TORONTO – After the Boston Bruins imploded and lost a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, Mark Recchi sat in full equipment at this locker inside the Bruins’ locker room at TD Garden.
He was the only player sitting in the room. Only his helmet and gloves were hanging in his stall. He was 42 at the time, and had just completed his 21 season in the NHL. Recchi had signed with the Bruins for a chance to win a third Stanley Cup, and the 2010 team had the opportunity before its devastating loss.
Recchi knew he was at the end of his career, but he hadn’t made a decision whether or not he would continue. After speaking with his family, and then-GM Peter Chiarelli, Recchi had to decide if he was willing to put in the work during the offseason in order to probably prepare for another grueling season.
He weighed all the options and decided to play at least one more season.
Ultimately, it was the right choice and Recchi was a key component as the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. He actually decided the night before Game 7 in Vancouver that he would retire, no matter the outcome. He called teammate Shawn Thornton and informed him of the decision. Fortunately, the Bruins responded and won Game 7.
“It all just fell into place,” Recchi recalled on Friday when he received his Hall of Fame ring prior to Monday's official induction. “I still had the drive and thought we were right there. The couple of playoff runs that we had together we learned a lot. We grew together as a group and I knew our base was going to stay the same. It came to fruition. It’s something you dream of and a lot of times it never happens, but this time it did and it was great.”
Current alternate captain Patrice Bergeron remembers that moment in the locker room after the 2010 season. The sight of Recchi sitting there served as one of the motivational factors for the team the next year.
“First of all, it was tough for us to lose a series like that,” he said. “Then, knowing that it could have been his last year, so it was tough to let him down that way. Sometimes you need to appreciate the game a little more. Sometimes, you’re in it so much that you don’t realize you play a sport that you love for a living. It’s a passion of ours and we’re pretty lucky, so it was one of those moments you can learn from and that was definitely one of them.
“He’s a winner. He’s a competitor. It was definitely a bittersweet ending at that time because we had a great team and we could’ve done what we proved the next year. (But) it was good to have him back, and I was really happy when he re-signed. We all know the ending, which is what he deserved.”
Recchi was one of a few former players helped mold Bergeron into a leader, both on and off the ice. The elder had numerous conversations with Bergeron and told him it was his time to lead the team. So, when the Bruins returned the Stanley Cup to Boston after a 39-year drought, captain Zdeno Chara handed it to Recchi, who then handed it to Bergeron on the ice at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011.
“It was special,” Bergeron said. “He’s someone I’ve looked up to growing up as a young hockey player, and having a chance to play with him I’ve learned so much. We’ve become good friends and he was definitely a mentor for me, so for him to hand me the Cup was definitely a special moment, something I’ll never forget.
“He really taught me a lot. Off the ice, he helped me become a better leader. We had great years with him, so it was a lot of fun to play with him. It’s no surprise. It was only a matter of time and I’m just happy it’s happening right now.”
Prior to Friday’s Hall of Fame Game between the Bruins and Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre, Recchi and Bergeron reconnected. The newly inducted Hall of Famer believes that Bergeron and Chara will earn their places in The Hall when their careers are over.
It was during Recchi’s tenure in Boston when he realized Bergeron's full potential, both on and off the ice.
“I could see it growing in him as the years went on with me there,” Recchi said. “I remember at one point I just went up to him and said, ‘It’s your time. You’re ready.’ He stepped up. I don’t remember what it was about, but he stepped up and it was perfect. He was ready (to be a leader) and assume that and it was great to see. He’s such a great person and such a great leader.”
Cam Neely was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005. He played against Recchi, and the current Bruins team president is thrilled for Recchi’s induction.
“Playing enough against him I knew what kind of competitor he was,” Neely said. “He wasn’t a big guy, but played bigger than he was. When he came to Boston, and what he meant to the guys in the locker room, and how he played, he gave some of the guys the knowledge of what it takes to get over the hump and win. He had an extremely long career and he competed year after year, and game after game, so (his induction) is richly deserved.”
Neely also remembers that moment in the locker room after the 2010 season. He didn’t know what Recchi’s future would be, but Neely realized how important it was for the future Hall of Famer to return for one more season.
“He’s such a competitor and he knew his career was winding down. He recognized you only get so many kicks at the can, and he looked at our roster and thought that we could accomplish more,” Neely said.
“Any time a player has the opportunity to retire on their terms, it’s always a nice moment, especially if you can do it winning the last game of your career, which is the last game of the NHL season,” Neely said. “What it meant to the city, what it meant to the organization to finally get that Cup back home and he was a big part of it.”
Recchi has an extreme fondness for wine. He’s been telling Bergeron for years that grapes were the trick to a long career.
“No, he never got me on that,” Bergeron said with a laugh. “Actually, he was always saying it was his recipe to having a long career, so maybe I should start drinking it. He’s been amazing and this is well deserved and I’m so happy for him.”
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday. He’s owned the team since 1975, and he’s also the chairman of the board of governors. Jacobs was inducted into the Builder Category.
“Being elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame was the furthest thing from my mind when I purchased the team 42 years ago,” Jacobs said. “To be honored in the same way as former Flames’ governor Harley Hotchkiss is truly humbling.”
During the 10 seasons Neely played for the Bruins, he’ll admit that he didn’t know Jacobs that well.
“One of the things that I didn’t recognize was how passionate he was about the team, and how badly he wanted the team to be successful,” Neely said. “He pays attention a lot more than I thought. He watches every game and he’s in the building more than people probably know but when he’s not he makes sure he’s watching no matter where he is.
“What he’s done for the game in both the community and for the league, in general, he’s always put the league first. He’s cared about, no matter how many teams are in the league, he wanted all the teams to be successful and thrive.”
The Bruins have held internal discussions and are planning to honor the 40th anniversary of the organization’s 11, 20-goal scorers from 1977-78. It’s still an NHL record and one that likely won’t ever be broken. The 11 players to score at least 20 goals include: Terry O’Reilly (29 goals), Jean Ratelle (25), Peter McNab (41), Brad Park (22), Wayne Cashman (24), Rick Middleton (25), Gregg Sheppard (23), Bobby Schmautz (27), Don Marcotte (20), Stan Jonathan (27) and Bob Miller (20).