BOSTON - Rick Middleton is still a frequent visitor to TD Garden these days as president of the Boston Bruins alumni association, taking in games from the organization's suite located on the building's ninth floor. The box provides a bird's eye view of the action on the ice - and a particularly unique vantage point to glance at the banners that hang from the rafters.
As such, Middleton admits it's been hard not to think about what it would like if his name one day dangled beside his fellow Bruins legends.
"Usually we go up into the alumni suite on the ninth floor, so they're about eye level," Middleton said of the Bruins' retired number banners. "I can't miss them. But you know where I've noticed them quite a bit lately is when I go over to Warrior [Ice Arena]. They're really the only things hanging up there, and I've seen it.
"I can't lie. At times I've looked up between Milt Schmidt and Terry O'Reilly, there seemed to be a lot of room there, and I was just hoping one day, maybe, my name would go up."
That day is not far off.
Bruins president Cam Neely called Middleton on Tuesday to inform him that the organization would retire Middleton's No. 16 sweater this fall, during a pregame ceremony on Nov. 29 prior to Boston's tilt with the New York Islanders. The Toronto native will become the 11th member of the Black & Gold to have his number hoisted to the rafters, joining Eddie Shore (No. 2), Lionel Hitchman (No. 3), Bobby Orr (No. 4), Aubrey 'Dit' Clapper (No. 5), Phil Esposito (No. 7), Neely (No. 8), Johnny Bucyk (No. 9), Schmidt (No. 15), O'Reilly (No. 24), and Ray Bourque (No. 77).
Video: Middleton discusses upcoming jersey retirement
"Especially in the month of July it's not really the type of call you think you're going to get," said Middleton. "And when Cam called me - every once in a while, we talk about different alumni stuff, and he just caught me so off guard with it that I actually got emotional when he said it because it was just a dream come true.
"It's a special, special honor to me to be included with the other 10 people that are up there. A very special group of hockey players that date back to the beginning of the Boston Bruins, and to be included on that list I can't even explain what kind of an honor that is."
Middleton played 12 seasons for the Bruins after being acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for Ken Hodge in May 1976. Known as 'Nifty' for his knack of skirting through defenders - and goalies - the 5-foot-11, 175-pound winger compiled 402 goals and 496 assists for 898 points in 881 games with Boston.
Those 898 points rank fourth in Bruins history behind Bourque, Bucyk, and Esposito, while his 402 goals rank third and his 496 assists sixth. He was captain of the Bruins from 1985 until his retirement in 1988.
Eight players donned No. 16 after Middleton - most notably Jozeph Stumpel and Marco Sturm - but none since 2013 when forward Kaspars Daugavins wore the sweater during Boston's run to the Stanley Cup Final.
"It knocked me off the chair," Middleton, 64, said of Neely's call. "I can't lie. I've certainly thought about it many times, especially with no one wearing the No. 16 in a few years. It's been in the back of my mind, but you never know when these things happen or if they're ever going to happen, so when it hit me it was like a sledgehammer.
"And I'm still in shock. I've been telling my family and I guess it just got released on the internet and Twitter and all that, so I'm getting a lot of texts and a lot of calls right now from friends. So, it's such a great day for me."
Video: Watch Rick Middleton Highlights
The city of Boston made quite an impact on Middleton, who remained in the area with his family following his retirement, playing on the Bruins alumni team and working as a television analyst on NESN. And for the last 10 years, Middleton has headed up the Bruins alumni association, following in the footsteps of Bucyk and Bob Sweeney.
"We help raise money for a lot of different charities, youth hockey across New England every year," said Middleton, who credited former coaches Don Cherry and Gerry Cheevers and teammate Terry O'Reilly among his greatest influences. "And the players - we have so many ex-Bruins in the area that we get to meet, a lot of them I had never met before, and play hockey with them. It's special for us, and I think it's special for the people that are doing the games.
"I hope to continue for a couple more years. It's starting to wear on me physically a little but still having fun at it. So, I'm just honored to be a part of this group and this organization - the oldest U.S. hockey franchise in the NHL.
"To be put up and honored amongst this group of men is a dream come true honestly. I can't say anything else about it. I'm still in shock."
Video: Rick Middleton visits Bruins Academy