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.

Tuukka_Rask

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

Bergeron3

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.

***

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.

What, us worry?

Chara4

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

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

IMG_1906

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

 

Colin Miller to Vegas; Bergeron wins 4th Selke

ColinMiller1008

Colin “Chiller” Miller (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

And so begins the debate and Chiller watch- as the Boston Bruins officially saw 24-year-old defenseman Colin Miller snapped up by the newest NHL franchise- the Vegas Golden Knights at Wednesday night’s NHL Awards Show and Expansion Draft.

Miller is a good player, but as your TSP founder explained in Monday’s audio file on the expansion draft, GM Don Sweeney made a roster-building choice over keeping someone he didn’t value as much to protect an asset. As strange as this may be for some to grasp- not every move can be made with accruing more assets in mind. Now, the matter will be complicated by rumors that the Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to trade for Miller, and depending on what that potential return could be, that will be the next friction point in the polarized Chiller vs. Killer debate. We welcome it.

As said earlier- the gap between the two is not that big. Chiller is younger, more talented and carries a better cap hit (at least for one more season). Killer doesn’t measure up on paper, but the games aren’t played on paper. He’s an ideal third-pairing D who makes the Bruins tough to play against and you need those guys to win in the NHL. It may not earn you much street cred on message boards and subreddits, but the coaches obviously trusted Killer, or else he wouldn’t have been in the lineup ahead of Chiller when the rubber met the road in the playoffs. Building winning hockey teams means sometimes choosing a less-skilled player who brings more of a complete body of work and who is trusted in key situations over someone with greater talent but who struggles with decisions and making the right plays. That the Bruins valued Killer over Chiller? That’s for the GM to explain if he chooses to do so, but at TSP- we don’t have a problem with it.

Now, with both Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller back on the roster, it remains to be seen if Sweeney can move one of them to free up some cap room and streamline the team going forward. Both players are good soldiers, but one of them probably should move on at some point.

We’ll see what happens next.

***

Bergeron3

Patrice Bergeron won his fourth Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward tonight, joining Canadiens star Bob Gainey as the only player to win four of those awards. As a finalist in 2013 (barely losing to Jonathan Toews) and 2016 (ditto to Anze Kopitar) he might be on a six-year streak had a few votes not gone his way.

But seriously, is there anything this guy can’t do? He’s Boston’s Mr. Everything.

Oh, and he did it all this season, while playing with a hernia.

He’s headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame when it is all said and done- he’d be a lot closer to 1,000 career games and 1,000 points had he not missed an entire year and a half to lockouts and most of another to a concussion thanks to a hit from behind.

Bergeron is Boston’s heart and soul.

On the Road series (Part 3): Player Evaluation- the Body of Work

Welcome back for another installment of the “On the Road” series, where we break down hockey scouting in more detail for those who might not be aware of the things that go into the process of player evaluations at the amateur and professional level. If you haven’t already, you can read parts 1 and 2 of the series or jump right into this one.

After touching on the kinds of things that go into basic player evaluation, and we do mean basic- the second part of the blog series was 4,000 words and by no means even came close to hitting everything- it is important to next discuss an aspect of scouting that some would argue is just about as important as a player’s ability to perform- the body of work.

What do we mean by this? Well, body of work is a catch-all for the individual’s character, work ethic, personality, injury history and other behind the scenes factors that teams can research and investigate to develop a more comprehensive read on the individual they are considering drafting. Some fans sit in a bubble and honestly think that drafting and developing players at any level is only about talent and skill. While they’re certainly entitled to their views, real life begs to differ.

Continue reading

CrosB’s lead Canada to World Cup win, Seidenberg to Isles a little of this and that

Catching up on some hockey news over the past several days, but the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is officially in the books with a win by Canada. Sidney Crosby took MVP honors after Canada posted two victories over Team Europe coming from behind in the second game to get a late winner from none other than Brad Marchand.  Patrice Bergeron also scored in the decisive contest, as he has done throughout the tournament.

