When we last spoke, it was about returning and retiring legends, controversy, and a huge first in the NHL.
In this week’s post, we’ll speak of even more NHL firsts and legends, to include players and events leading up to the Expansion, and the “Big Bad Bruins.”
BRUINS BREAK BARRIERS IN THE HISTORY BOOKS
Just like in baseball, Jackie Robinson’s presence was not very welcome during his time, being the first black player the Major League Baseball.
In Hockey, this situation occurred again in 1958, in the form of Willie O’Ree.
While midway through his season with the minor-league team, Quebec Aces, O’Ree was called up to the bruins to replace an injured player. On January 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens, Willie made history as the first black player in the NHL.
Despite being 95% blind in his right eye, O’Ree managed to keep it a secret until he made his debut with the Bruins.
In the 1957-1958 season, O’Ree appeared in two games and came back to play forty-three more games in the 1960-1961 season. During his stint in the NHL, O’Ree would play the wing for Centreman Don McKenney, with Jerry Toppazzini on the opposing flank. In his short time in the NHL, Willie was able to put away four goals with ten assists in his career.
After a brief moment in the spotlight, O’Ree finished out his Hockey career in the Western Hockey League. Between 1961 and 1974, Willie was well known in the league, having won two scoring titles and scored thirty or more goals four times, with a high of 38 in 1964-1965 and 1968-1969.
During his time in the WHL, O’Ree played for the Los Angeles Blades and the San Diego Gulls. O’Ree continued to play in the minors until age 43, and his number with the San Diego Gulls has been retired, and still, hangs from the rafters at San Diego Sports Arena.
BRUINS MAINTAIN AMERICAN PRESENCE IN THE NHL
During the 1950’s and early in the 1960’s, Bruins’ Management rarely broke contracts on other teams, and rather focused on players not protected by others teams. This is actually how the Bruins came to acquire Willie O’Ree, and in a similar situation signed Tom Williams.
“Tommy, The Bomber” Williams made his NHL debut in the 1961-1962 season. During this time, Williams would be the first and only American player to play regularly since the retirement of Goaltender Frank Brimsek.
The Bomber would play eight productive seasons with Bruins, to include an injury to nearly ending his career.
As another NHL first, Tom and his brother, Butch, would become the first American brothers to play in the NHL. After Tom’s eight seasons as a Bruin, he would join the Minnesota North Stars for a season and a half, until he was traded to the California Golden Seals. Playing just two seasons for the Golden Seals, Williams moved over to the World Hockey Association, to play for the New England Whalers.
Tom Williams made his return to NHL to play for the new expansion team, the Washington Capitals. In the Caps’ debut season, Williams led the team in scoring (22 goals, 36 assists), and on December 5, 1974, was involved in the organization’s first Penalty Shot against the Buffalo Sabres.
During the 1975-1976 season, Tommy, The Bomber retired and was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981.
ADDITIONAL TALENT KEEPS BRUINS AFLOAT
Sharing the ice with Tommy, The Bomber, and Center for Left-Wing, Willie O’Ree, was Don McKenney.
McKenney made his professional debut with Bruins-owned, American Hockey League farm team, the Hershey Bears, in the latter part of the 1953-1954 season, and was promoted to the Bruins in the 1954-1955 season.
In his first season with the Bruins, McKenney led the team in scoring and was voted second for the Calder Rookie of the Year award. For the next seven seasons, he would lead the Bruins in scoring three more times, never dropping below third on the team in points. Known for his smooth playing style, skills as a defensive forward, spectacular abilities as a penalty killer, and his exemplary sportsmanship, between 1957 and 1962, Don would be voted top four for the Lady Byng Trophy (winning it in 1960) and was named to play in the All-Star Game each of those seasons.
In addition to winning the Lady Byng, 1960 was undoubtedly McKenney’s best season, leading the league in assists, finishing eighth in NHL scoring, and being named to the third All-Star Team.
Unfortunately, 1960 would be the start of the worst stretch in Bruins history, missing the playoffs seven seasons in a row. This was the worst stretch of this sort in NHL history before the 1967 Expansion.
Don was named Captain in 1961 but was traded to the New York Rangers two seasons later, in 1963.
ANOTHER LINE OF SHARED DECENT
Just like the Kraut Line, the “Uke Line,” was comprised of three skilled players who share a native homeland.
With 545 career goals as a Bruin, surpassed only by Ray Bourque, Johnny Bucyk was arguably the original cornerstone for the “Big Bad Bruins” era. Acquired in 1957 from the Detroit Red Wings in a surprising deal for Terry Sawchuk, Bucyk had a long and illustrious career, playing the fourth most games, and racking up fourth most points in NHL History.
A notably clean player who won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1971 and 1974, Johnny “Chief” Bucyk was the biggest player of his time, standing at 6′ and 215lbs. Due to his size, Chief was able to lay down devastating hip checks. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981.
In the minors, specifically, the Edmonton Oil Kings, is where the Uke Line was formed as all three played together for the Oil Kings. When drafted, Bucyk and Stasiuk would go the Detroit Red Wings, while Horvath would go on to play for the New York Rangers. Stasiuk would be the first to wear the Spoked-B in the 1955-1956 season, with Bucyk and Horvath completing the line in 1957.
The line would see four seasons until Horvath was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks in 1960-1961, and Stasiuk would be sent to the Detroit Red Wings the same season.
PRE-EXPANSION DRAUGHT CALLS FOR MANAGEMENT REFORM
If you know your history, you know why I can’t go too far into this era.
In 1964, following Walter A. Brown’s death, the Bruins were repurchased by Weston Adams (the son of original Bruins owner, Charles Adams). Finishing last in the league and missing the playoffs for seven seasons, Adams set out to rebuild the team.
Management, to include Bruins’ legend Milt Schmidt, would design a team around the abilities of a particular defenseman from Parry Sound, Ontario.
This is where we’ll have to end until next week!
Special shout out to all the amazing sites that we cited throughout this article that we found the great historic pictures on. Thank you for keeping the great history of the game alive and well with the various articles and images on your sites. Please check them out if you have some time as they have some amazing historical information and images that you will love to see!
If you want to check out the previous decade’s article take a look at it here!
IF YOU KNOW WHO IT IS, DON’T SAY IT!
Instead, let everyone know in the comments what we missed in this week’s post!