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December 10, 2015

John "Pie" McKenzie

When you think of the great Boston Bruins teams in the 1970s, a few names immediately pop into mind.

There is of course Bobby Orr, arguably the greatest player of all time. There's super scorer Phil Esposito. Scarfaced goalie Gerry Cheevers. The old warrior Johnny Bucyk. The playboy, Derek Sanderson. The coaches, first Harry Sinden then Don Cherry. Ken Hodge. Wayne Cashman. Ted Green. That Bruins team was so good that they probably should have won more than two Stanley Cups that they did win.

But don't forget John "Pie" McKenzie, the diminutive pest who was a real leader and fan favorite on that team. He was so popular that Boston fans bought 100s of bumper stickers that said "No matter how you slice it, Pie is the greatest."

Bostonians loved his courageous physical presence and dogged defensive attention. General Manager Milt Schmidt best summed up McKenzie as the Bruins' "mood-setter."

McKenzie described his approach to hockey to writer Andy O'Brien once.

"I guess what it boils down to is my custom at the start of games. I like to take a run at somebody on my first shift just to stir things up and plant the idea that if a squirt like me can go after 'em - particularly if my target is a big star - then why not everbody? I try to act the same way when were sagging in a tight game."

McKenzie was a tough customer, as you might expect a true cowboy-on-skates from High River, Alberta to be. McKenzie loved two sports in life and excelled at them both - hockey and rodeo. He could rope a calf with the best of them at the annual Calgary Stampede, but it was hockey where this cowboy would leave his mark.

It did not come quickly for the man known as Pie, a reference to his facial similarities to a cartoon character named Pie Face. He bounced around the NHL with Chicago, New York and Detroit along with several stops in the minor leagues before catching on in Boston in 1966.
He finally found a NHL home, forming an effective line with Fred Stanfield and Johnny Bucyk.

He didn't drop the gloves with great regularity, but that's what McKenzie instigated his rivals to do on numerous occasions, usually resulting in a Boston power-play. And when the Bruins did have the extra-man advantage, the man responsible for the situation was front-and-centre on the ice.

McKenzie also saw second unit power play time in Boston, allowing him to become a regular 20+ goal scoring threat.

In his best season the 5'9", 180-pounder netted 31 goals and recorded 77 points in 1970-71, despite missing 13 games due to a shoulder separation that required an operation.
That wasn't the worst injury McKenzie had in his playing career. He had to have his spleen removed in 1963, and in 1971 he actually was playing with a cracked skull before doctors clued in and forced him off the ice.
McKenzie was a nice piece of the Bruins' championship puzzle in both 1970 and 1972, but he would leave the team shortly after the second Stanley Cup celebration. The Bruins left him unprotected in the next season's expansion draft. Although he was somehow not selected, he felt very slighted by the Bruins' move and jumped at a $300,000 contract offer from the Worl Hockey Association.
He would join the Philadelphia Blazers where he was hired to play and coachup for the second time in 1972 before moving on to the World Hockey Association where he was hired to play and coach the Philadelphia Blazers, where he was reunited with Bruins' teammate Derek Sanderson.
After Philadelphia, McKenzie had stints in Vancouver, Minnesota and Cincinnati before settling for his final three seasons with the New England Whalers where the familiar hero was treated like a legend. In the end, his No. 19 was retired.
In 691 career NHL games, McKenzie scored 206 goals and added 268 assists for 474 points. In 477 WHA games, he netted 163 markers and contributed 250 helpers for 413 points.

McKenzie has always stayed in the Boston area since retiring. He first worked as a building supply salesman, helped to found a bank and for a long time sold BMWs.
In 2007 McKenzie returned to the game of hockey in the most unlikely of locations. He volunteers as the head coach for the newly created college hockey team at Berklee College of Music. He also has worked as the liaison of hockey development for University of Massachusetts Lowell.

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