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Cherry, 11 20-goal scorers from 1977-78 Bruins to be honored in Boston

Coach-turned-broadcaster reminisces about record-breaking season

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

BOSTON -- Don Cherry knew he had a very good Boston Bruins team in 1977-78. But it wasn't until Cherry's wife, Luba, started digging into the statistics for him recently that the former coach realized just how good it was.

Cherry will be among a dozen men from that 1977-78 team who will be celebrated before and during the Bruins' game against the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, NESN, SNW, NHL.TV), with a ceremonial face-off and in-game tributes. It has been 40 years since the Bruins had an NHL-record 11 players who scored 20 or more goals.

Peter McNab led the way with 41. He was followed by Terry O'Reilly (29), Stan Jonathan and Bobby Schmautz (27 each), Rick Middleton and Jean Ratelle (25 each), captain Wayne Cashman (24), Gregg Sheppard (23), Brad Park (22) and Don Marcotte and Bob Miller (20 each).

"And John Wensink scored 16, so we nearly had 12 guys with 20 or more," Cherry said.

Two previous NHL teams had 10 players score 20 or more goals -- the 1970-71 Bruins and the 1974-75 Montreal Canadiens. The 1980-81 St. Louis Blues also had 10 players score 20 or more, and eight other teams have had nine 20-goal scorers. 

The 1977-78 Bruins finished with 333 goals, with the 11 players who scored 20 or more accounting for 283. Boston won the Adams Division with 113 points and finished second in the League behind the Montreal Canadiens, who had 129. Boston swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the Quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers in five games in the Semifinals, then fell to the Canadiens in a six-game Stanley Cup Final, trying the series after losing the first two games before losing Games 5 and 6.

It was an excellent Bruins team, Cherry remembers, one he ranks just behind his 1978-79 team that lost to the Canadiens in Game 7 of the Semifinals, the legendary too-many-men game at the Montreal Forum.

"It's funny; nobody forgets that one, and we really, really thought we were going to win it," Cherry said with a chuckle about yet another loss that broke Boston's heart, the 13th series in what would become a streak of 18 straight in which Montreal eliminated the Bruins from the postseason.

"Luba found me some stuff about the '77-78 team that even I didn't know," he said of his wife. "She's going to make me sound quite clever."

And then the man known as "Grapes," the longtime star of "Coach's Corner" on "Hockey Night in Canada" who guided the Bruins from 1974-75 to 1979-80, begins to recite the statistics.

"Eighty games, 51 wins (with 18 losses and 11 ties), over 300 goals scored, a winning percentage of .706, and not one guy won a trophy," Cherry said. "Not one guy named to the NHL's First All-Star team. We had a complete team effort. No stars. It was us against the world."

Four of the 11 players -- McNab, O'Reilly, Jonathan and Miller -- had career highs for goals that season. And not many of them, Cherry recalls with pride, were scored with delicacy.

"We were not cutie pies, believe me," he said of his lineup. "We had 1,229 minutes in penalties. Our leading (point) scorer, O'Reilly (a career-high 61 assists with his 29 goals) had 211 penalty minutes. Jonathan, 116 minutes. Wensink, 181 minutes.

"But we didn't have just a bunch of brawlers. Not one of our regular guys was a minus," Cherry said. "Mike Milbury was plus-52. Brad Park plus-68, Rick Smith plus-70."

Any time Cherry's Bruins were leading a game by four or more goals -- they won 15 regular-season games by such a margin -- he would deploy his third and fourth lines on the power play. They were cheered on by the first- and second-liners, some of whom might fall short of bonus money tied to their offensive output.

"That's a credit to those guys," he said of his power-play regulars who stayed on the bench. "They happily sacrificed bonuses to see the third- and fourth-line guys play.
"Some of the wise guys in the NHL today would say, 'You can't do that now because a four- or five-goal lead is not safe.' But believe me, if we were up by four or five, nobody was going to come back and beat us."

Cherry recalled his power-play strategy of leaving his No. 1 unit on the ice for 75 or 90 seconds - even the full two minutes if there wasn't a whistle.

"My guys never had to hurry, like today's players do, because they knew they were going to stay out there," he said.

Cherry lauded the season-long roles played by centers Sheppard and Ratelle, the latter the 1975-76 Lady Byng Trophy winner as the NHL's most gentlemanly player who wasn't the square peg he might have seemed on these lunch-pail Bruins.

And Cherry is proud of the work he did to mold offense-obsessed Middleton, who had arrived by trade in May 1976 from a minus-38 season with the New York Rangers, into a solid two-way player.

"(Middleton) would become so good, we'd be up 3-2 late and I'd put him on in our end," he said. "When he first came to us, I wouldn't put him on for anything but to score goals. But he learned, and with nearly 500 NHL goals (448 in 1,005 games), he should be in the Hall of Fame."

Forty years later, Cherry looks back with fondness on an unlikely cast which set an NHL record that has stood the test of time.

"We had a fun season," he said. "I never missed a practice. They were short and hard, the way the players liked them. No chalkboard."

Then, with a laugh:

"When I was a player in the minors, a coach might do something in practice and I'd say, 'If I were a coach, I'd never do that.' It wasn't what I learned to do from coaches, it's what I learned not to do."

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