Bergeron and Marchand were dynamic throughout the tourney, and what is nice about their performance is that it opened up the eyes of other fans around the league to what the duo means to the Boston Bruins. The B’s just showed Marchand the love on his new eight-year extension announced this week, and he took a discount to stay in Boston. I’ve been told by several sources who know him that remaining with the team was not really in doubt, as being close to his family in Nova Scotia was important to him, not to mention the fact that he had grown up a Bruin ever since the team moved up in the third round to take him in 2006.

That was an important draft year for the Bruins, as the team ended up with Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Marchand (not to mention Tuukka Rask, who was acquired via trade during the proceedings). Only Marchand and Rask remain, but 2006 was a critical year for Boston, ultimately leading to the Stanley Cup championship in 2011.

With the WCOH now in the rearview mirror, Bergeron and Marchand can return to the B’s and put their focus on where it belongs: on preparing to play the 2016-17 NHL season. It appears they made it out of the tournament relatively unscathed (knock on wood) and it’s one more championship they can add to their respective trophy cases. For the rest of the NHL, the two served notice that they belong in the conversation with the league’s constellation of stars, but for Bruins fans- it’s time to get down to brass tacks.

***

Veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has landed with his old defense partner on Long Island (well, Brooklyn, actually), joining Johnny Boychuk and the New York Islanders on a one-year deal after the B’s bought him out this summer.

He’s a good guy who in the right role can be a serviceable player on the ice, while a solid teammate and addition in the room. After being acquired from the Florida Panthers in 2010, Seidenberg was one of Boston’s most trusted and reliable defenders, but after signing a four-year extension in late 2013, suffered a catastrophic knee injury and was never the same afterwards.

Some have argued over the wisdom of buying him out, but as long as he was here with two more years remaining on that deal, he would have gotten playing time and likely prevented other younger defenders from working their way into the rotation. While he was game and willing to do whatever it takes, his body limited him, and the B’s made the tough decision to move on.

He’s someone who can help the right team as long as he isn’t being asked to do too much, which was the case in Boston last year and in 2014-15. The Stanley Cup-era Seidenberg is long gone, but the 2016 version will likely be a solid if lower-end contributor to the Isles’ fortunes this season.

***

Los Angeles Kings goaltender and pride of Hamden, Connecticut- Jonathan Quick- sported a tribute to the U.S. Army Special Forces on his WCOH mask. The Team USA performance was certainly disappointing, but the mask art, painted by Steve Nash of EyeCandy Air, is definitely not.

My dad served in the Special Forces in the 1970’s and 80’s- before it became an official branch of the U.S. Army, so I guess you could say he was an “old school snake-eater”, but since 9/11- the Global War on Terror has taken a toll on the U.S. military’s special operations forces in particular- they’re still very much in the fight all over the world, but we very rarely hear about the dangerous missions and arduous work they do because of the secret nature of said efforts.

Quick’s mask takes a “less is more” approach, with the crossed arrow branch insignia and “De Oppresso Liber” motto, along with the dagger-through-skull that is a popular tattoo among many in the detachments.

The mask is being auctioned over at the NHL auction site to benefit the Special Forces Charitable Trust, and the current bid is over $10k…well done, Mr. Quick!

This is a pretty informative little blog post about SF for those interested…

And speaking of the U.S. Army, I picked up Amber Smith’s book “Danger Close- My Epic Journey As A Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan”, and it’s a good read. What struck me about it is what a small world we live in, though.

Back in 2005, I was serving in Iraq with the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division in Diyala Province and late in the year, the air cavalry squadron of OH-58D Kiowa Warriors that provided our troops with close air support swapped out with a similar unit from Fort Campbell, Kentucky and the storied 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles.”

As the brigade battle captain, I recall the new unit coming into our airspace on missions and on occasion, hearing the female voice of one of the pilots, whose call sign was ‘Annihilator 24’- she was always all business and that unit- the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, was always there to support our guys on the ground. But those of us in the brigade’s tactical operations center always wondered who Annihilator 24 was. Well, after picking up the book, I finally have my answer after 11 years- it was Chief Warrant Officer 2 Amber Smith.

She’s written an interesting book about the life of a female combat aviator flying in a fragile, Vietnam-era airframe (the Army retired the OH-58D from active service several years ago), where Kiowa drivers frequently exposed themselves to lethal ground fire in order to deliver .50 caliber and rocket fire to enemy insurgents when our troops were in contact.

