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1977-78 Bruins Are A Group to Remember

Remains only team in NHL history to boast 11 20-goal scorers

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - Bobby Miller's first thought was to pass the puck. As the hometown kid approached the open goal, he thought about dishing to teammate Gregg Sheppard, who was open just outside the crease.

Ultimately, though, Miller went for the shot - and history.

Despite a diving attempt from Toronto defenseman Borje Salming, the puck sailed into the back of the net, making the 21-year-old rookie the 11th member of the 1977-78 Boston Bruins to score 20 goals, setting an NHL record that still stands 40 years later.

That anniversary was marked on Tuesday night with a pregame ceremony prior to the Bruins' 5-2 victory over Calgary. Peter McNab (41), Terry O'Reilly (29), Bobby Schmautz (27), Stan Jonathan (27), Jean Ratelle (25), Rick Middleton (25), Sheppard (23), Brad Park (22), Don Marcotte (20), Miller (20), and coach Don Cherry were all in attendance. Captain Wayne Cashman (24) was the lone player unable to make the festivities.

"I was a kid, I left college and these are guys that I followed - just the way they embraced me…I wouldn't have done it without them," said Miller, a Billerica, Mass., native, who grew up watching the Bobby Orr-led Bruins win two Stanley Cups in the early '70s.

Video: CGY@BOS: Bruins honor 20-goal scorers on 1977-78 team

Miller's initial instinct to pass to Sheppard was a fitting microcosm of this legendary edition of the Black & Gold. It was a tight-knit group, as Miller described it, which looked out for each other on and off the ice (after all, they weren't dubbed the Lunch Pail A.C. for nothing).

"This team had no egos, none of the players had an ego," said Park, the lone defenseman of the 20-goal bunch. "We got along great. We enjoyed each other, we had fun together. We worked hard together. All in all it was probably one of the toughest, meanest teams in the league. I wouldn't want to play us."

Knowing Miller was sitting at 19 goals, it was Schmautz who urged Cherry to put the rookie on the ice to set the record, which was helped along - albeit unintentionally - by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the Bruins ahead by a goal late in the third, Toronto coach Roger Neilson pulled his goalie. An icing call led to faceoff back in the Maple Leafs end, but the net remained empty. Sheppard proceeded to win the ensuing draw to Schmautz, who found Miller to finish it off in Boston's second-to-last game of the season.

"The thing I really remember is how excited guys were for other guys when things happened. When Bobby Miller scored his 20th in Toronto, the bench just went absolutely crazy," said McNab, who remains 10th on Boston's all-time goals list with 263. "Everyone was just ecstatic. But that's exactly the kind of team it was."

While most of the players were aware something was on the line with Miller's 20th goal, the gravity of the record was not quite on their minds. Cherry and Bruins general manager Harry Sinden, though, were well aware of what their team was on the verge of accomplishing.

"The players didn't all know, but I knew. When we got 10, I said, 'We're gonna break it,'" said Cherry.

Video: Members of the 77-78 B's team reflect on their record

It is a goal and a moment that has often been overlooked in the storied annals of Bruins lore. And if not for Middleton - now the president of the Bruins Alumni - a reunion may have never come to fruition.

Middleton, who ranks third in B's history with 402 goals, happened to come across a plaque commemorating the record and swiftly brought the idea of an anniversary celebration to Bruins legend and current president Cam Neely.

"Forty years - myself and most of the guys I talked to didn't even realize it," said Middleton. "Nobody has even stated it over the years like, 'This is the 30th anniversary or the 35th,' it just kind of snuck up on us. I got the idea because I have the plaque that they gave us back then with all the guys' names and the goals.

"I just happened to be looking at it one day and I saw '77-78 and did the math quick in my head, 'Gee, this is the 40th anniversary, maybe the B's would be interested in doing something.'

"I went in and talked to Cam about it and lo and behold we're all here. Some of the guys haven't seen each other - maybe once or twice over the 40 years."

Video: Neely reflects on legendary 1977-78 B's team

Like so many Bruins teams of that era, the '77-78 team fell just short of championship glory, dropping the Stanley Cup Final to the rival Montreal Canadiens for the second consecutive season. They remain, however, one of the most beloved groups in team history thanks to their patented blend of skill and grit.

"Outside of just blatant talent, Grapes liked to really bill us as the Lunch Pail group, but we really had a lot of talent with Brad Park back on defense leading the way, goaltending with Gerry Cheevers," said Middleton. "We had a talented team that knew how to score goals. It was just that we came up against a juggernaut in Montreal for the second time in two years and we just couldn't get by them in the finals."

And there may not be any teams that get by the 1977-78 Bruins to break the mark of 11 20-goal scorers. The game has changed dramatically over the last 40 years, both on the ice and in the front office.

"No, there's a whole bunch of reasons. Just financially, if you take a group of 11 guys and you average them out to 25 goals apiece, how much does your average 20-goal scorer make in the National Hockey League now… a lot of money," said McNab, whose father Max was a longtime NHL general manager. "Then you add in the things that these guys brought aside from that…you couldn't keep a group like that together now. It's gonna be difficult to put together a group - that's a lot of people having really good years, staying healthy, getting a lot of things done."

"I know records are made to be broken," added Miller. "But this one might stand for a long, long time."

Like wise, this special group of Boston Bruins will be remembered for a long, long time.

"It was a team in every sense of the word. One night it was one guy, one night it was another," said McNab. "Whatever the situation demanded we had that kind of person, that kind of player that could step up.

"It was a remarkable group of unbelievable talent."

Video: Cassidy reminisces about Bruins history

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