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Middleton loves Montreal's passion for hockey

Thursday, 01.22.2009 / 3:00 PM / 2009 NHL All-Star Game

By John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer

"Nifty" Rick Middleton played 14 seasons in the NHL, the last dozen with the Boston Bruins, so he has plenty of memories of Montreal and playing against the Canadiens.

"I met my first wife in Montreal," Middleton said.

"So, is that a good memory or a bad one?" he was asked.

"No, that's a good memory," he said with a laugh. "My daughter still lives there. I got traded from the New York Rangers to the Bruins in 1976 and we lost the Stanley Cup Final my first two years to the Canadiens and then had the 'too many men on the ice' game in the semifinals in my third year there.

"I also had the chance to play in the 1981 Canada Cup in Montreal, losing to the Russians, 8-1. So, I have good memories and bad memories of playing in Montreal and against the Canadiens, in Boston or Montreal."

Middleton played in the NHL from 1974-88 and retired with 448 goals and 988 points in 1,005 NHL games. He played in the NHL All-Star Game in 1981, 1982 and 1984, and he'll be at the Jan. 25 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal's Bell Centre to help the Canadiens and the Montreal fans celebrate the franchise's 100th anniversary.

"Montreal is such a passionate hockey town," Middleton said. "I always loved going there. I love the passion the fans have for the game and now that the rivalry is back, it just adds to the game. Montreal is what hockey should be, and both Montreal and Boston need each other. I mean, what is hockey in Boston without Montreal, and vice versa? All of a sudden, that's not an easy ticket to get anymore."

Middleton was talking about the great job done by Boston General Manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien in directing the Bruins to first place in the Eastern Conference at midseason.

"I have to be honest, I was working for NESN the past five years and I didn't see this coming," he said. "I thought they were going to be better but not this good. I love the way Claude coaches. He seems to get every ounce of talent out them and makes the team better than the individuals. That's the sign of a good team.

"But no one saw Manny Fernandez coming back to be the $4 million goalie they signed him to be. Phil Kessel was benched in the playoffs last spring and now is leading the team in goals and taking on the role of a team leader. Michael Ryder was washed up in Montreal and started slowly here but he's coming on. They signed Blake Wheeler and said he was a year or two away and now he's going for rookie of the year. The leaders, (Zdeno) Chara and (Marc) Savard, are playing their game. The goalie tandem is the best in the NHL."

Middleton's memories of those three All-Star Games are of the feelings and camaraderie rather than the results.

"The first one in 1981 was definitely a thrill; any time you play in your first All-Star Game you're going to feel honored," he said. "Plus, it was in Los Angeles, which is not like mid-winter in Minnesota. Los Angeles did it up big, with movie stars and everything. The thing I remember best was that we ordered tuxes and I didn't try mine on before the dinner. Turned out my pants were about three inches too short and I looked like Bob off the farm. I was walking across the stage, pulling down my pants so my knees didn't show."

Middleton always has been quick with a joke or a good response but he was stuck when asked why he didn't hit the score sheet in that game. We cut him off after four lame excuses.

"You roll four lines in an All-Star Game?" he tried. "Not enough ice time? Maybe I was shell-shocked playing in my first All-Star Game? How about I was playing more a defensive game because somebody had to? Not buying this?"

No, but Middleton had a nice setup on Marc Tardif's goal in 1982 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. Tardif is kind of a forgotten player from that era because he played so long in the World Hockey Association.

"I remember him with Quebec after they came over to the NHL from the WHA," Middleton said. "They had formidable teams in those days and he brought a lot to that team, one of the guys you always had to worry about."

Middleton said his favorite All-Star Game was 1984 at the Meadowlands. He scored a goal off assists from Barry Pederson and Phil Housley. That was ironic because Middleton, Pederson and linemate Mike Krushelnyski combined to cream Housley's Sabres in the 1983 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"You roll four lines in an All-Star Game? Not enough ice time? Maybe I was shell-shocked playing in my first All-Star Game? How about I was playing more a defensive game because somebody had to? Not buying this?"
-- Rick Middleton, trying to explain why he didn't record a point in his first ASG
Middleton is tied with Wayne Gretzky for most assists in one playoff series, with 14 in the 1983 division final against Buffalo. He holds the outright lead with 19 points in one series, off 5 goals and 14 assists. Krushelnyski had 8 goals in 17 playoff games that year.

"So of course they traded him," Middleton said, laughing. "There's another record in there, most points by a line in a seven-game series. I saw Mike recently, when he was coming back from coaching in Russia. He didn't know we had that record. It's just sad any time you have three guys who can handle the puck that well and they traded him.

"Usually when players got traded to Boston in that era, they got better because we had good leadership, but every once in a while it worked in reverse, like Mike winning the Stanley Cup in Edmonton. In my case, I got traded from the Rangers after they missed the playoffs and I wound up in the Stanley Cup Final my first two years here."

So what are you going to tell the Montreal fans when they tease you about your connection with the Bruins, Middleton was asked.

"The Bruins are back," he said. "Game 6 last year was the first game in 20 years that reminded me of the feeling in the old Boston Garden."