Happy 2019- Winter Classic thoughts

2019 is here and the Boston Bruins helped ring in the new year in style with a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL’s annual (since 2008) Winter Classic outdoor game.

Boston’s third trip outside on New Year’s Day was played at the iconic University of Notre Dame football stadium in South Bend, Indiana, the first time a non-football event was played in the home of the Fighting Irish. The B’s were 1-1 in the NHL’s signature event, beating the Philadelphia Flyers at (Frozen) Fenway Park eight years ago on a Marco Sturm OT goal, but getting pumped by the Montreal Canadiens at the home of the New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, in 2016 by a 5-1 score.

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Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

For goaltender Tuukka Rask, the 2019 game was a chance for redemption, and he found it, playing well with 36 saves including multiple breakaways and grade A scoring chances. It was also a milestone event for the veteran netminder who has only known Boston as his NHL home since the 2007-08 season. He passed Hall of Fame goalie Cecil “Tiny” Thompson as the goalie with the most career appearances in franchise history. Rask will soon own the most regular season victories for the team as well.

The soon-to-be-32-year-old may be the most polarizing figure we have seen and covered in the 40+ years of following the team as fan and correspondent. A top talent and former 1st-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was dealt to the B’s for Andrew Raycroft even-steven nearly 13 years ago, Rask is often a study in extremes. Ardent fans and supporters often pointing fingers at everyone else on the roster but the man in net when the team doesn’t win with him in the net, while there is an equally obnoxious segment of Boston fans who seem to revel in affixing blame to Rask at every opportunity and making him a convenient scapegoat for their frustrations with the club. There seems to be very little middle ground in the increasingly toxic social media environment when it comes to Rask, but at least in this space, we’ve always tried to be fair-minded in our treatment of the embattled veteran. On this day, he did his job well, and looked every bit the player the Bruins need him to be if they are going to secure a spot in the NHL playoffs for the third consecutive season this spring. The combat math is pretty simple: Rask and Jaroslav Halak give the Bruins the best 1-2 goalie punch in the league. When both of them are on top of their games, the team can beat anyone.

Which brings us to the next point- Patrice Bergeron. It never gets old watching the de facto captain play a textbook complete game of hockey. NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp talked yesterday after the game about how if you polled most NHL players about which player they would want on their team in a one-game, winner-take-all match for the Stanley Cup, you would probably see a large percentage of them vote for Boston’s consummate pro.

Yesterday, we all saw his greatness for what it is- a furious back check to deny a scoring chance at one end that would have opened up a 3-1 advantage for the ‘Hawks, and moments later, an effortless backhand shot that tied the game and opened the door for the B’s to win it on Sean “Clutch” Kuraly’s third period rebound marker (another backhand shot).

At this point of Bergeron’s career, we’re out of superlatives to describe him. He’s the hockey student of the game’s idol- a player who simply does everything right, all day, every day. Some folks are drawn to the sizzle that so many super talents of hockey provide with their speed, pace and skill- you absolutely need those guys. And, the players who rack up oodles of points are always going to get more positive attention than those with middle-of-the-pack numbers. Here’s the rub, though-  those who have careers with skin in the game- whose job security depends on being on the right side of the win-loss column- Bergeron is an inspiration. The Bruins may not have multiple Stanley Cup championships to show for it, but since Bergeron joined the club as a precocious 18-year-old rookie in 2003, it has been a prosperous era for the team despite setbacks and disappointments along the way.

It’s hard to believe because there were other players who popped offensively earlier in their careers, but Bergeron has quietly and steadily climbed to be the third-highest scorer in the storied 2003 NHL Entry Draft class, behind only Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf with his 769 career points in 989 games. He’s tied with Thomas Vanek (who will play his 1,000th NHL game on Jan. 4), but Vanek’s days of high production are over- Bergeron will blow by him and establish himself solidly in 3rd behind Staal and Getzlaf. What’s important about this is that offense has never really been the thing that has defined Bergeron’s Hall of Fame career, but he’s proven that the consistent approach of 50-60 points year after year, has helped to propel him to the top of one of the greatest collective draft groups in NHL history. He should have gone over 1,000 NHL games played about 2-3 years ago and would be closing in on 1,000 career points and might be the No. 1 scorer of the 2003 draftees had it not been for 1.5 years of  lockouts and almost 2 full seasons lost to injuries of various types. But even with all the missed time, Bergeron’s impact on the Bruins and the game of hockey cannot be undersold. He is the greatest defensive forward in NHL history. No disrespect to Canadiens great Bob Gainey, who inspired the very Frank J. Selke Trophy which rewards two-way excellence up front, but Bergeron hasn’t benefited from a dynastic machine that the Habs were in the 1970’s, and the offensive production isn’t close.

Simply put- No. 37 is the best there ever was, and he’s inspired a generation of players who want to do things the right way and focus on the habits and details that are lost on so many who can only really focus on the flashy stuff that makes the game so great. There’s room for it all of course, but if I’m in a 1-game knife fight for my hockey life, there’s one guy I’d sell my soul for to have in my lineup: Patrice Bergeron.

Brad Marchand is heating up at the right time. We of course love what David Pastrnak is doing, but the driving engine of Boston’s offense is the Lil’ Ball of Hate, and when he’s finding the back of the net, the wins are plentiful. He generated multiple scoring chances and in the waning seconds, hit the empty net- notching his 42nd point of the season to quietly move closer to Pastrnak’s team-leading 50 points.

