Rick Middleton’s No. 16 has officially taken its place in the TD Garden rafters is officially unavailable to all future Bruins.
A fact that Middleton himself still has a hard time wrapping his head around.
“It really is hard to put into words,” Middleton said prior to his official ceremony at center ice. “I’ve had four months to think about it, and I hate repeating myself, but honestly, I believe it is the biggest honor that certainly a retired athlete can get in his career, and the fact that, in the last six or seven years, I’ve been seeing that it’s not out there; nobody’s wearing it.
“All of a sudden, it happened. In July, a phone call in July; I never thought it would ever happen that way, but I just have to thank Cam [Neely] so much for doing it. He started it six or seven years ago. It culminated tonight.”
The Bruins brought out all the stops for Middleton in his number-raising night, with former teammates and co-captains such as Johnny Bucyk, Ray Bourque, Terry O’Reilly, and Cam Neely in attendance, while former Bruins head coach Don Cherry also appeared in his finest Bruins suit and tie among the circle of Middleton friends and teammates. (The night was not complete without Middleton getting in some jabs at Cherry for the infamous ‘too many men’ penalty that cost the B’s their 1979 season.)
In a career that ended with Middleton sitting in third on the club’s all-time goals list and fourth in points, it was those days with Cherry and the rest of the Lunch Pail Bruins that Middleton recalled as his favorite memories as a pro. Including the night Middleton and the B’s put an end to the Broad Street Bullies era of hockey.
“The 70’s were a great time. It was old-time hockey,” Middleton began, “Don Cherry was the coach. Johnny Bucyk, Wayne Cashman, Gerry Cheevers, the old holdovers from the Cup years, I really enjoyed that, and that’s where I learned how to play the game. The one story I told Don last night – I didn’t know if he remembered it – in Philadelphia in ’78 , we were in the semis and the first two games were in Philly. It was the Broad Street Bullies and everything. It was a tough series.
“But, I wasn’t playing regular all year, and I wasn’t playing regular in that game, but it went into overtime, and Don comes to me in the dressing room in overtime; he leans down, he goes, ‘you’re going to get the winner.’
“So, in my sarcastic way in those days, I looked up to him and said, ‘so I must be playing, right?’ So, I went out and scored the winner on one of my blasting shots that just dribbled over the line of Bernie Parent, and then Terry scored in double overtime the next night, and we knocked them out in four straight, and that was basically the end of the Broad Street Bullies. They broke up their team after that year. That was my first big goal as a Bruin that I can remember.”
In a career that spanned almost a decade and a half in Boston, though, and with endeavors all over the hockey world, Middleton also acknowledged the overwhelming nature that can come with a night like this.
“My phone didn’t quit today,” Middleton said of the response to his big day. “I’ve heard from people I don’t even remember who they are, but it’s really nice. I didn’t realize so many people have my number, but no, people have been so gracious with this. I’ve made a lot of friends and acquaintances. I’m almost 65; I’ve been here for a long time, and not just hockey fans, but in the business world and just friends, and it’s so special that this is happening at this stage in my life.”
With his friends in attendance, those that reached out via text, and those that have welcomed him to the rarified air of the rafters.