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The Seventh Man, an Unsung Hero.

seventh man

Right-wing Eddie Westfall will always have a place in the hearts of Boston Bruins fans — the perfect player to look back on as the franchise’s first 7th Player Award winner.

Since 1968-69, Bruins fans choose someone for what has become that revered honor — “an unsung hero, the player who works hard every day for the good of the team without any expectation to be recognized,” and “one who rises above expectations.”

That description describes Westfall to a T.

He was the yin to center Derek Sanderson’s yang on the team’s checking line that year as the Bruins were transforming from a doormat into a superpower. Sanderson, even though a third liner, was a superstar with flair and talent. And he was also a digger and a great face-off man who not only did not bow down to anyone but became — like Brad Marchand these days — one of the most reviled players in the NHL.

Compared to Sanderson, Westfall was more of the regular man on that line that, in later years, included left-wing Don Marcotte. All three of them, though, were consummate penalty killers with a knack for scoring short-handed goals and they did their job night after night against the opponents’ best line.

Westfall was not the only lunch-pail-carrying hard worker to have been given the 7th Player Award honor through the years.

The very next year — the team’s Stanley Cup championship season in 1969-70 — another right-wing, Johnny McKenzie, was the 7th Player winner. He was a colorful personality and a major cog on the Bruins’ second line, along with captain Johnny Bucyk on the left and Fred Stanfield in the middle.

Hustle was one way McKenzie endeared himself to Bruins fans, who also loved the fact that his playing size was 5 feet 9, 170 pounds — dynamite in a small package. But, man, he was steady in putting the puck in the net, too. In each season from 1967-68 through 1971-72, McKenzie scored at least 20 goals.

When the Bruins won another Stanley Cup in 1971-72, the fans turned to Sanderson as their guy for 7th Player honors. Two years later, Marcotte gave that blue-collar third line a trio of 7th Player awards when he split the vote with defenseman Carol Vadnais.

When looking at the full list of 7th Player winners through the years, Terry O’Reilly’s name pops up glaringly in 1974-75. No surprise there, at all.

Just a few years earlier, O’Reilly was an underdog to make the team. Later on, he told Sports Illustrated that his biggest problem was that he couldn’t skate very well. Imagine that?

But it’s true. When he first broke, many fans could not understand what he was doing out there. But it became apparent soon enough. He turned into one of the most feared fighters the game has ever seen and quickly morphed into one of Boston’s favorite Irish sons, so to speak.

Incredibly, O’Reilly’s skating and hockey talent improved. By 1977-78, he became only the second player in NHL history to lead his team in points (90, on 29 goals and 61 assists) and penalty minutes (211).

That kind of production led to that aforementioned SI story in which Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero said, “When I first saw him, I thought he was a nothing player.”

Two more quotes from that story are worth noting. From Shero: “I’ve got to come up with a line that can handle O’Reilly. A line, I said, not just one player.”

And from the great Bobby Orr: “O’Reilly is as smooth as a stucco bathtub.”

Smooth or not, O’Reilly persisted. The epitome of the 7th player.

Another tough customer, left-wing Stan Jonathan, nicknamed Bulldog for his short, 5 feet 8 stature, was the 7th Player Award recipient in 1977-78. It was another typical fan love fest for a guy who could throw a punch and put it into the net. That year, he had 27 goals, 25 assists, and 116 penalty minutes. In-Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against Montreal, he pummeled Pierre Bouchard, who had six inches and 30 pounds on Jonathan but wound up with a broken nose and cheekbone.

In 1978-79, surefire goal-scoring star Rick Middleton, another right-wing, earned the 7th Player Award, and in the next year, it went to a rookie who is typically listed in the top five of Bruins players all time.

That man was Ray Bourque, and nobody could have foreseen his impact on Boston hockey over the next 20 years. He was the closest thing to getting another Orr if that could ever be possible. Just one example of many that show just how good Bourque was — he is fourth all-time in NHL assists (1,169) and 11th all-time in points (1,579), which is also first among defensemen.

Moving down the list, two more Bruins lifers pop up — Cam Neely with Don Sweeney.

Neely, a prototypical power forward type and yet another right-wing won it twice — first in 1986-87 when he made an immediate impact coming over from the Vancouver Canucks with a 72-point, 146 penalty-minute season.

