Now that the 1964-65 Stanley Cup has been awarded, the all-star teams named and individual trophies about to be bestowed, it’s time to properly lay the season to rest with a post-mortem examination of the six National Hockey League teams. We begin this exercise with the Boston Bruins.
Bruins: last once again
The lowly Bruins once again assumed their role as NHL doormats in the 1964-65 season. The Bruins finished with 21 wins. 43 losses and six ties, poor enough to once again finish last in the league standings. The Bruins finished four points behind the fifth place New York Rangers and 26 points shy of the fourth and final playoff spot.
This was the fourth consecutive last-place finish for the Bruins, and fifth straight outside of the playoffs. The team’s problems are widespread and deep and there is no quick fix on the horizon.
The Bruins scored 166 goals, fewest in the league, and allowed 253, also the worst total in the NHL. They even finished last in attendance with an average of 11,139 fans per game. But despite their lowly status, there were some bright lights on the Bruins, and some young players exhibited considerable potential.
Forwards: little beyond Bucyk
Veteran Johnny Bucyk led team in scoring with 26 goals and 29 assists for 55 points. That total was good enough for a tie for ninth place in the NHL scoring race. His 26 goals was just one shy of his previous best of 27, which he attained in 1962-63.
Hamilton, Ontario’s Murray Oliver was Boston’s second-leading scorer, a ways back of Bucyk with 43 points, based on 20 goals and 23 assists. Oliver was a solid centre who plays a fine two-way game. Murray’s point total would have been so much better with more accomplished wingers and with a defence that could have been capable of making that first pass out of the zone.
The most surprising production for the Bruins came from left winger Reggie Fleming. Previously known only as a rough neck with marginal hockey skill, Fleming shocked the entire league by scoring an amazing 18 goals, while adding 23 assists for 41 points. Those totals are by far NHL bests for the truculent 28-year-old from Montreal.
Beyond those three, the Bruins offence was woefully inadequate. Part of that was due to injury, where Dean Prentice, counted on for at least 20 goals, missed more than half the campaign with a back injury. Prentice did contribute 14 goals in only 31 games played.
American-born Tommy Williams, just 24, showed promised with 13 goals, but he wasn’t physically strong and his work as a defensive player leaves much to be desired.
Bruins coach Milt Schmidt tried to ease rookies into the lineup, but with the acute lack of depth on the forward line, the youngsters were mostly over-matched against NHL competition. Schmidt tried four first-year men on the forward unit, with little success.
Ron Schock, a 20-year-old centre, showed the most promise, but his season was curtailed by injury. He scored four goals and seven assists in only 33 games. The other rookies, Wayne Maxner, Billy Knibbs and Wayne Rivers, were given more or less regular work but their production wasn’t up to NHL standards. Rivers, who managed six goals and 17 assists in 58 games, showed the most promise, but he has a long way to go to gain regular NHL employment.
Defence: terrible, but some promising prospects
As bad as the Bruins were up front, the blue line corps was probably the team’s most glaring weakness. But there were players who showed some promise.
Twenty-four-year-old Ted Green was the leader on the back end, and by the attention he garnered from the other five NHL teams who tried to acquire him, he looks to be a real force on defence once he matures. He led the Bruins defenders in scoring with eight goals, 27 assists for 35 points, fine totals for a blueliner on any team.
Two other youngsters who made appearances and showed promise were Bob Woytowich, 23, and Don Awrey, 21.
It was the veteran rearguards who badly let the Bruins down. Leo Boivin, once the most feared body checker in the league, was a shadow of his former self. Former Norris Trophy winner Tom Johnson has slowed to a crawl and wasn’t able to keep up with the play before his season-ending injury. Johnson’s injury was so severe, his career may be at an end. Career minor leaguer Bob McCord showed brief flashes of competency, but overall, his game was nothing that would give the Bruins any hope for the future.
Goaltending: not even close to good enough
The goaltending was another area of concern for the Bruins. Ed Johnston was the number one man going into the season and there appeared to be no one in their system who had the potential to change that. The Bruins were so thin in the crease organizationally, they had to borrow Cesare Maniago from the Montreal system just to have someone between the pipes for their Minneapolis CPHL club. The Bruins tried to promote Maniago to the varsity during the season, but could not receive the required permission from Canadiens.
Johnston broke a finger and his replacement was 22-year-old Jack Norris, who had been playing with the Los Angeles Blades of the WHL. Norris showed flashes of brilliance, but overall, in the 23 games he played, he sported a 3.70 goals-against average, not nearly good enough for an NHL regular. Johnston played 47 games with a 3.47 average.
While the poor goaltending statistics were more likely a result of a porous Boston defence, there was nothing in the games of the veteran Johnston or the rookie Norris that would suggest any type of long-term future success.
Hap Emms grabs the reins
So where do the Bruins go from here? Presumably, the only direction is up – it would be pretty difficult to sink any lower for this bottom-feeding club. In order to rectify the situation, the Bruins tied the can to general manager Lynn Patrick and brought in junior hockey legend Leighton (Hap) Emms as the new GM. Emms has been for the past dozen years the owner of the Niagara Falls Flyers of the OHA Junior A Series. The Bruins are hoping he can translate his success at that level to the NHL wars.
It doesn’t appear that Emms will make a change behind the bench. Milt Schmidt has done the best anyone could with this motley crew.
Lots of kids on the way, but will they mature?
Emms has yet to take over, as his club is currently engaged in the Memorial Cup final series. There are many solid prospects with the Flyers that bode well for the future in Boston. Best among those are goalie Bernard Parent, centre Derek Sanderson and right-winger Billy Goldsworthy.
The other OHA farm team belonging to the Bruins is the Oshawa Generals and that is where the real future star may reside. Seventeen-year-old defenseman Bobby Orr from Parry Sound, Ontario, seems intent on re-writing the OHA record book for blue-liners. If this kid continues on his present pace of development, he will likely be with the Bruins the day after he turns 18.
Emms has a huge rebuilding job to do with the Bruins. While there are good prospects in junior, the minor league system is barren. Their AHL team at Hershey had only a couple of players who showed any NHL potential – the aforementioned Woytowich and another young blueliner, Barry Ashbee.
The Minneapolis Bruins had some good youngster who might have an NHL shot down the road. The best of that young team were defenceman Joe Watson, and forwards Jean-Paul Parise, Terry Crisp, Skip Krake and Ted Irvine.
Look for Emms to try to improve the Bruins by way of trade this summer. While he doesn’t have many trading chips to offer, it’s likely he’ll try to move what few veteran assets he does have for youngsters with a future. It certainly can’t get much worse in Boston.
- The New York Rangers have added former player Jackie Gordon to their staff as assistant to general manager Emile Francis. Gordon was the general manager of the Cleveland Barons of the AHL.
- Francis also said that Bert Olmstead will remain with the Rangers as director of player personnel.
- Officials of the American and Western Hockey Leagues are meeting this week amid speculation that the two leagues may merge.
- The Red Wings are rumoured to be talking trade with at least two NHL teams. Despite their first-place finish, it is thought that general manager Sid Abel wants to make major changes to the team’s supporting cast.