When Bruce Springsteen penned the lyrics for the Dave Edmunds hit "From Small Things, Mama, Big Things One Day Come," he could have been envisioning the history of the Boston Bruins
, the first NHL team in the United States.
Back on Nov. 1, 1924, Charles Francis Adams, then a grocery-store financier from Vermont, put his abiding love of hockey into action, coughing up a rumored $15,000 to ice an expansion team that would play in Boston. Until then, no NHL team had been based outside of Canada.
Today, the Boston Bruins
are one of the NHL's "Original Six" franchises and have iced some of the game's greatest players -- including Milt Schmidt
, Bobby Orr
, Phil Esposito
, Gerry Cheevers
, Ray Bourque
and Cam Neely
Back in the day, Adams had grown disenchanted with an amateur league he had been involved with, and the NHL convinced him to attend the 1924 Stanley Cup Final between Calgary and the Montreal Canadiens
. Excited by the kind of play he witnessed, Adams agreed to buy an NHL franchise and, in the process, brought Boston the distinction of being the first American city in the League.
Adams quickly hired the now-legendary Art Ross
as general manager, coach, and scout. Ross was one of the most innovative men in hockey history. He designed the goal net, introduced the first helmet, standardized the puck, and was the first coach to employ the tactic of removing the goalie in favor of an extra skater when trailing late in the game. Thus began one of the most colorful careers in NHL history.
Ross proved to be one of the most resourceful sports executives anyone could hope to find. Needing a way to better develop players, he used Adams' money to purchase the entire Western Canada Hockey League to give the Bruins quite a supply of talent from which to choose -- including another of the game's greats, the cantankerous Eddie Shore
, the first great Boston defenseman and the subject of scores of tall tales.
Aside from hiring Ross as coach, Adams needed a name for his new team, and it had to fit specific guidelines. Most importantly, the team uniform had to be brown with yellow trim, to match the color scheme of his chain of Brookside Stores. Second, the team name "should preferably relate to an untamed animal whose name was synonymous with size, strength, agility, ferocity and cunning, and in the color brown category." Numerous suggestions came from local newspapers and sports fans. Dissatisfied with all of the choices, Adams finally selected the name "Bruins," which had been submitted by his secretary, who ran a Montreal sporting goods store part-time.
The Bruins began life playing play in the Boston Arena -- and finished last in the six-team NHL in their first season. However, fan support was strong enough to prompt Adams to spend money to bring in better talent.
Adams enhanced his squad by purchasing the entire WCHL for a then-enormous sum of $300,000. This changed the course of the Bruins' history by putting players such as Shore, Harry Oliver
and Duke Keats
into black-and-gold uniforms. However, the Bruins could only take on a certain number of skaters from the WCHL. Consequently, a talent pool was made available for the new New York Rangers
, Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Falcons franchises that transformed the NHL by the late 1920s.
By its third year in the League, with Shore now in the lineup, the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final -- losing to Ottawa but firmly establishing themselves with the city of Boston. Following the Cup loss, the team would receive 29,000 applications for tickets.
Unhappy after four years of paying rent to the Boston Arena, Adams began to explore other accommodations. Tex Rickard, who was looking to establish a string of Madison Square Gardens across the country, signed Adams to a five-year lease for $500,000, and within a year he built an arena on property of the Maine Railroad over Boston's North Station. Always the showman, Rickard opened Boston Madison Square Garden ("Madison Square" would soon be dropped) by having President Calvin Coolidge turn on the lights from the White House by means of a key fashioned out of Yukon gold.
The Bruins played their first game at the Garden on Nov. 20, 1928. Although they lost to the Montreal Canadiens
1-0, the game draw 17,500 patrons, 3,000 more than the new arena was supposed to hold. At the end of the season, the Bruins would also be crowned Stanley Cup champions for the first time in franchise history.
Adams also played a key role in the growth of the local baseball and horseracing scene, including owning the Boston Braves baseball team. The immense contribution to the sport of hockey by Adams and his heirs, Weston Adams and Weston Adams Jr., was honored in 1974 when the NHL named one of its four new divisions after one of hockey's first families.
Adams was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1960.