Hail to The Chief: Johnny Bucyk
It was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, during the ’80s. I organized a sports event called All Ages Day. It featured NHLers Johnny Bucyk, Terry O’Reilly, Tom Fergus, Doug Keans and lesser known Boston Bruins hockey players.
It all came together when my friend who worked at the WHEB radio station told me he had a connection to get the Boston Bruins who had a traveling softball team. I said, “Great! You get the Bruins, I’ll organize the town!” We set a date.
Confident The Bruins were on board, what with word-of-mouth, radio announcements, posters, leaflets, a huge raffle and a street-wide banner hanging over downtown Portsmouth, everyone knew the Bruins were coming to Portsmouth.
Unfortunately, and frighteningly, I discovered three days before the scheduled event that my friend’s Bruins connection had slipped through the cracks: We had no Bruins!
Deadpanned, I looked at my friend and said, “Oh, why not!” I grabbed the landline and dialed directory assistance and asked for the Boston Garden. I dialed the number and to whomever answered I generically asked for the public affairs official who represented the Boston Bruins. In an extraordinary twist of fate, within a minute, I found myself talking directly to the great National Hockey League Hall of Famer, Johnny Bucyk of The Boston Bruins.
After quickly recovering from my ‘wow, I can’t believe I’m talking to this guy’ moment, I said:
Johnny, I hate to break this to you, but I’ve got a very serious public relations problem for The Bruins.
I explained how my friend had a Bruins connection that unbeknownst to me had fallen apart at the last minute. I further explained I had organized the entire Seacoast New Hampshire community into expecting The Bruins to show up for a softball game in just three days.
I described the below paragraph to him.
All Ages Day was conceived: The Big Bad Boston Bruins would come to Portsmouth, NH and play a team consisting of nursing home residents, any regular people who wanted to play and lots of little leaguers. But the game was gonna be rigged so that any time an All-Ager got called out by an umpire, a young kid would run onto the field with a cream pie and clobber the ump. Here’s the kicker: The Bruins were gonna lose!
I think Johnny was a bit taken back by ‘the Bruins would lose’ part, but he responded he absolutely loved the concept, thought the plan was fantastic and he wanted to try and pull it off. Naturally, he also explained it was “short notice.” To that, I replied, “Johnny, all I can do is gulp, and profusely apologize.” He replied, “Things happen. Don’t worry about it.”
He asked who was my friend’s connection. I told him. He checked it out, and then called me back. It was a legit connection, but there was simply a breakdown of communication. In other words, somebody forgot something somewhere along the line.
As fate would have it, Johnny Buyck was infamously known throughout his hockey career as “The Chief.” He came through! He showed up in a caravan of vans with a half-dozen then-current Bruins, some minor-level hockey players and a few friends.
The game was on!
I said, “Johnny, what can I do that’d be special for you guys? You need anything?” He said “All we want are two cases of Budweiser pounders. That’ll do it. Our sponsors will take care of the rest.”
Not many folks can say “I bought two cases of beer for a Hall of Famer and The Boston Bruins” … but, for what it’s worth, I can!
It all happened. The folks were bused in from the local nursing home, little leaguers came in droves with friends and family. The stands were full, there were picnic blankets, balloons, bubbles, the smell of hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries and onion rings. It all held in the air of everyone festive and each wearing the brightest of smiles.
Genuine fun for all ages — a special kind of day!
As well-predicted, The Mighty Bruins never stood a chance.
Worse, for them, the kids who ran onto the field with cream pies meant to be aimed at umpires who made bad calls, instead got carried away and began unmercifully throwing pies at the happy, jolly and playful Bruins. Making matters worse, honey bees keyed on the whipped cream. It turned out The Mighty Bruins were not only losing the game, but they were getting stung left and right by bees.
The second inning finished and I wondered what was up when the Bruins surprisingly rushed off the field. Johnny immediately approached and cautioned me about the bees. He said:
Hey, we’ll still let you win — but: No more pies!
It became quite a day with some very well-loved famous people. A tip of my hat to Johnny and his Bruins! They fit right in with the motto of my softball team, The Hurricanes, which played for the local Edgewood Manor Nursing Home. Our motto was: For The Folks!
They’d be bused from out of the nursing home to our games where they’d sit in the grandstands while munchin’ on hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries and rooting us on. Without question, putting this team together and organizing events like this were some of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.