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Happy Birthday, Chief!

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - "Chiiiiiieeeeeef." It's a familiar refrain still heard at TD Garden, with the Hall of Famer bringing out cheers from fans every time he is shown on the video board during Bruins' games, usually holding court in the arena's "Garden Greats" suite.

For nearly 60 years, Johnny "Chief" Bucyk has been synonymous with the Spoked-B.

On May 12, 2015, we celebrate his 80th birthday, and can all give him a collective, "Happy Birthday, Chief!" Because the Black and Gold would not be the same without him.

When Bucyk was traded to Boston from Detroit on June 10, 1957 at 22 years old, even he couldn't have imagined continuing on to a 23-season NHL career, with 556 goals (545 as a Bruin - still the franchise record) and 813 assists for 1,369 points in 1,540 games, sitting in the top-25 all-time in points. He put up another 124 in the playoffs as he helped the Bruins end a 29-year Stanley Cup drought in 1970, before winning it again in 1972. Sandwiched between the Cups, he had his best scoring season in 1970-71, putting up 51 goals and 116 points.

He followed up his playing career with another four decades of work with the Bruins, serving as play-by-play on the radio with Bob Wilson, helping grow alumni outreach and charity endeavors, and traveling with the the team to ensure smooth operations with travel, hotel, meals, tickets, and everything else in between.

He got to hoist the Cup yet again, in 2011.

On the road, fans still call out as he heads on and off the bus, "Mr. Bucyk! Mr. Bucyk!"

On the plane and bus, players find comfort in his always smiling face - and dashing personality that is always well-quipped with jokes aplenty.

And don't forget the Cup rings on his fingers - a constant reminder of his legacy.

As breakfast venues change, from hotel to hotel, and city to city, once Chief's smiling face comes into view, a player knows he's headed in the right direction. "How many tickets?" Bucyk asks, and the player provides the necessary information. Bucyk always smiles, and gives them a hard time.

Not every ticket exchange goes like that, though, as Milan Lucic will tell you.

"My great Chief story is I remember my first NHL game in Dallas, back in October of 2007, I was a 19-year-old rookie and I don't think I had a bank account or even a credit card set up yet," laughed Lucic. "And Chief, he does all the tickets on the road and he ended up putting his credit card down and paying for my parents' tickets to watch my first NHL game."

"So that's a pretty cool story that I have with Chief, especially from a legend like him to help me out like that, it's just something that made us close right off the get-go."

There was a time, 20 years prior to Lucic's arrival, when Bucyk was helping out another young player.

"Well, when I first got to Boston in 1986 - which doesn't seem that long ago, but it certainly was and is - Chief would come into the locker room and slug me on the shoulder and say, you got one or two tonight?" said current Bruins President Cam Neely, who would go on to play 10 seasons as a Bruin after that first season in Black and Gold.

"He'd do that on a regular basis. At that particular time, he was doing color for radio with Bob Wilson, so he was always around and, for me, it was amazing to see a guy like Johnny Bucyk still with the organization, obviously a legend and Hall of Famer, coming into the locker room."

"I was 21 years old at the time - and he would just come in and slug me on the shoulder and especially maybe if I hadn't scored in two or three games, he made sure to make a point of getting down there and giving me a shot in the arm."

Bucyk's No. 9 was retired into the rafters on March 13, 1980 and the organization gave him another special night in 2007 to honor his commitment to the team.

That was Zdeno Chara's first season in Boston. He remembers the night well.

"To be able to stand on the ice with him in that whole outfit of The Chief, that was pretty memorable for me and I always think of that as the first kind of real memory with him," said Chara.

The outfit, of course, coming from his longtime nickname given to him by fellow "Uke Line" forwrd "Bronco" Horvath.

"He's like a mentor for everything, what's happening and has happened in this organization since he started to play for this team," said Chara. "And second of all, he's just a really great, dear friend. We became really close over the course of the past 10 years I've been here and get to know him and just listening to some of the stories he had from days he played and just, that's something you can't find."

Bucyk meant a great deal to the organization as a player, and still carries that legacy with him as he celebrates his 80th birthday.

"Just the loyalty that Chief has with the Boston Bruins and everybody who works here - not just the traveling team and coaching staff and trainers, but also in the office, what he's done with the alumni over the years and he's an ambassador for the organization," said Neely. "He just loves coming around, he loves being around and he loved working, and that's why he's been in the organization over 50-plus years, it's pretty impressive."

Bucyk is a living legend.

"Legacy," said Adam McQuaid, when thinking about Bucyk. "I just think of the Big Bad Bruins - I mean, his name is synonymous with the Boston Bruins and he was the captain of the team for a long time and I think that not everyone's fortunate enough to play in an organization that has the history like the Bruins do."

"To see Chief still here - he wasn't born and raised in Boston, he came here to play and he stayed here and he stayed in the organization for so long," McQuaid added of the Edmonton native, who still spends time in British Columbia every summer. "And I think it just kind of reflects the family type feeling of the Bruins."

"A lot of guys, they leave the game and it's not soon after that they're forgotten about, and that's certainly not the case with him. I think that, again, that speaks to him as a player and him as a person and just the impact that he had on this team, this organization and hockey in general."

His impact has been felt by generations of Bruins.

"Obviously Chief has meant so much to this organization," said Lucic, before rattling off Bucyk's string of accomplishments. "Being here for 60 years, as a player and as a part of the organization, doing what he does and obviously, he was a great player, one of the great Bruins of all time, having his number retired and being a Hall of Famer, and I think he has the most points as a forward out of any Bruin all-time, and not only that, he's been here for a long time, he's seen a lot of players come and go, he's created a lot of friendships over those years - and I think I speak for everyone when I say we all appreciate what he's done for us as players."

"And I know everyone in the organization appreciates what he's done for everyone - he's always in a good mood, he's always got that Chief smile on his face and he's always cracking a joke here or there, and he keeps things light and I think his loyalty and commitment to this whole organization has meant a lot to everyone."

"It's pretty obvious, somebody being this long with this organization means so much," said Chara. "It speaks for itself. He means so much to the coaches, players, the management and ownership."

"He really represents what the Bruins are all about - the dedication, desire and the drive he had when he played, just the unbelievable player he was, and he's an even better person."

For the Hall of Famer who was cemented in hockey history with his induction in 1981, Bucyk's impact extends far beyond the Bruins.

"If there would be another Hall of Fame of Hall of Famers, he would be, should be definitely in it," said Chara. "But that dedication, it's - I don't know if anybody can really find that and it's a dream come true, really, for us to have him around, traveling with us and his presence is just so big that everywhere we go, people recognize him and talk about him and it's very fortunate."

From one captain to another, Chara had a special message for you, Chief:

"Chief, want to wish you a happy birthday, many, many years of a happy life, and especially good health, and I really thank you for our friendship."

Neely wanted to share a special message, as well:

"Happy 80th Birthday, Chief! That's impressive that you still want to do what you're doing and you still have done it with energy and humor - I know it's helpful for guys on the road that you have that humor, and you get a little testy at times, but that lack of sleep can do that to a man…"

"We were doing something a couple years ago, maybe when I first got back with the team in '07 or '08, sitting there with Chief and trying to figure out how many years he's actually spent on the road, being a player and then what he's done with the radio broadcast and also with the travel and team service. At that time, we figured out he spent 12 full years on the road, which is amazing. So, Happy Birthday, Chief!"

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