Just like Bergeron, both of these forwards embody the luck of the NHL draft- had anyone known what kind of an impact they would have, you’d have seen them go off the board with the 1st or 2nd overall selections in their respective years, and yet, they both essentially fell into Boston’s lap. In a time where fans spend more time kvetching about who the team missed on, it’s sometimes nice to be reminded that the B’s scouting staff, long under the guiding hand of veteran talent chief Scott Bradley and Ryan Nadeau’s vision and leadership, has had some tremendous bargain finds over the years. And we haven’t even gotten into Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jack Studnicka and Jakub Lauko yet.

And like Bergeron, Marchand is ascending to the top of the 2006 draft’s scoring list. Of all the players from that class, only Niklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux and Jonathan Toews have more than Marchand’s 503 points and counting.

Finally, it was great to see Zdeno Chara out there after returning from injury. Like Tim Wakefield near the end of his MLB career, Chara is a lifetime Bruin, though he played elsewhere before making the Hub his home. He has quietly racked up nearly 1,000 games in the Black and Gold, and like Bergeron, is headed for a place in Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s not the horse he was in his prime, but the steady play, experience and value he provides cannot be understated. Once he retires, whenever that is, the B’s will have a challenge to replace what he means to the club on and off the ice. Instead of rushing to anoint the next wave of youth (and there are some worthy heirs coming down the pipeline), we should all embrace the legend and enjoy him for as long as we can. Once he’s gone, we may not ever see another player quite like him.

Okay- that about does it. Here’s hoping you all have a great and prosperous 2019. Thanks as always for reading the sporadic posts on the blog- didn’t cover all the ground I wanted to on this one, but be on the lookout for more content as the season goes on.

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames

Bergeron scores 300th goal, Flashback to 2nd Olympic gold

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Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

After missing the last 16 games to injury, Patrice Bergeron showed zero signs of rust, promptly scoring the first 2 goals of his team’s Saturday matinee against the struggling Nashville Predators, and adding an assist (here’s hoping the NHL properly credits him with a 2nd helper on David Pastrnak’s 2-on-1 dagger goal to make it 4-2) to lead his team to another key win, as the Boston Bruins roster is slowly getting healthy again.

The second tally, which put his team up 2-1 briefly early in the third period, was the 300th career NHL for the 45th overall draft pick in the storied 2003 NHL Draft. He’s still looking for his 1,000th career game in the Black & Gold- a quest derailed by 1.5 lockouts, nearly an entire season lost in 2007-08 on a Randy Jones hit from behind and numerous other setbacks that have taken a physical toll on Boston’s Mr. Everything.

300 goals in a Bruins uniform.

As the esteemed Kevin Paul Dupont pointed out, he’s only the sixth player in team history to accomplish that feat. B’s 300 club members (by order of goal totals): Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Rick MiddletonRaymond Bourque and Cam Neely. If you know anything about Bruins team history, then you know that’s quite an esteemed group to be a part of…Boston hockey’s very own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And just think how much sooner Bergeron would have hit the scoring milestone had he not missed so many games over the years.

Don’t tell him he’s 33, either- he shows no sign of slowing down. Even if he loses a step in his skating, which was never elite to begin with, he’s such an intelligent player with a sublime set of mitts, that it’s hard to envision his game going off a cliff all at once.

Enjoy his excellence while you can- he’s one of the greatest players in franchise history, and nothing lasts forever.

Here’s a trip down memory lane going back to the 2014 Winter Olympics when Bergeron was still on the right side of 30 and had just helped Team Canada to a second consecutive gold medal.

You can’t say it enough- when he walks away from NHL ice for the last time as a player, he’ll have built one hell of a legacy. It’s pretty damn fine today at the end of 2018…what more is in store for us?

Enjoy the ride!

Here’s a re-posting of an article I wrote in New England Hockey Journal in February, 2014- K.L.

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Man with the Golden Gun: Patrice ‘Mr. Everything’ Bergeron nearing Perfection

Perfection is not a word taken lightly.

Using it to describe any athlete or performance, no matter how sublime, threatens to cheapen its meaning. When using it to describe one Patrice Bergeron-Cleary, there aren’t many other roads you can travel that won’t lead you back to perfection in its purest form.

“Whatever it takes, right?” Bergeron said to NBC’s Pierre McGuire after a two-assist performance over Norway to kick off the schedule. “I’m just happy to be here, trying to chip in any way I can. Whether it’s the right side, the left side, it doesn’t matter to me.”

That’s as close to perfect an answer you will get from the veteran Boston Bruins heart and soul center, who also just captured his second Olympic gold medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. If they didn’t know it already, proud Canadians and hockey fans around the globe are certainly coming to grips with the importance of the man teammates and coaches call “Mr. Everything”.

With Canada’s third Olympic triumph in four iterations going back to 2002, it seems to strain the bounds of credulity to realize that Bergeron has been such an integral part of multiple championships beyond Olympic competition.

“(Bergeron) deserves very much to be honored correctly,” B’s teammate Torey Krug said via email after Canada captured gold to close out the winter games. “He is the most honest guy I have ever met and that’s what makes him special. When he comes to the rink, he’s honest with himself in terms of effort and his mentality. He never takes a day off.”

