"It was Big Boy Hockey!" -- Don Cherry Remembers His "11-20 Club"
Editor's Note: The following article was written by Canadian hockey legend Don Cherry, who played professionally, coached in the NHL, and for decades served as one of the game's most beloved commentators and ambassadors. He was also the coach of the great Boston Bruins 1977-78 team. One helpful hint: Just don't call Cherry "retired." He never retires from expressing his opinions.
The 11-20 Club with a Cherry On Top
On February 13th, 2018, the Boston Bruins had a pregame ceremony to honour the 40th anniversary of the 1977 -78 Bruins team, which I coached naturally, that set an NHL record of eleven (count 'em, 11!) 20-or-more-goal-scorers in one season. The Bruins did a great job, having all the players and me come out on to center ice and drop the puck.
Our leading goal scorer that year, Peter McNab, was being interviewed and asked what hockey was like back when he played for the Bruins; I loved his answer:
"It was big boy hockey."
Yes, it was.
To win the NHL's Stanley Cup, you had to be tough; you'd have to beat some hard-nail teams.
Montreal had lost only 8 games the year before, and we beat them three times; they ended up with 9 Hall of Famers on that team. The Islanders and Philly were getting over 100 points a season. We were in the iron of the league, the Adams Division. Buffalo had the French Connection Line, and the Sabres had over 100 points that season. Toronto was no pushover with Sittler, MacDonald and Thompson, one of the best lines in hockey.
We had the toughest and one of the highest-scoring teams in the league. I remember Harry Sinden sitting at my desk and saying, "You know we scored over 300 goals again this season. How did we do that?" "I don't know," was my answer. I wasn't being a wise guy, I really didn't know. We scored 333 goals in 80 games; only Montreal and the Islanders (they had one more goal) scored more goals that season. To score that many goals, you'd think I was the kind of coach with some system in the other team's end. I told the players, "In their end, do whatever you want, I don't care, but in our end, you do as you're told." What, an AHL defenseman is going to tell Jean Rattle how to score?
So in the 1977-78 season, we ended with 11 players that scored 20 or more goals. That's every player on the first three lines getting 20 or more goals, one guy on the fourth line and one defenseman getting 20 goals. One of the reasons we set that record was because when we would get up 3 or more goals, I'd put the 3rd line guys on the power play and play them more and rest the top lines. With that many guys scoring 20 or more goals and all of them good defensively, I could roll the lines.
Here are the 11 guys that scored 20 or more goals.
Peter McNab – Peter led the club with 41 goals. I called him my Golden Labrador on my team of Bull Terriers. Peter played for Buffalo before he came to Boston. In those 3 years in Buffalo, Peter scored a total of 49 goals. Harry trade Andre Savard straight up for Peter, and I put Terry O'Reilly on his wing, and they clicked right away. Peter played from me for the next 3 seasons and scored a total of 116 goals.
Terry O'Reilly – The Fighting Irishman was the fan-favourite. He led our team with 90 points, scoring 29 goals. He also had 15 fights that season and over 200 minutes in penalties. I got a lot of flak in the press because they said I should stop Terry from fighting. They kept writing, why have your leading scorer fighting? I said, "You can't take the teeth out of the tiger and expect him to act like a tiger." Terry was the hardest working player in practice I ever coached.
Bobby Schmautz – Bobby had 27 goals and was another Bruin that got over 100 minutes in penalties that season. He was one of those players you just didn't fool with. In training camp, I would tell all the rookies, "If you want to challenge O'Reilly, Jonathan or Wensink, be my guest. But see that little guy over there, just leave him alone." He was the straw boss on the team. If someone had a problem, they'd go to Bobby, and he'd come to me. I coached Bobby Rochester in the AHL, on the Bruins and in Colorado.
Stan Jonathan – Stan had 27 goals and the most accurate shot on the team. In fact, in Stan's rookie year, he had 17 goals and had the most accurate shot in the whole league. Stan also had over 100 minutes in penalties with 12 fights. I gave Stan the highest compliment; I said he reminded me of my beloved bull terrier Blue. One day Stan's dad was in my office watching some of Stan's fight. I told him, "Mr. Jonathan, your son reminds of my dog Blue." He looked at me kind of strange. That year Stan won The Seventh Player Award, which is given to a player who "preformed beyond expectations," voted by the Bruins' fans.
Jean Ratelle – Jean had 25 goals that season. I put Jean in the same vein as another Jean, Jean Beliveau. He was a gentleman's gentleman. I always told my team that I didn't want any Lady Byng winners. In 1976 he won the Lady Byng as most gentlemanly player. He came into my office and sat down and said, "Donnie, I am sorry." I couldn't think of what Jean did wrong; I looked at him as if to say "for what?" He said, "I won the Lady Byng." I had a good laugh. When Jean came over from the Rangers in the big trade, he had a bad back. I made it be known to the rest of the league that if you so much as touched Jean Ratelle, you were a dead man. He went on to play six more years in Boston.
