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B’s game roster set for preseason tilt vs. Canadiens

09.24.09 at 12:26 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — B’s practice has commenced on Thursday morning without the players headed to Montreal for the Bruins/Canadiens preseason game. The game-day players skipped their morning skate, and the game roster includes:

Forwards — Patrice Bergeron, Zach Hamill, Chuck Kobasew, Guillame Lefebvre, Jeff LoVecchio, Kirk McDonald, Brad Marchand, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Vladimir Sobokta, Blake Wheeler and Trent Whitfield.

Defensemen — Johnny Boychuk, Drew Fata, Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid, Mark Stuart, Dennis Wideman.

Goalies: Tim Thomas, Dany Sabourin.

–Bruins coach Claude Julien said that Thomas will play the entire game Thursday night against the Habs.

The rest of the B’s roster is currently out on the ice going through practice. We’ll have updates from Ristuccia Arena as they happen.

Read More: Dennis Wideman, Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas,

Sobotka looking to make a big impression with the B’s

09.22.09 at 1:39 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Vladimir Sobotka had to look at this as a make-or-break kind of year for him at Bruins training camp.

The 22-year-old Czech Republic native is looking at his best chance to make the Bruins roster right out of camp, and he has played in three preseason games thus far for Boston. Sobotka hasn’t cracked the score sheet in those three contests, is a minus-2 and has lifted three shots on net during game action. Hockey clearly isn’t a game about numbers, of course, but they indicate what the naked eye has already revealed to the casual observer.

Sobotka was a point-per-game player last season while logging 44 points in 44 games for the AHL Providence Bruins before succumbing to a concussion toward the end of last season. He has proven his tenacity, skill level and confidence at the highest levels of minor league hockey.

But he needs to step up his game in camp and show off the same effective blend of pesky, annoying, in-your-face forechecking and dangerous skill that made him an unmistakable factor in Boston two seasons ago.

Sobotka has yet to make an impression on B’s coach Claude Julien and the coaching staff this preseason, and is perhaps trying a little too hard knowing that a potential roster spot is at stake. After all, he’s heard about it from the media throughout the first few weeks of camp, so how could he possibly forget that a job is on the line.

He got a big taste of the NHL when he played in 2007-08 down the stretch and participated in the playoffs when Claude Julien relegated Phil Kessel to the bench for the first three games of the series against the Canadiens. Sobotka savored that early exposure to the NHL as a 20-year-old, and it’s the reason why he came over from his native Czech Republic to play professional hockey in the United States in the first place. He’s played a grand total of 63 NHL games over the last two seasons but still hasn’t had his breakthrough campaign like fellow Czech David Krejci enjoyed last winter.

“I keep getting the same questions. I always say that I’m going to try to do my best and do what the coaches say,” said Sobotka. “We have some injuries and we have some open spots, but it’s the same answers. I’m going to do my best. This is my important camp. I’m going to play hard, try my best and try to stay here for the whole season.

“I learned a lot last season. It’s not hard to go down [to Providence] and come back and play. I learned a lot last season and I’m trying to stay here [in Boston] this season. I came here to play hockey in the NHL, but if I get sent down [to Providence] I’m not going to be disappointed. I’ll go down to Providence and I’ll play there, you know. But, like I said, I want to stay here, would love to play here and stay in the NHL all season. I just want to do my best.”

Sobotka has perhaps felt the pressure of auditioning for a roster spot, and admitted as much in saying that “this is my important camp.” That, paired with heavy competition from another young Bruins grinder, Brad Marchand, has made things challenging. Marchand has impressed throughout camp and plays with a Chara-sized chip on his shoulder, and he shares many of the same strengths with his European counterpart. It’s been up to Sobotka to match his competitor, and the coaching staff has noticed he’s been pressing a bit in the early going.

“He’s been OK. I talked to him a little bit this morning and it’s more ‘€” with Vlad ‘€” that somehow he has to find that confidence that he has at the American Hockey League,” Julien said. “He’s got to feel confident about his game. We say it all the time about this guy, he plays like he’s 6-foot-3 and he’s not afraid to go into the corners. He’s got some skill. He’s got a great shot, you know.

