Boston sports fans love their sports heroes unlike any other city. Larry Bird. Bobby Orr. Ted Williams. Carl Yastremski. Bob Cousy. Terry O'Reilly.
Terry O'Reilly wasn't the best skater, or the best scorer, or the best playmaker. In the storied history of the Boston Bruins he is far from the best player to ever wear the black and gold, but no one played harder or endeared himself more to the Boston faithful.
His Irish heritage certainly didn't hurt either.
A less-talented version of Cam Neely, O'Reilly was the heart and soul of the Bruins. He out-hustled every opponent, crashed and banged with reckless abandon, and played every shift as if it was game seven of the Stanley Cup finals.
Don Cherry said "Terry typifies our team. He's tough, really tough, and that's the way I like em'. I know a coach isn't supposed to like one player more than another, but I can't help it in regard to Terry O'Reilly."
He is the first person who comes to mind when someone uses the phrase 'a true Bruin'," says Harry Sinden. "He was the model of a Bruins player to his teammates and fans alike and that phrase is a high compliment because of Terry."
Terry started out as a goalkeeper until he was 13. Perhaps that explains his plodding skating style that everyone said would prevent him from ever turning pro. As a junior Terry had problems initially sticking with the Oshawa Generals. He turned down a scholarship offer with St. Louis University in order to prove the Generals wrong. Soon enough his desire and leadership qualities were so strong that he not only became a regular, but also the team captain and best player.
The Bruins selected him with their 2nd choice and 14th overall in the 1971 draft. Throughout his career it was always Terry that was the first player on the ice when his team practiced and the last off. This devotion and dedication paid off later on in his career when he became the captain for the Bruins.
Terry played mostly on checking lines the first couple of seasons and scored 27, 35 and 35 points before getting 23 goals and 50 points in 1975-76.
In 1976-77 O'Reilly discovered a solid chemistry with center Peter McNab. The line, often featuring Al Secord on left wing, became a serious offensive threat. O'Reilly would crash and bang in the corners and more often than not would come out with the puck. He showed nice hands and hockey sense, setting up 41 goals, often by McNab, and collecting 55 points. The following season saw O'Reilly set career highs as he led the Bruins with 61 assists and 90 points. His hard work earned him two trips to the All-Star games in 1975 and 1978.
His strong offensive play continued through the end of the decade, but it is his abrasive physical game that was always his meal ticket. To his credit, Terry never forgot that, although injuries finally caught up with him in the early 1980s.
"Taz" had a great sense of humour and was always quick to offer a joke on himself, downplaying his talents and often pointing attention to his skating ability or lack thereof. When traveling between the games you seldom found Terry without a book in his hand. He was always reading something, best sellers, fiction or non-fiction. He was also a serious chess player and an avid antique collector who liked to scour through many of the antique shops around New England. While playing he continued his education part time at Boston University and the University of Toronto.
Terry quit after the 1984-85 season to the dismay of the Boston fans who had taken the "Irishman" to their hearts during his career in Beantown. Injuries, most notably a knee injury that cost him much of the the 1982-83 season. He later coached the Bruins but quit to spend time with his children.
O'Reilly had a total of 606 points (204 goals and 402 assists) in 891 games and an excellent career +/- rating of +212. He not surprisingly remains the Bruins all time leader in penalties with 2095 minutes served. Terry is the prototypical NHL player who was successful because of passion, grit and a lot of hard work more so than talent.
How important was he to the Bruins? Take a look up in the rafters. Hanging by the retired jerseys of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Eddie Shore is O'Reilly's number 24. There is no greater honor in the city of Boston.