In many ways, Bergeron’s hockey stardom defies logic. Nearly eleven years ago, he was completely passed up in the first round of the NHL draft in Nashville because scouts felt he wasn’t big enough or fast enough. A few months later, he broke camp with the Bruins a little over 60 days after he turned 18 precisely because he proved he was.

Back then, Bergeron was a shy teenager who spoke fluent if heavily accented English, but he sure could speak the language of an impact player from the get go. Some things may have evolved over the decade-plus he’s skated for the Black and Gold, but what absolutely has not changed is his disciplined approach and sheer presence as part of any winning formula.

“I think that a lot of what I do is natural,” a 17-year-old Bergeron said in the very first sit down interview he did with New England Hockey Journal at the 2003 NHL draft. “But I always work and prove my place. I think that (vision/hockey sense) is natural, but the other parts of the game have to come when you work hard. It’s like when you learn on the job and as you work more, you get more confident and better at your job. With me, it’s the same thing.”

He came into the NHL a virtual unknown as the league’s youngest player in the 2003-04 campaign, but was a world champion before he turned 19. Team Canada saw enough to add him to the 2004 World Championship roster after the NHL rookie’s B’s were unceremoniously dumped by the hated Montreal Canadiens (and his current bench boss, Claude Julien if that doesn’t beat all) in the first round.

A little more than six months later, the 2004-05 NHL lockout meant that Bergeron was adding a World Jr. Championship title (and tournament MVP honors) to his resume, the first player ever to win a hockey senior world championship before doing the under-20 thing that so many of the elite NHL players go through before they become pros.

He stands for so much more than the on-ice success he’s enjoyed since first stepping foot in the TD Garden dressing room. If not for Zdeno Chara, Bergeron would be unequivocally wearing the captain’s ‘C’ in Boston, but his humility, inner fire and unimpeachable credentials make him the ideal alternate, and heir apparent to the B’s captaincy when that day eventually comes.

“If he’s feeling down he doesn’t get too down,” Krug said. “If he’s confident and on a roll he doesn’t get too high. He pushes himself and it forces other guys to do the same if they want to stay and compete at the level he is at.”

When Bergeron became the youngest player in team history to hit the 30-goal mark at 20, he appeared poised to become one of the club’s top snipers. A crushing hit from behind by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones a little over a year later nearly ended Bergeron’s career, but when he returned during the 2008-09 season, he reinvented himself as one of the NHL’s purest defensive centers.

Since then, all Bergeron has done is won an Olympic gold medal on home soil in Vancouver despite a nagging groin injury that left him a shell of himself. Oh, and then there’s that encore he had in the same town in the spring of 2011, when he hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head along with the rest of his Bruins mates, bringing hockey championship mana to Boston for the first time in 39 years.

For good measure, Bergeron added a Spengler Cup to his trophy case during last season’s lockout when he was playing in Switzerland alongside former B’s teammate Tyler Seguin. Hosted by Swiss team HC Davos just after Christmas each year and considered the world’s oldest invitational hockey tournament, Bergeron’s made the most of his presence on Team Canada, thanks to another round of NHL labor strife.

Whether you need the ultimate team award like Lord Stanley’s chalice or a pair of Olympic gold medals, or an individual accolade like the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which Bergeron won in 2012 for being the NHL’s top defensive forward, the 28-year-old has already delivered one hundredfold that other players have spent many more years trying in vain to achieve. Multiple championships are the closest thing to perfection we have in the world of team sports, and Bergeron is among the best.

If there’s been a recent blemish on Bergeron’s fantastical hockey resume, one could point to last spring’s defeat by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, a true black-and-blue series that saw the Boston alternate captain exceed any sane threshold for pain to compete.

Broken rib… check. Separated shoulder…check. Collapsed lung…check. Yet, instead of checking into the ICU, he very nearly willed his team to victory with one of the grittiest, most productive finals performances in team history.

So, even when the a-ha! Sherlock Holmes moment comes when you might say that Patrice Bergeron is indeed imperfect, he still did everything humanly possible to debunk that notion. As fine a player Bergeron is, in hockey, you can’t go it alone.

“He brings the same thing to the table every game, whether were playing last place team or playing in the finals,” said Krug. “His honesty has influenced everyone in the locker room. He could be a top scorer in the NHL but he chooses to be a bigger part of the puzzle on one of the most consistent teams in the league.”

Nearly 11 years after the B’s used the 45th overall compensation pick they took from the NHL to allow Bill Guerin to walk away to Big D and collect a $9 million payday on Bergeron, Boston’s payoff has been astounding.

The team not only has reaped the rewards of his presence and individual play as Bergeron continues his climb within the top-20 of the team’s all-time leading scorers, but he helped lead them to a Stanley Cup championship, a two-goal Game 7 showing in 2011 a fitting coda to how important he is. It’s why they refused to even let him reach free agency, locking him up for another seven years last summer when he had a full year remaining on his existing deal signed back before that magical return to glory three years ago.

Mr. Everything? To some B’s fans, he just might be the only thing that prevented USA’s big flameout in Sochi from being any more disappointing.

But even with another gold medal to go with the others and a Stanley Cup ring, Bergeron knows how agonizing it was to get so close to winning a second ring only to come up short.

And if Mr. Everything has his way, the only fitting follow up to an Olympic triumph would be raising another Stanley Cup banner in Boston next October.

That would be perfect.