I want to thank Ms. Smith (that’s how we address warrant officers in the Army- that and by calling them “Chief”) for her service and support to my unit. She knew me as “Hammer X-Ray” when she would check in and out of our AO- our relationship was purely professional and we wouldn’t know each other if we bumped into each other on the street, but it feels like we’ve been friends for years.

Pick up her book- she’s got quite an interesting story to tell.

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series: the Centers

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

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

The NHL season is around the corner, and for the second consecutive season, the Scouting Post blog is back to provide the season preview and deeper look at the Boston Bruins from a position-by-position perspective. The team will soon break training camp on the 2016-17 NHL season at a brand-spanking new practice facility- the Warrior Ice Arena- in Brighton, and although the World Cup of Hockey is up first, there is no shortage of subplots and storylines swirling around this Bruins club.

Given the optimism surrounding the team at forward, we’ll start with the centers. Now, some might take issue with beginning the series from what is Boston’s greatest area of strength, but I started with the goaltenders last year, so there is a method to the madness.

Unlike last year, I am including an audio component to each post, so that allows me to write less and talk a little more, which will save me from carpal tunnel, but will also go a little easier on your eyes. So, without any more foreplay- here we go.

The Bruins are strong at the center position up and down the roster. They don’t have any flashy, dynamic types, but in Patrice Bergeron, have the best two-way pivot in the game, despite what Selke Trophy voters last year would have you believe. David Krejci is the ole reliable playmaking center, but with offseason hip surgery casting his season in doubt, there are some concerns about his durability, especially as he is entering the new year on the wrong side of 30. The B’s big-money free agency ticket item from the summer, David Backes, will be previewed both as a center and a right wing- but we’ve yet to determine where the B’s will slot him, and that promises to be one of the more intriguing storylines as the team breaks camp. Ryan Spooner currently holds down the third center spot, and the fourth line pivot is wide open. Noel Acciari finished the final 19 games of the schedule after recovering from a shattered jaw in his rookie pro season, while fellow Providence College product Tim Schaller was brought in to provide competition in the offseason. The B’s also recently announced the signing of Dominic Moore to a one-year deal, and former 2006 eighth overall pick Peter Mueller, who is trying to make an NHL comeback after concussions and injuries derailed a promising start.

The B’s also have some interesting potential in the system. Whether you’re talking the tiny but ultra-skilled and feisty Austin Czarnik or the slick, cerebral 200-foot pivot in Boston University sophomore Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, the B’s have a couple of options that might not be as far off on the horizon as one might think. Neither is likely to have a great impact this year (though Czarnik is in the AHL and is a dark horse to make some noise and see some NHL action after his excellent rookie pro season), but both Czarnik and JFK are mature players who are likely to work their way into the mix sooner rather than later. The latter player has already drawn comparisons by people in the Bruins organization (as well as some outside the club) to Bergeron, which is a high bar to set for the Swede.

In addition to Czarnik, Colby Cave is an effective two-way center who had a scoring role as captain of the Swift Current Broncos (where he lined up with B’s 2015 1st-rounder Jake DeBrusk) and showed some flashes of ability as a rookie in 2015-16. Sean Kuraly was a center in college, but is expected to shift to wing in the pros, now that he’s expected to start out in the AHL at Providence.

The B’s stirred up some dust when they drafted U.S National (U18) Team center Trent Frederic with the 29th overall pick. Interestingly enough, management (to include the departed former chief scout Keith Gretzky to Edmonton to be Peter Chiarelli’s newest assistant GM) likened the St. Louis native and University of Wisconsin-bound power forward to none other than his childhood idol Backes, who gave up the captaincy of the Blues to sign with Boston a week after the 2016 draft. In Frederic, the B’s get a big slab of beef at the center position for down the road, and if you believe his various coaches who rave about his intelligence and work ethic, there’s more than meets the eye here- he could be a late-bloomer, though don’t expect all that much in terms of production. The B’s also added huge Finn Joona Koppanen (6-5), but he’s more of a defensive clampdown specialist, so even if he makes the NHL, it’s not going to be as a scorer.

