Too Many Men on the Ice

The 1978–1979 Boston Bruins and the Most Famous Penalty in Hockey History


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About the Book

Entering the 1978–1979 season, the Boston Bruins had been one of the best teams in the National Hockey League for more than a decade. Yet they could not shake the postseason jinx the Montreal Canadiens held over them—the Habs had ousted them in 13 consecutive playoff series going back to 1940s. The Bruins wanted one more shot at their nemeses, after coming up short in both the 1977 and 1978 Stanley Cup finals.

They got their chance in the semifinal round. Led by the colorful but embattled coach Don Cherry, the underdog Bruins played seven heart-stopping games. Victory seemed within their grasp but was snatched away with an untimely penalty in the final minutes of game seven. The author looks back at the season from opening night at Boston Garden to the catastrophic conclusion at the Montreal Forum, with detailed accounts of the semifinal games and a post-mortem of the infamous bench penalty.

About the Author(s)

John G. Robertson is a private tutor and sports historian who lives in Cambridge, Ontario. He is the author of numerous books on baseball, hockey and boxing history.

Bibliographic Details

John G. Robertson

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 213
Bibliographic Info: 10 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2018
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7100-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3288-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface 1
Introduction: Those Unbeatable Habs 5
1. The Arrival of Don Cherry and the “Lunch Pail A.C.” 21
2. No Contest: The 1977 Stanley Cup Final 25
3. A Valiant Effort: The 1978 Stanley Cup Final 31
4. High Hopes and Cautious Optimism for 1978–79 38
5. Looking Like Contenders 46
6. The New Year Brings Troubles—and a Tribute 51
7. Only Three Contenders: The 1979 Stanley Cup Playoffs 63
8. The Quarterfinal: Boston Sweeps Pittsburgh 67
9. An Old Nemesis Awaits 74
10. Game 1: No Penalty Shot? 77
11. Game 2: A ­Two-Goal Lead Vanishes 82
12. Game 3: Gilbert Gets the Nod 87
13. Game 4: Ratelle to the Rescue 92
14. Game 5: Montreal Reasserts Its Dominance 99
15. Game 6: The Bruins’ Big Win Forces a Decider 103
16. None Bigger: The Hype for the Final Game 111
17. Game 7: Too Many Men 114
18. The Immediate Aftermath 126
19. Who Even Remembers the 1979 Stanley Cup Final? 129
20. The End of the Don Cherry Era in Boston 133
21. Who Was to Blame? 142
22. April 26, 1988: Liberation Day for Bruin Fans 149
Epilogue 156
Appendix A: Boston’s Key Personnel, 1978–79 161
Appendix B: Statistics and Game Results 186
Chapter Notes 190
Bibliography 202
Index 203

Author Interview

Review Fix chats with Too Many Men on the Ice author John G. Robertson to find out what inspired the book and why it’s a great look into one of hockey’s most storied rivalries.

Review Fix: How did this project start?

John G. Robertson: I had written a few baseball history books before I attempted to write this book.  I’ve always had the idea for this book in the back of my head because the Boston Bruins of the late 1970s were a fun bunch to follow.  They were the ultimate team.  Every player worked well as part of a unit.  They had all the ingredients of a Stanley Cup winner.

Review Fix: Why are the 78-79 Bruins special to you?

Robertson: I’ve been a Boston Bruins fan since the age of three.  The 1978-79 season has stuck with me because the Bruins were so close to winning it all and it suddenly unraveled.  The way the season came to an end was truly heartbreaking for me.  On some level, I’ve never really gotten over it.

Review Fix: Do you think Don Cherry deserved to be fired following the season?

Robertson: Cherry didn’t really get fired.  He chose not to accept the contract offer the Bruins presented him for 1979-80.  The Bruins were a stingy outfit in those days.  The difference in salary was only about $20,000.  Cherry got far more money by signing with the woebegone Colorado Rockies.

Review Fix: What did you learn about the team you didn’t expect?

Robertson: I learned plenty!  For example, I had forgotten about how injury-plagued the team was all season.  I learned that Gilles Gilbert was basically a forgotten goalie until he came through for the team in the playoffs.

Review Fix: Any cool moments during the writing process?

Robertson: Just about every time I read through the archival materials from the Boston Globe I was struck by the quality of the paper’s beat writers who covered hockey.  To me, the Globe’s staff did a better job covering the sport than Canadian journalists!  I also irrationally found myself becoming emotional watching Game #7 for the first time in nearly 40 years.  Somehow I hoped the outcome would change.

Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy this book the most?

Robertson: Every hockey fan should enjoy it; but specifically fans of the 1970s Boston Bruins—followed closely by fans of the Montreal Canadiens.  I’ve received plenty of positive feedback from Bruin fans who said, “I didn’t know if I wanted to read this book because it would mean reliving an infamous defeat, but I’m certainly glad I did buy the book because it was a great story.”

Review Fix: How would you like this book to be remembered?

Robertson: I’d like this book to be remembered as a fair, accurate and entertaining narrative of the Bruins and their intense rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens—culminating in the 1979 semifinals.  It remains the most talked about playoffs series in the teams’ respective histories.

Review Fix: What’s next?

Robertson: I am putting the finishing touches on the manuscript to another hockey book:  This one is about the whole 1969-70 NHL season.  It was a wild, fun, and crazy campaign throughout—especially the final Sunday of the regular season.  It’s scheduled to be published in 2020.  Bruin fans will like how it ends!

Review Fix: Anything else to add?

Robertson: Besides being a good history of the Bruins of the late 1970s, this book is also a good story.  I think I did a good job in capturing the drama and heartbreak of the season.  Please check it out!