Some sad news came out of the sports world over the weekend, particularly professional hockey, as the passing of former Boston Bruin’s great Gary Doak was announced. He died after a long and difficult bout with cancer at the age of 71. Many current and former South Bostonians were especially saddened by the news as, over the years, Gary made many close friends in the community that he took a liking to from his very first visit.
‘25’ was his number and by every account he was an outstanding defenseman during his two stints with the Bruins. He was part of the team during the 1965-1966 season, took a leave for a bit then came back and played from 1969 right through 1981 before finally retiring. And of course, Gary Doak was part of the 1969-1970 season that saw the B’s bring the Stanley Cup to Boston playing with other greats like Phil Esposito and the legendary Bobby Orr.
Gary learned to skate and play hockey on the frozen ponds of Canada as a young boy, as do so many other Canadian hockey greats even to this day. He honed his skills and the scouts snapped him up, as soon as they saw his remarkable abilities on the ice. He was a natural.
In later years, Gary Doak was hired by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to head up the agency’s recreation facilities and sports programing and served under then commissioner David Balfour. The two men were great friends prior to that and did much to bring big improvements to DCR during their time there.
As recreation director, Gary Doak’s duties brought him to South Boston on a regular basis where, along with Commissioner Balfour, he was helpful with ideas for improvements to the Murphy Skating Rink, the neighborhood’s beaches and parks and all things having to do with recreation and programming. It was during this time that he had formed many close bonds and lasting friendships with Southie’s various youth sports organizations including coaches, parents and of course the young players themselves. He would constantly be asked to sign his autograph not only by the parents and grandparents of local youths, who used to love watching him play during his days with the Bruins, but also by the youth. They may not have even been born during his time with the NHL, but would hear stories of his great skills from talk around the dinner table. He never refused an autograph and always gave it with a smile and a ‘thank you’. He was a true gentleman.
It wasn’t unusual to see Gary Doak taking a walk with his children around Castle Island or making a trip from his home in Saugus to watch a little league game at Moakley Field or a house league youth hockey game on his day off down at the ‘Murphy’. He really did enjoy spending time in South Boston and mingling with the locals where he felt so comfortable and was among good friends.
It’s important to know that Gary Doak’s time on skates and wearing the black and gold jersey of a Boston Bruin didn’t end when he retired from being a regular NHL player. He continued playing in charity games with the Bruin’s Alumni organization which raised money for all sorts of worthy causes and charities. That’s the type of man Gary was. Another Bruin’s great, Cam Neely, in response to the death of his friend said the following: “It’s a sad day for the sport of hockey. Gary did so much for the organization, even after he retired. He was always available to help others.”
The great Gary Doak will be missed by hockey fans everywhere and certainly by the many friends he made in South Boston – one of his favorite places. Rest in Peace Gary Doak and thank you for all the work you did, while walking among us, and, for your friendship.