BOSTON - No. 16 became No. 11 on Thursday.
The Boston Bruins retired Rick Middleton's No. 16 before their game against the New York Islanders on Thursday at TD Garden, making it the 11th number retired by the storied Original Six franchise. Middleton, in his speech to the crowd, noted he had played with five of those players over his career.
The creative, dynamic Middleton was honored for his 12 seasons with the Bruins, starting in 1976-77 and lasting until his retirement after the 1987-88 season. While with the Bruins, Middleton played in 881 games, scoring 898 points (402 goals, 496 assists).
He walked onto the ice to a standing ovation from the TD Garden crowd.
"It feels good, I'll tell you that," he said, of walking out to the adoration of the assembled crowd.
"It really is hard to put into words," Middleton said, before the ceremony. "Honestly, I believe it is the biggest honor that certainly a retired athlete can get in his career and the fact that, in the last six or seven years, I've been seeing that it's not out there, nobody's wearing it.
"All of a sudden, it happened."
Along with Middleton's family, luminaries on the ice during the ceremony included Bruins president Cam Neely, Johnny Bucyk, Terry O'Reilly and Ray Bourque, all of whom have their numbers retired by the Bruins, plus Don Cherry and members of the 2002 U.S. Paralympic sled hockey, which was coached by Middleton.
Middleton emphasized repeatedly both before the ceremony and in his speech that he didn't do it alone, that he had help from great parents, great coaches and great teammates on his way to seeing his name in the rafters at the Garden. And it was with his family's help that he finally raised his number, where it will hang alongside Eddie Shore (No. 2), Lionel Hitchman (3), Bobby Orr (4), Aubrey Clapper (5), Phil Esposito (7), Neely (8), Bucyk (9), Milt Schmidt (15), O'Reilly (24) and Bourque (77).