including the inimitable Eddie Shore, an Edmonton farm boy who was the become the stalwart of the team for many years to come. He was the first defenseman to take the puck from behind his own net and rush electrifyingly up ice to score. Also renowned as one of the toughest players to ever play the game, Shore developed into the top box office attraction of his day.
The stories surrounding Shore are legendary. He once missed a team train to Montreal in 1929 and drove straight through from Boston in a blinding blizzard to arrive in Montreal at 6:30 the night of the game. Although suffering from frostbite, he scored the game’s only goal in a Bruins victory.
But it was Shore’s amazing on-ice skill and talent that eventually put him into the Hall of Fame. A seven-time All-Star, he also won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player four times. In 1927-28, he set an NHL record for penalty minutes in a season with 165 in 44 games. With Shore anchoring the defense alongside Lionel Hitchman, who had been acquired from Ottawa in 1925, Art Ross had started the Boston tradition to teams whose strength came from their blueline.
With a second place finish in 1926-27 and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final against Ottawa and a first place finish in 1927-28, the Bruins were rapidly becoming a force to reckon with in the National Hockey League. On April 3, 1928, the Bruins played their last game in the Arena before moving into the Boston Garden, losing to the New York Rangers, 4-1, in the last Semifinal playoff game.
On November 20, 1928, the Bruins played their first game in the Boston Garden, losing their home opener to the Canadiens, 1-0, with a huge crowd estimated at 17,000 breaking down the Garden doors to attend. The Bruins established a 26-13-5 record in 1928-29 en route to a first place finish overall and their first Stanley Cup championship.
1928-29 also heralded the creation of one of the greatest lines the game has known. Cooney Weiland, a smart playmaker and talented two-way player who was deadly in front of the net, centered Dit Clapper, who possessed an extremely hard shot, on right wing, and Dutch Gainor, a clever stickhandler, on left wing. It was also the first season in a Bruins uniform for Cecil “Tiny” Thompson in goal.
Art Ross’s talent for predicting the future waves of the game played a big part in the Bruins’ Cup quest that year. For many years, he had advocated a rule change that forward passing be allowed into the attacking zone and he had his team practicing it before it was enacted. When the rule change came through for 1928-29, his team was prepared and had an edge on the competition.
A second straight Stanley Cup was expected in 1929-30, with the Bruins amassing a league-record 77 points and an amazing 38-5-1 record, including a 14-game win streak which was a league record that stood until 1981. Ross again showed his innovation during that post-season, as on March 27th he pulled goalie Tiny Thompson for an extra attacker, which was the first time that had ever occurred.
The “Dynamite Line” of Weiland, Gainor and Clapper scored 102 of the team’s 179 total goals that season. Weiland had 43 goals in 44 games, winning the Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer with 73 points. The enormity of the feat in that day and time may be realized by a passage in the 1938-39 issue of the Garden-Arena News, in which Victory Jones wrote: “Some day a hockey player will come along and score more than 43 goals in a season and more than 73 points over the same span. But probably neither you nor I will be around when this twin miracle happens.”.
The 1930s saw the Bruins compile five first-place divisional finishes with many individual honors accrued. Tiny Thompson won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s premier goaltender on four occasions. Eddie Shore captured the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in four seasons as well.
On March 14, 1933, the Bruins won the only forfeited game in modern NHL history. They had tied the game with two goals in the last five minutes of a game against Chicago. Eddie Shore scored the second goal with one arena clock on the 20:00 mark and the other clock past it. Chicago coach Tommy Gorman protested, but the goal stood. Marty Barry then scored another disputed goal in overtime. Gorman pulled his team off the ice and the Bruins were awarded the forfeited game.
The late 1930s brought several players to the Bruins that seemed to ensure their success for years to come. In 1936, Ross had taken a chance on the acquisition of Bobby Bauer when many ‘experts’ in hockey maintained that he was too small. From the same team, Ross also acquired Bauer’s teammates, Milt Schmidt and Woody Dumart, thus creating another great Bruins line, the “Kraut Line” or as they were also called, the “Kitchener Kids”.
Frank Brimsek had led all goaltenders in the International-American League in 1937-38 with a 1.70 goals against average in 48 games. Born in Eveleth, Minnesota, Brimsek had one of the hardest jobs in hockey – succeeding Tiny Thompson in the Boston net.