Rick Middleton -- Rick played for the Rangers, and Harry asked me if we should trade Ken Hodge for Ricky. I said to Harry, "he can score, but we'll have to introduce him to the goalies at the end of the season." Harry made the trade, and later John Ferguson, the GM of the Rangers, said it was the most lopsided trade in the history of the NHL. I made life miserable for him that first season, making him better defensively. He learned. In his last year with the Rangers, Rick had 50 points and was -39. After one season with me, he was a +41 with 25 goals and 60 points. I was honoured when Rick asked me to come down and be at center ice when the Bruins retired his number. Ricky, not being in the Hall of Fame, is a crime.
Wayne Cashman – About halfway through the season, our captain John Bucyk hurt his back and had to retire. I called Wayne up and said, "Cash, your captain now." At first, he didn't want to be captain, but I said, "too bad, you're the captain." Wayne was, let's say, a little hard to handle at times. When he became captain, he turned right around and was of the best captains I've ever seen. Wayne snapped in 24 goals and had 62 points. I think the best game Cash played for me what the '79 game 7 semi-final game ( the too many men game); he scored two goals, hit the post, and almost scored in overtime.
Gregg Sheppard – If there is one regret while coaching Boston, it's trading Gregg Sheppard the following year. He was one of my best face-off guys, could check anybody, played the point on the power play with Bard Park, and scored 23 goals and 59 points. Only Park had more power-play goals that year for us. So why did we trade him? Good question, sometimes you overthink. He only played 53 games that season, so if he played a full season, he might have hit 30 goals. I remember we were playing the Islanders in Boston. He was going at it with Dennis Potvin. I told him to knock it off, "Don't fool with that guy." He didn't listen, and Shep cut Potvin with his stick. A few shifts later, Potvin caught Sheppard cutting across the blue line and blew out his knee and missed 27 games. You should always listen to your coach.
Brad Park – Brad is the most underrated player in the history of the NHL. He's so underrated that he doesn't make the underrated list. He was in the era of super defenseman. Of course, there was Bobby, and then when Bobby retired, you had Montreal's big three, and Dennis Potvin. So Brad never got his due. That season Brad has 22 goals, 79 points, 9 power-play goals, 3 game-winning goals, and a team-leading +69 in 80 games. One day after practice, I saw Brad bring a 2X4 board on the ice. He was shooting the puck just over the board. I asked why Brad was doing that, and he said that is the exact size of a blade and wanted the puck to just go over the stick's blade. Brad never really hammered the puck a lot. He got a quick shot off just over the blade of the stick. One of the best defensemen ever.
Don Marcotte – Don Marcotte was the best defensive player ever in the NHL. Not having won the Selke Trophy is a joke; they gave to Gainey the first 3 years. Anytime one of the lines was having some trouble, I would put Donnie on the wing, and he would settle things down. When we played Montreal, every time Guy Lafleur was on the ice, I put Donnie on him. So my best checker and still got twenty goals.
Bobby Miller – Bobby was from Billerica, Massachusetts and had played for the University of New Hampshire and some games for my buddy Brian Kilrea with the Ottawa 67's. He was one of the few college guys on the team; Mike Milbury was the other. He kept calling me coach, I guess that was a college thing, so I kept calling him player. Just before our first game against Montreal that year, who lost only 8 games the year before, Bobby stood up and gave another college saying and said: "Come on guys, we beat better teams than this." I looked at him and said, "Oh really, Bobby, who have you played that is better than the Montreal Canadiens?" The players got a laugh.
Bobby was sitting on 19 goals going into the second last game of the season against the Leafs in Toronto. We were up 2-1 with about a minute to go in the game. The Leafs iced the puck, but their coach Roger Neilson thought it was offside and quickly pulled their goalie Mike Palmateer. There was a lot of confusion on the ice, and when Roger realized that the face-off was in their end, he put Palmateer back in net. The ref Wally Harris told Neilson that he wasted too much time, and Palmateer had to get back on the bench. So we had a face-off in Toronto's end with no goalie in their net. I had Greg Sheppard take the draw. He won it back to Bobby Schmautz and passed it to Miller, wide open in front of the net. He hesitated as if he was looking to pass. We were all yelling on the bench to shoot. So he fired a wrist shot, Borje Salming went down to block it but missed, and Miller's goal set a record that will never be broken. The Leaf fans must have wondered what was going on as we all jumped on the ice and celebrating.
I was sad to learn that Bobby passed away this summer. When I saw him at the reunion, he looked just the same, only his hair was a little grey.
We ended up with a 51-18-11 record that season and 113 points; only Montreal had a better record. We swept the Hawks in four games in the 1st round of the playoffs. Then beat the Flyers 4-1 in a war the next series and took Montreal to 6 games in the Finals.
We had a lot of fun that year; I loved all the players on that team, and as Peter McNab said, we played "Big Boy Hockey."
-- Don Cherry
Headline Photo Credit: thestar.com