3 Amigos Christmas 2018 Podcast: Bruins Talk, World Junior Preview

Boston Bruins v New York Rangers - Game Four

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 23: Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins looks on against the New York Rangers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 23, 2013 in New York City. The Rangers won 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With the holiday break upon us, we got the band back together for the first Scouting Post podcast since early September.  In this episode, we talk Boston Bruins and the upcoming World Junior Championship in Vancouver, kicking off on Boxing Day (Dec. 26).

The 3 Amigos- Reed Duthie, Kirk Luedeke and Dominic Tiano bring you our take on the B’s as they deal with injuries but have managed to keep their heads above water, leap-frogging the Canadiens for one of the wild card spots with a 4-0 win at the Bell Centre Monday.  The Amigos give Torey Krug his due, but also talk about his future in Boston. We talk some of the youngsters like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Colby Cave, Jeremy Lauzon and others, analyzing what the opportunities  to get into the Boston lineup might mean down the road for GM Don Sweeney and his options to improve the big roster. Kirk goes on a bit of a rant over David Backes and the way he gets treated by some out there.We also dig into past drafts and the tendency to focus on missed picks/players the Bruins didn’t draft vs. those they did. Dom also breaks down undrafted free agent OHL goalie Kyle Keyser and why he might be the sleeper surprise in net for the B’s who have quietly built up their future net prospects with a solid trio in Keyser, Daniel Vladar and Jeremy Swayman.

On the WJC front, Reed breaks down Team Sweden in detail, while Dom predicts the teams he expects to leave Vancouver with medals.

It’s a solid 100 minutes of commercial-free hockey talk- we hope you’ll stick with it.

Ok- enough with the intro- here’s the audio file. Happy Holidays to all and thanks for listening!

Here’s a link to the podcast on SoundCloud for those who want to listen/download there:

 

NHL lands in Seattle…& it’s not just about grunge anymore.

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OK- identifying Seattle only with the grunge alternative music movement of the early 90’s widely credited with “killing” 80’s hair metal  is selling the fine Pacific Northwest city short, but today, the NHL’s Board of Governors unanimously voted to grant Seattle a franchise, making it the 32nd city in the NHL- to begin playing in the 2021-22 season.

That will be 20 years after the San Jose Sharks became the league’s 22nd team in the 1991-92 campaign, starting a wave of expansion that saw the Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Florida Panthers all join the NHL in 1992 and 1993.

Back then, grunge (defined as a fusion of punk rock and heavy metal with a characteristic “dirty” or “fuzzy” sound) was in its heyday- the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains all taking the music mainstream. To a lesser extent, Seattle bands like Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., Screaming Trees, Green River, 7 Year Bitch (more punk than grunge probably, but from Seattle), Skin Yard, TAD to name a few helped keep the movement popular throughout the decade of the 90’s. It’s also interesting to note that of the “Big 4” of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is the only frontman still alive (see what I did there?) and even so, he succeeded Andrew Wood, the former lead singer of Mother Love Bone. MLB was the band that essentially became Pearl Jam after his death to a drug overdose in 1990, with guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament  teaming up with Vedder, Mike McCready and drummer Dave Krusen to launch the group who is arguably the face of Seattle grunge (but you can certainly make an argument for someone else).

The city is no stranger to hockey, as the Seattle Metropolitans existed from 1915-24, and won the 1917 Stanley Cup, the first U.S.-based team to capture the silver hardware. You can read up on Seattle’s history of pro hockey teams in a pretty good Seattle Times piece here. More recently, the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds have been in existence since 1985, succeeding the Seattle Breakers (1977-85) after the team sold to new ownership, who instituted the name change. They play at the ShoWare Center in Kent, some 20 miles south of downtown Seattle. The franchise has won a single WHL title in its existence and has never captured a Memorial Cup as champions of the Canadian Hockey League (major junior).

Notable T-Birds alumni include: Glenn Anderson, Mathew Barzal, Ken Daneyko, Tim Hunter, John Kordic, Brooks Laich, Patrick Marleau, Petr Nedved, Chris Osgood, Turner Stevenson and Ryan Walter.  Former Bruins who played for the T-Birds: Zdenek Blatny, Matt Hervey, Jamie Huscroft, Jeremy Reich, Rob Tallas and Nate Thompson.

The Seattle NHL team has a full slate of franchise-building ahead, starting with a name and then all of the foundational work that will go into creating a full front office, plus the hockey operations and business staffs. Hey- anybody looking for a Midwest USA-based amateur scout? Anyone? Bueller?

And, we haven’t even gotten into what the 32nd member of tbe NHL will mean for divisional realignment, but it will all be sorted out in due time.

Hockey and grunge- the NHL came to the Pac-NW 20 years too late to capitalize on the music craze, but you know the old saying- Better late than never. And given the fact that Seattle has a 101-year-old Stanley Cup champion on record, as the late great Chris Cornell would sing (scream?): “I’ve been away for too long…”

 

Nifty’s nifty night in Boston

Middleton retirement

(Image courtesy of NHL.com)

It took a shootout and winning goal on the fourth iteration from rookie Ryan Donato to secure a 2-1 victory for the Bruins against the NY Islanders (Brad Marchand tallied Boston’s lone regulation goal) but the home team closed out a special night in which one of the franchise’s greats had his number 16 officially retired.