Again, in 1993-84, Neely was the fan’s choice as the 7th Player by potting 50 goals after he missed most of the previous two seasons with a major leg injury. Now, Neely is the franchise’s president.

Sweeney, a rugged defenseman, is now the Bruins’ general manager and he will also be Team Canada’s assistant GM for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. He was the 7th Player in 1992-93.

Another all-time Bruins great who will always be remembered as the hero of the 2011 Stanley Cup championship, goaltender Tim Thomas, was picked as the 7th Player in 2005-06 and again in 2006-07.

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Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-0. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

There are eight 7th Player Award winners on the current Boston Bruins roster, and that’s really saying something about fan and management love: smooth puck-handling center David Krejci in 2008-09; Tuukka Rask in 2009-10 before he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in 2013-14; elite goal-scoring right wing David Pastrnak in his rookie year of 2014-15 and again in 2016-17.

When he had breakout 70-point season; the do-it-all, combustible left-wing Marchand in 2010-11 and 2015-16; stud defenseman Charlie McAvoy in his rookie season of 2017-18; right wing Chris Wagner in 2018-19; center Charlie Coyle with 37 points in the shortened 70-game season of 2019-20; and left-wing Nick Ritchie with a 26-point season in the even shorter 56-game season in 2020-21.

A player who left Boston early for the San Jose Sharks and who ranks seventh on the NHL’s all-time assists list with 1,104, Joe Thornton, earned the 7th Player trophy in 1999-2000.

Through the years, they have given the 7th Player Award out 53 times to 47 individuals — 12 centers, 11 right wings, 10 defensemen, eight left wings, and six goalies.

Six players have won it twice — Randy Burridge, Bill Guerin, Neely, Thomas, Marchand, and Pastrnak.

Boston Bruins 7th Player Award winner

1968-69: Ed Westfall, right-wing

1969-70: Johnny McKenzie, right-wing

1970-71: Fred Stanfield, center

1971-72: Derek Sanderson, center

1972-73: Dallas Smith, defenseman

1973-74: Carol Vadnais, defenseman, and Don Marcotte, left-wing

1974-75: Terry O’Reilly, right-wing

1975-76: Gregg Sheppard, center

1976-77: Gary Doak, defenseman

1977-78: Stan Jonathan, left-wing

1978-79: Rick Middleton, right-wing

1979-80: Ray Bourque, defenseman

1980-81: Steve Kasper, center

1981-82: Barry Pederson, center

1982-83: Pete Peeters, goaltender

1983-84: Mike O’Connell, defenseman

1984-85: Keith Crowder, right-wing

1985-86: Randy Burridge, left-wing

1986-87: Cam Neely, right-wing

1987-88: Glen Wesley, defenseman

1988-89: Randy Burridge, left-wing

1989-90: John Carter, left-wing

1990-91: Ken D. Hodge, center

1991-92: Vladimir Ruzicka, center

1992-93: Don Sweeney, defenseman

1993-94: Cam Neely, right-wing

1994-95: Blaine Lacher, goaltender

1995-96: Kyle McLaren, defenseman

1996-97: Ted Donato, left-wing

1997-98: Jason Allison, center

1998-99: Byron Dafoe, goaltender

1999-2000: Joe Thornton, center

2000-01: Bill Guerin, right-wing

2001-02: Bill Guerin, right-wing

2002-03: Mike Knuble, right-wing

2003-04: Andrew Raycroft, goaltender

2004-05: NHL lockout, no season

2005-06: Tim Thomas, goaltender

2006-07: Tim Thomas, goaltender

2007-08: Milan Lucic, left-wing

2008-09: David Krejci, center

2009-10: Tuuka Rask, goaltender

2010-11: Brad Marchand, left-wing

2011-12: Tyler Seguin, center

2012-13: Dougie Hamilton, defenseman

2013-14: Reilly Smith, right-wing

2014-15: David Pastrnak, right-wing

2015-16: Brad Marchand, left-wing

2016-17: David Pastrnak, right-wing

2017-18: Charlie McAvoy, defenseman

2018-19: Chris Wagner, right-wing

2019-20: Charlie Coyle, center

2020-21: Nick Ritchie, left-wing

Nick Abramo

nickabramo7@gmail.com

STLFanReport.com