“He just has to go out there and play the game, and maybe relax a little bit. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself to crack the lineup this year. Can he be better? Absolutely. I think it’s just a matter of confidence, and we told him we have the utmost confidence in him. He just needs to go out there and play the way he knows that he can.”

Roster spots aren’t won in the first two weeks of training camp, however, and the real competition begins in this final stretch of exhibition games prior to the Oct. 1 start to the NHL regular season. Handicapping a roster prior to the late camp games when the real preseason bullets flying is akin to predicting a final score after a hockey game’s first period. It’s possible, but more oft-times futile.

With four games left in five nights prior to the start of the regular season, the NHL regulars will start commanding more of the ice time, and some early camp wunderkinds will begin to show their age and experience.

It’s not too late for Sobotka if he begins to brandish the same kind of fearless, brash certainty that marked his AHL style of play prior to a concussion that prematurely ended his last season last year. The 2005 B’s fourth-round pick impressed the heck out of Bruins officials during that first go-round in Black and Gold two years ago, and it’s about time for Sobotka to return to his established level of play.

“It almost looks like he might be a little nervous and might be trying to do a little too much,” Julien said. “You’re not playing with the confidence that you normally have, and I’ve seen him play in Providence last year. He went out there and made up his mind he was the best player on the ice, and played like it.”

Sobotka simply needs to show no fear and begin playing like he’s intent on making the most of his Black and Golden opportunity this fall.

Read More: Brad Marchand, Claude Julien, Vladimir Sobotka,

Krejci going full-tilt at practice during B’s camp

09.22.09 at 11:42 am ET
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WILMINGTON — Bruins coach Claude Julien wasn’t ready to announce when B’s center David Krejci would get into his first game action — or play during the exhibition season — but did give an update on the 23-year-old center coming off surgery for an impingement in his right hip.

Krejci is enduring a full practice workload with the rest of the team and taking part in all contact drills. Julien indicated that things are going well for the center, and Krejci estimated he had a “10 percent chance” of being ready for NHL opening night against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 1.

“What I can answer is that he’s getting better and better, and everything that’s going on is positive,” said Julien, who indicated that the B’s training staff hasn’t yet given him full clearance to play in games. “I can give you a date as far as when he’s ready to play in a game, but he’s practicing full-out and that bodes well. He’s taking contact and he’s taking part in full practices.”

Marco Sturm was off the ice today for a scheduled maintenance day as he works his way back to full health with a surgically repaired left knee. Sturm was at Ristuccia Arena to take part in off-ice workouts and won’t be making the trip to Columbus with the B’s traveling party.

–The lineup for Tuesday night’s game in Columbus includes: Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi, Johnny Boychuk, Drew Fata, Andrew Ference, Chuck Kobasew, Zach Hamill, Drew Larman, Milan Lucic, Derek Morris, Mark Recchi, Guillame LeFebvre, Vladimir Sobotka, Mark Stuart, Blake Wheeler, Shawn Thornton, Trent Whitfield and Andy Wozniewski. Tuukka Rask and Dany Sabourin will both make the trip, but Sabourin is expected to get the full 60 minutes between the pipes against the Blue Jackets.

Read More: Claude Julien, David Krejci, Marc Savard,

Three Things We Learned from the B’s 2-1 win over the Habs

09.21.09 at 1:27 pm ET
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QUEBEC CITY, Quebec ‘€“ It was sloppy ice conditions and some of the training camp-inspired names were vastly different, but it was also definitely Habs/Bruins on Sunday night at the Colisee ‘€“ the old hockey barn that formerly housed the Quebec Nordiques — in Quebec City.

The Bruins held on in the third period for a 2-1 win before a lively crowd of 14,000 plus puck-loving fans, and had to be encouraged by plenty of things they saw. All this despite the fact that B’€™s head coach Claude Julien alluded to the team appearing sluggish amid some mid-training camp blues.

