Bruins Fever grips New England

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:01 PM ET

The public perception of Bill Belichick is that of a snooty, aloof boor who doesn't want anything to do with average, hard-working stiffs like you and I.

Whether its his snippy, dry answers during press conferences or the drab fashion statements he makes on the sidelines, The Hoody seems to be a hard guy to like.

All that changed last month when the New England Patriots coach was shown on the video screen at the TD Garden while sitting in the stands during a Boston Bruins playoff game.

Was this for real?

Was that actually Bill Belichick smiling and waving a yellow rally towel with unbridled enthusiasm, an outburst of gleeful emotion that earned him the "Fan of the Game" honours?

Believe it or not, yes.

That's how deeply Bruins Fever has smothered New England this spring.

"I have to admit, I was surprised to see that," Bruins president Cam Neely admitted. "He's usually such a stoic guy.

"I really think our fans got a kick out of seeing him like that."

The power of Bruins Fever strikes again.

In a town where the Pats, Celtics and Red Sox all have captured championships in the past eight years, it is remarkable how the self-proclaimed Hub of Hockey has embraced this team.

Indeed, the run of these Bruins to the Stanley Cup final has effectively tugged at the hearts of a rabid, sports-loving populus that has no shortage of options.

Even the beloved Red Sox are drinking the Bruins Kool-Aid, moving their home game against Oakland at fabled Fenway Park on Saturday from the evening to the afternoon so fans could watch Game 2 of the final in prime time without any broadcast conflict.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said the Red Sox have been great broadcast partners. Local games for both teams are shown on NESN.

"The Patriots have put a couple of videos out with their coaching staff talking about us (as well)," Chiarelli said. "There's a real competitive camaraderie between the other teams. They cheer for each other and they also try and out-do each other.

"It's going to be electric in the city, I know that. City-wide. New England-wide. It's a hockey town."

Maybe so. But it hasn't always been a Bruins town. Not like this.

In a place where high school hockey is prominent and sellouts are the norm for the annual Beanpot college tourney, demands are high for the Bruins to win titles like the city's other pro teams.

While outsiders reminisce about the days of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, Neely points out there have been plenty of seasons of empty seats and no playoffs. And, of course, when they did reach the postseason, the hated Montreal Canadiens were often waiting to eliminate their long-time rivals.

But the team's popularity has ballooned in recent years, thanks to a pair of second-round appearances that paved the way for the buzz of this year's run to the final.

For the true litmus test of Bruins Fever, consider the television ratings for Game 1 of the final.

The numbers in the Boston market worked out to an overnight rating of 25.5 and a 39 share, the highest-rated NHL game in Boston dating back to at least 1995, and topping the Boston rating for last year's NBA Finals Game 1 featuring the Celtics and L.A. Lakers (19.1/34).

Imagine that, the Bruins outdrawing Kobe Bryant vs. Kevin Garnett.

"That's impressive," Bruins forward Nathan Horton said. "It shows just how much of a hockey market it is here."

Down 2-0 in the series, there definitely will be some angst among the home fans for Game 3 at the Garden Monday. They are well aware of how the Bruins have bumbled at crunch time, losing the opener in the final minute and Game 2 after just 11 seconds of overtime.

That won't dampen Bruins Fever, though.

Not in a town where you can munch on The Milan Lucic, a sandwich at the Coolidge Corner Clubhouse featuring roast beef, horseradish, cheese and tomato on a bullie roll.

And not in a town where Bill (The Hoody) Belichick actually acts like an everyday fan.

 

Mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/zeisberger

 


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