Third time lucky

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

BOSTON -- It was a distant replay.

Wearing the same floor-length black and gold customized Bruins-logo Indian headdress that he wore way back on March 18, 1980 when his banner was raised to the roof, Johnny Bucyk stepped on the ice for the third 'Hail to the Chief' night of his career.

That's right, third.

On the night his No. 9 was raised to the rafters of the old Boston Garden just prior to his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the then-greatest hockey player ever to come out of Edmonton had just completed a 21-year career.

But that was his second one.

There was a 'Johnny Bucyk Night' a decade earlier.

During his 11th season with the Boston Bruins, Bucyk's back was so bad that, believing his career was over, they held the first one on March 28, 1968 expecting the then-32 year-old would call it a career at the end of the year.

PREMATURE END

Bucyk, who answered to the name 'Chief' all his career, despite being of Ukrainian descent, watched as a 1968 Mustang, a gift from Bruins ownership, was wheeled onto the ice. His teammates presented him with a boat. The New York Rangers contributed a set of golf clubs and the Chicago Blackhawks a rifle.

Bucyk loves to tell that story.

"I went on to set the Bruins record for most consecutive games played," he said of 418 in a row in a run of 713 more games in his career - and two Stanley Cups he carried as the captain.

Here last night they wheeled another vehicle on the ice - this time a Volvo sports utility vehicle.

And captain Zdeno Chara presented him with a Rolex watch.

It was a night to honour Bucyk's 50 years with the Bruins organization, the non-playing years as a colour commentator on radio and his current position of team road services co-ordinator.

"I've had two nights already. They had my number retired, I'm in the Hall of Fame and now this," said Bucyk before he went on the ice to join 11 retired Bruins including old teammates Johnnie McKenzie, Bronco Horvath, Tom Johnson, Doug Mohns and Derek Sanderson. There were also representatives from a later era - with Bucyk saying he "watched every game they played'' from the broadcast booth - in Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and Terry O'Reilly.

"This one was kind of a surprise. I found out about two months ago but I'm just overwhelmed with what they have done. Everything they've done has been unbelievable."

Bucyk spoke briefly to the fans. "Fifty years? I must have started when I was one," said the 72-year-old, who grew up about two miles from where Rexall Place currently sits in Edmonton.

Bucyk registered 16 seasons with 20 or more goals, won two Lady Byng Trophies, and became the fifth player to score 50 goals and 100 points in a season, the others being Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr.

He remains the team's all-time goal scorer and is second on the Bruins' all-time scoring list.

Serving five years as Boston captain, Bucyk won Cups with the Bruins in 1970 and 1972.

EMPTY YELLOW SEATS

The first 10,000 people through the turnstiles here last night were to receive miniatures of Buyck, which means just about everybody received one. There were a lot of empty yellow seats in the building.

The ceremonies, held to tie-in with the first visit here by the team from his old hometown since Edmonton last played here Nov. 11, 2003, were surprisingly brief.

The Oilers were told the game wouldn't start until 7:18 p.m. local time and didn't have their skates and gear on.

Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish, who played with the Bruins way back when Bucyk had his second night, was one of those contributing memories here last night.

"My first year was the year he retired. The weird thing about his retirement is that he still practised every day.

"He loved everything about the game. I think he was a reluctant retiree at the time.

"And he could still play. He still plays.

"He's still real active. He's a guy that loved everything about the game. It's been 50 years now that he's been coming to the rink and doing a lot of the same stuff. It's quite amazing."


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