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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #83: Rick Middleton

With the possible exception of El Guapo, I don't believe there's been a better New England Sports nickname than Rick Middleton's Nifty. It's a perfect moniker for a guy who was a magician with the puck, and a perfectly Yankeeish word for a guy who embodied the ethos of the region despite his Ontarian roots. Nifty looked like a guy who would bag your groceries at Market Basket or smoke a Pall Mall outside a Seabrook fireworks joint. But he had the sweetest hands in the game and an total instinct for putting the biscuit in the basket.

The Boston Bruins absolutely burgled Rick Middleton from the New York Rangers for the used-up veteran Ken Hodge in 1976, and Nifty potted a hat trick in his first Boston game. From 1979 to 1984 he tallied at least forty goals and ninety points per season, made five of his six career All-Star Games, and nabbed a Lady Byng trophy in 1982 for his sportsmanship. He was a monster in the postseason, setting an as-yet-unbroken record in 1983 with 19 points in a series against Buffalo. There are more records - the guy was one of the best right wingers ever to lace up his skates.

Middleton was a leader in Boston too, wearing the A alongside captain Ray Bourque for many years. Nifty was one of the last guys to take the ice without a helmet, and while it was awesome to see those receding locks fly free out there old-timey-style, it came at a price. Middleton's career was cut too short by a puck to the head and the concussion that came with it. It's strange to think that a player I remember as an old man on the ice was only 34 when he hung them up.

Middleton's number 19 is in the rafters in Boston. He should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, too. He lives in New Hampshire now, so he has that going for him too.

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