This net gain may be historic

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / June 9, 2011

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If it’s the real McCoy, there may never be a way to prove it, but Richard Johnson, longtime curator of the Sports Museum, believes the rusty, pitted goal put on display for the first time last night inside the Garden’s Premium Club could be the one into which Bobby Orr popped the Stanley Cup winner on May 10, 1970.

“We’re not saying that it is for sure,’’ said Johnson, beaming as he gazed at the oxidized artifact yesterday afternoon, hours before it was unveiled to the public. “But I think there is some stardust on it.’’

The goal, with the standard deflector plate of the day (shaped like the number 3) on the bottom, was donated to the museum some 10 years ago, according to Johnson. A female caller — who insisted her name never be made public, he said — telephoned the museum one afternoon, alleging that her husband and a pal walked up the rickety ramp to the old Garden late on the night of May 10 and pirated one of the nets out of the building.

“Now, obviously, I haven’t done a crime scene investigation here,’’ noted Johnson, who does a fair amount of amateur sleuthing on his job. “But I think I am a pretty good read of people after all these years, and this is an Art Ross net, the net in use at the time.

“They told me they wanted to return the net to where it belonged. They weren’t looking to sell it. They didn’t ask for Bruins season tickets in exchange for donating it. Heck, they didn’t even ask for free passes to the Sports Museum. They just said they wanted it to be back where it belonged.’’

For close to 30 years, based on what the husband and wife told Johnson, the goal was parked in Peabody, where it was used regularly as a street hockey net. When the thief/donor decided it was time to downsize, where better to send it than the museum?

The hallowed house of memorabilia didn’t exist when Orr took that return pass from Derek Sanderson and sent the Garden crowd, and all of New England, into bedlam.

“I really love the idea that it was up there all those years in Peabody,’’ said Rusty Sullivan, the museum’s executive director. “Again, we can’t document that this is really the net. But so much of the story fits, and then the idea that it was up there in Peabody, which is classic Bruins country . . . it really is a great story.’’

According to Johnson, the net remained stored in the museum’s Allston warehouse the last 10 years while museum and Garden staff pondered its authenticity and eventually how to present it. It finally took its public bow last night, and soon will be returned to storage.

It is possible, said Sullivan, that it one day will be placed on full-time display in the museum, which is on the Garden’s fifth and sixth floors.

“We’re hoping someone steps forward here and helps us,’’ said Sullivan, noting how the public often can assist in authenticating heirlooms. “I guess it is sort of ‘CSI: Boston.’

“We’ve got reason to believe it is the net, and let’s face it, it could be considered the most famous net in NHL history.’’

Johnson, who grew up in Worcester and was a high school sophomore at Lawrence Academy in May 1970, nearly went into curator catatonia the day he received the call from the donor. The woman who called asked how soon the museum would be prepared to take receipt.

“How about today?’’ Johnson told her. “Bring it here tonight. I’ll stick around till midnight. Whatever you need!’’

Hours later, a pickup truck pulled up at the museum warehouse in Allston, and the net was back home, or at least just a few miles down the Charles River from where the old Garden stood on Causeway Street.

“When they left, I locked the door,’’ said Johnson, recalling how, with the “Orr net’’ in front of him, in the solitude, he was instantly carried back to his childhood. “And then I got myself a hockey stick, a tennis ball, and I put my shot right to the top shelf . . . and went flying across the floor. I was willing to risk injury.’’

Disciplined play
Bruins president Cam Neely, still nimble and agile in his executivehood, found himself with little room to operate in a packed elevator at the Garden late yesterday morning. Garden workers and TV technicians needed to exit a floor or two before Neely’s stop, making it necessary for the Hall of Fame right wing to move to the side.

But with pressure from the back, No. 8 soon was forced to leave the zone, stepping outside the elevator while more workers and more equipment piled out. The workers clear, there was a tiny bit more interference as Neely tried to get back in the elevator.

“You’re not going to stand for that, are you?’’ one wag kidded Neely as the doors closed.

Neely smiled, pulled back an arm and clenched a fist, acknowledging how he might have dealt with such interference in another lifetime, when he wore a younger man’s clothes.

Fine, on the surface
A hot and muggy day in Boston raised some concern that the ice surface would be watery and wear down quickly. However, the NHL brought in a pair of heavy-duty dehumidifiers, planting one on the Garden’s third floor (ice level) and another on the roof. Based on the early action, the sheet looked none the worse for warmth . . . Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a press box visitor . . . Orr was the night’s Banner Captain, and No. 4 whipped the crowd into a frenzy by waving a No. 18 Nathan Horton flag . . . Another of the Bruins’ concussed, power-play quarterback Marc Savard, watched from a luxury box . . . By the end of 20 minutes, the Canucks were 0 for 2 on the power play and a measly 1 for 18 for the series. Could it be they too closely studied the Boston power play and contracted some kind of weird video virus?

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at

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