The NHL I Knew – How things have changed, and how they’ve stayed the same.


I know it’s no different from any other fan of the team’s reaction, but when the Boston Bruins recently acquired certain future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr via trade from the Dallas Stars, I was simply elated. Through my joy, I also had begun to contemplate a few different topics related to #68’s longevity. The thought train first built up steam when I was talking about the news of the trade with a school friend, especially conidering my following remark – “It’s incredible. I’ve worshipped this guy since I was a little kid, and now he plays for my favorite team.” I realized that there are very few hangers-on for me from that age of 4 or 5, when I first started watching this very intense league. A lot of guys have come and gone, and the contending teams have changed a bit. It’s a shame, really, because it feels like my level of familiarity with the league is decreasing.

The strongest identifying traits of the National Hockey League from 1994 to 2003 in the eyes of most are the dominant teams of that timeframe, such as Dallas, Detroit, Colorado, and New Jersey. I thought about that quite a bit as a youngster; especially Colorado, since I owed a huge debt to them, with the Avs having gotten longtime Bruins captain Ray Bourque’s name inscribed on the Stanley Cup (though, as I often reminded my father about at the time, I did like Joe Sakic a lot too), but it was the other, more minute details and players of the time that stood out for me the most. The Bruins teams of the time consisted of an assortment of lunchpailers and All-Stars alike, such as “Jumbo” Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston, Jozef Stumpel, P.J. Axelsson, Don Sweeney, Kyle McLaren, Anson Carter, Jason Allison, and a cycle of goaltenders including “Lord” Byron Dafoe (who may have been responsible for me becoming a fan in the first place), Steve Shields, and Andrew Raycroft. My horizons were not as broad as they are now (me being possibly the only half Bruins, half Flyers fan in all of North America), but I looked to players on other teams even at that age occasionally for inspiration. I was simply blown away by the speed and skill of some of Anaheim’s forwards, such as Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya, and the many talents of Selanne’s fellow Finnish countryman, Saku Koivu (whom I liked quite a bit despite being captain of the hated Habs, much to my father’s chagrin). I also couldn’t believe the toughness of players like Chris Pronger, Ken Daneyko, Jeremy Roenick, Scott Stevens, Adam Deadmarsh, and Rob Blake. I idolized veterans such as Steve Yzerman, Mike Modano, Mario Lemieux and Mark Recchi. I was in awe of the vision and skill of goaltenders like Mike Richter and Dominik Hasek. Even though my favorite team wasn’t achieving much at the time due to major problems with coaching and management, it was a good time to be a fan of the sport.

After looking back, we are confronted with the present and see stark differences. Sakic, Lemieux, and Yzerman work in front offices now. Roenick is now an “as seen on TV” product as an analyst, and Pronger, Stevens, and Kariya’s careers are over due to concussions. There are a few stragglers such as Selanne, Jagr, Roman Hamrlik, Jose Theodore, and Jarome Iginla, but I don’t get that same sense of nostalgia. I remarked about this to my dad the other day, saying how I missed players like Recchi and Nick Lidstrom, and he replied, “I’ve been there. I felt the same way when Bucyk retired. He had always been there for as long as I had been watching.” I suppose that all of this just means I’ve been watching for quite a while now. It’s a transition phase all longtime fans have to go through. Eventually I’ll be older than anyone in that league and I’ll REALLY wonder where the time has gone. But that’s a rule we all have to abide by, I suppose.


One response to “The NHL I Knew – How things have changed, and how they’ve stayed the same.

  1. On a positive note, the last three or four years have seen the Bruins play a way that must remind your dad of the old Big, Bad, Bruins.

    I’m like you: less familiar with the individual players and teams than I used to be. Ten years from now, we’ll probably be even less familiar. That said, the last few Stanley Cup Playoffs have taught me that while the game has become considerably faster and more precise, its basic principles haven’t changed much.

    Claude is a great example of how the game has stayed the same in a lot of important ways. Remember the Bruins’ series against Tampa, when everyone talked about the 1-2-2 forecheck in the neutral zone like the Lightning had revolutionized hockey? Claude said something like, “Yeah, that’s what they’re calling it now, but I remember when Scotty Bowman ran that system and they called it the left wing lock.” And I thought, “Okay, here’s a guy who has seen it all,” and had no doubt the Bruins would be able to beat it.

    Another good quip from a coach about supposed developments in the game of hockey. I can’t remember if it was Larry Robinson or Michel Therrien, but when asked about the neutral zone trap like it was an exotic innovation, he said, “We did that for years in Montreal. The only difference is that we just called it defense.”

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