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Bruins make Highlight Reel at NHL All-Star Game

01.25.09 at 10:57 pm ET
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MONTREAL — The biggest lingering impression from All-Star Weekend in Montreal?

The Bruins cast just as big a hockey shadow during the Friday-through-Sunday festivities at the Bell Centre as they have while carving up the Eastern Conference during the hockey season’s first half. Once again the B’s came into the Habs’ backyard and took things over more than a little bit — even if Prima Donna Russian forward Alex Kovalev nabbed MVP honors with his shootout winner in the 12-11 victory for the Eastern Conference.

Rookie Blake Wheeler started things off by nabbing MVP honors in the YoungStars Game on Saturday, and Zdeno Chara followed by obliterating the record for the NHL’s hardest shot with a 105.4 mph blast that furthered the Bunyan-esque growing legend of Big Z. It was obviously an important moment for Chara as — after the game – he politely declined a Hockey Hall of Fame official’s request to procure the stick used to break the record. That particular 65 inch Easton stick is going back home to the Chara trophy case, but the towering D-man instead gladly donated one of his sticks used during actual All-Star Game action.

Tim Thomas was at his flip-flopping and leap-frogging best during the entire exhibition weekend. The B’s goaltender distanced himself from the other All-Star masked men by challenging every single shot at every opportunity. Thomas pretty much morphed into a little boy in his own driveway turning away bid after bid from the older neighborhood kids. After allowing some goals early in the third period, he zoned into true shutdown mode over the final four minutes of the third period, overtime and then in the shootout against Shane Doan and Rick Nash.

Here’s youtube to help out with an OT and shootout that were pretty entertaining…Thomas save on Iginla comes at the 3:38 mark of overtime.

The victory makes Thomas the winning goaltender in each of the last two All-Star Games, the fifth time in NHL All-Star Game history that a goalie has captured the W in two consecutive games. The others are Frank Brimsek (1947, 48), Jacques Plante (1958, 59), Johnny Bower (1961, 62) and Martin Brodeur (1997, 98). Thomas made a trademark sliding save against Jarome Iginla on the doorstep during overtime — one of his three saves in OT — that saved the game for the Eastern Conference and helped push them through the victorious shootout.

Not bad for a guy that didn’t even appear on the All-Star ballot this season. 

Marc Savard picked up three assists during the game centering a high-wattage line that featured Dany Heatley on his right wing and Alex Ovechkin along his left, and the B’s playmaker was also the final runner-up in Saturday’s newly adopted elimination shootout event.

Bruins coach Claude Julien exited the weekend exuding his trademark class after opting for the high road at each and every turn while truly embracing the All-Star opportunity — a choice that others might not have taken while visiting the site of a former coaching job that ended with a pink slip. A firing of Julien back in 2006 made way for current Habs coach and Eastern Conference All-Star assistant coach Guy Carbonneau.

Instead Julien sat back and watched his players excel during the NHL’s showcase of their best and brightest, and then rolled out the pucks in last night’s game until things tightened up in the third period. 

“I think this has been an outstanding weekend,” said Julien. “You can talk to any player, talk to any coaches. The way it’s been organized by this organization. The way the people that came to Montreal — and the Montreal fans — the way they’ve reacted to all of this has just made this whole weekend outstanding.

“Our players really enjoyed it,” added Julien. “They had a great weekend. They represented us extremely well.”

That being said, here’s a taste of what the Bruins’ participants will be taking away from All-Star weekend:

Tim Thomas: “The feeling of victory after we won shootout. Even though it’s an All-Star game and it’s supposed to be about fun — and it’s not supposed to be about being competitive. But every single person in here is a competitor. It doesn’t mean anything in the long run, but it’s just like if you’re out in the driveway and you scored a goal. That feeling you get, you know. It felt the same to me as any other shootout.

Zdeno Chara: “The skills competition. It was very special to me. It’s something that I’ll never forget and it’s something that can only happen to you a few times in your lifetime and in your career. I’ve always said before that records are made to be broken, and I’m just glad that I could get this one over with. It took 16 or 17 years to break this record, so we’ll see how long it takes to break this one.”

Claude Julien: “You come here to have fun, but you also have a lot of pride and you want to represent your organization well. All of our guys were outstanding. Tim stood tall in the shootout, and even that save with the stretched out pad. Z winning the competition with his shot. Savvy making it to the last two in the shootout. An MVP for Wheeler. Every single one of our players stood out at one point, and that’s great for the organization. Those certainly made the organization proud.”

