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‘Tuukka Time’ is finally coming to Boston

09.26.09 at 10:51 pm ET
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With a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets still fresh in his mind, rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask still couldn’t hide his excitement at winning a spot on the Bruins regular season roster Saturday afternoon. The B’s announced that Dany Sabourin was being sent down to Providence prior to the game, and that meant a goalie competition — one that was fairly one-sided – was officially over.

One short season ago Rask had the best camp of any Bruins goaltender, but was busted down to the AHL for seasoning with veterans Thomas and Manny Fernandez on the roster. It was difficult for the 22-year-old to hide his frustration on his way down, but things couldn’t be more opposite this time around as Thomas’ understudy.

“[I'm] really excited,” said Rask. “This is something that I’ve been working toward. I feel for [Sabourin] because I was in the same spot last year. Obviously it’s fun to be here, and I’ve been hoping for it to happen. It’s good that it happened.

“It’s a little different feeling [this year]. You can imagine what it feels like when you have a good camp and then you’re sent down. But if that’s the way things are you’ve got to get over it.”

The young goalie clearly was battling with a fatigued team in front of him playing its sixth game in eight nights, but there were flashes of exactly what he’ll bring to the table this season on Saturday night. He’s bigger and plays a much more silent game between the pipes than his Vezina Trophy-winning partner, and he managed 31 saves against a Blue Jackets team piling on Grade A chances over the final 30 minutes of play.

“When you looked at the way [Tuukka] played in those first few exhibition games, it was clear he had improved a lot from what I saw last year,” said Claude Julien. “Personally from what I saw in the playoffs in Providence the year before, he had collapse a little bit. Especially in that last game.

“Mentally he’s become stronger and physically he’s become stronger and he’s in a lot more control. He’s got a lot more experience and he’s the right fit for us. Tonight, I think he played well. Didn’t have much help in front of him. We’re confident in him, and he’s going to play. We all know Timmy is not a goaltender that will play 70, or 75 games. Tuukka will need to come in and do the job, and we’ll confident in him.”

Rask was never more impressive than when he completely stone-walled Russian sniper Nikita Filatov skating in all alone for golden opportunity in the third period. There was no panic or quick movements, and Rask didn’t allow any holes for Filatov to pick at as he came speeding toward the cage. Rask won’t be required to play any more than 30-35 games in his first season backing up Thomas, but the 6-foot-2, 171-pounder is ready to fill whatever role comes his way.

“I’m really excited for Thursday and to get things going,” said Rask. “We’ve just got to get this train going on the right track. Just get a good start and never look back.

“The job I’m given, I’m going to try the best I can and help this team. You want to do your best and simply help the team. That’s all I can do. I feel like I’ve been this team for two weeks now, and it feels good.”

Read More: Dany Sabourin, Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask,

Bruins cut down to 24 players on camp roster

09.26.09 at 8:35 pm ET
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The Bruins announced a series of expected roster cuts prior to the Columbus Blue Jackets game that trimmed the training camp roster down to 24 players. The particular players sent down to Providence indicated that heralded rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask has won the backup goaltender’s spot, and that both Brad Marchand and Zach Hamill are in the running for final roster spots.

Hamill could stick with the club for Boston’s first few games if David Krejci isn’t quite ready to play Thursday night as he comes back from right hip surgery. Marchand and Sobotka were in a competition for a spot earlier in camp, but it appears that Sobotka has won himself a job with three strong performances at the end of the preseason.

“It’s important for these guys to come in and — whether they’re with us at the beginning of the year — at least know we can call them up and feel comfortable with their play,” said B’s coach Claude Julien

The Bruins are down to 24 players, but will pare down to either 23 or 23 bodies when they announce their final roster for the Oct. 1 season debut against the Washington Capitals. Here are the most recent cuts for the B’s:

The following six players have been waived for the purpose of assignment to Providence: Drew Fata, Drew Larman, Guillaume Lefebvre, Dany Sabourin, Trent Whitfield and Andy Wozniewski. Mikko Lehtonen, Jeff LoVecchio and Adam McQuaid have been assigned to Providence. Kirk MacDonald has been returned to Providence. Zach McKelvie, Levi Nelson and Yannick Riendeau remain injured, non-roster players.

Bruins name Sweeney to Assistant GM post

09.26.09 at 7:26 pm ET
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Former B’s defenseman Don Sweeney was named Assistant General Manager of the Bruins on Saturday afternoon in a promotion from his former titles of Director of Player Development and Director of Hockey Operations. Sweeney will serve in tandem with Assistant General Manager Jim Benning and the duo will split the different business and hockey operations duties encompassed in the job description.

