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John Bucyk: Hail to the Chief

by Staff Writer / Boston Bruins
We love our "Chief."

June 10, 1957 ...The Boston Globe cost a nickel. The headline on the paper dealt with the recovery of President Dwight David Eisenhower from a heart attack. The most popular movie in theaters was “Gunfight at the OK Corral”. A house in Arlington listed for $15,900…and Johnny “Chief” Bucyk became a Bruin.

The 1956-57 season ended in disappointment, but with promise, for both the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings. Detroit finished first overall in the league that season with a 38-20-12 record, but fell to the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins finished third in the league’s standings that season and advanced to the 1957 Stanley Cup Finals, where they fell to Montreal in a five-game series.

The Red Wings had won four Stanley Cup championships in the early 1950s and in the 1957 off-season were looking to get back to their recent glory years. Three of those Cups came with the great Terry Sawchuk in goal, but Sawchuk had been traded to Boston in a nine-player deal shortly after the 1955 parade. The Bruins were looking to deal Sawchuk, who had compiled just a 40-43-19 record in 102 games in his time with Boston and had left the team in mid-January of 1957 with nervous exhaustion.

The one-for-one trade in which the Bruins acquired Bucyk was probably considered at the time to be in Detroit’s favor. Sawchuk was, at the time, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a five-time NHL All-Star, a former Calder Trophy winner and a three-time Vezina Trophy winner. Bucyk had just finished his second year in the NHL with a stat line that read 11 goals and 19 assists for 30 points in 104 games.

There is no doubt that the Bruins won the deal.

Not only did they get a player who would become one of the best in NHL history, but they got a person who gave as much to his community off of the ice as he did to his teammates on the ice. He is one of the true treasures of a rich Boston sports tradition and tonight we honor and celebrate his 50 years with the Boston Bruins.

“I was surprised and then I was happy,” recalls Bucyk about the trade. “I was just anxious to come here and play. Lynn Patrick, who was the GM, told me that I was going to be reunited with Bronco Horvath and Vic Stasiuk and the three of us played together in Edmonton. Then, when I talked to [coach] Milt [Schmidt], he told me I was going to get a chance to play regular and here I am, still here.”

He teamed with Horvath and Stasiuk, his junior hockey teammates with the Edmonton Flyers, to form the famed “Uke Line”, as all three players were of Ukrainian descent.

“I was very happy because at least I came to a team where I knew somebody,” says Bucyk. “[When he heard about the trade] Vic called and said ‘You’re going to love it here, it’s great. The people are great and it’s a good city.’ When I came here the three of us rented Pat Egan’s house and lived together.”

Bucyk’s modest goal to “play regular” turned into an assault on the team’s record books and a legacy as one of the top players in NHL history.

His 21-year career in a Bruins uniform provided too many honors to list – 16 seasons of 20+ goals, two Lady Byng Trophies as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player, two NHL All-Star Team honors and seven NHL All-Star Game appearances. He was just the fifth player in league history to record 100 points in a season (Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe) and was also just the fifth in the NHL to score 50 goals in one campaign (Maurice Richard, Bernie Geoffrion, Esposito, Hull). He still holds the distinction of being the oldest player in league history to reach that milestone when he scored his 50th of the 1970-71 season on March 16 at the age of 35 years, 10 months.

Bucyk scored two goals on December 7, 1967 vs. the NY Rangers for his 576th point as a Bruin, passing Milt Schmidt to become the team’s all-time scoring leader. It was a club record that would stand for nearly 30 years, until Ray Bourque scored his 1,340th point with a goal in Tampa on February 1, 1997. He retired as a player at the end of the 1977-78 season as the club’s all-time leader in every category and he still holds the team mark for goals (545) and shares the record for most seasons played with Bourque at 21.

“He’s amongst the top left wings of all time,” says Harry Sinden, who coached Bucyk for four years, including the Stanley Cup season of 1969-70. “Of his time in the league, he, [Bobby] Hull and [Frank] Mahovlich were the premier left wingers. That’s pretty good company.”

Sinden says it was Bucyk’s all-around ability that set him apart.

“He was a great, all-around left winger – great scorer, great playmaker, perfect power play guy,” continued Sinden. “Besides his unbelievable ability with the puck, he was a very strong body checker. He was devastating when players – defensemen in particular – would carry the puck around their net and go to come out one side or the other. He would hit them and he’d hurt you. I used to describe it as being hit with a bag of cement.

