Montreal -- On Monday night, the Montreal Canadiens celebrated the legendary rivalry between the Habs and the Boston Bruins before a highly anticipated game that was nationally televised on Versus and played before a sell-out crowd at the Bell Centre.
It was a wonderful night -- and not just because the B's defeated their archrivals 6-5 in a very entertaining hockey contest. Both Boston and Montreal brought legendary players out onto the ice to greet the crowd and be acknowledged for their service to their teams, their cities and to hockey.
BostonBruins.com was on hand for the festivities and was able to catch up with several former members of the Black & Gold who were on hand for the emotional and pre game ceremony.
"To have them still remember me, that is an honor in itself," said Milt Schmidt, who was the most senior Bruin on hand for the evening.
Schmidt, born in March 5, 1918 in Kitchener, Ontario, played 776 games for Boston and had a 229-346-575 line. Milt remains the only person in Bruins history to play, captain, coach and serve as general manager of the club.
He took the opportunity to talk about the honor of wearing the Bruins sweater.
"From day one the Boston Bruins meant an awful lot to me," said Schmidt. "I was only 17 years old when I had the privilege of meeting some of the players.
"To be invited to the training camp of the Boston Bruins -- I really can't emphasize how I really felt the first time I got on the ice…being on the same ice surface as guys like Eddie Shore, Dit Clapper, John 'Red' Beattie and you can go on and on.
"What a thrill that was," said Schmidt, a World War II vet who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.
"It was quite touching," said legendary Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers of the evening. "I felt really good about it."
Cheevers is probably the best-remembered goalie in Boston history. Known as the progenitor of goal mask decoration (thanks to the stitch marks drawn on his mask, symbolizing stitches he never received thanks to his protection), the beloved puck stopper from St. Catherines was born on Dec. 7, 1940 and played 416 games for the B's, earning 229-101-74 record with a 2.58 GAA and 26 shutouts.
Cheevers mused about hockey rivalries and how important it is that the NHL nurtures those special relationships between teams.
"There is nothing wrong with a great rivalry…and you have to play the opponent in the playoffs in order to nurture that rivalry. And when you don't do that for a long time, it sort of dies.
"When Boston and Montreal play in the playoffs, like they did a couple years ago, it sort of perked it up a little bit…and you need it.
"Boston needs Montreal," he said, adding, "I think rivalries are very helpful to the game."
Cheevers also talked about his time with the Bruins and what Boston meant to him. He was clearly moved by his being invited to the ceremony and getting an opportunity to don a Black & Gold sweater in the Bell Centre.
"It always meant a lot to me," said Cheevers of putting on the Spoked B. "This is my first year not working for the Bruins in a long time and…to put the jersey on again in Montreal was pretty neat."
Boston stalwart Wayne Cashman said he grew up with the Bruins.
Born June 24, 1945 in Kingston, Ontario, they were the only organization that he had ever suited up for, earning a 277-516-793 line in 1027 games.
"They were the only team I every played for. I came up through the organization from the time I was 14 and until the day I retired.
"I was what you grew up with," he explained. "My whole life was the Bruins. And it was a great honor to be able to play [for Boston]," said Cashman.
He too was touched by the ceremony and the warm reception from the Montreal fans.
"It's always great to come back," said the Bruins alum of Montreal. "The tradition in this great city, for hockey -- it's one of the top cities in the world and one of the greatest organizations in the world.
"It was great to be part of it," said Cashman.
P.J. Stock was not part of the on-ice ceremonies but was there, instead, as an alumnus but also as a fan.
Stock is also a new member of the Montreal media and has a morning sports talk show called the Stock Exchange
on the Team 990 amongst other projects.
"I had a cup of coffee here with Montreal," said Stock. "And [I played] a couple fun years in Boston.
"I had a lot of fun playing hockey. I think my experience here in Montreal was short lived. [But playing for the Habs] was something I always wanted to do, being born and raised here."
But his on-ice experiences in the rivalry came mostly in a Bruins jersey. Stock played 130 games, scored one goal and had 13 assists. He also 'earned' 282 penalty minutes protecting the Bruins scorers.
"My appreciation for the rivalry and for these teams' in games [came] when I was in Boston. That's when I was really able to play in the games and I had a blast playing them.
"I wish I could have been able to keep playing [there], unfortunately I got hurt playing somewhere else and my career came to an end.
And Boston maintains a special place in his heart.
"It wasn't as much missing the game," explained Stock. "[I] miss the people.
"The people were awesome and I love the city," he said.
The biggest ovation from the partisan home crowd was reserved for their own: Raymond Bourque, who was born Montreal, Quebec on December 28, 1960.
Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004, Bourque was the first non-goalie to win the Calder Trophy and be named a First Team All-Star in his rookie season. He earned five Norris Trophies and was named an NHL All-Star 18 times. He remains the Bruins all-time leader in games, assists and points and is the NHL's all-time leading scorer among defensemen.
"It really was special," said Bourque. "You've got to remember that I'm French Canadian, a Quebecer at heart, and I think they never forget that."
With the Bruins, Bourque played 1518 games, scored 395 goals and 1111 assists for 1506 points.
"It's really an honor and a privilege to be part of this night," said Bourque. "There are so many great legends here tonight and I think they did phenomenal job.
"I got some chills watching that video with the older Bruins that I played with…just being part of the rivalry. Just being a fan growing up, I grew up in Montreal, being on that side of it. And then becoming a Bruin in 1979 and being on the other side of it and living so many tough times for so long. And finally in 1988, finally winning and beating Montreal, something that wasn't done for over 40 years was truly a special team and an incredible feat for the Bruins organization.
"From that point on, we went on to beat the Canadiens in a lot of series after that," he said.
And hopefully the current set of B's continues that trend this season should they meet the Habs in the post-season.
The current Bruins return home to the TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:00 p.m. ET. The game can be seen live on NESN and heard live on WBZ Radio. Thursday night's home game will feature a post-game concert by rock band State Radio. Thursday night is also Student Night, which entitles students to purchase select seats at half price with a valid student ID.
Tickets are available for all home games online by clicking here
, at the TD Banknorth Garden Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, or by phone at 617.624.BEAR.