The Boston Garden, home of the Bruins, opened on November 17, 1928, and was demolished in 1997. Located on top of North Station which was the hub for the Boston and Maine railroad, it was built at a cost of $10 million and the first team sporting event there was a hockey game on November 20, 1928, won by the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 over the Boston Bruins. 17,000 fans – two thousand over capacity – attended while other fans without tickets broke windows and doors and stormed their way in.
I used to see the Garden on television on the CBS hockey game of the week and I used to think how beautiful it looked. I saw it in person in 1973, when I broadcast University of Wisconsin hockey in the NCAA tournament, and my image was dashed. It was old and filthy but because it was built for boxing, everyone had a great view of the game and our broadcast location was outstanding. We were located in a platform hanging off the first balcony and were so close to the visiting bench we could hear the players talk with each other.
Some of the quirks of the Garden included the fact that the ice surface was nine feet shorter and two feet narrower than regulation. For that reason I always seemed to feel like I was racing to keep up with the action on my play-by-play. The teams also didn’t sit on the same side of the ice but across from each other, and due to the smaller dimensions, the Bruins always seemed to tailor their teams to take advantage of that size.
The visitors’ dressing room was small, hot and with questionable plumbing. There was no air conditioning in the building and twice in the Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and the Edmonton Oilers the games were disrupted by power failures. The electrical situation was probably the reason that many nights I would be doing play-by-play on TV with a technician crawling under my legs to make an adjustment.
In spite of the shortcomings, the Garden had a great history of outstanding players and teams. In the modern era, I got to describe the exploits of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge and Gerry Cheevers. Boston hockey fans are avid and boisterous and in the 70’s liked to say, ‘Jesus saves, and Esposito scores on the rebound.’
One of the great playoff series I had the pleasure of broadcasting was in 1976 between the heavily favored Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins shut out the Kings in Game 1, 4-0, but the Kings evened the series by winning Game 2, 3-2, on a goal by Butch Goring 27 seconds into overtime. Game 3 was in Los Angeles and the Kings won, 6-4, led by Marcel Dionne’s hat trick – the first of his playoff career – and the goaltending of Rogie Vachon. Boston’s Cheevers shut out the Kings, 3-0, to tie the series at two wins apiece heading back to Boston.
Game 5 in the Garden was a disaster for the Kings, who after taking a 1-0 lead, gave up the next seven goals and lost 7-1. Game 6 in Los Angeles was a must win for the Kings. I’ll never forget the ovation the Kings got when they took the ice that night in spite of losing the previous game in Boston. The ovation lasted so long that referee Andy Van Hellemond told the singer to start the anthem or he was going to drop the puck. Unbeknownst to everyone was that Boston’s Wayne Cashman had deliberately cut the microphone cord with his skate.
The Kings were behind 3-1 at the end of two periods but scored twice in the third on two goals by Mike Corrigan, the tying goal coming with just 2:12 left in regulation. The longest overtime in Kings’ history, to that point, ended 18:28 into the extra period when Bob Murdoch passed to Bob Nevin, who then gave the puck to Goring, who crossed the blue line, cut to his left, and beat Cheevers with a shot just inside the left goal post and the series was tied, 3-3. Fans at the Forum that night will long remember the Kings streaming off the bench and carrying Goring off the ice on their shoulders, the first and only time I’ve ever seen that in a hockey game. On the air I was screaming, ‘We’re going back to Boston, we’re going back to Boston for Game 7!’
A great sportswriter in Boston named Leigh Montville wrote a column titled “Kings of the Living Dead.” He said Game 7 was the game no one in Boston thought would ever be played, and yet every time the Bruins think the Kings are dead, ‘the Kings stick their fingers over the side of the coffin each time the lid is about to close. Two weeks ago the Kings were a curiosity in Boston, now it’s time to be afraid of the L.A. Kings. Man should always be afraid of things that won’t die.’ Well, the Kings couldn’t stay alive in Game 7 as Boston’s backup goalie Gilles Gilbert won a 3-0 shutout.
The last event ever held in the Boston Garden was on September 28, 1995, a preseason game between the Bruins and the Canadiens. The Garden then sat vacant for two years before it was torn down and the land now serves as a parking lot for the current home of the Bruins, TD Garden. What can’t be demolished however, are the memories of the great teams and players who once played in the “Gah-den.”