Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bruins Sweaters of the Past #10: Rejean Lemelin

BOSTON BRUINS 1987-88-1992-93
5'11", 170 pounds
Born: November 19, 1954 in Quebec City, Quebec
Games Played: 183 Mins: 10,308 W: 92 L: 62 T: 17 GAA: 3.09 SO: 6

Reggie! Reggie! Reggie! Was the battlecry of Boston Bruins fans during the spring of 1988 when Rejean "Reggie" Lemelin was instrumental in the momentous defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in the Adams Division final series, the first time the B's had defeated the Habs in the playoffs since 1943.
The veteran free agent signed with Boston after a long stint with the Atlanta and Calgary Flames, giving way to Mike Vernon. Lemelin's presence with another experienced backup in Doug Keans meant that Bill Ranford went down to Maine of the AHL where he could get more playing time and continue to develop, while Lemelin at age 33 played the best hockey of his NHL career as a Bruin.
Even though Boston GM Harry Sinden added some competition in net with Andy Moog just before the trade deadline in 1988, Lemelin continued to be coach Terry O'Reilly's guy down the stretch and into the playoffs. After a black-and-blue six-game series win over the feisty Buffalo Sabres in the first round, the Bruins faced Montreal, a team that had swept them in each season since 1984.
After Moog was in net for the first game, a loss, Lemelin went the distance, starting out with a rousing 4-3 win at the old Montreal Forum on April 20, 1988, a game in which the Bruins were outplayed, but got a great performance from their goalie. Lemelin then took both games on the Garden ice by 3-1 and 2-0 scores, to give his team a 3-1 series lead. On April 26, 1988 Lemelin, Cam Neely (2 goals) and Steve Kasper (2 goals) exorcised the ghosts of Bruins-Canadiens series past in a 4-1 win to close out Montreal and send Boston fans into a tizzy. (I still remember seeing local television programming being interrupted to announce that the Bruins had won the series).
Lemelin and the B's defeated the upstart Cinderella New Jersey Devils, who pushed them to seven games in the Prince of Wales Conference final series, returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in a decade. Although the Bruins met an untimely end at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, Lemelin's sterling reputation as a warrior was forged, finishing the postseason that year with an 11-6 record and 2.63 GAA in 17 games.
Lemelin would continue to share the goaltending duties pretty evenly with Moog, gradually giving way to his partner who, at six years younger, finally seized the reigns as the clear starter 1990-91.
Lemelin appeared to call it quits in 1991-92 when Matt Delguidice was named Moog's backup coming out of camp, but the former St. Anselm's and University of Maine star didn't hold up, and Lemelin fought off the immortal Daniel Berthiaume to stay on as the backup that year, posting a 5-1 record in 8 games.
The following season, Lemelin was involved in a controversy when B's head coach Brian Sutter and Sinden worked together to try and get their goaltenders going, calling up both Providence goalies in John Blue and Mike Bales, scratching Moog and Lemelin for a game and giving minor league journeyman Blue the start. The controversy ensued when it became known that Lemelin's equipment bag and gear had been taken out of the dressing room and left in the hallway.

Fans were furious at the "callous" treatment of Lemelin, who at that point had played his last NHL game and quietly retired, leaving Blue to backup Moog the rest of the year and then Jon Casey in 1993-94. The reality is probably far less nefarious: the old Boston Garden dressing room was small, and there simply was no room for four goalies' worth of equipment, so Lemelin's had to go. Could the situation have been handled better? Sure. But it probably wasn't any kind of Sinden conspiracy to humiliate Lemelin on his way out. The equipment guys likely just moved the bag where members of the media saw it and reported on it. Stuff happens.
Anyway- Reggie Lemelin (along with Tiny Thompson, Frank Brimsek, Moog, Casey and Tim Thomas) did something that Boston goaltending greats like Gerry Cheevers, Ed Johnston, Gilles Gilbert, Sugar Jim Henry and Terry Sawchuk never did: he presided over a playoff series win over the Montreal Canadiens.
He will forever be a favorite of the Gallery Gods and those who remember his inspirational run to the finals in 1988.

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