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Hail To the Chief, Wrap-Up

by Staff Writer / Boston Bruins

Click on the player below to hear a special BruinsCast honoring Chief and featuring WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Dave Goucher, research by producer Rick Radzik, and highlights from the Bruins Radio Network:

By Matt Porter, student correspondent,

For fifty years, the name Johnny Bucyk has been synonymous with the Boston Bruins.

Tuesday night at the Garden, Boston players, coaches and staff, past and present, and hockey fans of all ages, came to honor the man who has done so much for this organization and hockey in general.

As the evening began, the Bruins skated out for the pregame warmup, and as images of a young Chief were shown on the video screens that circle the Garden, the current B's circled the ice.

You could say that they were dressed to the Nines, because on their sweaters, the names were appropriate to the wearer -- Bergeron, Chara, Savard -- but each and every present day Bruin sported Bucyk's famous number on his back. Fitting, because you'd have to search hard to find a Boston skater, past or present, that the great man hasn't guided, helped, or laughed with.

The gesture said what every new Bruin quickly learns -- the Chief is part of all of us, a friend to everyone wearing Black & Gold.

Fifty years a Bruin, Johnny Bucyk's influence extends to so many of the team's greats.

"The guy is unbelievable," said Bronco Horvath, who first skated with Chief in 1957. "It's not just for the hockey, but the charity. That's what glows in my mind about him."

"He was the finest gentleman that I met," said Johnny "Pie" McKenzie, his teammate from 1965-1972. "He would pass the puck to you, and then off the ice he'd show you where all the good bars and restaurants were."

Around the time Terry O'Reilly broke in, Bucyk was captain of the Black & Gold. "He's just a leader," said Taz. "He showed me the ropes on and off the ice."

Bucyk retired as a player in 1978, but that didn't stop his passion for the game and for a time he would even still practice with the team. Although he never turned to coaching on the ice, he was always around, passing on what he knew about being a professional to both short-timers and future Hall-of-Famers, alike.

"He took very good care of me and others who came after him," said Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, elected in 2004. "We all love the Chief."

"If I ever needed anything," said forward Cam Neely, HOF class of 2005. "Johnny was the guy I went to. He's the go-to guy around here."

Bruins fans of all ages also paid hearty tribute to the legend's career.

Those sentiments were shown in the "THANK YOU, CHIEF!" signs, the standing ovation when he spoke before the game, the cheering when video highlights of Bucyk and the Bruins holding the 1970 and 1972 Stanley Cups were shown above center ice.

It was felt in the lungs of the fans that yelled "WE LOVE YOU, CHIEF!" intermittently during the opening ceremonies. It was seen in the face of the young boy who proudly showed his picture, of he and Bucyk, for the Garden HDX camera.

And, Bucyk gave back to the fans -- even on a night dedicated to #9.

After the first period, Chief was a guest on NESN's intermission show and many B's faithful gathered around the bar in front of the NESN studio on the Garden's 5th-floor SportsDeck, hoping for a chance to meet Bucyk. They didn't have to wait long.

Like always, the man who has crossed generations of hockey, doing the "little things" to help his teammates, was happy to provide a treat for his fans. As such, Chief went down the line, signing every jersey, cap and souvenir in sight, for young and old.

Even fans who grew up in the Bourque-Neely era, and may not have seen John play, were all too pleased to get the Bucyk's mark on jerseys bearing those names. One young mite, clad in a Bergeron sweater, was thrilled to meet Bucyk and have the legend sign his "I love No. 9" poster.

When selecting which Bruins jersey to wear, Kevin Carey, a 19-year-old Belmont native, chose to honor the Chief. "He was before my time, but I heard so much about him from my Dad," said Carey, who sported a 1970's-style Bucyk sweater. "I feel like he's the face of the organization, someone you look up to."

And while Bucyk's greatness inspired younger fans, there's no doubt just seeing the Chief made many a graying B's diehard feel young again.

"I've enjoyed watching him my whole life," reflected Mark Borash, of Swampscott. "He's an inspiration. Him, Bobby Orr, Derek Sanderson, Pie, Donny Marcotte...those were our heroes growing up."

"He was just an amazing player," said Eddie Dwyer, from Quincy, 55 years a Bruins fan. "(Chief) was the only one I ever saw that could roof the puck ten out of ten times."

Bucyk's trademark skill was that penchant for collecting rebounds and, with an able snap of the wrists, putting them top shelf. On a first-period power play, Marco Sturm seemed to pay his own tribute, when he channeled the Chief and with an Oiler bearing down, spun and chipped the puck top shelf, giving the Bruins a 2-0 lead.

"I was watching his highlights before the game," chuckled Sturm, "so maybe that helped."

There have already been several successful attempts to thank Johnny Bucyk for his dedication to the Boston Bruins.

Fearing the left winger's bad back would end his career in 1968, the Bruins -- and even a few opposing clubs -- showered him with gifts. But Bucyk pressed on, scoring 51 at age 35, as the Bruins brought home the 1970 and 1972 Cups.

When he finally retired, the team raised his No. 9 to the rafters.

Perhaps the most lasting image of the Chief came from that number retirement ceremony, in 1980. That evening, Bucyk's teammate, Stan Jonathan, himself a native North American, presented him with an ornate headdress, adorned with white, black and gold feathers and the Spoked-B.

"So you'll always look like the Chief," remarked Jonathan, as he placed it upon Bucyk's (a Canadian of Ukrainian decent) head.

And on a day that Mayor Thomas Menino declared to be "John 'Chief' Bucyk Day" in Boston, the honored guest entered the Garden wearing that same headdress. As he walked across the ice, waving to roaring adulation of the fans, it was clear to all -- Johnny Bucyk still is, and forever will be, "The Chief"of the Boston Bruins.

"You can't thank the guy enough," offered former linemate Horvath. "You can't."

That may be, Bronco, but it sure seems worth a try.
Matt Porter is a student at Emerson.
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