Thompson had originally suggested to Art Ross the use of a ‘backup’ goalie, not only to prolong his own career by giving him an occasional rest, but also to give his eventual replacement some experience. Brimsek played the first two games of the 1938-39 season when Thompson was injured, winning both. When Thompson was sold to Detroit for $15,000, Brimsek became Boston’s top goalie and twice registered three consecutive shutouts to earn the nickname of “Mr. Zero” en route to capturing both the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie and the Vezina as the NHL’s premier goaltender.
In all, the first 15 years of the Bruins’ existence in the NHL were glorious ones. They had eight first-place finishes in the league or their division, reached the Stanley Cup Final four times and twice won the coveted Trophy. An amazing 17 people associated with the franchise during that time span were eventually elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The next stretch of the Bruins history to date – from 1940-1969 – began on an upbeat note with consecutive first place finishes and one Stanley Cup (1941) and ended with an optimistic outlook with the coming of age of Bobby Orr. In between, however, Bruins fans were treated to a roller-coaster ride of inconsistency as the team did not qualify for the playoffs in 11 of those 30 seasons, including an eight-year stretch between 1959-60 and 1966-67.
The ’30s closed out with the Kraut Line keeping up their pace. Schmidt, whom Art Ross called ‘the greatest of modern centers’, led the league in scoring and for the first time in league history, three players not only from the same team, but the same line, finished the season in the top three spots of the individual scoring race. The 1939-40 season also closed a bright chapter in Bruins history as Eddie Shore ended his career with the team after 14 seasons, seven First Team All-Star berths and four Hart Trophies. On January 25, 1940, Shore was traded to the New York Americans after he announced that he had purchased the Springfield Indians of the AHL and would play only home games for the Bruins.
The 1940s began with great promise as Bill Cowley and Roy Conacher emerged as scoring stars and the team enjoyed a record-breaking 23-game unbeaten streak with 15 wins and eight ties in 1940-41. They cruised to their third Stanley Cup championship (and second in three years) over Detroit with the first four-game sweep in Stanley Cup Final history.
World War II intervened in the early ’40s with Schmidt, Bauer and Dumart enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force and Brimsek and Conacher leaving as well to join the war effort. Although the Bruins made it to the Cup finals in 1943, the remaining part of the decade was unrewarding with Dit Clapper’s retirement on February 12, 1947 after becoming the first player to play 20 seasons in the league and Bauer retiring as well at the end of the 1946-47 season.
The 1950s saw three Stanley Cup Final appearances, but Boston finished as high as second in the regular season just once (1958-59). Milt Schmidt retired in December, 1954, assuming the coaching reins from Lynn Patrick, but the team continued its decline in the early ’60s, with their eight-year drought of playoff appearances from 1960-67 the longest such stretch in Bruins history.
In 1966-67, however, three events occurred which made the Bruins’ 17-43-10 record a little easier to bear. In june, 1966, a youngster named Bobby Orr was signed to his first Bruins contract and in the ensuing season won the Calder Trophy and a Second-Team All-Star berth. The second event was the promotion of Harry Sinden to coach of the team after serving as coach for Boston’s minor league affiliates since 1961. Finally, at the conclusion of the 1966-67 season, Milt Schmidt was named as General Manager and immediately made one of the biggest deals in Bruins history, acquiring Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield from Chicago for Pit Martin, Gil Marotte and Jack Norris just before the midnight trading deadline.
Esposito and Hodge gave the Bruins much-needed offensive depth and, combined with the unparalleled two-way play of Orr and the shrewd and intelligent Sinden behind the bench, the Bruins were on the way to becoming the power team of the early 1970s.
These were magical years for Bruins fans, as Orr set league records and standards for defensemen, Esposito became the first player in NHL history to record a 100+ point season and goaltender Gerry Cheevers seemed to stop everything that came his way. In 1969-70, Orr became the only player to ever win four trophies in a single season with the Norris, Hart, Ross and Smythe Trophies. In the playoffs, everything came together in near perfection. With the Quarterfinal series against the Rangers tied at two games apiece, the Bruins reeled off ten straight victories through Chicago and the first three Final games against St. Louis.
The final game was in Boston on May 10, 1970. The score was tied at 3-3 after 60 minutes of regulation. As the overtime commenced, Derek Sanderson fed Bobby Orr. Orr shot, the red light went on, and Orr sailed through the air to land in a pile of Stanley Cup Champions.
