The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that the team will honor Rick Middleton this season by retiring his number Nov. 29.
Middleton couldn’t believe it.
The longtime Boston forward was at home doing paperwork when Bruins president and former teammate Cam Neely called him with the news, and he couldn’t help but get emotional.
“To me, it knocked me off the chair,” Middleton told reporters Tuesday during a conference call. “It certainly was not something I expected from the call in July to hear something like that. Although, I can’t lie, I’ve certainly thought about it many times, especially with no one wearing the number 16 in a few years. It’s been in the back of my mind, but you never know when these things happen or if they’re ever going to happen, so when it hit me, it was like a sledgehammer. And I’m still in shock.”
Middleton played 12 seasons with the Bruins from 1976 to 1988. He racked up 402 goals and 496 assists for 898 points, a total that now ranks fourth on Boston’s all-time scoring list behind Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).
It seemed like just a matter of time before Middleton was honored, as he certainly left his mark on the Bruins, who reached the playoffs in 11 of his 12 seasons in Black and Gold. But the man known as “Nifty” still was caught off guard upon hearing his No. 16 will head to the TD Garden rafters later this year.
“You know, it’s something that, obviously, you think about especially over the last four or five years when nobody has worn the number 16, and you think well maybe, maybe it’ll happen,” Middleton, now 64-years-old, said. “You never know for sure. I’m getting up there in age a little bit, so, and especially in the month of July it’s not really the type of call you think you’re going to get. And when Cam called me, you know, every once in a while, we talk about different alumni stuff, and he just caught me so off guard with it that I actually got emotional when he said it because it was just a dream come true.
“And, you know, I don’t compare it to the Hall of Fame. It’s a special, special honor to me to be included with the other 10 people that are up there. A very special group of hockey players that date back to the beginning of the Boston Bruins, and to be included on that list I can’t even explain what kind of an honor that is.”
Middleton is the 11th player to have his sweater honored by the Bruins in franchise history, joining Lionel Hitchman (No. 3, 1934), Dit Clapper (No. 5, 1947), Eddie Shore (No. 2, 1949), Milt Schmidt (No. 15, 1957), Bobby Orr (No. 4, 1979), Bucyk (No. 9, 1980), Esposito (No. 7, 1987), Bourque (No. 77, 2001), Terry O’Reilly (No. 24, 2002) and Neely (No. 8, 2004).
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images