‘€œIt’€™s almost like the mid-training camp blues at camp right now,’€ said Julien. ‘€œYou push your team and it’€™s almost like they need to catch their second win. Hopefully they get better.’€

With the image of Hal Gill lumbering around the ice with the foreign ‘€˜CH’€™ stitched on his sweater still emblazoned in the brains of the scattering of B’€™s fans in attendance, here’€™s a three-pack of things we learned from last night’€™s training camp tilt against the Habs ‘€“ the fourth of the season.

1) Max Sauve is showing a whole lot of promise for the future

The raw former second-round pick, Sauve, spent some of his time in camp graciously apologizing to reporters for his struggles communicating in the English language, but he’€™s got nothing to apologize for on or off the ice. The B’€™s brass got a long look-see at Sauve while the youngster played three games in camp, and finished with three assists and a +2 rating. Sauve skated with many of the Bruins top players during his time in camp, and now he’€™s been return to his Quebec Major Junior team (Val D’€™Or) on Monday morning. Sunday night’€™s game in Quebec City near the area of Quebec where Sauve grew up turned out to be a bit of a reward for the youngster prior to returning to juniors.
Julien was impressed with the tools that the 19-year-old flashed at camp as well as his willingness to do all of the little things on the ice, and now his biggest challenge is to gain size and strength while rounding out his two-way hockey game.

‘€œFirst of all, his skill level and his skating are there. He just needs to get stronger, and you hear us say that about a lot of people coming out of junior,’€ said Julien. ‘€œHe just needs to get stronger so that when he battles for loose pucks and he goes in there, he can come out with it a little more.

‘€œHe can learn that along the way. I know he’€™s had some tough years in junior with different coaches etc, so hopefully with time and coaching he’€™s going to get better.’€

2) The ‘€œcompetition’€ for the backup goalie position is largely over at this point

Julien made a large vocal push for the importance of seeing both Tuukka Rask and Dany Sabourin push each other for the chance to back up Tim Thomas at the goaltender position this season. Rask and Sabourin each played an entire game during the first two games in training camp, but the competition for the job should be close to kaput after Sunday night’€™s performance against the Habs.

Rask faced good pressure from the speedy smurf forwards deployed by the Canadiens, and had only one mistake among his 25 saves when he couldn’€™t stop a Josh Gorges rocket from the high point in the third period. Rask said after the game that he thought Hunwick was going to be able to get a piece of the shot, but either way the young Finnish tender should have been prepared to turn away the puck.

‘€œIt’€™s just about doing your own job as good as you can, you know,’€ said Rask. ‘€œThat’€™s all anybody can ask for. There is always competition with people no matter team or camp you’€™re in, but it’€™s all about focusing on work ‘€“ and what you can do.’€

Aside from that one quick third period hiccup, however, Rask was solid between the pipes before a lively crowd sitting right on top of him in an old hockey barn. The 22-year-old prospect comes to Boston with a reputation for calmness between the pipes and rare poise in such a y0ung goalie.

3) Bergeron and Wheeler are both ready for big seasons

The Bruins are counting on improved scoring from a number of different sources to off-set the loss of Phil Kessel‘€™s scoring via  a trade with Toronto, and both Patrice Bergeron and Blake Wheeler factor heavily into that goal-scoring equation.

Wheeler is bigger and stronger this season, and it was clear to see as he was much more heavily involved from a physical standpoint, and on several occasions took the puck with strength and power toward the Montreal net. He wasn’€™t rewarded with a goal during Sunday night’€™s game, but he’€™s shown the B’€™s organization plenty by putting the work in during the summer-time and utilizing the results on the ice in the early going. Wheeler could be a very big factor for the Bruins if he can build off his rookie season, and learn how to gain consistency over the course of a long 82-game season.

The talent and the desire are both there, and Wheeler’€™s physical skills are beginning to catch up.
Bergeron was one of the most active players on the ice playing before his home crowd at the Colisee, and appears to be regaining that innate feel for the puck that eluded him through much of last season.