In 1970-71, the Bruins set 35 team and individual league records in compiling a 57-14-7 record. Orr became the first player in league history to record consecutive 100+ point seasons while Esposito shattered league scoring marks with 76 goals and 76 assists for 152 points. The Esposito/Hodge/Wayne Cashman line combined for an incredible 140 goals and 336 points. Boston dominated the post-season awards ceremony as Orr won the Norris and Hart Trophies, Esposito took the Ross and John Bucyk won his first Lady Byng Trophy. The opportunity was lost for a Smythe Trophy winner, however, when Boston lost their Quarterfinal series to eventual Cup-winner Montreal.
The magic returned in 1971-72 as the Stanley Cup returned to Boston. The Bruins went through the playoffs losing only three games in taking the Quarterfinal from Toronto, 4-1, and sweeping St. Louis in a four-game Semifinal to set up the final vs. the New York Rangers.
Orr set an NHL record for assists in the playoffs with 19 and for points in the playoffs by a defenseman with 24. On May 11, 1972 in New York, the Bruins won their second Stanley Cup in three years with a 3-0 victory over the Rangers. Orr became the first player ever to win two Conn Smythe Trophies as he again scored the Cup-winning goal.
During the mid-1970s, the Bruins continued their regular season domination, as they finished second in their division only twice from 1972-73 through 1978-79. Orr continued to win the Norris Trophy, as in 1974-75 he became the first player to ever win a league award for eight seasons. Esposito continued to dominate the scoring ranks, as he took the Ross Trophy for four consecutive seasons and in 1974-75 tallied his fourth 60+ goal campaign.
The team underwent major changes in 1975-76. The Bruins had lost five games by early November and on November 7, 1975, General Manager Harry Sinden sent Esposito and Carol Vadnais to the New York Rangers for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi in what still ranks as one of the biggest trades in NHL history. Park became a First Team All-Star in his first season with Boston as the Bruins went on to lose only ten more games for the remainder of that season. Ratelle was in his 15th season as a Ranger at the time of the trade, but was rejuvenated in Boston and led the team in scoring in addition to winning the Lady Byng Trophy at season’s end.
On May 26, 1976, Sinden engineered another big trade, this time sending Ken Hodge to the Rangers for Rick Middleton and in 1976-77, Sinden was named as the league’s Executive of the Year as the team once again went to the Stanley Cup Final. That would be the farthest they would extend in the post-season for another decade, however, as they continued a pattern of regular season success that did not translate to playoff excellence.
The Bruins began to rebuild as they entered the 1980s. In June of 1979, Ray Bourque was taken in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft and he went on to become only the fifth defenseman to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and the first non-goaltender to win both the Calder and be named to the First All-Star Team.
Middleton continued to be the offensive catalyst of the club and in 1980, Barry Pederson was taken in the first round of the draft and proceeded to set team rookie marks for goals, assists and points. He combined with Middleton to form one of the most explosive duos in the NHL in the early ’80s, combining for four 100+ point seasons. Pete Peeters was obtained form Philadelphia during the 1982 off-season and recorded a 31-game unbeaten streak in 1982-83 (26-0-5), second in league history only to Gerry Cheevers’ Boston mark of 24-0-8 in 1971-72.
Bourque emerged through the ’80s as the league’s premier defenseman and, while the transformation of the team traced its roots back to his 1979 selection, Sinden pulled off another stunning deal in 1986 in trading Barry Pederson to Vancouver and receiving in return Cam Neely and a 1987 first round draft pick (Glen Wesley). Neely promptly emerged as one of the league’s top scoring threats, becoming only the second Bruin in history to record consecutive 50-goal seasons in 1989-90 and 1990-91 and earning All-Star honors as well.
One of the league’s most-feared hitters in addition to his scoring prowess, it was Neely’s blend of ferocity and finesse that added the term ‘power forward’ to the hockey lexicon, as Sinden used that description for the first time in hockey when discussing the right wing. The signing of Reggie Lemelin in 1987 and the acquisition of Andy Moog at the trade deadline in 1988 gave the Bruins their strongest goaltending tandem in years and they returned to the Stanley Cup Final in both 1987-88 and 1989-90, losing both series to the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers, who were ending their reign of five championships in a seven-year span. Although they fell short of their ultimate goal, they vanquished a venerable post-season foe with their 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1992 series victories over the Montreal Canadiens their first such wins since 1943.