A project who will be worth the wait in terms of ceiling and offensive potential is Harvard sophomore and 2014 2nd-rounder Ryan DonatoWatch for the South Shore (Scituate) product to make some noise- this kid is the real deal, and we think he’s going to break out in Cambridge now that Jimmy Vesey has moved on to Broadway. TSP has been a huge fan of Donato’s ever since watching him first dominate the New England prep circuit in 2012-13 and then raise the bar in his draft season. He’s as intelligent and skilled as they come, and knocks on his skating aren’t fair given that he’s bigger than his dad (he gets his size from his mother’s side of the family and a former NFL linebacker uncle), but the hockey sense and hands are elite. Wisconsin junior Cameron Hughes and rising freshman Jack Becker (6th and 7th picks in 2015) are also in the mix as potential payoffs, but will require time and patience, and even then- neither might not ever make it as viable pros.

Outlook: The Bruins have ability and depth up the middle. Bergeron and Krejci (when fully healthy) give the B’s as good a 1-2 punch as any team in the league, but how Backes will fit into that dynamic as the potential third-line center (or whether he moves up and plays a top-two line RW role) remains to be seen. We also have to see how Krejci fares at camp; now that he’s been ruled out of the WCOH for Team Czech Republic, he has some extra time to heal, but if he’s not ready to go, then it’s a no-brainer: Backes moves up to the second line behind Bergeron. Spooner is the source of quiet debate- he appears to be the odd-man out here, as he’s not an ideal fourth-line center if Backes is 3C, and he is one of Boston’s few real trade chips given his youth, skill level and cap-friendly deal (though he’s up for a new pact in 2017). Dominic Moore is a 36-year-old veteran who could mean that Acciari goes back to Providence for more seasoning, and of course- the B’s added Mueller to a PTO, though that is no sure bet that he will even sign or play center for them. Schaller is a wild card for the fourth line as well, but if he’s going to make the Boston roster, he’ll probably need to do it on the wing somewhere.

All in all- center will be the absolute least of Boston’s worries this season, as the team has talent, experience and a roster to weather injuries and unexpected setbacks.

Now, listen to the pod for more (and working on getting these exported to SoundCloud for those who want to do download and listen later- bear with me- it’s coming):

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka "JFK"

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

 

 

On Bergeron and the pursuit of perfection

Bergeron3

Nobody’s perfect.

In Patrice Bergeron’s case, at least when it comes to his profession, perfection is a closer goal than for most.

Boston’s lone representative at the NHL’s All-Star festivities in Nashville has done it again- showing fans around the world that stardom at hockey’s highest level does not require blazing speed, flashy offense or a larger-than-life off-ice persona. The 30-year-old center brings none of that to the table, though I bet if you polled GMs around the league and had them pick 5 players to build a franchise around, Bergeron would be on more of their lists than not.

On Sunday, Bergeron returned to the building where the Boston Bruins called his name for the first time, selecting him in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, a year that is going down as one of the strongest collective drafts in league history. For those who may not be aware, the B’s picked up Bergeron with the 45th overall selection, and it was a compensation pick awarded them by the league when Bill Guerin had taken the money ($9 million per season) and run to Dallas. Back in those days, the entry draft was nine rounds, and the NHL had rules to protect teams from being plundered by the big spenders of the world with a compensatory formula that involved the amount of money departing free agents got. In other words- the bigger the coin, the higher the pick, and Boston landed one of the highest extras that year.

The rest, as they say, is history.

But, for those who followed the draft closely back then, Bergeron’s eventual success in the NHL as a champion on multiple levels and the undisputed class of all forwards defensively, he was anything but a household name when the B’s drafted him ahead of some of the more flashy names that were available at 45.

Bergeron’s journey from under-the-radar, solid but unspectacular Quebec League pivot to impressive NHL rookie at age 18 and an eventual Stanley Cup and two-time Olympic champion (to go with multiple other titles to include the 2005 World Jr. Championship and MVP accolades) is one of personal discipline, focus and a will to constantly seek self-improvement. He didn’t explode onto the NHL scene in 2003 with the excitement and draft pedigree of others in his peer group, but his ascension to the ranks of the league’s elite has come with consistency and class, as he overcame two of the bigger knocks that can derail a hockey player’s NHL dream faster than the Kardashian sisters change their looks: size and skating.

Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley, who was Boston’s chief amateur scout at the time, recalled going to an Acadie-Bathurst Titans game early in the 2002-03 campaign to see offensively skilled defenseman Bruno Gervais. He came away smitten with No. 37, a first-year center who had spent his 16-year-old season playing midget AAA hockey because he was unable to stick in the QMJHL as a full-time player. From that moment on, the die was cast- a series of events was set into motion that would ultimately see that youngster not only drafted, but eventually evolve into the face of the Bruins franchise some 13 years later.

It isn’t like other NHL teams didn’t know who Bergeron was. Central Scouting had him ranked in their top-30, though when you factored in a very strong European contingent that year, he projected to land somewhere in the mid-to-late second round. I spoke to one NHL scout based in the Maritimes in Nashville on the ’03 draft’s second day- back when rounds 1-3 were done on a Saturday and 4-9 occurred on Sunday- and asked him about Bergeron. He liked him enough, but expressed concerns about Bergeron’s height (he was pretty average at the time, hovering around 6-foot) and lack of foot speed. He did point out how creative and smart Bergeron was, however, and liked where Boston got him.

That fall, Bergeron not only impressed the Boston brass at his first training camp, but got the attention of the one who mattered most at the time: rookie head coach Mike Sullivan. He made the club out of camp, scored his first NHL goal against the Los Angeles Kings a few weeks later (October 18, 2003 to be exact), and some 12 years later, has added 224 more and is closing in on 600 points for his career. If not for an entire season lost to lockout, nearly an entire year gone to a massive concussion suffered on a hit from behind in 2007, plus another half-season wasted in another lockout, he’d be closer to 800 points and 1,000 games.

Bergeron has quietly become the player that just about every hockey fan wishes was theirs. He’s always been serious and dedicated, but he plays the game the way he lives his life: disciplined, effective, with honesty and integrity. Like the kid who sat inside the net and watched his peers skate in beginning hockey before getting up and joining in the game that would eventually become his way of life, Bergeron’s rise to NHL super stardom has been deliberate.

One NHL scout told me over coffee in Buffalo during the 2011 World Jr. Championship that his one real regret in a long career scouting amateur players for the same team was not pushing harder for his club to draft Bergeron in 2003. “We coulda had him,” he lamented with that wistful look a man gets when he knows in his heart his gut had been telling him to act, but he didn’t seize the initiative. “I know things would be a lot different for us if I had taken more of a stand in our room before the draft.”

Perhaps. Probably.

But what happened instead was that another team, with a scout who went into a fateful junior game with zero expectations, saw all he needed to and then leveraged his power within the Bruins organization to act.

Bergeron is now that grizzled veteran that Marty Lapointe was in 2003 when he took the young Quebec City native under his wing. He has a noticeable scar on his upper lip- a reminder of the countless battles in the trenches on the 200 x 85 sheet of ice. His presence and poise is a testament to those contests. He’s just about seen it all, and has the medals to prove it. Best thing of all, at least from Boston’s perspective, is that he’s still very much in his prime, so he will keep adding to his growing legend.

The pursuit of perfection is a worthy goal. Some people come closer to it than others, and Patrice Bergeron is one of them. Perhaps Boston Globe reporter Amalie Benjamin said it best in her recent piece about how Bergeron is perceived around the rest of the league over the All-Star weekend when she closed with this:

So he’s good, sure. But perfect? That’s a lot of pressure to put on a fellow hockey player.

“Well, I mean, there’s not that many of them out there,” Duchene said. “I think if you asked most guys in the league if there was a perfect player out there, who would it be? I think most guys would say him.”

One thing seems to be certain: Bergeron is the perfect Bruin. And for those who love the team, that’s perfect enough.