Sweeney has been an instrumental piece in the player development phase of the Bruins organization that’s been an unadulterated success under B’s GM Peter Chiarelli. The former Bruins blueliner incorporated the prospect development camp that’s now become an annual event designed to serve as an Bruins orientation of sorts for the younger players. 

‘€œDon deserves this promotion,’€ said Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli.  ‘€œHe is a very diligent person who truly cares about the welfare and development of the player both from the personal and professional perspective.  In his three years as part of our management group, he has shown tremendous passion, a growing aptitude for the business side of hockey and most importantly the willingness and enjoyment of being part of a management team and learning from others like Jim Benning and Scott Bradley.

“I believe in this business model with two assistant GMs because of the ever increasing intricacies of this business and the good chemistry between those in our group. Jim, Don and Scott will all continue to have specific duties and responsibilities, and I will continue to rely heavily on all three individuals.’€

Drafted by the Bruins as their eighth pick, 166th overall, in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, he went on to play four seasons of college hockey at Harvard University. He played in the 1986 NCAA Finals before graduating with a degree in Economics.

The defenseman played 16 seasons in the National Hockey League, including 15 in a Bruins uniform. He is one of just two defensemen and four players in team history to play over 1,000 games in a Boston sweater and he still ranks third on the team’€™s all-time games played list. He also ranks in the top ten of the club’€™s all-time lists in career goals, assists and points by a defenseman. He played his final NHL season with the Dallas Stars in 2003-04.

Lucic draws first blood of the preseason

09.26.09 at 9:40 am ET
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The Bruins took the Friday night win by a 2-1 score over the Ottawa Senators, and Milan Lucic rocked the clear decision in his first fight of the new hockey season. Sens tough guy Chris Neil blasted Marc Savard with a hit against the boards on the prior shift, and Lucic wasted no time stepping in to protect his linemate on the very next face-off.

Lucic threw a shove at Neil as they lined up for the face-off, but the Senators forward wouldn’t respond until Big Looch shoved his stick right between Neil’s legs at the drop of the puck. The combatants then finally dropped the gloves and Lucic landed a series of powerful rights that ripped Neil’s forehead open. Lucic clearly looks ready to get the season going with one preseason game remaining on Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. I have a feeling Savard isn’t going to sustain many heavy hits this season if that’s the outcome each time he does.

Here’s the video courtesy of youtube:

The search for Chara’s defensive partner may be over

09.25.09 at 5:01 pm ET
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Aaron Ward said a lot of things during his two-plus years with the Bruins. Some were notable, and some simply got a roll of the eyes around the B’s dressing room. But the verbose blueliner’s play spoke volumes on the ice.

Ward was a tough, no-nonsense, stay-at-home defenseman who served with Norris Trophy-winning Zdeno Chara as Boston’s top line of defense in front of Tim Thomas the last two seasons.

One of the biggest question marks this summer following Ward’s trade back to the Carolina Hurricanes was how it might affect the B’s captain coming off his best season. Chara had achieved a heightened level of trust with the steady Ward, and knowing that his partner had things covered defensively on his off-side allowed Chara to freelance and take more risks offensively.

Chara is rightfully known as a intimidating defensive stopper, but he also set career highs in goals scored (19) and power-play goals (11) and had the best plus-minus of his Bruins career during an incredibly well-balanced season. Big Z was much more aggressive rushing the back door during his power-play work and took it upon himself to frequently dump the puck into the zone and terrorize fellow defensemen by rushing into the corner for puck-retrieval duties.

The 32-year-old was able to branch out offensively because he knew Ward would hold down the fort on the back end of the ice as he recovered and returned to his rightful position. With that known quantity now up for debate once the B’s upgraded for a slicker puck-mover in the form of Derek Morris, it meant a spot opened up beside Chara on the top defense pairing. It’s a key position in the B’s lineup, and, for his part, Chara has said all the right things about adjusting to whichever player B’s coach Claude Julien selects to fill the role.

All that being said, B’s center Marc Savard couldn’t hold back his excitement envisioning his buddy “Mo” pairing up with Chara.

“He makes that first pass about as good as anyone,” Savard said. “If they play together then I think he’s going to rub off on [Chara] and [Chara] is going to rub off on him during the season. It’s an exciting time and we’ve made some subtle changes. I don’t make the lineups out, but I think that’s going to be the plan early [in the season], and they’re excited to play together.”

Morris is the leader in the clubhouse and is the most natural fit as Chara’s right-hand man, but Julien indicated that Matt Hunwick, Andrew Ference and even Mark Stuart have been considered, as well as veteran Dennis Wideman, who has some experience alongside the Slovak. It appears that Morris and Hunwick had been given the most thought in the early going, and the lefty-shooting Hunwick is, after all, used to working on his “off-side” after pairing with current Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson during their days together at the University of Michigan.

