Al Secord is a neutral zone observer. He lives near Dallas, has been a first officer with American Airlines for 15 years and plays hockey only on a recreational basis.
But he is invested in the Stanley Cup Final between two of his former employers, the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.
"It will be a great series," Secord said. "Two really passionate hockey cities. I enjoyed my time in Boston and loved Chicago. I'll be watching."
When Game 1 unfolds at the United Center Wednesday night, it will mark the first Stanley Cup Final meeting between these Original Six adversaries and only their seventh playoff series ever. Reasons for these infrequent encounters include the various permutations of the National Hockey League and the inevitable cycles that historic franchises experience.
Even during the cozy confines of a six-team NHL, two missed the postseason every spring. Alas, the Blackhawks and Bruins were not always simultaneously competitive. The Blackhawks, for instance, brought up the rear for years until Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita arrived in the late 1950s. The Bruins endured extended darkness until Bobby Orr showed up in 1966. Even then, the Bruins finished last during his rookie season.
When the Blackhawks and Bruins arose together, they staged an epic chase to win the East Division in 1969-70. After the 76th and last game, the Blackhawks had completed a historic leap from last to first in one season with 99 points. The Bruins, also with 99, were consigned to second because of five fewer victories.
But these two teams, clearly the best in the league, could not play in the final by decree. The Bruins swept the Blackhawks in the second round. Then, as the East champion, Boston was pitted against the St. Louis Blues, champions of the West, composed of six three-year-old expansion franchises.
The Bruins whipped Scotty Bowman's Blues in four straight en route to their first of two Stanley Cups in three years, despite a valiant effort by goalie Glenn Hall, acquired by St. Louis from the Blackhawks during a draft to stock the new teams.
That 1970 postseason series was the first for the Blackhawks against Boston since 1942, oddly enough. The Bruins beat the Blackhawks again in 1974, four games to two. But in 1975, the Blackhawks shocked the mighty Bruins in a preliminary best-of-three round. Boston romped 8-2 in the opener, lost 5-4 in overtime at Chicago, then fell 6-4 despite outshooting the visitors 56-19. Goalie Tony Esposito was fabulous.
The Bruins rued that they should have won more than two Cups with Orr and Phil Esposito, but Tony O nullified them in 60 minutes that April night. When Chicago and Boston vied again in 1978, the Bruins swept for their fifth of six series victories against the Blackhawks, who were entrenched in a spell of dither: 16 straight losses in playoff games, still a league record, not halted until 1980.
The Bruins were on the cusp of qualifying for the 1979 Final, but they lost Game 7 of the previous round in Montreal after incurring an infamous penalty for too many men on the ice. The Canadiens rallied to win in overtime, then beat the New York Rangers for their fourth straight championship.
"Boston scored late in the third, Rick Middleton from behind the net," recalled Bowman, the Canadiens' coach, now the Blackhawks' Hall of Fame Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations. "I started double-shifting Guy Lafleur. Don Marcotte, who checked Guy, jumped on the ice, but Stan Jonathan was also there."
Don Cherry, Boston's coach, expressed the wrath of "Grapes," but the infraction was obvious. He was fired soon after, and is now an icon on Hockey Night in Canada. You'll see Cherry in the United Center Wednesday night, dressed like nobody else.
In 1980, with Bob Pulford as General Manager, the Blackhawks stole Secord from the Bruins in exchange for Mike O'Connell, a defenseman who would eventually become their GM.
"I was disappointed to leave my first team and friends I had made," recalled Secord. "But Chicago turned out great for me."
And for the Blackhawks. Talk about a power forward. Secord could do it all -- 54 goals and 180 penalty minutes in 1982-83 beside Denis Savard and Steve Larmer. They complemented each other, and soon the Stadium was again a destination.
"There weren't many fans when I got traded there right before Christmas," said Second, whose first home game was a 9-0 loss to the Islanders. "But then we started to get good. Savy was terrific. Orval Tessier came in as coach and brought Larms with him from the minors. Doug Wilson, Tom Lysiak, Bob Murray. One thing I never understood. Savvy, Larms and I were called 'The Party Line.' Still don't know why. Did someone see us crawling around downtown? Not me."
Editor's note: As part of an alliance with the Blackhawks, the Daily Herald will offer occasional features by Team Historian Bob Verdi, who writes for the team's website at www.chicagoblackhawks.com.