Criticizing ESPN is so easy, it is a popular pastime for some people. For all its flaws the company does many things right – E:60, Grantland and its short and long documentaries are not only well-produced, but entertaining, moving and, often, thought-provoking.
Its latest “30 for 30 Shorts” is a prime example. Featuring former Boston Bruins enforcer John Wensink, the piece focuses on the player’s role in an incident that cemented his legend in the sport of hockey.
It began with Wensink pummeling Alex Pirus of the Minnesota North Stars in the Boston Garden on one early December night in 1977. It ended with Wensink hilariously skating over to the Minnesota bench and challenging them all to a fight. When no one took the bait, Wensink, and his afro, skated away waving his hands in disgust.
It made for great theater, then and now.
In the video another Bruins tough guy, Jay Miller, makes an appearance, commenting on his predecessor’s importance to the team. “I can tell you one thing, it is awfully nice for the players that are on your side of the bench to look down and have someone like a John Wensink,” Miller says on tape, later adding that Wensink was “the ultimate black and gold.”
Miller, who played for both the Bruins and the LA Kings during his career, now lives a much quieter life on Cape Cod with his wife Paula. The two own the popular Courtyard Restaurant in Bourne, where current Bruins players have been known to stop in from time to time.
Earlier this year Miller was interviewed at Dorchester’s Eire Pub for the ESPN short that was released last week.
Growing up, Miller recalled watching Wensink’s famous act of showmanship against Minnesota. And Miller admitted to later modeling his own playing style after Wensink’s. “He was kind of a [role model] for me,” Miller said. “I think he did his job for what an enforcer is supposed to do. I appreciated his forwardness and I tried to emulate that when I came up the ranks.”
These days the enforcer role that Wensink and Miller once embraced is becoming an endangered species as fighting is less a part of the game than ever before. Miller is not a fan of this shift, arguing that hockey “will lose more fans than they will gain.”
And that may be why ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 piece on Wensink is so powerful. It serves as a time capsule to how hockey once was played and how attitudes towards fighting in the game have shifted in the past three decades.