|Best backup goalie ever? Ross Brooks recalls 1970s stint with Bruins fondly||03.21.13 at 11:58 am ET|
PROVIDENCE — Ross Brooks keeps a photo of Bobby Orr above his desk, even in the temporary trailer office to which he’s been exiled while Providence College’s Schneider Arena is remodeled. Forty years after he first stood in goal for the Bruins as a 35-year-old rookie, Brooks hasn’t forgotten the sight of his name above a locker room stall alongside those of Orr, Phil Esposito and the rest of the storied early ’70s Bruins.
“The biggest thing was looking around the room and seeing all those names on the seats — Esposito, [Ken] Hodge, Dallas Smith, Terry O’Reilly — you could just go around the room. And then I saw my name,” Brooks said. “And I just stared at it for a while, and you almost want to pinch yourself to make sure that it’s right.”
Brooks spent three seasons — 1972-73 to 1974-75 — with the Bruins, playing in 54 games. He posted goals-against averages of 2.64, 2.36 and 2.98, respectively, and in the ‘73-74 season he tied an NHL record with 14 consecutive wins. He finished that year with a 16-3 record, serving as the backup to Gilles Gilbert.
It all happened rather suddenly. Brooks broke into the NHL at age 35 after a 12-year minor league journey that took him from Phoenix to Rochester. Despite his stellar statistics, he spent just three seasons in the league, retiring when Gerry Cheevers returned to the Bruins from the World Hockey Association.
‘In hindsight, you’d wish that had happened at 21 years of age, but you know what? At least it happened,’ Brooks said of his chance with the Bruins.
Despite never earning a starting job, Brooks maintained patience and a good attitude, according to Orr. The two have kept in touch over the years and still golf together from time to time.
“Sometimes, being a backup, they’re unhappy all the time and moaning and groaning, and that wasn’t Ross,” Orr said. “Ross was a great team guy. Everybody loved him, and when he was called upon to play, obviously, by his record, he played very well for us. ‘¦ He’s a fun guy. He’s a jokester, and we always had a lot of fun.”
Brooks, 75, now is the arena manager at Providence College. His longest minor league stop involved seven seasons with the AHL’s Providence Reds, and with a few interruptions he’s been based there ever since. Even as a Bruin, he made the 45-minute commute from the Providence area and says he was only late for practice in Boston once.