FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The NHL Alumni Game is a trip back in time for players, getting to relive their roots on frozen ponds and lakes, dreaming of the day when they would hit the big time, only now flavored with the satisfaction of having done so.
“Skating on the ponds, the lakes, freezing in our driveways, it brings you back to it, no question,” Mark Recchi said after the game. “Those were such good times. We’d go from playing a game in the rink to getting a bunch of us together and going out wherever it was. If our parents could take us to the lake. But somebody always had a driveway that was frozen, too. So you had the snow banks. If the boards were the snowbanks, and you had to make sure you had a bunch of pucks because you lose them half the time. It was just a blast. You never forget those days.”
The Alumni Game is designed to appeal to the nostalgia in players and fans. Although it is a trip back in time, it’s still a game between elite competitors who like to win. Despite the loose feel at the start of the game, the “remember-whens”, there’s always a moment when the tide turns and the competitive edge comes out.
“Hey, guys played in the NHL for a reason,” said Recchi. “They were competitive and they wanted to win. It’s no different when you get out there. It’s a little loose to start, but then it heats up all the time.”
That competitive edge is something Boston Bruins fans have seen sporadically over the past season and a half out of their team. As such, the Alumni Game is a trip back to the glory days for the faithful, and at this point in time, a welcome relief for Boston fans. Watching living legends like Ray Bourque and his cohorts take the ice reminds them that their team can be great, but even greatness doesn’t guarantee a win.
Bourque addressed that afterwards, reliving his time with the Bruins in vivid color.
“Yeah, I think we had a really good run after ’88,” said Bourque. “’87-’88 after finally beating Montreal, I don’t know. It was 45, 44 years it had been. After that, like you said, we had some pretty good success. Went to the Cup in ’88. Had a really tough match-up with the Oilers, with Gretzky, ’90, I thought we matched up way better. I thought we were deeper. I thought we had enough to get it done. First game goes into triple overtime. We lose that one, then we come out and play pretty well after two periods and outshooting them really bad. We’re down 3-1, I think, going into the third. Then we fell behind the eight ball, never could recover.
“We go to two Finals and we play Edmonton twice, and then Pittsburgh goes back-to-back and plays Minnesota and Chicago,” Bourque added, “No disrespect to any of those teams, but I wouldn’t mind that match-up instead of the Oilers.
“But it was a lot of fun for me, especially, being from Montreal. I used to go back for the summers back then. So finally beating Montreal. And I got there in ’79, so we didn’t have that much success until ’87, ’88, so for me it was such a nice summer, the summer of ’88.”
While the Bruins team Bourque represents is far deeper than the one that will skate against the Montreal Canadiens Friday, they primed the pump for fans, got them excited to see their team represent Boston on this international stage.
“This town is so passionate about the sports,” Bourque added, referring to the nearly-50,000 crowd that occupied the stands during an Alumni Game that counted for nothing – no standings, nothing but a chance to see greatness on the ice one more time in person. And they came from all over: from the next town over to Montreal to the far reaches of the continent.
Fans Kim and Stacy Griffith flew in all the way from Alaska to watch Bourque, LaFleur and others skate for the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. They left thrilled, having spent the afternoon reliving what it meant to be a Habs or Bruins fan when the teams were at their peak.