BOSTON - One of the real staples of Andrew Ference's leadership contribution within the Bruins dressing room always arrived in the final couple of months of the regular season. The veteran defenseman was always in charge of the item awarded to the "Player of the Game" with each B's playoff victory, which has eventually become a jacket in three of the past four years with the Black and Gold.
Three years ago, it was an old school Bruins Starter jacket that became one of the indelible symbols of their successful Stanley Cup run. It was permanently awarded to Mark Recchi at the banner raising ceremony the following October.
Two years ago, it was a Bruins chain crafted by Ference himself that didn't get much usage for a Bruins team ousted in the first round against the Washington Capitals after just three playoff victories. Last season, it was an Army Rangers jacket that took on deeper meaning with the team following the Boston Marathon bombings.
There were plenty of common threads between all three items: they were adopted in the latter portion of the season, and given postgame to a new "Player of the Game" after each win as determined by the previous wearer. This season, Ference has obviously moved on to the Edmonton Oilers, so it was Bruins captain Zdeno Chara that stepped into the void and delivered a meaningful new symbol of each late season victory.
Milan Lucic was the first recipient of the "Old Time Hockey" letterman jacket after scoring two goals in a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon.
"This is the new game jacket. I think this is from Johnny Bucyk, so this is the new look from here on in after a win. Hopefully we can pass it along for a long time," said Lucic. "Being the captain, [Chara] stepped up and carried the tradition [from Ference] of a game jacket."
The black jacket has an "Old Time Hockey" emblem emblazoned on the front and back with the two phrases "All Guts" and "No Glory" surrounding the logo, and was originally owned by the Bruins Hall of Famer known simply as "Chief." The 78-year-old Bruins Hall of Famer and the franchise's leading goal-scorer donated the symbolic jacket to the B's playoff drive after being asked by Chara if he could possibly donate an item to the team.
"I asked if [Bucyk] be willing to donate something to the team. There's a lot more meaning to the team than just a jacket," said Chara. "It's an expression of the meaning of being a Bruin, all of the history, the pride, the humbleness and the hard work. It's just something to [help make us] aware of the privilege playing for this organization with such history, and so many great former players.
"It's a huge honor and we have to recognize it, and really kind of respond to those things. There is a lot of history behind the jacket. It's a small reflection of how traditions are carried on, and the whole history of the organization. We'll add a few more pieces to it, but we were very honored that Johnny [Bucyk] was able to donate that to the team. There's a lot of pride, and honor, and humbleness with this team."
Coach Claude Julien joked that it was easy for Bucyk to give up the jacket to this year's group of Bruins players because "he doesn't fit in it anymore", but always appreciates the current group of B's champions hearkening back to the greatness of Bruins past.
"[Bucyk] has been real good to us, and we felt that this was a great opportunity for him to continue to be a part of our group, which he is, and donate something that I think the players are finding really important right now," said Julien. "It's an homage to those guys that have been here [with the Bruins], and done so well. I think our players, as I said, have a lot of respect for those guys and they want to continue the tradition. They're going to wear that jacket proudly."
Bucyk is a constant smiling presence around the team as the Bruins traveling secretary on every road trip with the players, so his bond is strong with the current group of B's skaters beyond simply serving as a living legend with his No. 9 hanging in the TD Garden rafters.
Now, there is a piece of Bucyk and those legendary Bruins Stanley Cup teams of the 1970's connecting this year's group to them in a postseason where hopes are as high as they've ever been for the Black and Gold.