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Thursday, October 24
Updated: October 25, 6:10 PM ET
Bourque calls O'Reilly the 'ultimate Bruin'

Associated Press

BOSTON -- Terry O'Reilly stepped out of the penalty box to the cheers of the crowd, a fitting opening to a ceremony that showed the soft side of one of hockey's toughest players.

Terry O'Reilly
Terry O'Reilly, center, played his entire 14-year career with the Bruins.

The Boston Bruins on Thursday night retired the No. 24 worn by O'Reilly, whose 2,095 penalty minutes remain a club record 17 years after his retirement as a player from the NHL.

"I hope you know what an honor it is for me to be part of such a rich history and tradition,'' he told fans, many wearing O'Reilly replica jerseys.

That tradition includes Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, John Bucyk and Milt Schmidt, all of whom stood on the ice as their previously retired numbers hung from the rafters. The other four retired numbers belong to Phil Esposito, Eddie Shore, Lionel Hitchman and "Dit'' Clapper.

Always assertive on the ice, O'Reilly was hardly boastful about his place in that group before the Bruins home opener with Ottawa.

"I think we would all agree it's a little bit of a deviation from the norm of the players who have been raised to the roof,'' he said. "Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque both could skate a little bit faster than me.''

O'Reilly, a former Bruins coach and now an assistant coach with the New York Rangers, got by on hard work and hard knocks.

His teammates appreciated him for that.

Bourque called him "the ultimate Bruin'' and told the crowd that O'Reilly's banner hangs "next to mine, protecting me again. That's awesome.''

O'Reilly retired after the 1984-85 season after a 14-year career, all with the Bruins. He had 204 goals and 402 assists in 891 regular-season games.

The people who inspired him most, he said, never played for the team.

After his brother, Jamie, died of leukemia in 1969. Jamie's widow, Bernadette, entered a convent in Winnipeg where she still lives.

"I want the whole world to know that she inspires me,'' O'Reilly said.

Then there was Joe Howard, a hockey player who lost his legs at the knee in a train accident when he was 16. O'Reilly visited him in a hospital in 1982 and gave him an autographed stick and photo.

"He was laying in bed in deep depression and a great deal of pain and I felt very inadequate,'' O'Reilly said.

But Howard's determination has moved him.

"This past summer I was invited to a celebration of the 2002 USA Olympic gold-medal championship sled hockey team coached by (former Bruin) Rick Middleton,'' O'Reilly explained. "Joe Howard was the captain of the team. He scored three goals in the gold-medal game. Joe Howard inspires me.''

O'Reilly scored three goals only once, on Nov. 10, 1997, the season in which he had career highs of 29 goals, 61 assists and 90 points.

But he knew his role. He chuckled at a comment by former Bruin Dave Poulin comparing him to Guy Lafleur, Montreal's speedy forward.

"I don't see any comparison,'' O'Reilly said. "I had trouble breathing sometimes following his exhaust.''

Not that he didn't try, or mix it up with opposing ruffians.

"You looked after your teammates. You didn't leave it up to the referees to find justice out there,'' he said. "It was not manly to turn away from a challenge.''

With rules changes to restrict fighting and his subpar skating ability, O'Reilly said he wouldn't even make the NHL now. But he prefers today's more peaceful game, which allows players to show their skills better.

"You're probably amused that it's coming from me,'' he said.

That's part of his softer side, the one that emphasized charitable works by the Bruins, including raising money for liver research. His son, Evan, who helped him raise the banner with his younger son, Conor, had serious liver problems as a youngster but his health has stabilized and he's a freshman at Merrimack College.

"You were patient with me as I stumbled and slipped through my first few years and through my last few years,'' he said. "I loved playing hockey for you people and this will always be my home.''

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