Mark Recchi had the game-tying goal. Marco Sturm had the go-ahead goal. And in the end — in the great outdoors, under bright lights — the Bruins had a 5-4 shootout win over the Canadiens.
The Bruins alumni, that is.
“To be on the ice and looking up, seeing the amount of people — I thought we'd just have a little dent,” said Ray Bourque. “You could see a big crowd out there, and the atmosphere was great. So it just says so much about this town. I shouldn't be surprised, but I thought it was a really fun game to be a part of and to play in.”
Thursday brought a win over their storied rival, but in the end, that’s not what mattered to this group of Bruins alums. What mattered was being out there on the Gillette Stadium ice, in front of the B’s faithful, wearing that Bruins uniform again.
“I was watching the Bruins game the other night against Ottawa at home, and kind of miss it,” said forward Marco Sturm. “I don't really miss it when I'm in Florida,” he added with a smile, “but when you're actually in the rink and watching these guys and actually play with most of the guys, too, you kind of miss it. So any chance we have to put on this nice jersey, I think it's pretty special.
“That was my first one with the alumni, and I hope there's more to come.”
Sturm and Recchi have been here before. They have played in an outdoor game, in front of a sea of fans decked out in Black and Gold, and a few months after the fact, they helped to bring a Stanley Cup to Boston.
Now, about five years later, the feeling is a little bit different. They are alumni now. But after lacing up the skates and wearing the Spoked-B on Thursday afternoon, it felt just like it did back in 2011.
“To get an opportunity to come back five years [after] we had an opportunity to play at Fenway, and to come back and represent the Bruins again — Sturmy scoring the huge goal there to win in overtime, and to come back and score another nice goal today — it's a fun thing to be a part of,” said forward Mark Recchi. “You never forget this stuff. Our kids will never forget it, and there are just special moments throughout your career that you really enjoy.”
In some ways, however, it felt different. This time, there were no standings to worry about, no points to worry about.
On Thursday, it was all about the love of the game.
“[At] Fenway, it's about points,” Sturm said. “We're kind of in the game a lot, and you can't really enjoy what's going on outside. I think today, I enjoyed it a little bit. We had a good ending in Fenway, but all day today, all game, I was kind of looking outside and enjoyed it a little bit more because we don't have to play for points.”
It took some time for the game itself to pick up. In the beginning, there were friendly hellos. There was lots of marveling at the surroundings.
But as the game went on, the intensity picked up. It always does.
“It got better and better as it went on, no question,” Recchi said. “Hey, guys played in the NHL for a reason. They were competitive, and they wanted to win. It's no different when you get out there [now]. It's a little loose to start, but then it heats up all the time. You see a little extra effort and a little extra backchecking and stuff like that. So there is no doubt about it.”
Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney still lives and breathes Black and Gold. He wore the uniform for 15 years, and these days, he studies every practice and every game, albeit from a different perspective. But wearing the uniform again on Thursday was doubtlessly special — because of the fans, because of the Winter Classic hype, and most importantly, because of the history between these two Original Six franchises.
“I think just the atmosphere is what’s most important, recognizing the two franchises themselves,” Sweeney said. “To be part of this, and in a really tremendous setting, and you look out there — you’ve got 40 some odd, 50 some odd thousand people — it’s pretty unique to be a part of that.”
Early in the game, Sweeney had one of Boston’s best scoring chances all day, but he was stoned on a breakaway from center ice by Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore.
“That’s out of my element,” he said afterward with a laugh.
The end result didn’t particularly matter, but after a back-and-forth third period that saw the Bruins twice take the lead and then twice allow the game-tying goal to Montreal, there wasn’t anyone on the ice who could honestly say he didn’t care about the outcome.
“I thought it was a really fun game to be a part of and to play in, and to watch to have it go down to a shootout — I think that was pretty neat,” Bourque said. “You could see at the end there, both teams did not want to lose.”
In the shootout, Sturm and Recchi scored in the first two rounds, and Bourque sealed it with a fourth-round goal. Under a clear sky in Foxboro, the Bruins had themselves a win over the Canadiens.
It was thrilling — not only because of the outcome. Because of the atmosphere. Because of the history.
Because of what it means to wear the Spoked-B, every single time they have the opportunity to put it on.
“For me, I bleed black and gold,” Bourque said. “I left for a short time there, but I've been wearing this jersey for quite a while with the alumni. I've traveled all over the Maritimes playing with the alumni and with my ex-teammates. I live 25 minutes from the city, and I'm not going anywhere.
“For me, it's always a thrill to wear this jersey.”