Combining the speedy, offensive-minded Hunwick with the tough, deliberate, grinding Chara would have bestowed a top blueline pairing with two vastly different defensemen boasting very varied sets of of blueline skills, but there’s still some healthy concern about throwing too many wrinkles at the 24-year-old Hunwick too quickly.

As it stands now, expect Chara and Morris to begin the season skating together, with Wideman and Ference as the No. 2 pairing and Stuart and Hunwick rounding out the third pairing. That would leave Johnny Boychuk as the spare defenseman to start the season.

“Obviously, we’re looking Morris, [or] Wideman and Chara ‘€” we know what that pairing can do,” Julien said. “There are other situations we can do. At one point we said to ourselves, ‘What would Hunwick look like [with Chara].’ But, again, is he ready to face the top line? Because that’s a big part of the consideration. Is Hunwick ready to go up against the [opposition's] top lines, because that’s what Ward and Chara did.

“Plus, Hunwick is a second-year player and he would end up playing on his off-wing or off-side ‘€¦ whatever you want to call it. Those are all things you have to kind of weigh and that’s why you’ve seen Hunwick and Ference playing over on the right side. Because wherever they’re paired, they’ll be able to slide over to the right side.”

Morris was something just south of giddy at the thought of skating with Chara when he first signed with the Bruins this summer for $3.3 million, and it appears after a solid training camp that the righty-shooting D-man will get first crack skating with the Norris Trophy winner.

Morris has good skating speed, isn’t afraid to mix it up physically and clearly has the touch for quick initial entry passes out of the defensive zone. The only thing that appears lacking is the bond of trust between Chara and Morris, but that’s something that can only be built through logging shifts together once the real action begins.

“Let’s see how Derek Morris plays,” Julien said. “If he plays well and looks solid, then maybe he’s the guy to go with Chara. We’re just going to continue experimenting, and this may very well go into the start of the regular season as well.

“It doesn’t mean that it’ll be cut-and-dry as soon as the season starts, and we may move things around once we get going during the year.”

Sun Life Frozen Fenway event sold out

09.25.09 at 11:23 am ET
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The Sun Life Frozen Fenway college hockey doubleheader at Fenway Park on Jan. 8 is officially sold out as of Friday morning. Tickets for the doubleheader ‘€” featuring a women’s game between the University of New Hampshire and Northeastern University and a men’s game pitting storied rivals Boston College and Boston University ‘€” sold out in less than a week. It offered an affordable alternative to those shut out of the expensive NHL Winter Classic at Fenway.

According to Hockey East spokesperson Pete Souris, more than 37,000 tickets have been sold for the historic college hockey doubleheader.

“The public response to this event has been tremendous, and certainly reaffirms to everyone that interest in New England hockey is definitely at an all-time high,” Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna said.

Krejci: I’ll be a ‘game day’ decision for Oct. 1 opener

09.24.09 at 1:50 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — David Krejci had one of his best practices of the preseason on Thursday afternoon at Ristuccia Arena, and said afterward that he’ll likely be a “game day” decision for the Oct. 1 NHL regular season opener against the Washington Capitals at the TD Garden. The 23-year-old center said that crossing over to the right side remains the biggest area of difficulty he’s experiencing while taking part in a full practice workload, but he’s well ahead of the curve after undergoing surgery on his right hip last spring.

“I think the chances of me playing are a little better. Much better actually. But you know it’s going to be, I guess, a ‘game day’ decision. It’s going to be really close,” said Krejci, who less than two weeks ago said there was a 10 percent chance he’d ready for the season opener. “The doctors said it was going to be 4-6 months, and next week it’ll be four months. So I believe all summer I only took two weeks off when I went back home. I worked really hard to try and get back into shape. The doctors said it’s a good thing I didn’t take any days off, and it’s made the process faster.”

The Bruins clearly aren’t going to push Krejci out onto the ice before he’s ready, and B’s coach Claude Julien has stressed that the young center won’t see game action until he’s 100 percent ready and cleared by the training staff. That being said, the B’s bench boss won’t hesitate to throw his No. 2 center back out onto the ice against the Caps if he’s healthy enough to play.

Krejci hasn’t been restricted from anything during practice over the last week, and Julien said the only thing missing from Krejci’s is that short, confident skating burst that comes only with a clean bill of health in his right hip.

“We’ll just have to wait and see about Krejci,” said Julien. “He’s ahead of schedule and that bodes well. When last season ended we figured we’d be without him for a month to a month-and-a-half to start the season, and that was the diagnosis for his recovery.

“Now things are going well. We are talking about right now ‘if’ Krejci can start the season. You don’t work all summer and go through all of training camp, and then think about taking a risk (with Krejci) by putting him in early. That for sure won’t happen. When he goes in it’ll be when we’re really confident that he’s feeling good.”

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