By: Gayle Troiani | Follow me on Twitter @LadyBruinsFan
When the NHL Bruins take the ice at TD Garden, the arena is filled with fans donning black and gold jerseys with the names of players that currently lace up the skates for Boston, but you can also see some jerseys with Bruins legends as well. When you look in the stands at an Alumni benefit game across New England, there is no difference.
The Alumni have played ten games in the 2022-23 season and have been packing the rinks to capacity. Fans are waiting outside for the doors to open and standing behind the glass around the rink because the seats are filled with fans ranging from kids with their parents and even grandparents trying to get close to the players.
“The crowds have been great,” Bruins Alumni President Frank Simonetti said. “It really started at that game at Warrior Arena, the Warrior for Life game, when Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller came out, along with our Media staff Mark Willand, Craig Michaud, and John Horrigan pushing out information and content about our games.”
Simonetti said the multimedia push of content has only helped raise awareness of what the Bruins Alumni does for charities across New England. As a result, more and more people are reaching out for information on getting a benefit game scheduled or sponsoring the team. But being in the media is not the only reason fans flock to the stands.
“The Bruins are playing so darn well,” Simonetti explained. “Kids and parents want to come out and see the Bruins’ B being skated around, and we’re happy to be caught up in their wake. A rising tide raises the level of all boats, so when the Bruins are playing well, we’re getting attention as well.”
Ironically, while kids are lining the seats with their parents, sons are pulling on the Bruins jersey to skate with their fathers at various games due to scheduling conflicts.
“We try to fill our roster with alumni all the time,” Simonetti said. “But some guys are busy scouting; some have young kids they are coaching, and when we can’t fill the roster with alumni, we have a deep pool of family members. So we like to have the names on the back of the jerseys match players.”
The Alumni game in Concord, New Hampshire, on February 5 was one of those games. The roster featured three father-son duos, Frank and Nick Simonetti, Steve and Brendan Leach, and Joey and Patrick Mullen.
The Mullens have played in three games together this year. However, the benefit game against the Stephen Cmar Scholarship Fund was the first for the younger Simonetti this year, even though he has skated in several games over the past ten years.
“It’s a blessing. It’s really cool. A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to lace up with former Bruins, so it’s really fun to get out there and throw the puck around with some legends,” he said. “It’s really a privilege; not a lot of people get to do it. I had to take a step back and realize the name on the back of the jersey was one that played in the old garden. So it’s really cool.”
Simonetti added that he is the envy of his friends because of the opportunities he’s had to skate with the Alumni and would not shy away from the chance to skate alongside Chara if it arose.
“I will be extremely nervous,” Simonetti said with a chuckle. “It’ll definitely be nerve-wracking, but I won’t pass up a great opportunity.”
The Cmar Scholarship Fund was established to honor the University of New Hampshire ROTC member Stephen Cmar who lost his life in a tragic motorcycle accident in 2010. The Alumni defeated the Crusaders 10-6 in the 8th Annual match-up.
The game had more meaning for Leach, who played two seasons as a Wildcat before starting his NHL career with the Washington Capitals in 1985. Playing against the team representing his alma mater is unique, but lacing up the skates with the Alumni and his son is even better.
“It’s fantastic because there’s so much history behind the Bruins,” Leach explained. “Some great players were instrumental as part of the Bruins; they had great careers before and after.
“Like Kenny Linesman, he scored the game-winning goal for the Edmonton Oilers that won them the Stanley Cup. So to be able to share that with (Brendan) is great. So it’s a really neat tradition. It’s wonderful to play for an Original Six team, and being part of this group is great.”
Leach’s son Connor was supposed to play in the game, but unfortunately, he suffered an injury. Brendan got the call and was ready to fill in and skate alongside his dad.
“I love seeing him around all of this and with his buddies,” Leach said of playing with the Alumni. “It’s awesome to see how good they still are and how they haven’t lost a beat.”
Not losing a beat seems to be an understatement since the Bruins Alumni are undefeated in the ten games they’ve played this season. And although, for the most part, the games are fun, sometimes the opposing teams get a little chip on their shoulders and try and take it to the black and gold. They usually fail.
The Alumni have hit their mid-season mark and will have a month off before their next game on March 12 at Warrior Ice Arena.
“I’ve given the guys a strict diet, a nutrition regime, as well as an exercise program that they will not follow,” Simonetti said with a laugh. “A lot of these guys will skate with their men’s league teams and stay in shape, but we’re looking forward to a couple of weekends off because we all have families.
“I won’t say it’s a sacrifice, but they make a commitment to come and play in these charity games, and they take time away from their families, and we really appreciate that, so whenever they can have time mid-season, our season, to spend time with their families, they take it.”
The Alumni play nine more games before wrapping up their season with their final game on April 22 at Warrior Ice Arena.