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For Maritimers, loyalty to Bruins as deep as family ties to Boston cousins

Hockey fans Cecil Wright, right, and his friend Marc Cayouette display their support for the Boston Bruins at work in Halifax on Friday, June 3, 2011. The Bruins have a large fan base in the Maritimes, bolstered by family ties and historic north-south loyalties.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

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Hockey fans Cecil Wright, right, and his friend Marc Cayouette display their support for the Boston Bruins at work in Halifax on Friday, June 3, 2011. The Bruins have a large fan base in the Maritimes, bolstered by family ties and historic north-south loyalties.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX - The love of the Boston Bruins among Maritimers can run deep, bolstered by family ties, historic north-south loyalties and long-held passions for Bobby Orr.

As the Stanley Cup finals unfold, the Boston loyalists are increasingly spotted around the region in their jerseys, cheering for their rugged team against a suddenly disliked Vancouver Canucks squad.

The fan passion can run to extremes as the series switches to Boston.

Before each game, Nova Scotia Transport Minister Bill Estabrooks drops his front false teeth in his Bruins beer mug—part of his pre-game ritual in a den crammed with autographed player photographs that go back four decades.

Local sports broadcaster Cecil Wright, 56, isolates himself in his Halifax home, wearing his Milan Lucic jersey and forbidding any interruption as he watches a team he's loved since he was six-years-old.

"I don't watch a game of this magnitude in public," he said. "I don't want my eyes distracted."

And wherever Canucks fans go in Halifax, they seem to be confronted with the gold, white and black jersey.

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson found himself surrounded by several Halifax councillors sporting the jersey with the spoked wheel when he came to the city last week.

Coun. David Hendsbee was among those wearing a Bruins leather jacket alongside the Vancouver politician.

He says ties between Halifax and Boston are often tighter than with Montreal and Toronto, especially when it comes to sports.

"Sometimes Halifax is called the little Boston, or Boston is called a big Halifax," he said.

"If the Bruins win (the Stanley Cup), I will fly down that morning and stay up all night and get a spot somewhere to watch the parade and then come back home."

Wright says love of all things Boston is partly about family ties and partly about remembrances of greats like former defenceman Bobby Orr.

"There is nobody who was a fan of the old Bruins team who has ever jumped off of the bandwagon, believe me," said Wright. "We're still loyal, we're still passionate."

Like many Maritimers, Wright's father moved to Massachusetts to find work.

As a result, Wright grew up in Boston and Holliston, Mass., and followed the Bruins as Orr and Phil Esposito led the squad to powerhouse status.

When Wright moved back to Halifax he didn't leave the connection to the Bruins behind.

He also became aware of deep ties between the two cities.

Each year, a towering Nova Scotian Christmas tree is sent to Boston to grace its main square. The tree is in memory of Boston's assistance given in 1917, when a large portion of Halifax was flattened when a munitions ship exploded in the harbour.

To this day, Wright and many other fans watch Boston television and listen to radio broadcasts when the Bruins play, preferring what Wright calls "the home team" commentary.

As a boy, Estabrooks, 63, listened to the Bruins broadcasts on a transistor radio until late at night in his home near Amherst, N.S.

A huge fan of Orr, he has a large collection of Bruins memorabilia in his constituency office in Lakeside, including an autographed photo showing the defenceman sailing through the air after scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal in 1970.

"Now we're back," Estabrooks says of the current team.

Don't even suggest to Hendsbee, Wright or Estabrooks that Vancouver is a Canadian team.

"Give me a break," exclaims Wright.

He then lists the names of Maritimers on the Bruins squad, including forward Brad Marchand of Halifax and Adam McQuaid of Prince Edward Island.

As for the archrival Montreal Canadiens, a club that also has a deep pool of East Coast fans, Wright can't resist a little gloating after their exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Bruins.

"They're playing ping pong or something."

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