IN MY OPINION

David J. Neal: Original Six storyline is being overplayed during Stanley Cup Finals

 

dneal@MiamiHerald.com

Wednesday brings Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, which Boston leads Chicago 2-1.

Oh, excuse me, Game 4 of this Original Six Stanley Cup Finals between Boston and Chicago. That designation seem to be a requirement. Any drinking game that involved downing something every time a media member mentioned or wrote “Original Six” would leave the TKE house hung over into July.

“An Original Six Classic…” “The first final between two Original Six teams since 1979….”

Before you read what follows, know this:

I grew up a Bruins fan, indoctrinated by the Massachusetts-native Amblos family as it introduced me to what soon became my favorite sport. The Bruins jersey I bought and numbered bears the style and number of 1920s great Eddie Shore. I once sent my best friend a pre-1960s Blackhawks jersey for Christmas. During the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, as NHL folks scurried to check whether New Jersey would have the most American-born players of any Cup winner, I’m one of the scribes who piped up, “Check 1937-38 Chicago.”

Besides, though not officially named such, Boston and Chicago were the teams in the greatest table hockey game ever, Phil and Tony Esposito Action Hockey Game.

I like old school faceoffs with skates in the little crosses, not players bent over the faceoff dot like linemen before the snap. I hate the shootout. And I shall not rest until NBC restores its 1970s NHL theme music.

But spare me this “Original Six Classic” stroking of the Stanley Cup Final.

Hockey fans can be the most tradition-hostaged followers of a team sport this side of baseball.

(Quick primer for you non-puckheads who have made it this far: the 1942 demise of the New York Americans left the NHL with six teams until 1967. Just as the eight-team NBA and the 12-team NFL expanded during the 1960s in search of more national network TV dollars, the NHL expanded by six teams in 1967. The teams already in existence — the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers — became known as the Original Six.)

We will skip over how mind-numbing most modern fans would find playing any opponent 14 times in a regular season, as was the norm during the O6 era. Or that this “Original Six Classic” matches two teams that never … actually … met in the playoffs during that time.

They never met because of this rarely discussed fact: What’s remembered as a golden age for the NHL actually was such only in Montreal, Toronto and Detroit. For Boston, Chicago and New York, each season resembled a stringy weakling’s daily trip down the school bully gantlet.

“Doom, despair, hangin’ in on me…(whoa!)…deep, dark depression, excessive misery (whoa!)…”

Thus began a regular skit on Hee-Haw. Bruins fans honest about the Original Six days understand the sentiment.

Boston missed the four-team playoffs 11 seasons and finished last in the league six of the seven seasons from 1960 to 1967. By 1963, Bruins fans were reduced to telling tales of the savior sizzling through junior hockey toward Boston. Some Orr kid. Even in Bobby Orr’s rookie season, the last before expansion, the defenseman still ranked by some gray hairs as the best player ever couldn’t lift Boston out of last place.

Another Bobby, a left wing with of scorching speed and slap shot with the last name Hull, broke Chicago out of its darkest days in the late 1950s. Before Hull and Stan Mikita turned Chicago into the NHL’s most wide open team, the Blackhawks defined “charity case.” In the mid-1950s, the Blackhawks were so pathetic that other teams sent them players.

Chicago, at least, won a Stanley Cup in 1961. Boston went without a Cup from 1941 to 1970.

Ah, the good ol’ days!

One of my least favorite phrases to hear out of a player is “It’s always a thrill to play for an Original Six franchise…” upon signing with one or being traded to one. It’s obligatory. And almost as ridiculous as Mike Foligno’s “I always wanted to play for an expansion team” when he got traded to the first-year Panthers.

Yeah, like anybody wanted to be within six El stops of the United Center from 1997 to 2007, when Blackhawks fans’ pregame ritual included raging over longtime Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz’s antiquated ways (including no home games on local television). Some players find rural Russia the only place less desirable to play than the Montreal or Toronto fish bowls.

Also, when a player in his late 30s gives the “it’s always a thrill…” line, OK, maybe. But when 28-year-old Rick Nash said it upon being traded with the Rangers … child, please.

Say “Rocket” to Nash’s generation and they think Pavel Bure, not Maurice Richard. Their Hull is Brett. We’re supposed to believe the average NHL player, for whom Gretzky’s 1980s Edmonton Oilers qualify as almost prehistoric, finds it a bigger thrill to play for a franchise that’s 90 years old than one that’s 45 years old?

Similarly, that this Stanley Cup Final matches two franchises with a history preceding 1967 probably means less than it matching two franchises that won Stanley Cups in 2010 and 2011.

Can we hear that repeated a few more times?

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