Boston sports teams are well-known for their rivalries, and the Bruins are no exception.
“Whether the games were in…the beginning of the year, middle of the year, (or the) end of the year, when the Bruins played Montreal, it was always a playoff atmosphere,” said Bob Sweeney,the Boston Bruins Foundation’s Director of Development. “Everybody from both organizations treated it as a special game. There was a different intensity…Everybody raised their games.”
The long-standing feud between the B’s and the Montreal Canadiens revives itself tonight, when the two teams take the ice at the Bell Centre for their sixth meeting of the season.
“The Canadiens dominated the National Hockey League for such a long time (and other teams) really had a difficult time beating them,” said Don Sweeney, Bruins Director of Hockey Operations and Player Development. “They used to call it ‘the ghosts of the Montreal Forum.”
Both men are former Bruins players themselves and understand just how great the competition is between the two clubs, for the players, coaches, and fans alike.
“Hockey’s so much more prevalent in Canadian cities, in particular (Toronto and Montreal),” said Bob Sweeney, adding that Montreal was one of his favorite cities to play in because of the “history and passion” for the game.
“(Hockey) is just about the only major sport, professional-wise,” he explained. “They sell out every game. It really is an event: people get dressed up for these games, and it’s kind of a showcase.”
“People would travel (to Montreal) in their Bruins garb…It was just a charged, charged atmosphere,” Don Sweeney said of his experiences playing the Canadiens at their home. “You knew what you were up against each and every time.
“I’ve played with other guys that played in Boston, (and) they just felt like the energy was there, the buildup was there…going into the building or driving to the rink, knowing what you were up against.”
The Habs dominated the matches for several years, especially in their rink.
“There was really a cloud over our head for a long period of time, and you first knew that when you came into the organization,” Don Sweeney said. “There was a bit of trepidation in terms of playing Montreal, like they had their thumb over us for a long time.
“Inevitably, home ice advantage is what it is…no matter where you’re playing.”
But Bob Sweeney remembers beating Montreal in playoffs and to top it all off, they won in Montreal.
“There’s no better place to win on the road than in Montreal….It was just a great feeling,” he said. “I’ll never forget coming home….It was like we’d won the Stanley Cup.
"It was unbelievable.”
Both former B’s both agree that the rivalry has changed – perhaps even cooled – recently, but they hope it can return to what it once was.
“It would be nice to see the rivalry reach those heights again, particularly here in Boston, and to try and make it so…that every time you play the Canadiens, it is extra special, with a little more on the line,” Bob Sweeney said.
Unfortunately for fans in the Hub of Hockey the Bruins have lost all five of their match-ups against their rivals so far this season. But despite the struggles, both men, as well as the team and coaching staff, fell like tonight will be different.
“I think it’ll be a great atmosphere, a lot more media attention,” Bob Sweeney said.
Don Sweeney said that the recall of new players, uninvolved in the B’s v. Habs rivalry until now, may work in the Bruins favor.
“We’ve been beaten by the (Canadiens) five times, but they haven’t been involved in those five losses,” he said. “It can work in your advantage.”
He added that success often rests on a goalie’s shoulders.
“When…another team has your number, you’ve really got to get over that hurdle, mentally as much as anything,” he said. “It affects the team psyche.
“I think getting off to a good start…and getting the game going in your favor (is important).”
Don Sweeney’s theory is supported by the result of the Montreal games so far this season.
“If you go back and look at most of the games this year, Montreal has gotten the first goals,” he said, which leads to penalties, resulting in a “devastating” power play for Montreal, due to desperate attempts for goals.
“The last game (against the Rangers), you saw how emotionally charged we were and the physical approach to the game we had.
“You have to keep those emotions in check, walk that fine line.”
Bob Sweeney hoped that the wins against the Rangers would motivate the team.
“It was a big series…and I’m sure they want to carry that over.”
He also said that the potential for a “physical game” and for fisticuffs is high.
“You always have to expect the team’s best,” he said. “Whether that’s going to escalate…you’ve got to expect that."
In the end, however, everything – games, rivalries, history, fights – all boil down to the standings.
“Points are so tough to come by…that you want to try to do as best as possible,” Bob Sweeney said.
“The most important thing is getting the two points,” he stressed. “If the physical play is there, that’s part of the game, and you accept that.