Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bruins Sweaters of the Past #8: Al Secord

BOSTON BRUINS 1978-79-1980-81
6'1", 205
Born: March 3, 1958 in Sudbury, Ontario
Games Played: 166 Goals: 39 Assists: 26 Points: 65 Penalty Minutes: 337

Al Secord was arguably Boston's best version of Cam Neely a decade before Neely arrived and established his Hall of Fame credentials in Beantown.

Boston's first-round selection, 16th overall out of the OHA's Hamilton Fincups in 1978 immediately made an impact in Boston and became a fan favorite for his toughness, lust for fighting and ability to put the puck in the net.

Secord was a power forward before the term became vogue: he skated diligently up and down the left wing, went hard to the net, finished his checks and was willing to do what it took to inspire his team and defend teammates. Secord was a cherished member of those lovable lunchpail "Big, Bad Bruins" teams of the late-70's who came oh-so-close to winning a Stanley Cup, but could never quite close the deal.

His lopsided grin displaying chipped and battered choppers which reminded me of a shark getting ready to take a big bite out of its prey, and as a young kid, I absolutely loved him.

You may remember that in the infamous December 1979 game at the Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers, it was Secord's game-ending punch of Ulf Nilsson that touched off the brawl that sent Secord and most of the Bruins into the stands, with defenseman Mike Milbury whacking one fan (since deceased) with his own brown loafer.

A 16-goal rookie season in 1978-79 was followed with 23 tallies in 1979-80, and he appeared to be on the verge of much more. But, Secord feuded with Harry Sinden and then struggled early in the 1980-81 season. In December, after Secord failed to score (3 assists) in 18 games, Sinden sent him to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for defenseman and future Bruins GM Mike O'Connell.

In fairness- O'Connell ended up being a pretty fine defenseman for the Bruins, so it's not like the trade was a disaster. It was he, and not Bobby Orr, Brad Park or Ray Bourque who owned the NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defender (since broken by Washington's Mike Green last season- eight) and like Kasper, O"Connell was respected by most Bruins fans as a player for what he brought. It was only afterwards- when he became part of management and ended up being largely disliked by many fans (as Kasper did when he was coach- check out my previous Bruins Sweaters of the Past entry for Thanksgiving for more on that).

Secord went on to score 44 and 54 goals for the 'Hawks in 1981-82 and 1982-83, and would later tally 40, but struggled with abdominal and knee injuries that limited his playing time and effectiveness. He ended his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but one can only wonder how things might have gone for Secord had he remained in Boston. The thought of a line featuring Secord on one wing and Neely on the other during the 1986-87 season and beyond, has long been a favorite "what if" scenario of mine.

This Stall & Dean home rookie sweater of Secord's is one of my collection's prized possessions. It was his first-ever NHL sweater, worn when he was trying to make a name for himself in Boston. Even though the nameplate was removed, it is videomatched to a November, 1978 game against the Detroit Red Wings, the multiple repairs and smeared red Boston Garden boards and dasher paint into the rear hem clearly visible on the tape.

The Bruins are infamous for the way they used their game sweaters in the late '70s/early 80's. Instead of issuing new ones each year (cue the "Jeremy Jacobs is cheap" posts- lol), they would remove the nameplates every training camp and issue them out to the players on "white" and "black" squads. Then, when the roster was decided, they reattached the nameplates of returning players and assigned the numbers to those applicable who made the team and used them again. Mine clearly was a casualty of this process, but it has a ton of wear- multiple repairs, board/dasher paint and pulls from the fights Secord got into that year.

Al Secord was the quintessential Bruin. He left on bad terms, but eventually patched things up with Sinden. After concluding his playing career, he became an airline pilot and has continued to be a great story around the game for the tough and skilled and helmetless style he played.

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