A swashbuckling crew of current and former Boston Bruins players and fans boarded the good ship "Yankee Freedom" last Wednesday for the Bruins' second annual Skate and Bait Fishing Tournament. All of them were eager to enjoy a day on the ocean, land some fish, and tell a few whopper sea and hockey stories.
Fifty-five members of Bruins Nation boarded the Freedom before the 8:00 a.m. departure.
Unfortunately, your faithful reporter was not one of them as an early-morning train ride from Boston to Gloucester (my home town) ran late, forcing a dead run towards the dock and a berth on the boat.
However, after a few anxious moments, with all present and accounted for, the hundred-foot vessel was soon underway scant minutes after its expected departure time.
Underneath a wheelhouse flying a black-and-gold flag, Bruins Foundation director Bob Sweeney gave a rousing welcome to the anglers and reminded them of the reason for the trip. Not only were the fishermen looking to the ocean for a great catch, but with the money they raised through the proceedings, doctors from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute are angling for a cure -- proceeds of the trip would benefit the Pan-Mass Challenge, the 192-mile, two-day ride to raise money for cancer research.
The PMC is doing some wonderful things in the fight against cancer.
Just ask Bill Barden.
This August 4th and 5th, the Milton resident will ride with the Bruins, completing his 16th trek from Sturbridge to Provincetown and he said there's inspiration at every mile.
“You see kids holding up signs saying, 'I'm four because of you,' and then the next year, 'I'm five because of you.' You see first-hand what the race is doing," he said. "It's hard not to keep going...it's hard not to come back every year."
Also riding is Debbie McNamara, herself a cancer survivor six times over. Sweeney specifically named her as a source of inspiration.
“I go out and I train," said Bob. "(Because) I see her doing it, and it's impossible not to train (after that).”
The Bruins PMC bike team, which includes former B's Lyndon Byers, Gary Doak, Terry O’Reilly, Shawn McEachern, Don Sweeney and Frank Simonetti, will ride this year in the memory of Jeff Hayes.
A Sandwich High hockey player and big Bruins fan, Hayes passed away in January after battling Ewing's Sarcoma and with that in mind, those on the Yankee Freedom knew they were doing their part to help a wonderful cause.
Fishing off of Gloucester is serious business.
No sooner had the boat breached the Dogbar Breakwater, off Gloucester Harbor, than did the jockeying begin between teams eager to take home a prize pack that included tickets, free parking, and a luxury box for a Bruins home game next season.
While cruising at a speed of 16 knots towards Tillies Bank, about 20 miles off the coast of Cape Ann, the good-natured barbs flew back and forth. The team called “Goalie Mackerel,” captained by Bruins forward Mark Mowers, looked to be favorites to repeat as champions. The foursome of Mike Mann, Dean Horne, Brian Watson and Chris Smith seemed to be some of the more experienced anglers on board, a fact that drew some light-hearted criticism from those in charge.
“They're a bunch of ringers,” said the vessel's captain, Bill Campbell, using a familiar hockey term. “They definitely know what they're doing.”
Donning referee stripes and a whistle, Campbell, operations manager of the Yankee Fleet, introduced the team captains – Mowers, Bob Sweeney, Simonetti, Bob Beers, Doak and O'Reilly – and gave a breakdown of the rules.
Last year, the sum total of all landed species determined the winner. This year, only cod and haddock would be in play.
True to the competitively friendly tone of the day, this reporter dug into recollections of the previous year's Skate and Bait.
This correspondent could neither confirm nor deny reports that Sweeney, the former Bruins forward, had landed a single fish during last year's event. Unnamed sources claim he went dry, but a jovial Sweeney recalled pulling in “a couple.” Either way, he dispensed some veteran advice to a young teammate: “You gotta talk to the fish. If you don't talk, they won't listen!”
Apparently, his ministrations worked, because at 10:21 a.m., Sweeney pulled the day's first catch from the 265-foot Atlantic depths. “We're comin' after you guys this year!” he exclaimed to last year's winners, who were fishing on the bow.
A peer of Sweeney's who attended last year's event said striking early was a relief for the former Bruin.
“Pulling in that fish early was big for him," said the unnamed source. "That was a running joke last year, him not catching anything."
And the gags kept coming.
Noticing a lack of movement in the line of Doak, the former B's defensive wizard, Captain Bill grabbed a tool with which he thought Doak would have better luck: a wooden hockey stick, fashioned into a working fishing rod, replete with a puck serving as line weight.
