Rick Middleton, whose slick moves en route to 448 career goals earned him the nickname “Nifty,” saw his No. 16 raised to the rafters by the Boston Bruins before Thursday night’s game against the New York Islanders at TD Garden.
Middleton, who played the final 12 of his 14 NHL seasons in Boston, scored 40 or more goals and amassed more than 90 points over a stretch of five consecutive seasons starting in 1979-80.
“I’ve had four months to think about it, and I hate repeating myself, but honestly, I believe it is the biggest honor that certainly a retired athlete can get in his career,” he said.
The right winger had a career-best 51 goals in 1981-82, the same season he won the Lady Byng Trophy (sportsmanship combined with a high level of play). The three-time All-Star topped the 100-point mark twice — with a 44-59-103 line in 1980-81 and 47-58-105 in 1983-84.
But even with all his offensive prowess, Middleton didn’t neglect the other end of the ice. He twice finished among the top 10 vote-getters for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward.
“You don’t see that kind of talent anymore,” Hall of Famer John Bucyk, a onetime Middleton linemate, told The Boston Globe. “He was playing keepaway out there. And he did that as a penalty killer, too. He’d get the puck and you’d think we were the ones with the power play.”
Middleton, who turns 65 on Tuesday, is the 11th Bruin to have his number retired, joining Eddie Shore (No. 2), Lionel Hitchman (3), Bobby Orr (4), Dit Clapper (5), Phil Esposito (7), Cam Neely (8), Bucyk (9), Milt Schmidt (15), Terry O’Reilly (24) and Ray Bourque (77).
In all, 19 players have worn No. 16 for the Bruins — including center Derek Sanderson, in whose honor Middleton said he wore the number. Kaspars Daugavins was the last to wear it, in 2013.
“In the last six or seven years, I’ve been seeing that it’s not out there; nobody’s wearing it,” Middleton said. “All of a sudden, it happened. In July, a phone call in July; I never thought it would ever happen that way, but I just have to thank Cam [Neely, now Bruins president] so much for doing it. … It culminated tonight.”
Acquired in an offseason deal with the New York Rangers for veteran right wing Ken Hodge, Middleton quickly showed the Bruins what they had when he scored a hat trick at Boston Garden on opening night Oct. 7, 1976.
Middleton finished his career third all-time among Bruins goal scorers with 402, trailing only Bucyk (545) and Esposito (459), and is fourth in points for the team with 898.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.