Bruins-Rangers games spark memories of fierce rivalry for Park


But with the Rangers and Bruins division rivals for the first time since 1973-74, when they were last together in the East Division, and playing for the first time this season on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVAS), Park said one story nicely sums up what he experienced playing for each team.

Park, then with the Rangers, and Johnny “Pie” McKenzie, with the Bruins, were East teammates in the 1972 NHL All-Star Game in Minnesota. It was late in the second period when Park spotted McKenzie in open ice.

“I hit ‘Pie’ with a pass and sent him in on a breakaway, and he scored. I didn’t congratulate him, and he didn’t say thank you,” Park recalled. “In those days, you might have had five Bruins and five Rangers on an all-star team, in the same dressing room (four and six in 1972), and we wouldn’t talk to each other. We’d be cordial but believe me, there were no long, friendly conversations.”

Brad Park played 465 games with the New York Rangers, then 501 with the Boston Bruins.

Rangers and Bruins players in that era, Park said, “absolutely hated each other. The mentality was you didn’t want to know the guys on the other team. You made sure you never hung out with them in the summer and you made sure that if you walked into a bar or restaurant second, one of the other guys already in there, you walked out first.

“We didn’t have the money to hang out in the summer, anyway, you had to work. You did construction, manual labor or worked on a farm, those were the jobs you could get. Guys today work out together at the same gym. It’s hard to bang heads when you like someone.”

The game Wednesday will be the 653rd in the regular season between the Bruins and Rangers, Boston holding a 296-248-97-11 edge. The Bruins’ 296 wins are their second-most against any opponent, five fewer than against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their 2,051 goals scored on the Rangers are the most against anyone.

Boston also holds a strong lead in Stanley Cup Playoff series, 7-3 all-time against New York. The most recent playoff series between the two was in 2013, when the Bruins defeated the Rangers in five games in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals.  

The game Wednesday, and again on Friday, will be the first two of eight MassMutual East Division games between the Rangers and Bruins this season. Due to travel concerns because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL realigned its divisions for this season with each team scheduled to play 56 games, all within its division.

Brad Park gets the upper hand on Boston Bruins forward Derek Sanderson.

Park speaks fondly of the simmering sports feud between New York and Boston that predates his arrival with the Rangers in 1968, of historic duels between baseball’s Yankees and Red Sox and the NBA’s Knicks and Celtics, “with great fans in both cities for sure. Then you had the Rangers and Bruins going from being the NHL’s two worst teams in the early 1960s to among their best in the early 1970s.”

Six times in seven seasons in the six-team League, from 1959-60 through 1965-66, Boston and New York finished the regular season in fifth and sixth place. Each improved dramatically after the NHL expanded to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season, the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972, and the Rangers reaching the 1972 Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to Boston in six games.  

Almost wistfully, the 72-year-old Park recalls the 45-rpm record that came from the stands in Boston Garden “like a missile” and exploded into vinyl dust against the boards on the Rangers bench.

“Kids today don’t know what a 45-rpm is,” he grumbled, wishing he knew the name of the song that a Bruins fan airmailed that night. “They can’t throw a Walkman today because they’re gone, too, and a phone is too expensive.”

Park said he’s heard many stories from that era’s Bruins about the showers of debris that would hit their Madison Square Garden bench, Rangers fans happy to reply to their Boston “friends.”

The five-player trade that sent Brad Park from the Rangers to the Bruins in exchange for popular Bruins sniper Phil Esposito, a deal that included Jean Ratelle, Carol Vadnais and Joe Zanussi, stirred the emotions of fans of both teams.

Park played his first 465 games in the NHL with the Rangers, scoring 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists) in 42 regular-season games against the Bruins, before he was packaged in a blockbuster trade to Boston on Nov. 7, 1975 with center Jean Ratelle and defenseman Joe Zanussi for Bruins center Phil Esposito and defenseman Carol Vadnais. 

Park became a beloved figure in Boston, eventually, playing 501 games for the Bruins, scoring 28 points (four goals, 24 assists) in 34 games against his former team.

But at the outset, Boston fans weren’t eager to forgive Park for his candid impressions of Bruins stars that he shared in his 1971 autobiography “Play the Man.” He used the words “flake”, “gutless” and “animals,” among others, to describe Bruins players, and called Boston Garden “downright grubby.” The reaction to the book was so strong in Boston that Park received death threats and for a time was assigned an FBI escort to and from the Garden ice.

Brad Park rushes the puck out from behind Rangers goalie Gilles Villemure.

“When I was with the Rangers, the New York press would say that I was as good as or better than Bobby Orr and the Boston press would say, ‘Ain’t no [darn] way.’ Trust me, Bobby Orr was the best I ever saw. I was good but he was great.”

Four times between 1970-74, Park finished second to Orr in voting for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the best defenseman in the NHL.

“Bobby Orr, in full stride, there’s no way you’re skating backwards as fast as he’s coming forward,” Park said. “He was the best broken-field runner I ever saw through the neutral zone. Bobby could beat you wide and on the inside.”

Park recalls arriving in Boston immediately after the trade and waiting at WBZ, the Bruins’ flagship radio station, to go on an open-line show.

“I’m sitting in the lobby listening and the fans are furious, having lost Esposito in a trade for me,” he said. “I’m hearing that I’m a piece of garbage. The Bruins fan base is hating me unbelievably. And this is my first night in town!”

Park no longer had to worry about being freight-trained by the likes of Bruins forwards Wayne Cashman and Ken Hodge, and knowing the Rangers well helped him to defend against them. Old Broadway buddies became rivals in a New York minute.

The spirited, often bitter rivalry of the Rangers and Bruins goes back many decades, both teams often at the bottom of NHL standings in the early 1960s and playing to less than full arenas. In this 1965-66 scrum, from left: Leo Boivin, Johnny McKenzie, Jim Neilson, Reggie Fleming and Garry Peters.

He chuckles at the memory of playing for the Bruins, weaving around his best friend and former Rangers teammate Walt Tkaczuk, the latter cussing as he did. When Park tried the same move a second time, Tkaczuk flattened him with a punch that he never saw coming. 

“I’m lying on my back,” Park said, “and Walt’s standing over me, looking down, shaking his head, saying, ‘Not twice.'”

Park retired in 1985 after two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, a nine-time all-star and winner of the 1983-84 Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. He played 1,113 games, scoring 896 points (213 goals, 683 assists).

From his home in Florida, his two former teams near in his heart if distant on a map, Park will be watching crabby rivals New York and Boston square off again on Wednesday and Friday, considering whether he views himself more a Ranger or a Bruin.

“I guess it depends which side of Hartford I’m on,” he said with a laugh, the Connecticut city almost dead center between their arenas.

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