Friday, November 20, 2009

Bruins Sweaters of the Past #3: Vladimir Ruzicka

CENTER, Boston Bruins 1990-91- 1992-93
6-3, 215
BORN: June 6, 1963 in Most, Czechoslovakia
GP: 166 G: 66 A: 66 PTS: 132 PIM: 105

The Bruins are playing the Buffalo Sabres tonight, and that reminds me of the single greatest goal I've ever seen scored live by a Boston player.

That honor goes to forward Vladimir "Rosie" Ruzicka, who scored an amazing coast-to-coast goal at the Garden against Darren Puppa and the Sabres in a December, 1990 game I went to with my dad while I was on Christmas break from my first year of college.

Ruzicka, who had been acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for fan favorite Greg Hawgood, had been a star of the Czechoslovakia Extraliga, '84 and '88 Olympic Teams and had at one time been a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick. His rights traded to the Oil, he came over to the NHL from Eastern Europe at age 27 in the spring of 1990.

Possessing ideal size and skill, Rosie didn't speak a lick of English, but boy- could he ever play hockey! He couldn't find his own end with a compass, but he had a dizzying array of stickhandling moves and wicked shot he could get off from anywhere.

One of his finest moments as a Bruin came in Game 2 of the Prince of Wales Conference Final series against Pittsburgh, when he scored the game-winner in overtime after assisting on all four previous Boston goals to give the B's a 2-0 series lead. Painfully, the Bruins lost the next four games to get bounced from the playoffs unceremoniously, but that was the moment that Boston fans started to realize that they had a bona fide scorer on their hands.

In 1991-92, Ruzicka led the team in goals with 38, which was important because Cam Neely missed all but nine games that year to the serious knee injury Ulf Samuelsson gave hm in Game 6 of that aforementioned playoff series the previous spring. Ruzicka continued his winning ways against Pittsburgh and Tom Barrasso that year, scoring four goals in a single game during the regular season. Unfortunately, he couldn't find that magic in the playoffs, and Boston was swept by Pittsburgh in the Wales Conference final again- the last time a Bruins team has made it to the Stanley Cup semifinal.

Ruzicka, who did well under Boston coach Rick Bowness, landed squarely in successor Brian Sutter's doghouse (along with Dmitri Kvartalnov) and was unceremoniously dumped after the 1993 season, with GM Harry Sinden not even extending Rosie a contract offer.

He signed with the moribund Ottawa Senators for the 1993-94 campaign, coached by none other than Bowness, but this time, the two clased as Ruzicka's less-than-stellar practice habits grated on the former Boston coach, who had a much inferior team in Ottawa.

Ruzicka left the NHL for good in 1994, and returned to his native Czech Republic. He was captain of the gold medal-winning Czech Olympic Team at the Nagano Games in 1998 and retired as a player. He now coaches the Czech National Team and will be in Vancouver this February. His son, Vladimir Jr., a toddler when his dad played in Boston, was a Phoenix Coyotes draft pick a few years back.

This Boston Bruins away sweater is from the second set worn by the Bruins during the 1991-92 season, Ruzicka's best in the NHL. It has the distinctive NHL 75th Anniversary Patch and a set stamp inside the hem, plus Rosie's autograph on the fight strap inside. There is some decent wear in the form of stick marks, pilling and unrepaired holes on the sleeves. This one is photomatched to the photo of Ruzicka on his profile page inside the 1992-93 Bruins Yearbook (but not to the one of him on the cover). In it, he is featured in game action against the New Jersey Devils, whom the B's played only once on the road that year in March, confirming that it would have to be from the second set.

This sweater is a sentimental favorite in my collection, even though Ruzicka's numbers as a Bruin were never much to write home about. In my mind's eye, I can still see him gliding up the ice, weaving in and out of the skating lanes, leaving befuddled Buffalo players in his wake before firing a bullet shot past an equally stunned Puppa to ignite the Garden crowd.

It's how I prefer to remember the talented, but enigmatic Ruzicka, who was the cat's meow on Causeway Street- even if just for a brief but unforgettable time.

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