The birthday cake, as Boston Bruins legend Harry Sinden remembers, was a thoughtful gesture on the part of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs.
Not that Sinden could bring himself to enjoy even a forkful of it.
"Mr. Jacobs decided that everyone would celebrate my birthday at the NHL Board of Governors Meeting," Sinden said, chuckling at the memory of the 2006 meeting. "So he ordered a great big cake, and at the end of the meeting he brings it in. It was about 18 inches across, enough to feed everyone.
"But then I looked at the writing on the cake and it says, 'Happy 75th Birthday, Harry.' The problem was, I was only 74. I'm saying, 'Wait a minute, it's bad enough being 74. …' I wasn't going to eat it, and neither was anybody else. So they sent it back."
On Monday, Sinden, 85 (or 86, by Jacobs' accounting) will be in Toronto for Jacobs' induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builders category. Sinden was inducted into the Hall in 1983.
The relationship between Sinden and Jacobs goes back to 1975, when Jacobs bought the Bruins.
Sinden has done it all with the Bruins, from joining the organization in 1960 in Kingston, Ontario, as a player/coach in the minor leagues, to moving up to become Bruins coach in 1966-67 with a rookie defenseman named Bobby Orr in his lineup. He coached the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 1970, and then spent 28 seasons as general manager, and 17 with the dual title of president.
The Bruins had 35 winning seasons during his 40-year coaching and front-office reign, along with 10 division titles and seven trips to the Stanley Cup Final.
He also coached Canada to the 1972 Summit Series championship against the Soviet Union.
He's been a senior advisor to Bruins ownership and alternate governor since Aug. 9, 2006.
"I make a joke when I tell people what my title means," Sinden says. "'Senior advisor to the owner … the only word that counts is the first one.' I really don't offer very much advice. I give Mr. Jacobs my observations, as I do to [Bruins GM] Don Sweeney and [president] Cam Neely quite often and occasionally the coach [Bruce Cassidy]. They're just observations more than advice, which they can take where they want to."
Jacobs is the third owner or ownership group for which Sinden has worked, following Weston Adams and a communications conglomerate. In nearly six decades with the Bruins organization, Sinden has seen massive changes in the NHL and the way the League is run. But there is one thing, he says, that remains the same.
Yes, Sinden says, an NHL team owner needs deep pockets and patience equally profound, "but you mostly need to have the experience of being an owner. Ownership brings with it some periods of time, especially from a public and media standpoint, that aren't always pleasant. That is not the usual position in which you find these wealthy owners. They get that unpleasantness when they become the owner of a sports team and Mr. Jacobs is no different in that regard, but he handles it so well.
"He lives in Buffalo but he watches every game we play, mostly on TV, but he's here for every playoff game and some other games during the regular season. He knows. He's very, very aware of what's happening."
Jacobs has been chairman of the NHL Board of Governors since 2007, unanimously elected by fellow owners a year after the ill-fated birthday cake. Sinden saw the Bruins boss as the right man for the job then, as he sees him now.
"Mr. Jacobs makes a marvelous chairman because he's able to see all sides and corners of the table he sits at, and he has an understanding of all of those things," he said. "I think many owners, especially new owners, rely on him to answer some of their questions. He's been very good at it, and he's earned the position.
"He's a big part of the growth of this League. He's been a terrific sounding board for Commissioner [Gary] Bettman all these years. He has foresight, and he's able as well as anybody in the League to look at the big picture as it involves expansion or rules or such delicate items as the Olympics, things like that. He's well versed and well aware of every piece of business that goes on in this League."
Sinden paused, laughed again, his mischief rising:
"This is his 43rd year owning the Bruins, and now he even knows a little bit about hockey."
Sinden remembers Jacobs adding suites -- "I'm not sure they really fit that description," he said -- to the weathered Boston Garden and having two of his college-age sons and other family members spend rare quality time together at Bruins games, which is when Sinden believes ownership of the team became much more to Jacobs than a financial investment.
He further praises the Bruins owner for building TD Garden in Boston without government support beyond infrastructure needs, and for being a leader who understands the historical significance of the team to its community.
Sinden will be in the audience for Jacobs' induction Monday, but he won't play a role in the honoree's introduction.
He remembers his own induction in 1983, alongside those of Montreal Canadiens great Ken Dryden and Chicago Blackhawks legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
"Dennis Hull got up and introduced Bobby in a 45-minute [monologue]," Sinden said. "It was funny as heck but it took all night. I followed Dennis and Bobby, and by the time I got up there everybody was gone."