Few guides for this tour
1959 European trip a hazy Bruins memory
PRAGUE — Most of the finer details escape John Bucyk’s memory today, more than 50 years after the ambitious trek, but the Chief was a growing force in the Bruins lineup and a budding NHL star when the team last toured Europe.
It was May 1959, and the Bruins, after finishing second overall in the NHL in 1958-59, fell to Toronto in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Game 7 had the Leafs winning, 3-2, at the Garden. The Bruins later headed overseas to face the Rangers in a 10-city, 23-game barnstorm through some very interesting ports of call.
Stops included London and Paris and Antwerp, also Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, along with Dortmund, Essen, Krekfeld, and Berlin in Germany, as well as Vienna. Quite an ambitious itinerary for two teams from the Original Six.
Bucyk, now 75 years old, is on the Bruins’ current European romp that took them last night to Liberec, Czech Republic, and he remembers only bits and pieces of it all.
“Heck, it’s over 50 years ago!’’ Bucyk exclaimed the other day, when asked if he could plumb some of the tour’s highlights from his memory bank. “We didn’t make the playoffs much in those days. For the Bruins and the Rangers back then, heck, a trip like that was our playoffs.’’
Details of the tour are so long gone and hard to find that even the Bruins media relations department on Causeway Street failed to dredge up anything about it in the club’s records. Heidi Holland, editor of the slick and voluminous “Bruins Guide and Record Book’’ (a must-have, go to bostonbruins.com), reported back with an account of the trip she discovered on greatesthockeylegends.com.
“‘European fans,’’ according to the site, “were treated to competitive, exciting games and introduced to some of North America’s brightest stars. The Rangers (who finished fifth in the regular season) were bolstered by the addition of Chicago’s Bobby Hull for the tour.’’
Dick Johnson, curator of the New England Sports Museum, reported that he was aware of the trip but knew few details.
“Twenty-three games,’’ said the jovial Johnson. “The team enjoyed more ice than a Polaris submarine.’’
According to Johnson, a reproduction of the ’59 tour poster (available these days on posters.com), hangs in the Causeway Street museum. Cinzano was one of the trip’s sponsors.
“Maybe they were promoting creative uses of ice,’’ opined Johnson. “I want to know who shot the tour highlight film — Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman?’’
Actually, parts of the trip were preserved on film. Bucyk said he brought a movie camera with him in ’59 and rolled celluloid at various stops.
“Not sure I’ve ever looked at it,’’ mused Bucyk, the film tucked away for over a half-century. “It’s one of those little 8 millimeter things or something — hold it in your hand. I know I’ve got it somewhere.’’
The more Bucyk talked, the more details percolated in his memory. The trip wrapped up in Vienna, he recalled, and there was a big breakup dinner there following the last game. But Bucyk and teammate Bronco Horvath skipped the ceremonies and opted for a side trip to Italy.
“Bronco wanted to go, so I said, ‘Sure, I’ll go with you,’ ’’ recalled Bucyk. “Didn’t cost us any extra, because the airline let us rewrite the tickets and we got home the same time as the rest of the boys. I think we went to two cities . . . and I used my movie camera there, too.’’
In Berlin, Bucyk recalled, “Bombed-out buildings from World War II were everywhere.’’ He is not certain, but he believes a small skating surface was staged partway up the Eiffel Tower in Paris. “Gave it that kind of Rockefeller Center feel,’’ he said.
The sharpshooting Hull never played in the NHL for the Broadway Blueshirts. He was only on the verge of stardom in those days (140 career games/31 goals). One can only imagine the carnage Hull left behind in German beer halls. Had it been an Octoberfest tour, all of Bavaria might have been drained of its many hues of amber.
Bucyk’s most vivid memory of the trip wasn’t the hockey, but one of the flights after a game. The pilot, in heavily accented English, needed more than one attempt to coax the plane off the ground.
“It might have been two or three times down the runway before he got it in the air,’’ recalled Bucyk. “We had so much equipment. Heavy plane, not enough runway.
“I remember the pilot turned on the speaker and said — and I think it was a German accent — ‘OK, I zink I vill try zat again.’ Try it again! Are you kidding?! A few of the boys — and I was one of ’em — had the white knuckles going that night.’’
No such worries during the NHL’s Premier Series that will have the Bruins and Coyotes playing each other here Saturday and Sunday. The Bruins, as well as the other five NHL teams, travel first class on modern jets. A Miami Air charter brought the Bruins to Belfast and also will carry them home Sunday evening. The Belfast-to-Prague flight was a large
Good food for all — and plenty of thrust from those engines.