Truth be told, there wasn't much doing at the first fishing spot and the anglers were pulling up some more oddball species.
“That's a three-pound weight fish!” shouted one angler, who had pulled up the tangled end of he and his friend's lines.
Some were nearly ready to resort to drastic means in the quest for piscean glory.
“We got any hand grenades? How about a net?” wondered Sweeney aloud, as he considered his options.
But they were not ready to reel in just then.
“The secret to success is persistence,” said Mann, of Goalie Mackerel. “If you don't have a line in the water, you're not truly fishing.”
And with that, dear friends, the luck aboard the Yankee Freedom was soon changed as a quick shuttle to the other end of the bank lifted the dark clouds that hung over the individual heads of the fishermen aboard the Freedom.
Suddenly, the fish came fast and furious.
“That's a start, huh!” said Sgt. Dave Armstrong, of the Georgetown police, as he proudly displayed a beautiful haddock, the spoils of a twenty-minute battle. Armstrong's teammates, the team collectively known as “Two Minutes for Hooking,” helped to land the six-pound fish, which would eventually stand up as the largest of the day. “It was good team play,” said Armstrong of the effort put forth by his son, Nate, and Spencer native Jim St. Germain, who ride for the Bruins PMC team.
Minutes later, Goalie Mackerel got on the board with a nice haddock. “We're all tied up!” shouted a jubilant Mann.
Then, Simonetti's squad, called the “Stickhandlers,” pulled in a haddock of their own. Paula Foster, herself a Gloucester native, did most of the work.
Scoring one for the current edition of the Black & Gold, Mowers reeled in a haddock that measured just over the legal limit of 19 inches. “Actually, it was four feet,” said a smirking Mowers when asked the size of the fish.
Fish tales aside, Mowers' catch was small but tough, one that took the Bruin fifteen minutes to reel in. This was a fact that caused Mark Sutera to poke fun at Mowers.
Sutera, a 14 year-old Gloucester resident, boasted that his haddock only took him five minutes to land. But a little healthy competition only helped “Team Captain Carlo's,” consisting of Sutera, his uncle Sean Cranston and son Connor, 13, and friend Scott Kush.
They were primed to upset the heavyweights as the afternoon went on.
“Block by Doak! Yeah, I'm old enough to remember Gary,” said Dan Greaney, of Roslindale. He and buddy Matt Barry, of Dorchester, were chatting inside the Freedom's cabin. For them, the highlight of the day was the opportunity to chat about the Big Bad Bruins with actual greats from those teams.
“We had a great conversation with Gary,” said Greaney. “He seemed like the nicest guy in the world. The whole day's been absolutely fantastic.”
“Plus, any day fishing is better than a day at work,” he added with a laugh. “You can print that.”
Back outside, Goalie Mackerel's Smith reeled up another, but the “ringers” weren't sitting on their lead. “The other teams look pretty good. We might have to play some sabotage roles,” said a sly Mann.
Matt Giglio must have heard Mann's plan, because he clearly wasn't going to put up with the trickery. “That looks like a trout!” said the young Hubbardston resident, deriding the Goalie Mackerel's latest haul and getting laughs from his Dad, Chris, and a nearby Sweeney.
With all the day's catch on board, and the Freedom, a 100-foot Lydia yacht, heading for Gloucester, it came time to announce the winner of the tournament. In a close race, Goalie Mackerel defended their title – cleanly – by edging out Captain Carlo's.
On the ride home, a few raindrops and some chilly weather forced people inside the Freedom's mahogany and teak cabin, where people talked pro, college and youth hockey, and shared fishing stories.
A few even napped, causing Sweeney to crack wise.
“The Boston Bruins Alumni have a new sponsor – Dramamine,” he announced, in reference to the rolling seas that turned at least one fierce former Bruin into a slumbering bear.
Back at the dock, a cookout provided some well-earned nourishment. Traditional fare such as hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob was delicious, and the beverages were cold and refreshing. Also, items were up for bid, including autographed jerseys, boating excursions and fan experiences.
Sweeney thanked everyone in attendance for helping the Bruins PMC team achieve its goals.
“Events like this help us raise so much money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,” he said. “Last year, we raised over $114,000, and we're doing even better this year.
"I want to thank all of you for making it possible."