Keeping Score: Bossy tells all

Published: 11/25/2022 6:55:31 PM
Modified: 11/25/2022 6:53:13 PM

Good morning!
Forty-five years ago this January 18, a buildup of snow and ice caused the Hartford Civic Center’s roof to collapse. It was early morning and no one was hurt, but for the next two years the Hartford Whalers played their home games at the Springfield Civic Center. For local hockey fans and reporters, it was a dream come true.

One night after the Whalers played the Islanders, I walked into the visitors’ locker room expecting it to be empty. Two players were sitting against the wall relaxing in the afterglow of another win, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. We nodded at each other and I sat down and listened to them rehash the game, awed by being in the presence of two future Hall of Famers.

After Bossy died in April, my dentist Larry Life of East Longmeadow sent me the link to Bossy’s “Letter to my younger self” he wrote for The Players’ Tribune in 2017. Youth is wasted on the young as the saying goes, and Bossy was telling the 17-year-old version of himself what to expect as he advanced from adolescence into junior hockey and up to the NHL.

“Guys don’t smoke cigarettes and drink coffee anymore,” he began. “I hope you have enjoyed your beautiful nose for the past 14 years, it’s not going to be so straight anymore.”

He was one of 10 children who lived with his parents in a 4½-room apartment outside Montreal. He slept on a cot “behind a little curtain at the end of a hallway” that was close enough for him to hear Hockey Night in Canada his father had on television.

After he turned 17, the Laval Titan of the Quebec Major Juniors enticed him to play for them by moving his family into a new house near the rink. In four seasons, he scored 308 goals in 251 games.

Bossy was offended by people who said goal scoring was easy for him. He’d shoot at a board in the yard until his feet were frozen. His mother made him thaw them in a bucket of cold water because warm water “would make your toes fall off.”

His father flooded the backyard with a hose and came inside with icicles frozen to his eyebrows. “Thousands of miles away in western Canada, Bryan’s father was flooding the pond behind his house by chopping up a beaver pond,” wrote Bossy.

He wrote about being sucker punched, blind-sided and cold cocked. “Other teams are going to target you, bigtime… The slashing and cross checking will be so common it’s barely worth mentioning.”

He fell in love with the girl named Lucie who worked behind the snack bar. He bought a chocolate bar every day until he finally worked up the courage to talk to her, to ask her out, and eventually to marry her.

He tells his younger self of sitting in his lawyer’s office on draft day waiting for the phone to ring. Teams thought he was too shy and timid to survive in the NHL. The first 12 teams passed until the Islanders took him. GM Bill Torrey asked Bossy why he thought he was being lowballed in contract talks. Bossy said because he’s going to score 50 goals his rookie season.

“I still don’t know where it came from. It just came out,” writes Bossy. Torrey laughed. So did his agent, but Bossy scored 53 goals his rookie season.

Coach Al Arbour put him on a line with Trottier and Clark Gillies. “You’ll develop tremendous chemistry with (Trottier) but fall short of the Stanley Cup. You’ll be hacked and slashed mercilessly. You tell the press you’re not going to fight. It’s pointless and insane.”

In the first game of the 1980 Stanley Cup (finals), Mel Bridgman takes a run at him. “Huge, mean, nasty Bridgman.” Bossy collides with Bridgman and knocks him to the ice. “That collision set the tone for the next four years. You’ll win the game in overtime, and the Stanley Cup, and three more Stanley Cups to follow.”

After 10 seasons, Bossy’s back goes out on him. He blames it on a broken kneecap in high school doing the long jump. “And when the back goes, it’s over. It’s just how life works. There’s only so much of our own story we write for ourselves.

“We don’t get to write the beginning and end, but we can listen to Hockey Night in Canada and talk to the girl at the snack bar and quit smoking and run over Mel Bridgman. We can look back and say: Thank God I was an Islander, and I love you Bryan Trottier.”

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UMASS-ARMY: Army won’t be taking prisoners this afternoon in Amherst. It needs wins against UMass and Navy to be bowl eligible. It’ll get ugly if coach Don Brown can’t find a way to stop the wishbone. Last week against UConn, the Black Knights rushed for 320 yards and passed for zero.

