It’s been a long wait for Rick Middleton to get the honors he so richly earned over his distinguished NHL career, but the first will come on Thursday night when his No. 16 is raised to the rafters at TD Garden before the Bruins-New York Islanders game.
Nifty, now 64, hasn't yet gotten the much-deserved call to the Hockey Hall of Fame -- his career numbers over his 1,005 NHL games, played mostly with the Bruins, are certainly Hall-worthy -- but the honor of having his number retired by the B's is one he’s going to cherish no matter what happens with the Hall.
“It knocked me off the chair," Middleton said of his reaction when team president (and ex-teammate) Cam Neely informed him of the honor last summer. "It certainly was not something I expected from a call in July, to hear something like that.
"I can’t lie: I’ve certainly thought about it many times, especially with no one wearing the No. 16 in a few years. It’s been in the back of my mind, but you never know when these things happen or if they’re ever going to happen.
WHO NIFTY IS JOINING
“So when it hit me, it was like a sledgehammer. I’m still in shock. It’s such a great day for me. I don’t compare it to the Hall of Fame. It’s a special, special honor to me to be included with the other 10 people that are up there. A very special group of hockey players that date back to the beginning of the Boston Bruins, and to be included on that last I can’t even explain what kind of an honor that is.”
The pregame ceremony will run from 6:30-7 p.m. and will push puck drop back to 8:08 p.m. for the Bruins/Islanders game, but it will be well worth it to recognize a wonderfully skilled offensive player who was downright dominant for the Bruins in a five-year stretch from 1979-84. Middleton averaged 46 goals and 98 points per season during that stretch, won the Lady Byng in 1981-82 and finished with 402 goals and 898 points in 881 games for the Bruins over his 12 years with the organization. As good as Middleton was in his era, he’d probably be even better now as a 5-foot-11, 170-pound right wing with a game based on skill, creativity and speed, and with the kind of breakaway moves that would have made him a bona-fide weapon in the shootout.
The Bruins organization has always been known for their big, bruising forwards in the mold of Neely, Phil Esposito, Joe Thornton and Milan Lucic, but Middleton was the player that the B’s always seem to searching for. Middleton was the kind of player who could put the puck in the net, break games wide open and do it with elite hockey skill rather than brute force.
Prepare to hear a lot about that skill and what a quality person Middleton is when he’s rightfully honored by the Bruins organization on Thursday night. Let’s hope the Hockey Hall of Fame shows him the same kind of deserved post-career love that’s going to be out on the ice when Middleton’s No. 16 joins the other greats in the rafters.
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