Throwback Thursday: Patrice Bergeron interview from 2003 NHL Draft

I will be posting a new summer cooler interview in the next 24 hours, but was rummaging through some old files and thought it might be fun to dig up this Q & A- the first extended interview Patrice Bergeron did with anyone outside the usual post-pick media scrum after becoming a Boston Bruins pick in Nashville 12+ years ago.
A couple of things:

  1. I totally lucked out in that we stayed at the same hotel and I ran into him in the hallway, otherwise it is an opportunity would have missed out on. But, in getting to spend time with Patrice, it began a name-basis relationship right off the bat at a time I will still relatively new to covering the NHL. I guess you could say I got in on the ground floor with Bergeron and it’s been a real treat to watch him grow.
  2. This should dispel the lingering myth with anyone that he couldn’t speak English very well when the Bruins drafted him. I transcribed every word of his answer off the tape recorder (yes- I was still using mini cassette tapes back then), and while he had a thick accent and his grammar wasn’t perfect, he communicated quite fine. It gets back to how serious and hard working he is…he studied hard in school and applied himself when playing major junior hockey in the Maritimes.
  3. Bergeron’s smarts and work ethic define the person and player he is. When you get right down to it, he’s the classic player who wasn’t a household name because of several concerns going in- mainly his average size and skating- but he was one of the few from that storied 2003 draft class who was an NHL player right away at 18 after going from midget AAA to the QMJHL the previous two seasons. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often and it isn’t an accident when it does.

So, enjoy the Q & A and I’ll have a newer post up later on a player that New Englanders, Hockey East fans and Albertans will have an interest in, but is not a Bruins player/prospect.

***

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

A household name he wasn’t, but heading into the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft in Nashville, Acadie-Bathurst Titan Patrice Bergeron had a feeling that he might have a very good day when all was said and done. Just 45 selections into an event that would see nearly 300 young men from across North America and Europe have their names called by NHL teams, Bergeron’s wait was over, taken by the Boston Bruins mid-way through the second round.

Bergeron, who doesn’t turn 18 until next month, describes himself as a hard-working playmaker who finds more joy in setting up his teammates for goals than scoring them himself. Although a bit slight at 6-feet-0 and 180 pounds, Bergeron has drawn raves from scouts for his soft hands, creativity and ability to affect the tempo of the game when he controls the puck. One knock on the Quebec City native’s game is that he must get faster, particularly in his acceleration, if he is going to realize his immense potential.

The young center already has an excellent grasp on the English language, despite not getting much of an opportunity to use it in his native Quebec. This should help reduce the effects of culture shock when he travels to Boston for his first professional training camp in the fall.

Although not widely known amongst draftniks, Bergeron impressed his coaches and scouts in the Quebec League playoffs, and appears to only be scratching the surface in terms of what he can become in the NHL someday. It will take a little time, but don’t be surprised if Bergeron arrives on the scene sooner than anticipated. He appears to have all the intangibles that you look for in a professional athlete, and his humble nature off the ice conceals a fierce competitor on it.

HockeyJournal.com sat down with Patrice Bergeron in the Millennium Maxwell House hotel in Nashville the day after the draft and talked shop with one of the newest Bruins in the system.

HockeyJournal.com: What was your overall impression of the Entry Draft and the atmosphere there? Was it everything you thought it would be?

Patrice Bergeron: It was a lot of fun to go there to Nashville and then to be pick in the second round by the Boston Bruins. I wasn’t too nervous, but still, you wait and you don’t know when you might get pick, so to hear my name in the second round was a great feeling for me.

HJ: You said in the initial interview after you were selected that you were from Quebec City. Are you from the city proper, or a suburb?

PB: I live in Sillery, Quebec. It is a town not too big, but outside Quebec City.

HJ: When did you start playing hockey?

PB: At the age of five, I was.

HJ: So that was probably around 1990. Did you like the Quebec Nordiques back then?

PB: Yeah, I did. I liked (Joe) Sakic. He was probably the one I liked the most. But, I liked Adam Foote too. He worked really so hard and was a leader.

HJ: What was the difference for you, or the hardest thing to adjust to in your first season of major junior as opposed to what you were used to in midget hockey before?

PB: Probably the execution of the play was the hardest thing. You have to pass quicker, shoot quicker and all that kind of stuff.

HJ: How about the physical play and the fighting? Was that a change for you?

