When the Bruins traded for Mark Recchi in March 2009, they knew they were getting a crafty veteran whose leadership and Stanley Cup experience could be an asset to a relatively young, inexperienced bunch. But did the front office, or Bruins fans, really expect the love affair that developed?
After all, I'm sure there were some out there who didn't even know Mark Recchi was still playing hockey — in a late-night men's rec league maybe, but surely not the NHL. So to say you were a bit shocked, and maybe even skeptical, to hear the B's were getting him prior to the '09 trade deadline would be completely justifiable.
The guy began his career on Nov. 16, 1988, and was hitting full stride as the calendar flipped to the 90s. Why should anyone have expected him to still possess the necessary stamina to play a full shift, never mind be an impact player?
But Rex arrived with a chip on his shoulder, determined for one more dance with Lord Stanley. And his 16 points through the final 18 games of the Bruins' 2008-09 regular season, and then six playoff points, turned skeptics into believers.
He made us say, "hey, this guy can still play."
Watching an "old guy" succeed is downright awesome. There's just something gratifying about watching a guy go up against players that weren't even born when he first set foot on NHL ice, and succeed. Seriously, what's not to like about a grizzled veteran coming over in the hopes of hoisting Lord Stanley one more time, and then proceeding to become a key component of the team's championship hopes?
As cool as it was, though, the Recchi move at first looked like a rental. To say retirement was looming from the day he first threw on a Bruins sweater would be to state the obvious.
Yet he and Boston fed off each other, unable to cut ties, even as 40 became more distant in the rear-view mirror.
Rex could have hung up the skates after playing 18 games for the B's in 2009, a season that came to screeching hault when Scott Walker netted an overtime game-winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
But he didn't.
Rex could have hung them up after losing in heartrbreaking fashion to the Flyers in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinal after leading the series 3-0 and Game 7, 3-0.
But he didn't.
Instead, Recchi, general manager Peter Chiarelli, head coach Claude Julien and the rest of the Bruins organization were too much on the same page for him to throw in the towel just yet.
But in addition to the veteran awesomeness that Recchi brought, he gave Bruins fans plenty of other reasons to not only like and respect him, but to become so enthralled with him that a Cup win meant so much more because he was a part of it.
Not only was he an effective player, but he was hungry — not Alex Burrows hungry, but hungry for that one final Cup triumph. And that hunger was contagious.
This past season, his third crack at Lord Stanley with the Bruins, there were some who called for Rex to be removed from the Bruins' struggling power play. It took him until the 12th game of the season to record a goal, and he often evaporated from the score sheet for a few games at a time. He even went eight consecutive games during the postseason — including the entire Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay — without a point.
But even when Rex wasn't showing up in the box score, he found a way to make his presence felt, whether it was with his menacing presence in front of the net, his timely grit or his vocal matter-of-factness.
When Zdeno Chara leveled Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty into a stanchion during the teams' March 8 matchup, Chara not only took a lot of heat from Habs fans, but he became the subject of a police investigation. He was thrown into the NHL's limelight, forced to face the media firestorm that comes with any hits of that nature.
What did Recchi do during this onslaught of scrutiny? He spoke up about the incident, absorbing some of the heat that his captain was taking.
By saying that the Canadiens embellished the Pacioretty hit in an effort to get Chara suspended, much of the media's attention turned to Recchi, whose outspokenness was a bit surprising. But as it turned out, he knew it — that was the point.
"I've got to be honest with you guys, I wanted to take the heat off of Zee for a day," Recchi admitted after the Bruins defeated the Habs on March 24 in their first matchup following the incident.
"I did what I had to do. Zee has taken a lot of heat, and I felt it was very important to get some focus elsewhere. … I felt the need to protect our captain. It's important," he added.
The Bruins, of course, would later oust the Canadiens in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
Recchi again showed a bit of unexpected boldness in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, in what turned out to be one of the more iconic images of the team's storied run. Down 2-0 in the series, and having seen Patrice Bergeron get bitten by the Canucks' Alex Burrows and subsequently taunted by Maxim Lapierre, as well as witness first-line forward Nathan Horton leave on a stretcher, Recchi seemingly thought, "enough is enough."
In the midst of a heated scrum, Recchi offered Lapierre a taste of his own medicine — in the form of a glove to the mouth. The Bruins would respond by tallying eight goals in an 8-1 win.
It was decisions like these that personified who Recchi was in Black and Gold. He just knew what he had to do, and when he had to do it. For that, Bruins fans should be forever grateful.
Rex only spent parts of three seasons with the Bruins, but by etching his name on Lord Stanley one last time — the third Cup he's won (each in a different decade) — he also etched his name eternally in Bruins lore.
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