Richard D. “Rick” Middleton, known around the Boston Garden as “Nifty” from 1976-88, saw his digits raised to the rafters in a nice pre-game ceremony. The former Oshawa Generals great and first-round draft pick of the NY Rangers was acquired in one of longtime B’s GM Harry Sinden’s heists, sending veteran Ken Hodge to Broadway to rejoin his pal Phil Esposito for the electrifying but inconsistent Middleton, who was still figuring out how to be a pro hockey player in the Big Apple.

It didn’t take Middleton long to figure it out, and he became one of Boston’s true hockey stars in the late 70’s and 80’s. Although often lost in the mix when it comes to Bruins greats over the years, Nifty would end up making three trips to the Stanley Cup finals during his Bruins tenure, and he was a member of the 1979 B’s squad that experienced devastation and heartbreak in Montreal in the infamous “too many men on the ice” game 7. He’s the most recent Bruin to win a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player, earned after the 1981-82 season.

In the early 80’s Middleton was the linchpin at forward for some very good Bruins teams, but they unfortunately ran into the NY Islanders dynasty.

What could have been a storybook ending for Middleton’s NHL career ended in a sweep by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1988 Stanley Cup final, but on the way, Nifty exorcised some Canadiens demons by being on the first B’s team to beat the Habs since World War Two was ongoing. Middleton’s breakaway game-winning goal in Game 3 at the Garden may be one of his most iconic moments in Boston; although he wore a Jofa helmet and no longer had the long golden locks that flowed behind his helmetless head when he got up to speed for so many seasons, the “old man” still had it and scored one of the most symbolic goals of his career.

Middleton didn’t make it into the Hockey Hall of Fame and in all honesty- he likely never will. But, for a lad growing up watching the Bruins, there was something magical about him. People can grumble about the team retiring his number if they want, but for those of us who saw him in his prime, elevating his play year after year in the midst of the Firewagon Hockey era of the late 70’s and 80’s, Nifty belongs in the rafters.

Thanks to Tuukka Rask’s excellent play in net, and Donato’s slick deke and tuck of the puck inside the post for the winning score- a move that no doubt made Mr. Middleton smile- one nifty, nifty night (to coin a phrase from Jack Edwards) ended the way it should have: 2 more points in the bank and one of Boston’s classiest and more unappreciated stars honored the right way.

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

Here’s the Middleton retirement ceremony highlight video- published on YouTube by the NHL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOCyB2wj6b4

 

 

 

 

 

What, us worry?

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Zdeno Chara (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

You mean to tell us that since two critical veterans went down with significant injuries, the Bruins are 3-0-2 with 8 points out of 10?

And that, dear readers, is why they play the games.

Given the Boston Bruins’ recent run of wins, welcome news despite not having two of the franchise’s faces out for at least 4 weeks or longer: captain Zdeno Chara and defacto captain Patrice Bergeron. The duo of future Hockey Hall of Famers are more than likely at the top of a short list of players that if you polled fans before the season, were the guys the team could least afford to lose for extended stretches of the 2018-19 campaign.

And yet, as the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, the B’s pulled out two close wins, a 2-1 OT contest against the underachieving Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Friday and then Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, helping Boston secure the sixth-best record in the NHL to date. Of course, few would have guessed that the Jeff Skinner-led Buffalo Sabres would be sitting atop the league standings as November comes to a close, but that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, let us focus on the Bruins and how they’ve put themselves in position to remain competitive despite suffering through some personnel setbacks that would cripple many teams in any league.

Continue reading

Thursday Flashback: My 1st David Pastrnak feature- Feb 2015

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David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

If you’re a Bruins fan, then it’s likely you’re indulging on a steady diet of Pasta.

Even if you’re cutting the carbs, is there anyone to be more excited about these days than David Pastrnak? With 17 goals in his first 18 games in 2018-19, we haven’t seen scoring this fierce in Boston since Cam Neely’s 50 goals in 44 games way back when yours truly was a senior in college during the 1993-94 season.

I was in Boston in January 2015 on the night then-GM Peter Chiarelli announced that the B’s would keep the Czech wunderkind in the NHL (thereby burning the 1st year of his ELC), and was lucky enough to sit down with him a day later to do the February 2015 New England Hockey Journal feature for that month.

Even back then, you just knew he was going to be special- he was humble, self-deprecating, and extremely hard-working, with Torey Krug pointing out that the 18-year-old was the first player on the ice at practice and the last one off. I still owe Eric Tosi (now with the Vegas Golden Knights) a debt of gratitude for not kicking me out of the B’s dressing room when he came in after most every other player had left. “Tos” hooked a brother up, and this remains one of my most favorite pieces written in 17 years covering the Bruins for the NEHJ.

Here it is- enjoy the journey back a little less than 4 years ago. He’s smashed expectations and to me- he’s the modern 21st century version of Rick Middleton.

Enjoy!- KL

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Pasta! Rookie sensation makes a big splash in the Bay State

By Kirk Luedeke

(Originally published in New England Hockey Journal, Feb. 2015)

David Pastrnak’s pro hockey journey has only just begun.

It started out with bus rides to a small rink in a small, blue collar European city, followed by two years in Sweden before the young prodigy with the infectious smile and a world of potential arrived in Boston last fall. The 18-year-old Czech Republic native has energized the Bruins with his mix of talent and unbridled passion for the game.

He’s a rare find in the modern era of the NHL: a teenager who is immediately ready to contribute, yet somehow managed to slip past the decision-making cycles of those early-drafting teams who could have benefited from his services and maturity the most. Instead, the Bruins landed Pastrnak in the bottom five selections of last June’s NHL Entry Draft and in just eight months since, he’s managed carve out a niche with the big club.

