BOSTON (AP) – Charlie Jacobs sat at the top level of his team’s arena in front of five yellow-and-black Stanley Cup banners hanging from the ceiling.

Closer to him, just about where the net should sit, another banner stood out, this one colored red and black with a big “N” on it for the Northeastern University graduation ceremony scheduled two days later on the same floor.

Once again, the Boston Bruins ice was melted early and their home was available for other events.

For the 34th straight season – longer than the Jacobs family has owned the team that once had Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Joe Thornton – the season ended without a championship. Only four teams had fewer than Boston’s 74 points. And they’re still looking for a general manager six weeks after Mike O’Connell was fired.

“We have an opportunity in front of us,” said Jacobs, the team’s executive vice president, “and we’ve got to work very hard to make sure that we do make the best of it. It is a critical time.”

His family has long fought the rap that it was just a bunch of carpetbaggers from Buffalo, more concerned with selling hot dogs for its concessions business than providing a championship contender for passionate fans whose loyalty goes back several generations in their own families. His father Jeremy was more interested in the bottom line, critics said.

“Whoever wrote that or writes that doesn’t know him, never met him,” Charlie Jacobs said in an interview last week with The Associated Press. “You spend 10 minutes with the man, you’ll understand. He loves this game more than anything. It’s funny. I’m the youngest of six children. My father really has seven children. The seventh one is the Boston Bruins. He loves it like a child.”

Until the last few years, Jeremy Jacobs rarely was seen in Boston. He lives in the Buffalo area, where his Delaware North Cos. is based, and has been less visible than John Henry of the Red Sox or Robert Kraft of the Patriots, who own the town’s two most popular teams.

Charlie, 34, did attend Boston College and returned in September 2002 to have a physical presence in the Bruins front office.

Fortune magazine reported this year that Jeremy Jacobs is worth $1 billion. But the agreement that ended the 310-day lockout limited each team’s payroll to $39 million last season, making the Bruins more competitive with teams that outspent them in previous seasons. Now, Jacobs said, it’s up to the Bruins to spend wisely

Fans complained that trading Thornton wasn’t a wise decision. He was the team’s captain, best scorer and most recognizable player when he was shipped to San Jose last November for three players. Thornton led the NHL in scoring and is on one of the eight remaining playoff teams.

The trade “was a difficult moment for everybody,” Jacobs said. “The jury, in all fairness, should still be out on that deal until we see what happens in the coming year or two. Did it create more challenges? Of course. Are we ready to meet them? We better be.”

He wants to build the team around a core of young players that includes forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes and several defensemen.

Jacobs is in no rush to name a general manager but he, his father and president Harry Sinden have conducted interviews. Jeff Gorton, O’Connell’s assistant, is handling the job on an interim basis. The new general manager should have final say on whether coach Mike Sullivan returns, Jacobs said.

He disputed the public perception of the team his father bought in 1975, three years after the Bruins last Stanley Cup and 60 years after Jeremy’s own father opened a popcorn stand.

“My guess is that (criticism of his father) started somewhere and nobody stopped it right away and it snowballed,” said Jacobs, who believes his father has improved fans’ view of him.

But, Charlie Jacobs said, “the Boston Bruins have a significant battle ahead. There is a very common perception not only in Boston, but I believe even nationally, that the Boston Bruins are content to provide a good regular season but aren’t ever really built for the playoffs.”

He challenged that and saw the joy a championship can bring. He was at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, entertaining some clients, and got on the field to join the celebration after the final out of the Red Sox four-game sweep in 2004 for their first World Series title in 86 years.

“I saw this elderly woman that was sweeping up the dirt from home plate and the tears that she cried. That was remarkable,” Jacobs said. “I went home and eventually said, “OK, that was a great moment. It was a special time.’ My hope is someday that happens with this club.”

Just imagine a fan leaping over the boards and scraping up ice chips as a souvenir.

“That’s right,” Jacobs said. “Put it in a vial like holy water. Who knows? Who knows?”