PB: Probably more the fights was the only difference because yes, the guys are bigger, but I was used to it. The physical stuff doesn’t bother me at all. It’s part of the game.

HJ: One of the NHL scouts who saw you play quite a bit this season said that you are very creative, and although you may not be the fastest skater, you slow the game down because you move side-to-side well and are able to hold the puck so you can make that key pass at the right moment for a good scoring chance. Do you think that’s a pretty accurate assessment of you and your play, and how much of that creativity that you possess is something that you were born with and just do when you’re out on the ice?

PB: Yeah, I think that is right. I think that a lot of what I do is natural, but I always work and prove my place. But I think that the things to look and slow down the play 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.

HJ: What kind of a relationship do you have with your head coach in Bathurst, Real Paiement?

PB: It’s a great relationship. He helped me with a lot of things this year on the ice, but outside in general life. He’s a really good coach and I have a really great relationship with him.

HJ: That relationship probably showed through in the playoffs, when as a rookie, you were given a lot of ice time even though it was your first taste of the postseason, and you responded by playing a big role in your team’s success. How important was that faith he showed in you for your overall confidence?

PB: It gives me confidence. At the beginning of the year, he told me I would be on the third line, and improve my play and get experience and get confidence. He gives me so much confidence that I take my place and I graduate on the top line and get some ice time in the end of the regular season and playoffs.

HJ: As far as your offense goes, you’ve said you’re more of a playmaker, a passer- but when you are looking to shoot, what are you most comfortable with doing, and what shot have you had the most success with in game situations?

PB: My wrist shot. You know, a shot without showing the goalie you’re going to take a shot.

HJ: This summer, you said you wanted to work on your skating, but what are some of the other things you want to improve on?

PB: My body and my physical strength. I got a physical trainer in Quebec City- his name is Raymond Veillette. He’s a very good guy- he has been training with Simon Gagne.

HJ: Simon Gagne is a very accomplished hockey player. Do you know him?

PB: It’s the first summer for me, but I’m not like his friend, but I do know him. I have a lot of respect for him because he work very hard and is a great NHL player even though some people say he couldn’t make it because he was small. I look at him and hope that I can be like that too, someday.

HJ: What are your expectations of your first professional training camp in September? Are you pretty excited about being able to put on that Bruins sweater and skate with guys like Joe Thornton, Glen Murray and the rest of the team?

PB: It’s a wonderful feeling for me. When you’re young, everybody dreams about it, but doesn’t think too much because it’s far and you don’t know what is going to happen. But now, I’m here, and I know it’s only the first step that I’m draft, there are a lot of things I have to do to move on. But to go to camp is going to be impressive. I just have to get as strong as I can in the summer, and work on my skating as much as I can. I won’t be able to be as good as I want in one summer- it takes some years to do that, but I think I will be improved and make a good impression in Boston. It is important to me that I just play my game, work hard and show them that I can play.

HJ: What are some of the things you like to do when you’re not playing hockey?

PB: I like to listen to rap music, like Eminem and DMX.

HJ: You seem to have a pretty good relationship with your older brother, Guillaume. Do you beat him up now that you got a little size on him?

PB: (chuckling) No, I don’t beat him up or anything. Yeah, we’re very close. He is focus in his studies right now. He goes to college for business in Quebec City.

HJ: Have you seen any good movies recently?

PB: I saw “Old School” on VHS the other day.

HJ: What did you think? Was it good? Silly? Terrible?

PB: It’s good. You know, it’s crazy humor, but it was pretty funny. I like more comedies than anything else when I see movies.

HJ: Do you have any final thoughts on being a Bruin?

PB: Only that it’s a great feeling to be pick(ed) by the Bruins and I know that I can work very hard to prove to the fans that I’m a good player for the organization.

HJ: Sounds good, Patrice. Thanks for your time.

Bergeron: It’s okay. Thank you.

The Patrice Bergeron File

Height: 6’0 Weight: 180

Shoots: Right

Born: July 25, 1985 in Quebec City, PQ

Got first pair of skates at age: 5

Favorite Movie: Dumb and Dumber

Siblings: Brother, Guillaume (19)

Hobbies: Soccer, listening to music