As a Boston kid, Lucas Carr lived and died by the exploits of his Bruins.
As an adult, those same Bruins helped him, at least a little, stay alive during Operation Iraqi Freedom. U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. Carr, who lives in Norwood, Mass., used his love of the Bruins to get through some long days and nights with Bravo Company 2-35 Infantry, 3rd Platoon, in the hostile areas around Sammara and Ad Dwar, the area Saddam Hussein was captured.
Carr convinced his platoon to carry a Bruins flag into battle and the team became a unifying force for a group of disparate young man in a foreign and unforgiving land.
Thursday night, before the Bruins faced the Toronto Maple Leafs
at TD Garden, eight members of the Ranger unit presented the flag -- beautifully framed and including a Combat Infantry Badge ("it saw some mortars," said SSgt. Alex Plante
), Global War on Terror Badge and an Iraqi Campaign Medal, as well as pictures of the unit displaying the flag throughout Iraq -- to Boston defenseman Mark Stuart
in a rousing on-ice ceremony.
Carr was joined by SSgt. Mark Sollars, Sgt. Andrew Zinkievich, Sgt. Andrew Rindflesh, Sgt. Alick Holand, Sgt. Brian Saminego, Sgt. Adam Whitney and SSgt. Zach Plante. All were on block leave from their Army base in Hawaii.
Stuart was the organization's point person for last month's Military Appreciation Night and donated $5,000 worth of tickets for military members and their families for the Nov. 12 game here against the Panthers.
Stuart had his first goal in 22 games since Oct. 17 in Boston's 5-2 win over Toronto.
"Yeah, it was emotional," he said after the game. "The ceremony before, it touches your heart and then I scored a goal, so that fired me up right away."
So how did the flag find its way from Boston to the Iraqi desert?
"There was an opportunity to fly the American flag, but I thought it would be unique to fly the Bruins flag," said Carr, who convinced his mates that the flag represents the virtues of the Big, Bad Bruins he grew up adoring.
Soon virtually everyone in the platoon was on board.
"I always liked hockey, I was never a big Bruins fan," Whitney said minutes before the game.
But Whitney is a big Boston fan now.
Even Zinkievich, who hails from Buffalo and is a Sabres fan, is rethinking his allegiance after being involved in Operation Black and Gold, the soldiers' name for the nine-month tour of Iraq that ran from Feb. 2 to Sept. 11, 2009, when their unit rotated back home.
It seems Carr's enthusiasm for the Bruins wore off on everybody.
"Our interpreter even got a Bruins shirt," Whitney said. "It was his favorite shirt.
The platoon followed the exploits of the Hub's hockey team religiously, tracking the games through Armed Forces Network. The Bruins reciprocated by sending the troops team merchandise and rally towels during the playoffs. Bruin alumni Lyndon Byers
and Bob Sweeney were at the forefront of the effort, according to Carr.
While the whole platoon pledged allegiance to the Bruins, it appears Carr might have followed more closely and passionately than everyone else.
"He broke a few chairs the night they lost that last game," Plante said, laughing as he referenced Boston's heartbreaking game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes
in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
But it was an exhilarating journey through an unforgettable season for the Special Forces unit, one that ended Thursday night with the pre-game presentation of the colors to Stuart and the Bruins.
"It started with a few rally towels and it ended with us at center ice of a Bruins game, said Zinkievich, awe evident in his voice.
"This is a memory that will stay with us forever," said Carr.