On Jan. 15, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli announced that the kid everyone expected would be in Sweden playing pro hockey is staying in Boston beyond the 10-game window that will toll the first of a three-year Entry-Level Contract signed last July.

“Right now I’m going to be with the team but I just need to keep working hard,” said Pastrnak. “I try to play my best and don’t think about anything else, just try to do all for the team and just play hockey.”

For anyone who saw Pastrnak’s electrifying play in a two-game stretch where he potted four goals, the decision to keep him up was a no-brainer. The B’s now have an opportunity to develop their young prize while also getting some immediate bang for the proverbial buck.

“He’s been a real pleasant surprise in terms of his coachability and willingness to learn the other things that successful NHL players can do,” Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney said recently. “We’re encouraging him to round out his game while still maintaining that 1-on-1 skill that he brings, but we need to have a little patience to see him get stronger. “

Although the 6-foot, 172-pound right wing is sure to face a season of peaks and valleys as he adjusts to the daily grind of the NHL, legions of Bruins fans clamoring for more skill in the Boston lineup have quickly embraced his electrifying style of play and obvious speed and puck skills as a man dying of thirst would take to an oasis in the desert.

The speedy Pastrnak has been forced to grow up fast in the face of personal tragedy. His own back story and the rapidity with which he’s emerged as the NHL’s youngest gun speaks to a remarkable talent, character and maturity that belies his youth.

Born and raised in the Czech Republic city of Havirov, Pastrnak grew up around the game. He said that his father, a former professional hockey player in their native country who also spent a couple of seasons in Germany, put him on skates for the first time at age two-and-a-half. By age three, he was playing competitive hockey.

But if Pastrnak’s love of the game today shines through in much of what he says and how he carries himself on and off the ice, he didn’t necessarily start out as a fanatical devotee of the sport.

“My mom told me that sometimes I didn’t want to go to practice so she (would) just leave me (at home),” Pastrnak said. “My parents were never like, ‘ you have to go practice’ they always asked me: ‘do I want to go practice?’ and I said yes or no, but if I said no, I stayed home. I think that’s an important thing too, because right now some parents are just pushing their children to play hockey all the time and that’s maybe how they stop liking it, you know?”

Pastrnak wanted to be a goalie when he first started playing, but the cost of equipment and his own father’s influence as a forward changed his mind pretty quickly in his early minor hockey days in Havirov.

Built as a coal-mining town after the Second World War, the city’s some 77,000 inhabitants work hard for all they have. With just one hockey rink in town and a single professional team (AZ Havirov) that plays a rung below the Czech Republic’s top league, it’s not surprising that those humble roots and beginning for Pastrnak have allowed him to identify with a lot of what Boston stands for and certainly a lot of the die-hard fans who come out to cheer on their Bruins.

“I live on the beginning of main-street going through the whole city and at the end of the street is (the only) hockey rink,” said Pastrnak. “I always went there on the usual bus with all the people because we didn’t have a car. It’s a small town and the only sport in Havirov is probably hockey, so we have a really good crowd and fans there.”

He began his hockey developmental path in his native Havirov, rising through the pro club’s corresponding minor system until age 16, when his father and family encouraged him to make the big step of leaving home for a higher level of competition in Sweden.

In 2012, he landed in Södertälje, an industrial city about 20 miles to the southwest of the Swedish capital Stockholm. Pastrnak’s new locale was known for being the headquarters and manufacturing base fro the Scania AB truck company as well as former tennis great Björn Borg’s hometown.

It was difficult for Pastrnak to leave when he did because his dad was battling cancer at the time. On the one hand, the teenager knew going to Sweden meant he would have a much better chance of landing on the NHL’s radar, but on the other, he didn’t know just how much time Milan Pastrnak had left. Unfortunately for David and the rest of his family, his dad lost the fight against the illness in May, 2013.

That personal loss saw the younger Pastrnak emerge as a force the following season, his draft year, opening eyes with his play with Södertälje’s top pro club, competing in Sweden’s Allsvenskan or second division. It was then that he dedicated every goal, every point to his father’s memory- beginning a personal practice of kissing his hand and pointing to the sky when he found the back of the net. As the calendar flipped over to 2014, Pastrnak had made the Czech Republic World Junior Championship team and was cruising to be selected in the June entry draft’s first round.

“At that time it was easy because my dad and my mom and everybody told me to just go there because it’s the best for you and just improve,” he said of leaving home. “It doesn’t matter how old I was –it was an important move and I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t go to Sweden.”

Riding the wave of a strong performance in the storied Under-20 tournament at the tender age of 17, Pastrnak soon took a big hit that knocked him out of the lineup for several months with a concussion. Although he was able to make it back to be a part of the Czech Republic’s silver medal-winning entry at the 2014 World Under-18 Championship in April, he wasn’t himself.

The lack of playing time in a stretch of about 80 days, a key period when NHL scouts are solidifying their views, and the mediocre performance in the event that left teams with their last impression of him didn’t help his case. More than one talent evaluator has said since that the missed games and subpar U18 showing factored into his draft day slide being projected as a top-15 pick entering the season.