The 24-year-old was playing his most fearless, effective brand of hockey at the end of last season and then into the playoffs, and he’€™s carried that over into training camp this season. Bergeron should pair with David Krejci and Marc Savard to give Boston clear strength up the middle this season, and that looks to be the case given the small sample size of training camp.

Bruins release 13 players from training camp

09.20.09 at 4:41 pm ET
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The Boston Bruins announced their first round of cuts from the training camp roster on Sunday afternoon, and released 13 players from the NHL club camp while returning an assortment of young players to minor league camp and their junior hockey teams.

Adam Courchaine, Matt Dalton, Jordan Knackstedt, and Matt Marquardt have been assigned to Boston’€™s American Hockey League affiliate, the Providence Bruins. Scott Fletcher and Rob Kwiet have been released from their tryout agreement with the Boston Bruins are being returned to Providence.

Alain Goulet and Lane MacDermid are unsigned draft choices who are being released from Boston’€™s training camp and reporting to Providence’€™s training camp. Ryan Button, Jordan Caron, Michael Hutchinson, and Tyler Randell are unsigned draft choices who are being returned to their respective junior clubs.

Chris DeSousa, Brad Good, Mark Isherwood, Jason Lawrence, Taylor MacDougall, Peter Stevens, Jason Wilson and Marc Zanetti have been released from their Boston Bruins Rookie Camp tryout agreements. Please note that Wilson participated in Boston’€™s full training camp in addition to their rookie camp. The Bruins now have 41 players left on their training camp roster.

The B’s take on the Montreal Canadiens in their fourth preseason game Sunday night (7 p.m.) at the Colisee in Quebec City.

Three Things Learned at Bruins/Rangers preseason

09.20.09 at 11:57 am ET
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In anticipation of the regular season slowly crawling our way on Oct. 1, here’s a quick “three pack” of the Things We Learned at yesterday’s Bruins preseason loss to the Rangers, 5-2, at the TD Garden because — after all — this is preseason for the writers just as much as it’s preseason for the players.

1) Marc Savard is healthy and primed for a huge year with the Bruins in his contract season

The playmaking center’s job description for a little more challenging when his big trigger man was traded to the Northeast Division rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night, but the 32-year-old didn’t show any evidence of rust or the early training camp knee trouble. He looked fast and smooth going up and down the Garden ice, played a pretty good two-man game with Milan Lucic (didn’t see a lot of early chemistry with Michael Ryder skating on the right wing with them yesterday) and he potted a goal during the first period.

The NHL stars should stand out even more when they’re playing against AHL defenseman and goalies that will be bagging groceries in Saskatoon, and Savard did just that in his first action.

“I feel the best I’€™ve felt in a long time. Personally, from a personal stand point, we are a little all Swedish, and no Finnish, so we were moving the puck well we just didn’€™t take those shots,” said Savard after the game. “We were a little too cute, but that comes when you play summer hockey, you just try to be cute out there. I think we just have to get back to Boston Bruins hockey and drive in some shots there. I think we were moving around a little too much as a whole.”

2) Steve Begin is going to become a player that Bruins Nation loves pretty unconditionally

The 31-year-old forward came to Boston with caution flags after throwing a cross-check that broke a bone in Savard’s back two seasons ago, but he’s quickly winning a spot on the club and in the fans’ hearts. He’s already stuck up for teammates — he stepped in to drop the gloves yesterday when Dane Byers came after Drew Fata — and taken on a younger, bigger, stronger opponent in the Maple Leafs preseason game last week.

Begin is coming to Boston as advertised: a fourth-line grinder with a bit of skill and a great deal of snarl in his hockey game at all the right times. As long as the 6-foot, 193-pounder chooses his moments carefully, he’s going to be a valuable asset that the B’s could always use more of. After all, even Shawn Thornton’s hardened knuckles can use a day off every once in a while.

