Sitting eye-level with the 10 retired numbers that dangle from the ceiling of TD Garden from his seat in the Boston Bruins alumni box, Rick Middleton always had hopes of centering a line between Milt Schmidt’s No. 15 and Terry O’Reilly’s No. 24.
On Tuesday, Bruins president Cam Neely made the call and let No. 16 know that he would indeed be joining them, with the Black and Gold set to officially retire Middleton’s No. 16 before Nov. 29’s game against the New York Islanders.
“It knocked me off the chair,” Middleton said of his call, delayed due to a game of phone-tag between he and Neely, from the B’s. “It certainly was not something I expected from the call in July to hear something like that. I can’t lie, I’ve certainly thought about it many times, especially with no one wearing the No. 16 in a few years. It’s been in the back of my mind, but you never know when these things happen or if they’re ever going to happen, so when it hit me it was like a sledgehammer.
“And I’m still in shock. I’ve been telling my family and not I guess it just got released on the internet and Twitter and all that, so I’m getting a lot of things and a lot of texts and a lot of calls right now from friends. So, it’s such a great day for me.”
The decision comes with a substantial gap between retired numbers (Cam Neely’s No. 8 was the last number the Bruins retired, and that was 14 years ago), and with Middleton sitting as the most likely candidate over that span.
His credentials speak for themselves in this regard; Middleton’s 402 goals are the third-most in Bruins history behind John Bucyk (545) and Phil Esposito (459), while his 496 assists are sixth-most in Bruins history behind Ray Bourque (1,111), John Bucyk (794), Bobby Orr (624), Phil Esposito (553), and Wayne Cashman (516). He also ranks fourth on the B’s all-time scoring list with 898 points in his 12 seasons in Boston, behind Ray Bourque (1,506), John Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).
“I actually got emotional when [Neely] said it because it was just a dream come true,” Middleton, who turns 65 this December, admitted. “And, you know, I don’t compare it to the Hall of Fame. It’s a special, special honor to me to be included with the other 10 people that are up there. A very special group of hockey players that date back to the beginning of the Boston Bruins, and to be included on that list… I can’t even explain what kind of an honor that is.”
The president of the B’s alumni (which works to raise money for various charities throughout New England with on-ice games and events) for the last 10 years, Middleton was not only beaming about the team honoring him with a retired number ceremony, but also his ability to settle down with a post-hockey life in Boston.
Concluded Middleton: “To be able to stay here and play here and play for 12 years with such a great organization as the Bruins and then raise a family, put some roots down, go into business after my career, coach my kids in hockey growing up and so on, and then get into it with the alumni. The years just go by, and looking back, it’s been a great, great ride, and to have this honor bestowed to me at an age that I am now, I honestly never thought that it would happen. It was always hoping but never really thought about it, so I was really knocked off my feet when Cam told me. It was a dream come true.”