“He was probably the best play-making left wing, along with Dickie Moore, of any of them. He had an uncanny knack, I’ve never really seen anyone like him, of getting open. He was not a speedster, but he was a very strong skater. He was impossible to knock over.

“He was not a gifted goal scorer on breakaways,” Sinden explained. “What he was was a gifted goal scorer from short-to-medium range. He had a patented goal scoring move, standing off to the right of the goalie just outside the crease and either putting it under the bar or scoring off a pass. It sounds easy to do, but when you see how many players miss it every single game, it’s not easy to do. He could do it better than anyone I ever saw. Rebounds – he could convert those things from five-to-15 feet in front of the net better than anyone. And on the power play, he’d just get his body between the attacker and the puck and he’d get the puck out from our left corner over to Orr on the right point and it was all over.”

The consummate team player, Bucyk’s favorite memories involve winning the Stanley Cup in both 1969-70 and 1971-72, but when pressed he’ll admit to a few moments of personal satisfaction.

“The two Cups were the biggest thing in my career,” he says. “Individually, to accomplish 50 goals in one year and then scoring my 500th [career] goal right here in Boston was a big thing. Of course, being inducted into the Hall of Fame is always a big honor and when they retired my number, that was something else, too.”

His accomplishments as a player earned him a place in the Garden rafters, as the team retired his number 9 on March 13, 1980. The numbers earned him a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, as he was honored with induction in 1981 in his first year of eligibility. All of those achievements showed him as a special player, but it was his work off of the ice that showed him as a special person. Those were the qualities that made Sinden, who had become the team’s General Manager in 1972, determined to keep the Chief in the organization at the conclusion of his playing career.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a Bruin person – not just player – who has been more of a Boston Bruin, exemplifying loyalty and dedication, than John Bucyk. He was a natural to stay with the organization,” says Sinden. “As a teammate all his years, he was the focal point of all of the different players that went through here, he was the guy that organized the team events, he was the guy that all of his teammates relied on to help them out whatever the situation. I used to say ‘If you need an elephant, Bucyk will find one’, and it’s still true. That type of leadership and that type of feeling that he generated in his teammates is special.

“His legacy also involves his charitable involvements and he was the driving force behind the Boston Bruins Alumni Association. He set up the Alumni team and they’ve traveled all over raising money for different causes. I’ve gotten countless letters over the years of admiration for John Bucyk and the Alumni Association.”

Bucyk is modest as well when talking about his community involvement and how important he has been to countless teammates and young players over the years.

“When I went to Detroit, Ted Lindsay was the captain and Gordie Howe was his assistant,” he says. “They took me under their wing and taught me what to do and how it’s always good to help the young guys coming up. When I came here and got a few years experience, I helped everybody out.

“I’ve always felt that it’s nice to do something for the community and, in particular, for the kids coming up. They need help and they could be our future fans, our future players. I’ve always enjoyed it. I was the state chairman for the American Heart Association for over 20 years, which I was very devoted to. We used to do hospital visits and see the kids. It meant a lot to the kids and when you walk in and see these kids that are sick, you realize how lucky you are. Now we have an [alumni] association that goes
around for different charities, helping them raise a lot of money. I still play and I still have fun.”

Bucyk’s alumni teams have raised over $1 million for area charities and nearly 30 years after he played his final NHL game, Chief still skates in over a dozen games each year. The Bruins Alumni Association formally recognized his legacy in that area by establishing the “John Bucyk Award” in 1999, which annually honors that current player who has contributed the most to charitable and community endeavors’.

His influence on today’s Bruins team is not lost on anyone, but he says he is just honored to still around.

But for over 50 years, the honor has been all ours.


Bucyk's personal career milestones are many - All-Star Teams, Lady Byng trophies, team and league records - but, ever the team player, his favorite memory is one he shares with legions of fans:

“Bobby Orr flying through the air in 1970 to score the game-winning goal in the old Boston Garden and then accepting the Cup”, he says. “That was definitely the most exciting time.”

The two greatest individual honors a player can achieve are the retirement of his number by his team and election into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

John Paul Bucyk became just the sixth player in team history to have his number retired. His number 9 went to the rafters on March 13, 1980. He would receive the second honor a year later with his 1981 Hockey Hall of Fame induction.

Bucyk's on-ice achievements prove that he was a special player, but his many charitable works off of the ice have proven that he is a special person. Bucyk works tirelessly for the Children?s Glaucoma Foundation.

The Bruins Alumni Association honored Chief for his many charitable and community endeavors by bestowing the John P. Bucyk Award in 1999 , given annually to that player who best follows his example.

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