“The thing is it is hard to change a guy who’€™s been like that his whole life and his whole career and that’€™s who Begin is.  Tonight he came into the defense of Fata who already had a scrap and is wearing a scar from yesterdays stick in the face,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “He came to the defense of his teammate and that’s the thing we like about Steve Begin.  It doesn’t matter if it’€™s an exhibition game and who it is. 

“He’s going to play the same way night in and night out.  Yes he is 31, there is a risk of injury and this and that.  He doesn’€™t care and it’€™s hard for us to change him because that the reason we went and got him because he comes to play every night the same way and is a hard-nosed player.”

3) Tim Thomas could use a  little more action before he’s ready for a return to Vezina Trophy levels

It was clear early that the All-Star goaltender wasn’t on top of his game when he got a clean look at a Sean Avery blast from the left faceoff dot — and the puck somehow trickled in the net for a Rangers goal. Those type of goals simply don’t happen during the regular season against the Tank, and it’s simply a byproduct of rustiness and sharing reps with the five other goaltenders currently in training camp.

Thomas allowed five goals on 19 shots behind a defense that featured some AHL players and rookies in positions of support, and he knows that this typical training camp fare: get your work in, get the juices flowing and get ready for the regular season.

“It felt somewhat awkward. I think part of that was the product of the game and part of that was that it was the first game in five months,” said Thomas when asked how his first preseason action of the year felt on Saturday afternoon.

Young B’s players that stood out:Zach Hamill, Max Sauve, Johnny Boychuk

Young B’s players that looked a little out of place:Jeff Penner,

Chiarelli: Kessel ‘no longer wanted to play in Boston’

09.19.09 at 12:03 pm ET
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Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli met with the media on Saturday morning to discuss dealing leading-scorer Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three high draft picks over the next years, and stated pointedly on several occasions that the 21-year-old winger “no longer wanted to play in Boston”.

Kessel and agent Wade Arnott had, according to Chiarelli, informed him of a couple of reasons why he no longer wanted to a Bruin, and privately gave the GM a couple of reasons why he needed a change of NHL address.  That spurred the B’s to trade away Kessel for draft picks in excess of the draft pick compensation for a potential offer sheet, and the Maple Leafs emerged as the only team with the draft pick assets and available cash to swing a trade-and-sign for Boston’s restricted free agent.

One of those reasons behind Kessel’s desire to leave is believed to be B’s coach Claude Julien’s “tough love” relationship with him over their two years together. Some believe that Kessel never forgave the coach for benching him during his first playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, and preaching the importance of a two-way game over simply being a glorified floater on the ice. Kessel scored 36 goals and was a +23 during his breakout season with the Black and Gold last winter, and much of that on-ice success can be traced back to Julien’s “no soft play allowed” coaching style.

“He had his best season under this coach. Enough said on that,” Chiarelli said of Kessel and Julien. “We stress defense first. We stress competitiveness. Having said all that, what were we, first or second in the league in goals scored? And he had 36, 37 goals? Got him a nice raise.”

The B’s coach, for his part, didn’t get all soft and fuzzy on the relationship he had with a slow-to-mature Kessel during their two seasons together in Boston, but he also didn’t feel like the player/coach dynamic was a big factor in the disconnect between Kessel and the Bruins. In his mind, the coach had done everything possible to make things work for both the player and the hockey club.

“I even told him in a conversation that I didn’t get a (salary) bonus for making him into a bad player. Everything I did was to try and make him a better player, and I think that message was understood,” said Julien. “I think last year his season proved that. He seemed to understand the concept of our team, and besides the 36 goals he was a + player. I feel good personally that I did my best to make him the best player I could, and the rest of that stuff has nothing to do with me.

“I’m not going to sugercoat this. He was no different than any other player that you deal with at times. You never have smooth relationships because there’s challenges along the way. What you need to do as a coach is to convince those guys and make them understand and believe that this is what you need to do to be the best team possible. This is what you need to be the best player possible as well. We all know Phil has always grown up as a superstar player, and those guys are a bit of a bigger challenge. But I can tell  you last year there were no issues with him resisting, and there shouldn’t have been because his season proved that it was very successful.” 

