Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bruins Sweaters of the Past #4: Steve Kasper (Turkey Edition)

CENTER, Boston Bruins; 1980-81-1988-89
5-8, 170
BORN: September 28, 1961 in Montreal, Quebec
Games Played: 564 Goals: 135 Assists: 220 Points: 355 PIM: 450

OK, OK- calling this the "Turkey Edition" is a bit of a cheap shot, I know, because when he was a Bruins player, center Steve Kasper was one of the more respected and appreciated guys on the team by its fans. Even when he was traded to Los Angeles for Bobby Carpenter, B's fans grumbled because Kasper had been such a stalwart two-way presence over the life of his Boston career (and to date- the only Bruin to ever win the Frank J. Selke Award as the NHL's premier defensive forward).

When Kasper replaced Brian Sutter behind the Boston bench for the start of the 1995-96 season, it seemed like a match made in heaven, but things went south on a night when the rookie coach dressed Cam Neely and Kevin Stevens, then humilated both by keeping them on the bench for the entire 60 minutes of a game without letting them see a shift on the ice. For most Bruins fans, it was an unforgivable sin, especially since we would soon find out that Neely's degenerative hip condition would force him to retire from the game at age 31, well before he was ready to say goodbye. Neely was gutting it out, but like the warrior he was, didn't let on how badly he was hurting, so for Kasper to do that to him was something that created a massive furor. One can only imagine how much bigger/worse the outcry would have been if people were as widely connected to the internet back then.

But, as much as I disagreed with Kasper's coaching decision, and the fact that he is one of the more unsuccessful coaches in team history over his two-year tenure, I don't think his issues behind the bench should detract from his legacy as a player.

He was Boston's 3rd pick, 81st overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, a former junior teammate of Ray Bourque's with the Verdun Black Hawks of the QMJHL, and actually made the Bruins out of camp as an 18-year-old that year, whereas first pick Barry Pederson was returned to junior. Kasper skipped the minors and went straight to the big time, where he flourished, winning the Selke Trophy in 1982 after gaining notoriety for shadowing and shutting down Wayne Gretzky, at the time as unstoppable an offensive force in the NHL as any in history.

Kasper centered the "Buzzsaw Line" in 1987-88, between wingers Randy Burridge and Bob Sweeney, becoming an effective unit that chipped in 75 goals between the three of them. During Boston's run to the 1988 finals, Kasper was one of the big heroes in the Adams Divison Final series against Montreal, scoring a pair of goals in the clinching fifth game at the Montreal Forum, the first time a Bruins team had beaten the hated Habs in the playoffs since 1941.

After going out to L.A. with Jay Miller, Kasper was decent, but injuries caused him to miss significant action for the first time in his career, and he bounced around to Philly and Tampa Bay before retiring in 1993.

In 564 career games with Boston, he tallied 135 goals and 355 points (with four 20 goal seasons between 1981 and 1988).

This home sweater of Kasper's is from the 1986-87 season, one of two in which the Bruins wore the ultrafil/knit material. (With the exception of Cam Neely, who had his sweaters custom-made out of the material when the rest of the team went with Airknit fabric- more on that in a later edition) It is a grand throwback to the days when the low Boston Garden dashers transferred the red paint to players' shirts, and smaller guys like Kasper and Burridge always carried that paint transfer on their game sweaters like a badge of honor. You can see the paint smears on this one's sleeves and even on the sweater's body, proof of his willingness to fight for pucks along the boards. This one has the assistant captain's 'A' on it, a smaller font signature of mid-80's Bruins sweaters when Terry O'Reilly and Rick Middleton were the team captains. Once Ray Bourque put on the 'C' for good in 1987-88, the team went to a bigger font for the 'C' and 'A' letters on the front.

This sweater is a nod to the older, rough-and-tumble days when the Bruins played in the small confine of the old Garden with its obstructed view seats and where just about anyone could afford a ticket.

Kasper may have blown it as a coach, but as a player, he was one of the best at what he did, and his on-ice contributions should not be completely forgotten.
Off to watch some football- hope you all have had a nice Thanksgiving today!

1 comment:

  1. Kirk, do I smell some kind of book-length project in the works? This is a very unique way of looking at Bruins history. Using the jerseys: the markings, fabric, etc. as a focal point for bringing to life a particular era in the history of the team is smart. Makes for good reading. Call me crazy, but you might have something here. -Ben