Although the club again advanced to the Conference Final in both 1990-91 and 1991-92, dropping twice to eventual Cup winner Pittsburgh. Cam Neely continued his scoring domination with his third career 50-goal season in 1993-94, scoring the 50th in just his 44th game played, which trailed only Wayne Gretzky’s 50 in 39 for the fastest 50 goals in league history.
They closed their history in the Boston Garden in 1994-95, saying goodbye in a touching final season of remembrances to a building that was truly one of sports’ great home-ice advantages with the crowd on top of the intimate playing surface. Greats that had played both for and against the Bruins joined in the season-long celebrations which culminated in The Last Hurrah on September 25, 1995 with the incomparable Orr the final skater to take a lap on Garden ice.
The Bruins opened a new chapter in their history when they moved into the FleetCenter – now named TD Garden – at the start of the 1995-96 season with Neely opening the new building’s hockey history with a hat trick in the season-opening game on October 7th. Just ten days later, Sinden would become the first General Manager in the history of the NHL to reach 1,000 career victories as a GM with a 7-4 win in St. Louis on October 17th.
But by the mid-90’s an amazing run would be over. The Bruins would spend the next ten years with highs and lows from both individual and team perspectives. Injuries forced Neely’s retirement in September, 1996 and the Bruins finished the 1996-97 season with a 26-47-9 record, ending a campaign without a winning mark and post-season berth for the first time since 1966-67. It ended a remarkable 29-year stretch of playoff appearances which remains a record not just in the NHL but in all of North American professional team sports. The season was notable only for two things – Ray Bourque became the team’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing John Bucyk, who had held the mark since 1967, and a last-place NHL finish ensured the start of a major rebuild of the roster.
Bourque, long the standard of excellence on Causeway Street and the NHL blueline, played his final game in a Bruins uniform on March 4, 2000 as the team’s all-time leader in games played, assists and points and with 18 First and Second Team All-Star honors and five Norris Trophies to his credit. Traded to the Colorado Avalanche, where he would finish his storied career, it was truly the end of an era for the Black and Gold.
The Bruins looked to the younger generation of Joe Thornton, former Calder Trophy winner Sergei Samsonov and Jason Allison but they failed to qualify for post-season play in the two years following the loss of Bourque and were dispatched in the first playoff rounds for the three years preceding an historic lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season. But they would return to play in 2005-06, a year of transition that saw Patrice Bergeron become the youngest player in team history to record a 30-goal season and culminated in an off-season that eventually turned the club’s fortunes.
Peter Chiarelli was named as the club’s General Manager and the club signed the two marquis free agents of the 2006 off-season in Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. After again missing out on post-season play, Chiarelli made perhaps his best move at the helm of the franchise in bringing Claude Julien in as the club’s head coach in June, 2007 and the team took on Julien’s vision of strength up the middle led by Bergeron, Chara and the ultra-competitive Tim Thomas in goal.
The team moved up into a third-place division finish in Julien’s first season of 2007-08 and returned to the playoffs, losing a hard-fought seven-game series to Montreal. They would rise to the top of their division in four of the next six seasons, including the third- and fourth-best regular seasons in their history with 53 victories and 116 points in 2008-09 as Julien was named the league’s top coach and 54 wins and 117 points in 2013-14.
The team also advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs in five of the six years, highlighted by a spectacular run to their sixth Stanley Cup championship in 2011 when they became the first team in NHL history to win three seven-game series in one playoff year. They returned to the Final two years later in 2013, losing a six-game series to Chicago. Already the team’s all-time leader in playoff wins, Julien would become the Bruins all-time regular season coaching wins leader in 2015-16, passing the legendary Art Ross with a 5-4 overtime win at the Florida Panthers on March 7th.
The Bruins enter the second half of the decade with reason for optimism led by team CEO Charlie Jacobs, President Cam Neely and Don Sweeney, who was named as the team’s eighth General Manager in May, 2015. The roster is led by the stalwart Chara on defense, the NHL’s premier two-way forward in Patrice Bergeron, the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy winning goaltender in Tuukka Rask and a strong supporting cast that includes Brad Marchand, David Krejci and emerging talent such as David Pastrnak.