Chiarelli addressed the addition of the draft picks and the options that it provides the team with $1.7 million under the salary cap. The swap gives the B’s a grand total of five draft picks in the first two rounds of next year’s draft (two first-rounders and three second-rounders), and affords them plenty of assets should they need a particular player at this season’s trade deadline. The Nashville Predators were the other team seriously in on Kessel and a deal with them would have centered on affordable, young prospects (Ryan Ellis, Jon Blum, Colin Wilson) more than draft picks. But no other team — aside from Brian Burke’s well-heeled Maple Leafs — was willing to pay the 21-year-old $5.4 million a year for four years of restricted free agency and one year of UFA status from Kessel.

In so many ways this move by the Bruins smacks of a New England Patriots-style manuever where there was a particular value on a player, and the B’s front office fortified their long-term future once Toronto’s contract offer shot up into the hockey stratosphere. Many of the same factors and beliefs that were at play in the Richard Seymour deal earlier this month are now rearing up on Causeway Street.

Chiarelli added that he could have matched a potential offer sheet from Toronto and then stored Phil Kessel on LTIR (Long Term Injured Reserve) for the entirety of the regular season if the B’s front office felt it was necessary. That would have been a largely punitive move toward the player, and would have forced the B’s to clear off enough space for his gigantic raise in salary.

Chiarelli surely would have been forced to trade off an Andrew Ference or a Chuck Kobasew — or perhaps Michael Ryder — simply to squeeze Kessel’s $5.4 million under the salary cap. That’s not even broaching the contractual decisions that await Chiarelli next season when Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler and Marc Savard are all looking for new deals. None of his other available options seemed prudent or feasible once Chiarelli viewed the Kessel situation in totality.

“At the end of the day, we want players that want to be here,” said Chiarelli, who also said the perceived threat of the offer sheet played prominently into the eventual trade. “I know this player is a good player. Obviously he is. He can skate and he can shoot the puck. But we want players that want to be here, and we want to grow the team with those type of players. This isn’t about — and I know the history here — but this isn’t about frugality. There was some significant offers made, and there was little to no attempt to negotiate from the other side.

“Phil’s agent gave me a couple of reasons,” added Chiarelli when asked if he knew why Kessel wanted out of Boston. “I was surprised. I don’t know if really there were other reasons. He has that right as a restricted free agent and he can choose (where he signs). It’s all part of this new CBA whether it’s restricted free agency or unrestricted free agency, it comes earlier and arbitration comes earlier so (a player’s) mobility and choice of location comes earlier.”

There were an overflow of “it’s a business” type quotes from the Bruins players in the aftermath of the Kessel deal, but interesting viewpoints from team Captain Zdeno Chara and close friend Blake Wheeler came to the fore. Several times  during their three years together,  frustration cropped up with Chara toward the youngster’s game, and then bubbled over in practice.

The towering defenseman hinted afterwards that the young sniper still has a few things to learn about being a successful player in the NHL, and some of it simply comes down to a commitment toward off-ice training and improvements to his game. One imagines that Chara will teach Kessel a few of these painful lessons the first time he ventures into the corners of the TD Garden ice decorated in a Maple Leafs sweater.

“We all know he’s a young, skilled player. When you have young players like that — and not just young players but even older players — you have to realize that you can learn something every day, as they say,” said Chara when asked if he had moments of frustration with #81 during his time in Boston. “He has to realize that learning is a part of the game, and sometimes it’s a little easier and sometimes it’s a little bit harder.” 

While Chara said he hadn’t spoken with Kessel at all, Wheeler still chats regularly on the phone with his former University of Minnesota teammate “3 or 4 times a week” and never got the impression that Kessel was quite so dead-set about not coming back to the Bruins.

“Our conversations were never too  much about hockey or the business aspect of it. It was more like ‘whatever happens, happens,” said Wheeler. “We never had that particular conversation. At the end of the day, maybe, if he had to pick he would have wanted to be here (in Boston). But it just didn’t work out.”

Read More: Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel,
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