Of course, there are positive stories of Pastrnak at this time, too. He arrived in Toronto for the NHL’s annual pre-draft combine, but the airline lost his bags, so he had to borrow clothes from fellow Czech and good friend Petr Vrana for his initial interviews. He took it all in stride, exhibiting none of the nervousness one would expect and made a positive impression on the teams he interviewed with.

Boston was one team in particular that was sold on his potential and attitude. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli spoke openly on the draft floor in Philadelphia after the team snagged Pastrnak with the 25th overall selection that the team tried to move up from that spot to get him. That attempt was unsuccessful, yet the B’s still got their man, and with hindsight being 20/20, they’re real glad they did.

Management wasted little time in getting Pastrnak signed to a three-year deal after he shined at their July prospects development camp, and made it clear to him that with some work, there was a pathway to the NHL as soon as the upcoming season.

“Since I’ve been drafted I just try to do the best what I can to show they picked the right player,” he said after a recent game in Boston. “And (it’s) just kind of motivation to show everybody, even the 24 teams in front of (Boston) which picked another guy, so it’s kind of motivating to work hard and show the mistake to everybody.”

A shoulder injury suffered in early training camp sessions prevented the team and its fans from getting an extended look at Pastrnak in the preseason, but he immediately established himself in Providence.

“It’s his foot speed, ability to make plays, putting defenses on their heels and second effort on the puck,” Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked about the things Pastrnak did in the AHL that will keep him in Boston. “He plays better away from the puck than when he got there in training camp. There’s guys who come down here and they take it to heart what you tell them and there’s other players who are like, ‘when I get (to Boston) I’m an offensive guy,’ and they don’t get it- there’s a Bruins way and that’s just the way it is.”

Growing up, Pastrnak idolized current Boston linemate David Krejci, 10 years his senior. With the announcement that the B’s were keeping the rookie beyond the audition window, Krejci commented about his new “Czech buddy,” a line rounded out by hulking left wing Milan Lucic, whose heavy game own Serbian roots make him a welcome part of the trio.

“It’s not set in stone that we’re going to play together for the rest of the year, but for now the last couple of games have been pretty strong games, so as long as we keep working on things in practices and working hard in games there’s a pretty good chance we’ll stick together,” Krejci said.

Beyond the obvious natural ability and gifted hands, Pastrnak’s intelligence and willingness to learn and improve his overall game have not only resonated with the coaching staff, but with the players in both Providence and Boston as well.

“He’s got all the talent in the world and I think that energizes this team when a guy like him comes in and he’s always smiling, he’s always have fun and he’s always looking to get better,” Boston defenseman Torey Krug said after a team practice. “I think he’s still on the ice right now- he’s always the last one off the ice and I think that’s what makes the young players that stick…that’s what makes them special.”

He put up more than a point-per-game scoring clip in Providence to begin the season, earning an initial five-game stint in Boston near the end of November (1 assist). However, Pastrnak’s coming out party came in a two-goals each outburst against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in back-to-back games last month. Even if he might not be a consistent presence on the scoresheet night in and night out, Pastrnak certainly showed why the B’s were so high on him after the draft.

“He’s definitely a great player,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Pastrnak’s ninth game, the win over the Rangers. “We all want him here and I think the decision that was made was pretty unanimous. As a coach, I want him on my team.”

Boston veterans like Patrice Bergeron, who was exactly where Pastrnak is some 12-plus seasons ago when he made the Bruins as an 18-year-old rookie, are happy for the youngster’s success and what he’s bringing to the team dynamic.

“I’m really happy for him and it’s well deserved,” said Bergeron. “Like I said before, he’s one of these kids that wants to learn, he wants to get better. He’s excited and happy to be here and I think we’re seeing a shell of what he can be and that’s something very special and we’re all here to help him and teach him the way I guess, but so far he’s been great and doesn’t need much help.”

The young boy who rode that bus down Havirov’s main street so many times is now a Boston Bruin, but the smile that could power the TD Garden jumbotron and his natural exuberance is very much ingrained in the fabric of who Pastrnak is as a player and person.

As he continues to grow and develop into the player his father always knew he would be, that natural love of the sport Milan Pastrnak helped foster in David will allow him to carve out his own legacy in Boston, one his dad would be proud of.

“I was there one day (being new to the NHL) and I was having a lot of fun, and I know he’s having a lot of fun,” Krug said. “He can help our team win right now and that’s why he’s here. That’s the biggest thing.”

Farewell to Adam McQuaid

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Adam McQuaid (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

9/11/18…the end of an era. Adam McQuaid was traded to the NY Rangers today for Steven Kampfer, a 2019 4th-round pick and a conditional 7th-rounder.

The truth is- for those who understand the realities of the salary cap world of the NHL, this move was bound to happen, and it’s somewhat surprising that it didn’t occur one or two years ago. The clock started ticking when Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney signed the veteran defender and genuine good guy to a four-year, $2.75 million per contract extension on draft day- June 26, 2015. While some might be loathe to admit, it was the beginning of the end for a nine-year career in the Black and Gold for the former 2nd-round pick-turned Stanley Cup champion in 2011.

For those who got to know him and valued the sheer effort, grit, toughness and character that he exemplified, it is with respect that we bid him farewell as he departs for Broadway and a better opportunity to keep playing at the highest level.

McQuaid, who was originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets out of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves in 2005, was acquired by then-GM Peter Chiarelli for a fifth-round pick prior to the June signing deadline in 2007 (C-bus would subsequently trade that selection to Dallas, who used it to take captain Jamie Benn– go figure), and that unheralded acquisition would go on to give the B’s some very good mileage.