On the season they’ve rushed for 3,019 yards and 31 touchdowns and passed for 825 yards and five TDs.

Army is a 20-point favorite. The money line is $100 to win $800 on the Minutemen, or $1,400 to win $100 on Army.

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The blowback was inevitable after I quoted Ithaca grad Adam Wodon saying that the Ithaca-Cortland game is the “biggest little game in America.”

“Do a Google search and you’ll see the entire first page cites Amherst vs. Williams,” writes Amherst alum John Lacey. “His claim is fraudulent.”

Williams SID Dick Quinn sent a list of sports networks (ESPN, NESN, etc.) that call the Amherst-Williams rivalry “The Biggest Little Game in America.”

It’s true that while the Cortland-Ithaca series dates back to 1930, Amherst-Williams goes back to 1884 when Jeffery Amherst did the ceremonial coin toss. (Just kidding.)

In an agreeable compromise, Quinn said, “Ithaca v Cortland is the most attended Little Game in America.” Indeed, it brought over 40,000 to Yankee Stadium two weeks ago.

■■■■

Speaking of blowback, Kevin Pelosky of South Deerfield writes: “Why don’t you follow your own advise (sic) of no politics… Your (sic) like that a****** Callahan from WEEI… Hope you get run over by a horse at the track.”

Well Kevin I do steer away from politics, and yes I have been run over by a horse at the track — metaphorically speaking.

■■■■

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand kicked off the hot stove season by coming up with a free agent to fit every team: reliever David Robertson to the Red Sox, Justin Verlander to the Yankees and southpaw Carlos Rodon to the Mets. As for notable departures, if Feinsand ruled baseball Nathan Eovaldi would go to Baltimore, Xander Bogaerts to the Cubs, Jacob deGrom to the Braves and Aaron Judge to the Dodgers.

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SQUIBBERS: The UMass hockey team appeared headed for its sixth straight loss on Saturday. The Minutemen trailed UNH 2-0 after 20 minutes in Durham but roared back to score three goals in three minutes and won, 4-2. Asked what he said in the locker room between periods, coach Greg Carvel replied, “I didn’t say anything. I yelled.”… Yankees GM Brian Cashman slept on the field at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 17 to help raise money for the Covenant House for homeless children. Red Sox management would simply ask the fans to sleep outside. … Buying ski tickets is like buying airplane tickets, the longer you wait the more they cost. At Killington, an all-day lift pass for Saturday, Jan. 14, cost $156 this week but more as the day approaches. Parking cost $35 for a spot almost a mile away from the base lodge. … The Miami Hurricanes have a sugar daddy in billionaire John Ruiz, who launders his contributions via the name, image, likeness program. Ruiz told the Wall Street Journal, “This isn’t about winning sports games, this is about winning the game of life.” Oh yeah. Pass the puke bucket. .… The WSJ also reported that after Qatar banned beer at the World Cup, fans from Wales and England went to the Canary Islands where it’s warm and the beer is $1 a pint. … The UMass hockey team is playing the Friendship Four in Belfast close to where Led Zeppelin debuted “Stairway to Heaven” at Ulster Hall. … Kudos to the UMass men’s soccer and field hockey teams for finishing 7-4-7 and 15-5, respectively. Meanwhile longtime basketball booster John Kennedy thinks the Minutemen men’s hoop team will be a Top 50 squad. “Best defense I have seen a UMA team play in years,” he texted. … Penn State was the first D-1 hockey team to reach 10 wins, closely followed by Denver, UConn, Michigan and St. Cloud. … Football players wear helmets and futbol players wear manbuns. Sirius-XM’s Chris Russo after the Americans’ 1-1 tie against Wales: “This (Christian) Pulisic — how d’ya pronounce his name? What a hypochondriac! What a diva! Every time he gets touched he screams where’s the yellow card? How dare they push me to the ground!” …… Jets fans ‘Mitch’ on Sirius-XM’s Movin’ the Chains: “For (Zach Wilson) to come up to the podium like that, he’s already got a face you want to punch when you look at him.” …. The SportsHub’s Scott Zolak after Marcus Jones drove a spike through Jets fans’ hearts on Sunday: “Atta boy Jets! Get your buses started! See ya back in New York!”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet715@icloud.com


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