After winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Bruins were granted a waiver by the NHL allowing center Marc Savard to have his name engraved on the Cup despite not meeting one of the league’s standard requirements – having played 41 games with the club or playing in at least one game of the Finals.
When local oldtimers have the rare opportunity to view the Stanley Cup, their attention is often drawn to the 1970 Bruins, the first of two championships won during the Orr era. Some of the names are echoed in hockey history – Orr, Esposito, Bucyk, Cheevers, Adams. “Whoa, wait a minute. Who the hell was John Adams?” has been muttered more than a few times by curious hockey fans across North America.
The heart of the 1970 winter was winding down in Boston and the Bruins, looking to give regular goaltenders Gerry Cheevers and Eddie Johnston a bit of a rest before the start of the playoffs, reached down to their farm team, the Oklahoma City Blazers, and called goalie prospect John Adams up to the big club for the final weeks of the regular season. “They told me they’d try to get me in a few games down the stretch, but it wasn’t meant to be,” said the affable Adams. “We ended up being in a tight race with Chicago for first place which came down to the final night of the season, and I guess they didn’t trust a rookie in goal.”
The Blackhawks eventually secured first place in the East Division on the wild final nights of the season (which had actually had teams pulling their goalie for extra attackers early in the third period due to complex tie-breakers), and the Bruins settled for the second seed.
Needing an extra goalie on hand for practice and insurance during the playoffs, the Bruins kept Adams around for their playoff run, but the only action he saw was during team practices. After winning a vicious quarter-finals series against the Rangers in six games, the Bruins ran the table by demolishing Chicago and St. Louis en route to the team’s first Stanley Cup in 29 years.
Still, Adams was a part of all the Cup festivities to follow. “I was in the dressing room with Ace Bailey – who was injured – when we won the Cup,” recalled Adams. “The team came pouring into the dressing room afterward. It was a pretty crazy scene.”
When the Bruins had their victory parade a few days later, some familiar, and some not so familiar, faces were front and center. “I was in the lead car with Bobby Orr, Don Marcotte, and Billy Speer,” said Adams. “I guess they wanted a few big guys in with him to protect him if things got too out of control.”
At that time teams had almost complete control as to the names engraved on the Stanley Cup, and a few weeks later Adams was told by Bruins management that his name would be put on the Cup, despite having never played a single NHL game. An urban legend in Boston at the time was that Adams was a nephew or cousin of the team’s owners, the Adams family, but the two parties were not related. “I even got kidded all the time by my teammates in Oklahoma City,” said Adams of the hoopla surrounding his last name.
His dream of playing in the NHL did not quickly come to fruition for Adams after his taste of glory in 1970. Cheevers and Johnston were entrenched in Boston in addition to the organization having other goalies in the system almost NHL-ready, such as Ross Brooks, Dan Bouchard, and Dave Reece. Adams would spend the next two years back in Oklahoma City playing the majority of the Blazers’ games while registering respectable numbers.
However, the formation of the WHA for the 1972-73 season jolted the NHL as many marquee players bolted for the lucrative contracts being offered by the upstart league. One such player was one of the Bruins’ goaltenders, Cheevers, and one of the other goalies in the system would be making the team in training camp. Adams actually was contemplating an offer from the Houston Aeros of the WHA but decided to stay with Boston due to the positional opening created by the departure of Cheevers. “Brooksie outplayed me in camp and got the job,” said Adams, who was sent down to the Bruins newest minor league affiliate, the Boston Braves, who also played their home games at Boston Garden. “Brooksie was playing well but then hurt his collarbone, so I got called up again,” he recounted.
His first NHL victory came in his first start on November 18, 1972, at the New York Islanders by a score of 7-3. “I was nervous enough as is but the thought of losing to the Islanders, who were bad at the time, made me even more nervous,” said Adams, who recalled one of the goals he allowed being scored by former Bruin Ed Westfall, who was lost to the Islanders in the expansion draft.
Less than one week later Adams recorded his first career shutout against the Atlanta Flames. “Orr ragged the puck in our end for the last 30 second going around our net several times,” said Adams. “At the final horn, he picked up the puck and gave it to me. In fact, I’m looking at it right now here in my house.”
Adams would go on to post a 9-3-1 record that season with the Bruins, not really getting much playing time after a cold spell in goal and was eventually demoted back to the Braves. During the offseason he was traded to the San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League for goalie prospect Ken Broderick, who would go on to win 9 games over two seasons for the Bruins, ironically the same number Adams achieved in his one season with Boston. Adams enjoyed his stay in San Diego as the team sold out the building most nights and he snagged second-team all-star honors.
The good life in Southern California did not last long because just as Adams was talking with the team about a multi-year contract and looking to purchase a house, the franchise abruptly folded in 1974 leaving him without a team.
The Gulls’ GM, Max McNab, paved the way for Adams’ return to the NHL by selling his rights to the expansion Washington Capitals, headed by General Manager (and former Bruins GM) Milt Schmidt, who was familiar with Adams’s ability and character in the locker room. However, their expansion roster may be the worst of all-time and the team’s record and players’ individual stats reflected as much. Adams finished the season with a record of 0-7 and a 6.90 GAA.
Adams would never play in the NHL again after that season and finished out his career with minor league stops in Richmond and Thunder Bay, where he still resides.Adams has never lost touch with his Boston background and, in fact, was settling in at home to watch the Red Sox when contacted originally contacted for this article. When asked if he still stays in touch with any of former teammates, Adams casually revealed that he works part-time for Bobby Orr’s management agency as a recruiter for players in the Thunder Bay area. He must be one of Orr’s premier employees as he’s helped steer the Staal brothers and Patrick Sharpe Orr’s way.Adams has always followed the Bruins from afar and was part of a celebration in Thunder Bay – which has a surprising number of Boston fans – that landed Mayor Keith Hobbs in hot water for raising the Bruins flag to a high place of honor at city hall.
When asked what his proudest hockey moment was, without hesitation Adams said being signed by the Boston Bruins. “Being given a contract by an NHL team when only six teams were in the league is very special to me. Not too many people can say that.”
Adams admitted to getting an occasional peek at the Stanley Cup and each time he does he always checks to make sure his name is still on there. Yes, it is, and always will be.