The book on McQuaid was that he was a big, but fairly immobile throwback defender with tremendous toughness and character. A player like him today would be a long shot to even be drafted into the NHL because his boots were so heavy back then, but 13 years ago, the league still had a lot of time for players like him. I liken the continued decline of the “stay-at-home defenseman” (read: big, tough, but skating-deficient player) to the history of the battleships. At one time, those floating fortresses were a staple in navies around the globe, designed to go toe-to-toe with other dreadnoughts on the high seas with its big guns, but eventually rendered obsolete by the implementation of naval airpower and submarines that could kill them at a distance.

McQuaid, who spent a couple of seasons in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, had to put in a lot of work to improve his skating, and in his third pro season, it was starting to look like the lack of mobility might prevent him from ever establishing himself in Boston. However, he got the call during the 2009-10 campaign, and the rest, as they say, is history.

He proved himself as a warrior on ice- willing to do whatever the team required of him, and though his playing style often took a toll on his body, McQuaid was as tough as they come on the Boston blue line during his tenure, he took on all comers, often the other battleships teams around the NHL had on their roster. He blocked shots. He did the tough work along the walls. He didn’t score much, but was the quintessential defensive defenseman in a league that is seeing fewer and fewer open spots for guys at the position who excel only at defense. These days, clubs are placing more and more of a premium on defenders who have the size, skating and skills to impact the game regularly at both ends of the ice. This is not to say that defensive defensemen will become extinct much like the enforcer has, but players like McQuaid will find it harder and harder to establish themselves in the modern NHL and the direction it is evolving into.

In getting to know McQuaid off the ice, he was a quiet, but articulate and engaging person. He seemed to relish his status as a role player- never desiring the spotlight or much of the credit for Boston’s success in his time there, but not shrinking away from the media or treating the process to occasionally give the scribes what they needed as a chore. A few times I would stray away from B’s dressing room scrums to talk to McQuaid because I found that he was not only open and approachable, but had some of the best insights on his teammates and the game writ large. He was the typical hockey player who made time for his community and was great to the fans; look no further than his relationship with Liam Fitzgerald- the famed Boston “Fist Bump Kid” for more on that…and he did it without seeking attention or accolades- it’s just who he is.

But make no mistake- McQuaid’s easy-going demeanor and humble nature belied a simmering, volcanic force of nature if you tried to run one of his guys. More than one NHLer found out the hard way that they had a tiger by the tail when they went toe-to-toe with No. 54.

In the end, it was a parting of ways that was bound to happen, and was several years in the making. As much as the team loved and respected his service, with just one year left on his current deal, re-signing him would have been challenging. 98.5 the SportsHub’s Ty Anderson has an excellent article that is worth reading that breaks it all down. You can be a huge McQuaid fan who was taken by surprise with the announcement, but better understand the reasons behind it after reading Anderson’s piece.

With a defensive unit consisting of Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, John Moore, Kevan Miller and Matt Grzelcyk, where did McQuaid fit? On the wrong side of 30 and having played more than 70 games in a season just twice in his career due to injury (and one lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign), it became the law of diminishing returns for the team and the right thing to do for the player, who would have accepted the likely fate as a healthy scratch, but had earned (and deserved) more than that.

As for Kampfer, he returns to the team that had acquired him from Anaheim in 2010 and was a black ace for during that magical Stanley Cup run a year later. He counts 670k if he’s on the NHL roster, but provides valuable experience and depth plus a $2.75M cap savings if he isn’t. The 4th-round pick recoups the selection the B’s traded away their fourth to Chicago for Tommy Wingels at the last trade deadline. It’s shaping up to be a deep and talented draft at first glance, so that’s a solid asset that the Boston scouting staff should be able to put to good use. We’ll find out somewhere around…2023?

So, the Rangers get a veteran defender who makes them harder to play against. Ryan Spooner gets a friend and teammate to join him on Broadway and the B’s room and culture takes a hit for now.  Will the door now open for some of the youthful defenders on the farm in Providence? The answer to that question will come out eventually.

But for now- I’ll just address the newest Ranger and say- thanks for the memories and all the best…except when you’re playing your old club.

 

 

 

 

3 Amigos Podcast: Ask the Amigos mailbag, lots of topics- last pod for a while

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

We brought the band back together for one final podcast before the 2018-19 season- it wrapped up on Labor Day weekend, the final official weekend of the summer before we go back to our busy schedules.

Thanks to all of the supporters who took the time to post some thoughtful questions- this one takes us about 90 minutes to get through.

Will try to put it up on Sound Cloud at some point, but for now- you have to listen to it here. It’s not on iTunes and isn’t going to be- limitations of technology at present.

Thanks for listening and be sure to stick around until the end to hear an important message from Dom.

Here’s the audio- appreciate all of the support!- Dom, Reed & Kirk

 

Ask the Amigos

We’re going to try and get the band together for one last podcast…

Here’s the chance to ask Dom, Reed & myself questions about hockey- B’s, prospects, scouting, pretty much what you want covered, we’ll try to blow into.

Just post a comment to this post with your comment and first name/location where you are, and we’ll try to address it in a future audio file.

EDIT: We recorded the podcast last night- the comments are officially closed- thanks to all who submitted! Watch for the show to air early next week after the long Labor Day weekend- KL