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Stanley Cup Final

Game 7 of Cup Final between Bruins, Blues stirs memories for Park

Hall of Fame defenseman played in six deciding games for Boston, Rangers

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

BOSTON -- It was the early 1960s and future Hall of Famer Brad Park, about 15, was in his Toronto driveway, a tennis ball on his stick and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in his mind, calling play-by-play of his own imminent heroics.

That moment likely will be in Park's mind when he settles in with fellow NHL players in Muskoka, Ontario, to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The memory of Park's driveway remains fresh about 55 years after the fact, even if the details have a sepia hue.

 

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"I was alone out there, so I wouldn't be embarrassed if I missed the net," he said with a laugh on Tuesday.

So of course, Park missed the target, with one of his shots sailing over the net and shattering a garage window. He probably hadn't yet played a game on defense (Park was a forward until his mid-teens), which explains his choice of who he was channeling on his driveway that day.

"I'd have been Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard, Bobby Hull, maybe Stan Mikita," he said. "And besides, defensemen weren't known for scoring Game 7 Stanley Cup-winning goals."

Park never did score a Cup-winner, nor did he win a championship during a 17-season NHL career that took him from the New York Rangers to the Bruins to the Detroit Red Wings from 1968-69 to 1984-85. 

But the eight-time Norris Trophy runner-up, arguably the greatest defenseman of his generation not named Bobby Orr, did score a Game 7 winner. His goal at 1:52 of overtime on April 24, 1983, lifted the Bruins to a 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres in the Adams Division Final. It came after Park had tied the game midway through the third period.

Park played in four Stanley Cup Finals, but none of them got to a Game 7. In earlier rounds, he played in six Game 7s, scoring four points (two goals, two assists). He was on the losing end of 1971 and 1974 series with the Rangers, then split four with Boston: wins in 1976 and 1983, losses in 1979 and 1982.  

"As I got older, I realized more that the anticipation was worse than the participation," Park, now 70, said of the tight-collar Game 7 situation. "You'd get all wound up. When you're younger, you're thinking of all these scenarios. Then as I got older, it wasn't a question of the scenarios, it was, 'Hey, just get into your routine. You've got to go to the game. It's going to happen, you know?' If you think about the consequences -- naturally, the consequences of losing -- your nerves are on the outside of your body and you're very sensitive to everything."

No matter the pressure that bore down on the shoulders of Park and his teammates, he says every Game 7 paled in comparison to Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series, the historic head-to-head between Canada and the Soviet Union. The series 3-3 with a tie between them, so the final game in Moscow would decide the winner of a two-continent, month-long contest that was more about political ideologies than it was about hockey.

"That was Game 7 plus one," Park said. "I was 24, and here I am looking around wide-eyed, getting ready, and this was for all the marbles. That was the most pressure-packed game I ever played. People ask how much celebration there was in the dressing room after it was over, but there was no celebration. We just walked around hugging each other. We sat there and sighed in relief that it was over, and we had won."

Park was on his way Tuesday morning from Milton, Ontario, to cottage country. He was between two golf tournaments, having played Monday in former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wendel Clark's charity event, bound for a corporate function in Muskoka, about a two-hour drive north of Toronto, with former Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers, former NHL forward Peter Mahovlich and others.

This year's Final has impressed him, as the postseason always does, for the durability of the players and what they play through to win the Stanley Cup. 

It was no surprise to Park that Bruins captain Zdeno Chara played Games 5 and 6 behind a visor with a facial injury after having been struck in the face by a puck in Game 4. There is a different pain threshold that kicks in come the playoffs, Park says, and he speaks from experience.

"(Rangers teammate) Walt Tkaczuk played with a broken jaw wired shut in the 1974 playoffs," he recalled of Tkaczuk wearing a helmet with a bar across the mouth. "They didn't freeze Walter back then, and he said that any time he hit or bumped into somebody or was run along the boards, the pain was unbelievable.

"I once had a separated shoulder against Montreal in the playoffs. I'd have it (numbed) before the warmup, before the game and between periods. Another time I played with torn cartilage in my sternum and they'd freeze it with a needle right in the middle of my chest."

All were things that Park said a player wouldn't endure in the regular season but would do without hesitation with the Stanley Cup on the line.

With the Bruins one win from another championship, Park says he'll be cheering for Boston "wherever we find ourselves on Wednesday.

"I have a little black and gold blood in me, but a little (Rangers) blue and white and (Red Wings) red and white, too. When I'm asked who I'm cheering for, I say, 'Whoever's paying me,' " he joked. "Us older guys have a different view of things. We try not to critique, but we do. The game in many ways has not changed. In the end, the right option is always the right option."

And then Park flashed back once more to a teenager's driveway and the glass that was scattered across it. If that shot wasn't a Game 7 winner, it was the next best thing.

"My dad came home that day and he said, 'What do you think about that?' and I replied, 'Dad, my shot couldn't break a pane of glass,' " he said, laughing again. "Hey, it was winter, the window was frozen, and the ball was probably frozen, too. It could have gone anywhere." 

 

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