"Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story," joked Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park, spinning one magical yarn after another.
Eleven members of the 1977-78 Boston Bruins scored 20 or more goals. At TD Garden on Tuesday, the Bruins celebrated the 40th anniversary of a feat that seems unlikely to be matched, with a pregame ceremonial face-off and video tributes during their game against the Calgary Flames.
Captain Wayne Cashman, who scored 24 goals that season, was the only one of the 11 unable to attend the tribute. A few hours before the game, their coach, Don Cherry, would arrive from Toronto to join the fun, and what a bunch of beauties he connected with: Peter McNab, who scored 41 goals in 1977-78; Terry O'Reilly (29); Bobby Schmautz and Stan Jonathan (27 each); Jean Ratelle and Rick Middleton (25 each); Greg Sheppard (23); Park (22); and Don Marcotte and Bob Miller (20 each).
The 1970-71 Bruins and 1974-75 Canadiens each had 10 players who scored 20 or more goals; in 1980-81, the St. Louis Blues would do likewise. But the 1977-78 Bruins did those teams one better.
Months ago, it dawned on Middleton, president of the Boston Bruins Alumni, that the 40th anniversary was approaching. He pitched the idea of a reunion to team president Cam Neely, who enthusiastically approved it, and alumni coordinator Karen Wonoski got to work on the details.
"All the way from Arizona with three kids kicking the back of my seat," Schmautz grumbled with a wide grin, a suitcase in hand as he checked into the hotel.
Video: CGY@BOS: Bruins honor 20-goal scorers on 1977-78 team
Few of these players could believe it's been 40 years since they made history that went almost unnoticed at the time.
"When I try to get out of bed, I realize how long it's been," said Park, who had arrived with the Bruins from the New York Rangers on Nov. 7, 1975, with center Ratelle and defenseman Joe Zanussi in a stunning trade with Boston for center Phil Esposito and defenseman Carol Vadnais.
"You'll never see it again," Park said of the achievement. "It wasn't even something we were aware of; all we wanted to do was get Bobby (Miller) his 20th goal. It wasn't in the newspapers before or after. Maybe two or three weeks later, it was like, 'What do you mean, it's a record?'"
Ratelle, too, suspects the record might be safe.
"In our day, most of the time we played three lines with a few guys as extras," he said. "Now teams play four lines all the time and the competition is so keen that you have a lot of low-scoring games."
Miller, a 21-year-old rookie that season, was the last of the 11 to score No. 20, the goal coming in Toronto against the Maple Leafs in Boston's next-to-last game of the season.
And he'll spin some revisionist history, if you ask him.
"Sure. I beat Bobby Orr, skated the length of the ice and went top shelf on Tony Esposito," he said, laughing.
In reality, Miller unselfishly was looking to pass with an open net staring him in the face and his 20th goal on his stick.
The Bruins were leading 2-1 in the game's final minute when Toronto coach Roger Neilson pulled goalie Mike Palmateer for a sixth attacker. When the Maple Leafs iced the puck, Neilson inexplicably kept the extra skater on the ice for the face-off in Toronto's end, leaving the net empty.
Schmautz, who Miller recalls had asked Cherry to get him onto the ice for a chance at scoring his 20th, won the draw cleanly. Miller, after looking for a teammate, finally shot into the yawning net, "through (Toronto defenseman) Borje Salming's legs, I think.
"I was just a rookie trying to make this team and these guys embraced me, welcoming me with open arms," Miller said.
Unselfishness, every man agreed, was a keynote of this team.
"We were a group who needed each other," said Jonathan, whose fireplug frame, cement fists and eagerness to work the boards made life miserable for opponents.
"He might not tell you," Miller said, nodding toward Sheppard, "but Gregg told Grapes (Cherry) that he wasn't ready to come back from an injury so I could get a few extra games that year. And the next season, I wound up taking Gregg's job (when Sheppard was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins)."
"If I hadn't given Bobby those games, maybe I'd still be with the Bruins," Sheppard said with a laugh over breakfast Tuesday, suggesting with a wink that his plate of fruit wasn't standard early-morning team fare in the 1970s.
1977-78 Boston Bruins who scored 20 or more goals. From left: Brad Park, Don Marcotte, Peter McNab, Terry O'Reilly, Bob Miller, Bobby Schmautz, Gregg Sheppard, Jean Ratelle, Rick Middleton, Stan Jonathan. Missing: Wayne Cashman
On Tuesday, some of the alumni dropped by the morning skate to visit with the current Bruins, then all headed to TD Garden late in the afternoon to meet the media and be feted by fans, many of whom never saw them play a single game.
Ratelle laughed about the fact that the grandfather of Bruins rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy had been his plumber when "Gentleman Jean" lived in New York.
"Really?" O'Reilly said, lighting up. "Well, I was Jean's plumber (a guy who makes a living doing the dirty work) whenever we played together in Boston."
Forty years later, Park is still laughing about one of the encyclopedia of stories he treasures about Cherry.
"Grapes pulled me aside in practice one day and told me, 'I want you to slash and cross-check and punch in the face any guy who gets in front of our net. If you do that, all of our defensemen will do that, too. Can you do that?'" Park recalled. "I said, 'No, Grapes. If I do that, what'll happen? The guy will move.' Don said, 'Exactly,' and then I said, 'Then I'll have to go find him.'
"Grapes just shook his head and said, 'You're too cerebral for me.' But he might not have said 'cerebral.'"