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Bucyk hip replacement surgery, Bruins reunion on hold

Coronavirus outbreak postpones Boston legend's operation, celebration of 1970 Stanley Cup champions

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Johnny Bucyk had it nicely figured out a few months ago. Check into the hospital for hip replacement surgery while the Boston Bruins were on the road, then return to their TD Garden Alumni Suite, to his usual chair, for their first game back home.

That plan changed when the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Bucyk was rebooked for surgery this Monday, went through preop testing and was preparing to ready himself for the operation when the phone call came a few days ago. Surgery was postponed until further notice, hospital demands having dramatically changed with the outbreak.

"The hip replacement will take about an hour and a half, less time than the preop with bloods tests and everything," Bucyk said Monday. "I was so disappointed when it was canceled, but I understand why."

A new left hip is much more a necessity than a luxury for the Boston legend known as Chief, the former captain and two-time Stanley Cup champion who has bled Bruins black and gold since he arrived from the Detroit Red Wings in a trade for goalie Terry Sawchuk in 1957.

Johnny Bucyk accepts the 1970 Stanley Cup from NHL President Clarence Campbell.

"I think it's just wear and tear from hockey," said Bucyk, who played 21 of his 23 NHL seasons for the Bruins and scored 545 of his 556 NHL goals for Boston. 

"X-rays showed the ball in the right hip socket is still there, but the left one is gone, it's bone on bone. Whenever this virus has passed and the hospitals are ready, I'm going right in. I can't do without the replacement, the hip is really bad."

And then, with a laugh:

"It's not just my first hip. It's my first everything. The only major thing I had before was both shoulders separated. One was by Rocket Richard in the late '50s, the other by Pierre Pilote after that. Rocket felt bad, it was just a freak thing. He took me into the side boards, I got caught on top of the dasher, the body went down, but the shoulder stayed up."

On Tuesday night, Bucyk is likely to sit at home with his sore hip, his wife, Terri, and their 6-month-old beagle, Charlie Chan, and turn on an old movie. Hockey is not on his radar.

It was to have been a night of great celebration at TD Garden for Bucyk and many of his dear teammates, the Bruins having organized a 50th anniversary celebration of their 1970 Stanley Cup championship. That, like so much else during this extraordinary time, has been shelved, though the event will be held at the first opportunity during the 2020-21 season.

Johnny Bucyk (center) with legendary 1970s Boston Bruins teammates Phil Esposito (left) and Bobby Orr.

Months of planning called for nearly all the living members of the 1969-70 team to assemble in Boston on Monday. There was to have been a dinner that night, a visit to the Bruins' morning skate Tuesday, then off to TD Garden for the Bruins-Red Wings game, with a reception, pregame on-ice salute and a night of swapping lies in the Alumni Suite.

Fellow legends Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Gerry Cheevers and Wayne Cashman were to have flown in from Florida, with other members of the team arriving from near and far. 

"I was very excited about it," said the 84-year-old, who was a key part of the Bruins championship teams in 1970 and 1972. "As far as I know, just about everybody was coming in. It was going to be great to see how everybody was doing. I get to see a lot of the guys during the season, but I'd have seen almost everybody this week. 

"That 1970 team was one of my all-time highlights, the first Bruins team to win the Stanley Cup in 29 years. Just our togetherness … we played together, the way we stuck together, fought together, did everything together. It was a very close-knit team."

Johnny Bucyk in an early Bruins portrait, and on TD Garden ice with current captain Zdeno Chara in April 2019.

The 1972 championship was special too; there was a sense of redemption for the Bruins after they were upset in 1971 by the underdog Montreal Canadiens.  

"Sometimes things don't turn out the way they should, as happened that year," Bucyk said. 

The 1970-71 Bruins finished first in the East Division, 24 points clear of the third-place Canadiens, only to be knocked off by Montreal in a seven-game Quarterfinal series.

"We were the better team, but the goaltending that Ken Dryden came up with for Montreal was unbelievable," he said. "Lots of Bruins fans remember the 1972 Cup, but for me, the first one in 1970 was incredible. We were getting phone calls from all over the place from people trying to get tickets."

Bucyk was energized by the Bruins this season. Boston was leading the NHL with 100 points when the season was paused. 

"I thought we had a great shot this season," he said of winning another championship. "You never know with injuries, things like that can always hinder your chances of winning. But the way we were playing was good. 

"Right now, without hockey, I'm going crazy. With all that's going on, Terri and I are just staying in the house and watching a lot of movies. She's in love with TCM's classics. You name it, we've probably seen it."

For a change of pace, Bucyk will load their beagle into his car and go for a long drive. Charlie Chan was named for the character in the movies that his wife and her father watched in the latter's final days.

Johnny Bucyk in an early Bruins portrait and at home on Monday with Charlie Chan, the family beagle.

"I drove seven hours from Boston to an Amish village in Pennsylvania to get him from a breeder, and nine hours back through traffic," he said, laughing again. "We didn't get him at first, after Terri saw him on the Internet. But the breeder called us to say a woman in California couldn't take him, so we drove there right away.

"He'd lived in a barn and his only transportation had been a horse and buggy. He had no idea what a car was, so that was funny. He lay on Terri's lap the whole nine-hour drive home, and now he won't leave her alone."

A return of hockey won't come soon enough for Bucyk, who following every season loads up his motor home and drives cross-continent to the couple's summer home in British Columbia. 

"Terri's not ready to throw me out of house just yet," he joked. "You adjust to it. Eight years in a row (1959-60 to 1966-67), we didn't make the playoffs, so I used to get a summer job. I'd make $6,500 a year and you couldn't go very far on that. 

"I used to pump gas, wash cars. I was a grease monkey who changed tires. I was lucky. I worked at a Ford dealership every summer. I needed a job in the summer and they needed someone to replace their people who went on holidays."

If only someone could put Bucyk on a hoist today, change his hip, lube his joints, get him back into TD Garden and drop the puck.

Photos: HHoF Images/Terri Reinbach-Bucyk/Getty Images/Dave Stubbs

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