Back When Ponds Froze…

Gilles Gilbert (1949-2023), Boston Bruins photo

My earliest hockey memories include my brothers teaching me to skate and Fred Cusick’s play-by-play during Bruins broadcasts. Cusik’s elated cries of, “Save, Gilbert!” flew out of the TV with remarkable regularity. Those words and this photo are how I remember #1. Well, he always had the mask on, but I knew this face was under there.

Gilbert was a stellar goaltender for the Boston Bruins from 1973 to 1980, which is saying a lot considering he shared the net with the future Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers. He was also famously between the pipes for the infamous semi-final overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens, which was dubbed the “Too Many Men on The Ice Game”. The Canadians would beat the NY Rangers to win the 1979 Stanley Cup Finals. It’s a heartbreak that Bruins fans bear to this day. No one blamed Gilbert. They wouldn’t have made it that far without him.

In 277 regular-season games with the Bruins, Gilbert had a record of 155-73-39 with a 2.95 goals-against average and a 0.890 save percentage. It’s no wonder that when a puck was stopped on ponds all over New England (but definitely not Hartford) and even parts of Canada, all the kids yelled, “Save, Gilbert!” For 7 seasons of my childhood, Gilles Gilbert gave Bruins fans a reason to hope when he stood in the net.

I often tell people I had a charmed childhood. Most of that characterization is, of course, because of my wonderful family. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the many sports legends who passed through Boston in the 70s and 80s. As for legendary Bruins, my brothers would probably tell you that Bobby Orr is the best Bruin “evah” (yes, you must pronounce it that way). But I have great respect for the man behind the mask. If he can’t keep the biscuit out of the basket, all the scoring in the world won’t help. Gilbert ate biscuits three meals a day.

I was sad to learn about my hockey hero’s passing today. He mentioned in interviews that the fans here treated him well and that he loved playing for them. I’ll take my turn now to say that I enjoyed watching him play. Thanks for all the saves, Gilbert. I hope Fred Cusick gave you a shout when you skated through the Pearly Gates.

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  1. Those were great years and that’s a very nice tribute. I was fortunate to have a pond behind my house in North Jersey and as a kid, I made believe I was Phil Esposito. Hockey was a daily diversion, as long as we had good ice.

    • Espo! Good choice! What a scorer! I was also a Gretzky fan, but it was hard to see Phil dethroned. He’s doing well down in Tampa.

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