BST&N Vintage Athlete Of The Month: Terry O’Reilly (VIDEO)
In the rough-and-tumble world of Irish Boston, no trait is valued more than loyalty and nothing respected more than the ability to take care of oneself. Translated to the world of hockey, that means a tough enforcer who can handle things when they get the rough.
Today’s fans might identify Shawn Thornton as that kind of player for the 2013-14 Boston Bruins. But back in the day there was another enforcer on hand, and that was Terry O’Reilly, whom BST&N salutes as our Vintage Athlete Of The Month.
O’Reilly was drafted at the height of the Bruins’ glory years in the early 1970s. He played his first NHL game at the age 20 in the 1972 season when the franchise won its second Stanley Cup in three years. O’Reilly got his first taste of hockey at the highest level playing with Phil Esposito, Johnny Orr, John Bucyk and Derek Sanderson, among others.
As internship programs go, that’s pretty good, and though O’Reilly only played in one game, he scored a goal and got his feet wet learning from some of the game’s all-time greats. One year later he played in 72 games and his career was underway.
The forward got the nickname “Bloody O’Reilly” for his willingness to mix it up and battle on behalf of his teammates. As a result, he never generated huge point totals, but he did have his best offensive years in 1977 & 1978, delivering 51 assists in ’77 and 61 assists a year later. The 1978 showing put him in the top ten of the NHL in passing, and in both of the years the Bruins made the Finals.
One year later came the incident that O’Reilly is most remembered for. It was two days before Christmas of 1979 in Madison Square Garden. Boston had just won a hard-fought 4-3 game over the New York Rangers, and players were milling around the ice in the brief aftermath of the win. Some trouble started with a few of the Ranger players around the boards.
A New York fan got over the boards and got the stick of Boston player Stan Jonathan and hit him on the head with the stick. Furious, O’Reilly went barreling into the stands to get the stick back and before anyone knew it, several other Boston players went in with them.
I understand that you can’t condone a player going into the stands no matter the circumstances, and O’Reilly’s eight-game suspension–stiff by the standards of the time–was deserved. That doesn’t mean one can’t think the fan might have had it coming, and to admire the loyalty of the player who went in to take care of business on behalf of his teammate.
It’s taking care of business on behalf of the team that marked Terry O’Reilly’s career as a player and he went on to enjoy more success after his playing days. He was named the Bruins’ head coach midway through the 1987 season and one year later he got them to the Finals.
O’Reilly never won a Stanley Cup as a coach, nor as a regular, contributing member as a player. But he made the Finals three times in those combined roles and played in two All-Star Games. On October 24, 2002, he officially entered the Bruins’ pantheon, when his number was retired.
No finer compliment could be paid to Terry O’Reilly than that given by his legendary teammate Ray Borque on the night O’Reilly’s jersey elevated to the rafters. “I’m glad his is hanging right next to mine,” Borque said. “Protecting me again.”
No one protected his own like Terry O’Reilly and that’s why BST&N is honored to do our part in protecting his legacy.