The body checks of Boivin and Bucyk were the thing of legend, delivered in open ice or behind a net, bodies sent flying over their wide, low hips.
On Saturday, on his way to TD Garden for the Bruins’ 2021-22 home opener, Bucyk reminisced about Boivin, his friend and fellow Bruins captain and Hockey Hall of Famer whose death at age 90 had just been announced.
“Leo was a terrific player, a good friend. We spent a lot of time together the years we were both in Boston,” said Bucyk, he and Boivin teammates from 1957-58 through the latter’s departure by trade to the Detroit Red Wings in February 1966.
“He knew how to throw hip checks from the point while I was throwing them up front. We had a lot of fun comparing things. It’s sad to learn that he’s gone.”
Leo Boivin defends against Toronto’s Dave Keon in front of Boston goalie Eddie Johnston in a 1963 game at Maple Leaf Gardens.
If built differently — Bucyk played with 215 pounds on his 6-foot frame, Boivin a rain barrel on skates at 5-foot-8, 183 pounds, nicknamed “Fireplug” — they were equally effective at sending opponents practically into orbit.
“We never compared the art of throwing a (hip) check, it was just something we knew how to do and we did it different ways,” Bucyk said. “Leo would catch guys rushing with their heads down and I’d catch them coming around the net, mostly. He was real strong, a tough guy. Good, solid legs. When he got under you with his hip, he could lift you right up.”
Boivin played 1,150 NHL games, from his arrival with the Toronto Maple Leafs for two games in the final month of the 1951-52 season through his final season with the Minnesota North Stars in 1969-70. He was a classic stay-at-home defenseman, taking care of business from his own blue line to the net, scoring 322 points (72 goals, 250 assists).
Never a Stanley Cup champion, his importance to his five NHL teams over 19 seasons was recognized by his enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986 with Dave Keon and Serge Savard, respectively legends of the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
Leo Boivin played the first 137 games of his NHL career, from 1952-54, with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I was elated,” Boivin said of his induction. “I was on Cloud Nine. It was a great thrill and an honor.”
Born Aug. 2, 1931 in Prescott, Ontario (his birth year was erroneously changed on hockey cards to 1932), Boivin learned to skate on outdoor rinks and the nearby St. Lawrence River, the frozen seaway a perfect spot for endless games. He was Bruins property coming out of amateur hockey in Port Arthur, Ontario but was traded by Boston to Toronto in November 1950 before he’d made the NHL.
After 137 games with the Maple Leafs, he was traded in November 1954 back to the Bruins, where for the next 12 seasons his career — and his opponents — took flight and he became a beloved figure in Boston for his blue-collar work ethic.
Boivin moved on to the Red Wings, became an original member of the Pittsburgh Penguins (their No. 7 pick in the 1967 expansion draft) and finally played with the North Stars. He retired to work as a Minnesota scout from 1970-72, then coached junior hockey in Ottawa from 1972-74 and the St. Louis Blues for parts of 1975-76 and 1977-78.
Leo Boivin defends with Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Joe Daley against Toronto’s Norm Ullman in a 1968 game at Maple Leaf Gardens.
He scouted for the Blues and finally the Hartford Whalers until he settled for good in 1993 back in his hometown of Prescott, 60 miles south of Ottawa, where the town today mourns a native son who is celebrated in its community center.
Prescott Mayor Brett Todd referred to Boivin as “a great friend to the entire community. He was an Original Six legend… but more than that, he was just Leo here in town. He was the kind of guy who loved nothing more than hanging out at the rink, watching hockey and giving his time to the many kids who approached him.”
In the book “Over The Glass and Into The Crowd! Life After Hockey,” Boivin recalled the nomadic life of a scout.
“It’s like I was in a suitcase and every night I was going somewhere,” he said. “We covered all the leagues — high schools and colleges all over the country. We did everything. I’d go into Boston to see some high school games, maybe four or five in a day. I’d see a game, drive 25 miles to see another, then drive to the next.”
Leo Boivin as a member of the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars.
Bucyk, enshrined in the Hall of Fame five years before Boivin, remembers an intimidating presence on the Bruins blue line, a stocky body with a low center of gravity that hit with crushing force. Boivin formed an imposing pair with fellow defenseman Fern Flaman, who had preceded him to Boston four months earlier, also traded by Toronto.
Flaman would serve as Bruins captain from 1955-61, Boivin from 1963-66, then Bucyk in 1966-67 and from 1973-77.
“He and Fernie, another tough guy, spent a lot of time together,” Bucyk said. “Leo didn’t look for fights, he wasn’t a cheap-shot artist, but he played the game very hard, very solid and he was very dedicated.”
What Bucyk remembers best is a quiet friend who stayed mostly to himself but was there when his team needed him most.
“Leo did what he had to do when he was doing his work. He was good at it, a very loyal teammate,” he said. “You couldn’t say a bad word about him, he was just a good, solid player. We’re going to miss him.”
Photos: Hockey Hall of Fame