Wednesday night’s Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, pitting the Boston Bruins playing on the home ice of the Vancouver Canucks, calls to mind a similar circumstance in the spring of 1971.
Just a couple months after the accompanying photo of yours truly was taken (during my junior year of college at the late-great George Williams College, in suburban Downers Grove, Illinois, just west of Chicago), the BlackHawks were hosting the Montreal Canadiens for all the marbles (and Lord Stanley’s Cup) at the old Chicago Stadium.
It had become easy to root against the BlackHawks that year – all their home games were not only blacked out on TV, the radio broadcasts of their home games didn’t begin until after the first period was over. If ever the ownership of a team acted as if it wanted to spit on its fans, it was Chicago’s. They played road games every Saturday night, and while those games were all on TV, it made for great sport, in those rebellious times, to root for whoever was the home team those Saturday nights. More often than not, our opposition to Chicago was rewarded, as Saturday night road games are always tough to win.
The announcers left something to be desired. Inexplicably, Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau had the duty of conducting the between-period interviews. He managed to ask one of the all-time dumbest questions one night when he asked a Chicago defenseman if it helped him to be able to skate backwards.
While the BlackHawks had stars like Bobby Hull (the Golden Jet of Hockey), his kid brother Dennis (the Silver Jet), Goalie Tony Esposito, and Stan Mikita, they also had an eminently dislikable defenseman named Keith Magnuson, known more for his hot temper and fast fists than his hockey skills, and we took particular delight in watching his face attack opponents’ fists with abandon.
So on the evening of Game 7, several of us scholars opted to abandon our books in favor of the game, driving several miles off campus to an old Shakey’s pizza parlor that was renown for being able to turn its antenna in such a way as to pick up the TV signal from Milwaukee (as the game was blacked out on local Chicago TV). We arrived early, setting up shop right smack dab in front of the best TV in the place. Of the six of us, I was the lone American --- the rest of my buddies were Canadian, staunchly supportive of the team from their homeland, to the point that they even tacked their beloved Maple Leaf flag on the wall behind our table.
By the time the game started, several things were obvious.
One) - the place was packed.
Two) - alcohol was present and abundant.
Because of #2, we were pretty much oblivious to number 3 --- we were the only ones rooting for Montreal.
The mood was light and the crowd happy when Chicago took a 2-0 lead into the third and final period.
But when the Habs roared back with three goals in the final frame, two by Rocket Richard’s little brother Henri (‘The Pocket Rocket’), things got real ugly real fast.
With rookie goalie sensation Ken Dryden making save after save for Montreal as the clock wound down, the game ended with Montreal on top, and with six fools singing ‘O Canada’ while some disgruntled Chicagoan hurled a (hopefully empty) beer pitcher in our direction as the crowd of hundreds made their way dejectedly out the door.
To this day, I’m not sure how we lived through 1971’s Game Seven.
But I’m sure glad to be here to see another one forty years later.
There’s no question about it.