I consider myself to be an extremely fortunate person to have grown up in New England. Maybe it’s just me, but having four distinct seasons in the area where you had your formative years makes you better equipped for what the world might throw your way. I can chop wood and apply sunblock to the hard to reach areas.So, yeah, I’ve got this whole “life” thing down.
A pond behind my childhood home is where I spent a lot of my time during the New Hampshire winters. I learned to skate for two reasons: 1) the off-chance that I would one day have to commute to school on the icy roads with blades attached to the bottoms of my shoes, and 2) I enjoyed playing hockey.
One of my all-time favourite memories as a child was when, on one morning in January of 1995, my peers and I were handed a snow day directly from God. All the kids on my cul-de-sac gathered on the pond down the street from us for some good, ol’ fashioned hockey.
I’m short now, and I was even shorter when I was 8. All the kids in my neighbourhood were older than me, so skating around on the ice was basically a game of bob and weave that meant life or death. Even though I was tiny, I had been skating longer than my friends and was able to move around the pond with all the grace a child could possibly have.
With my advanced skating abilities, I was able to find open lanes on the ice and pepper the other team’s goaltender with shots all morning. I couldn’t skate backwards, but I was able to pivot and catch up with the puck when it was going in the other direction. Scouts surely would have taken interest in my play as a two-way forward, but the roads were bad and not a single soul with a clipboard showed up in Fremont, New Hampshire that day.
My skills caught the attention of the oldest kid on the block, Chris. He praised my skating abilities. “Corey, you’re like Gretzky out there,” he said. “Maybe the Bruins could actually win a Stanley Cup if you were on the team.”
I laughed. I laughed really hard.
“Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen.”
I never played for the Boston Bruins. My hockey career ended not too long after my pond performance. I attribute this to my discovery of how awesome doughnuts are. The response to Chris’s statement wasn’t because I didn’t think I could play for the Bruins, though; it was because I didn’t think the Bruins would ever win the Stanley Cup in my lifetime.
I had these thoughts even when the Red Sox were still in the throes of an 86-year-long championship drought. As I got older, I thought Hell might freeze over when the Sox won, but the Bruins wouldn’t ever play for the Stanley Cup down there. Or anywhere else for that matter.
My love for watching hockey didn’t waver, though. I loved me some Bruins. Watching Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, and Adam Oates don the black and gold was a surefire way to make me happy. That, and eating doughnuts.
As time went on, the Bruins front office and bad luck started to irritate me to my breaking point. Neely retired prematurely due to injury. The team decided to move Oates and Bourque when I was still pretty young. Later on, the Bruins traded Jason Allison to the Kings for essentially a bag of pucks, which I found infuriating. The last straw was when Joe Thornton was shipped off to San Jose for a bunch of players who weren’t anything special. How does a young hockey fan cope with his favourite team constantly moving or losing his favourite players?
Easy. He watches baseball.
The Bruins assumed the fourth spot in the pecking order of teams I followed. I still watched them and cared about them deeply, but The Patriots won the Super Bowl for the first time when I was 13. The Red Sox somehow won the Series when I was a junior in high school. The Celtics won my sophomore year of college. The Bruins became an afterthought, and it was their own fault.
New England had championship fever, but my mind had been shaped to believe that the Bruins would forever be stuck in this limbo of getting decent players and then trading them before they became special.
Towards the end of college, when the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots all had “down” years, the Bruins started legitimately contending again. They raised a good group of young players, had a solid goalie who mastered his craft in the minors for years, and it sure seemed like the team had two stars to build around in Phil Kessel and Marc Savard. I was back on board and committed, but I was obviously wary.
When the 2008-09 season concluded, the Bruins had the best record in the Eastern conference, and the best goaltender in the business with Tim Thomas. I got my hopes up, and as my time as a Bruins fan has told me, I really shouldn’t have done that. They lost in the conference semi-finals to the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that was known as “The Whale” when I was younger.
The next offseason, they traded Kessel and lost P.J. Axelsson to Europe, and the words “never gonna win” were echoing in my mind like a chorus of taunting Canadiens fans.
The 2009-10 season was way worse than anything else I had experienced as a fan. Tim Thomas, who had become my favourite player, was terrible and hardly played all season. Savard suffered what will probably be a career-ending injury after a blindside hit from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke that went un-penalised by the league. He did have one inspirational goal that won a game 1 against the Flyers in the playoffs, but it ended up not mattering since the Bruins let a 3-0 series lead against those very same Flyers go by the boards. They lost in the most embarrassing way possible. The Bruins would never win a championship. I was sure because it just didn’t seem possible.
Then, improbably, impossibly, they did.
I can’t say that I felt like a kid after the Bruins won, because I never thought the Bruins could win even when I was a kid. My experience of watching Zdeno Chara hoist the Cup over his head was more reminiscent of an infant who didn’t quite understand what all the funny squiggles on the TV were doing. I may have not known exactly what this was, but I knew it made me happy.
I don’t live anywhere near that pond in Fremont anymore. I moved away from that town when I was 13, and I left the Granite State entirely a few months ago to follow dreams that actually seemed possible. Now that the Bruins have won the Stanley Cup, I can say that I now truly believe anything is possible, and hopefully the kids who play on that pond next realise that, too.
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