Blake Wheeler: “I came away from the weekend just really impressed with watching all of these players up close, and just seeing how they go about their day-to-day business. For me it was a behind-the-scenes look at everything, and I just came away so impressed with everybody here. It was a fun weekend, for sure.”

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marc Savard

Chara puts Right To Play in the spotlight

01.25.09 at 2:37 pm ET
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MONTREAL — Zdeno Chara defended his title as owner of the NHL’s hardest slapshot when he fired off a 105.4 mph blast in his final attempt during Saturday night’s All-Star SuperSkills competition at the Bell Centre. The feat of hockey strength marked the third straight year that the 6-foot-9 defenseman snagged the hardest shot hardware, but there was a bit more of a humanistic spin to this season’s victory.

 With a bright yellow “Right to Play” toque sitting atop his giant Slovakian cranium following the performance, Chara reared back and fired an NHL-record 105.4 mph slat shot that won the competition and banked $24,000 for his favorite Right to Play charity. Chara’s booming shot broke former B’s defenseman Al Iafrate’s record of 105.2 mph set back in the 1993 skills competition, and the money raised for charity put a well-intentioned, altruistic spin on the proceedings.

Right To Play is a Canadian charity that, according to its web site, is “creating a healthier and safer world for children through the power of sport and play.” Both B’s defenseman Andrew Ference and Chara have traveled to Africa to witness the work done by Right To Play with African children first-hand, and have continued serving as ambassadors to the program.

The gesture even quieted the Montreal crowd, who normally save their lustiest boos for the intense and physical Chara during heated Habs/Bruins games. 

“I gave it all that I had, and I’m glad it worked out,” said Chara. “That’s the highest I’ve ever shot (a puck).  I’ve been a few times around 103, 104, 102 (mph).  You know, you always want to shoot the hardest shot, but it’s the All-Star record, so I’m very happy.”

Chara and Right To Play Deputy Director Mark Brender were locked in a joyful embrace following the Bruins defenseman’s rousing victory for both himself and charity, and shared a few thoughts about Chara’s relationship with Right To Play — and his own mad scramble to find a gold-ish Right to Play hat that Chara could wear on television while breaking land speed records with his shot.

That was a pretty dramatic win for Chara. MB:Yeah, I know he was really pumped to do it and he was really excited and happy about doing it. So, you could tell how happy he was and he is really committed. Obviously for us to have a champion like him — and like Andrew Ference who helped Z get into it — and all of the other NHL guys is huge. It’s the kind of money and exposure that will go directly to help children develop through playing sports.

What does it mean for the program to have a guy like Z climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro and visiting Africa this summer, and all of the other things that he does for the program? MB: It gives us so much credibility. A lot of times when pro athletes lend their name to a cause, it’s really just in-and-out. But when a guy like (Chara) gets involved he is so committed that he gives us credibility when we say that we have athlete ambassadors. We have many, many Olympic athlete ambassadors and it was born under the Olympic movement.

So it’s a great thing to have pros like Z and many other NHLers as well because there’s a  lot of credibility to them. (Raising money in the skills competition) shows it’s more than just lending their name. It’s believing in it, and that’s something that really shows. 

How gung ho is Z about Right to Play? It seems as if he mentions it a lot in his day-to-day world of hockey. MB: Yeah. He went to Mozambique this summer with us and he got to see the impact of our work. When you go a town a couple of hours north of the capital city and then you see 16-year-olc coaches, who are leading 400 children and through that you can do all kinds of developmental things, and talk about education and HIV and things like that.

So he has seen that work, and when you see that work then you come back and see the emotions that you have. That’s why (he’s still involved).

Word trickled out that he had made the challenge. When did you find out about it? MB:The Bruins were in Toronto on Wednesday and he and Andrew went out to dinner the night before and conceived of this thing then. It was in the works for a little bit that they had been planning something. Andrew and Zdeno are very good together. 

You must have been pretty happy to see the Right to Play hat out there? MB: He actually asked for the hat when we were in Toronto, so we had to go digging to find one. He said “make it Bruins colors, make it Bruins colors.” So went went digging and found a yellow one that was actually from the 2006 Olympics. I’m really happy it worked out.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins, Right To Play, Zdeno Chara

A year makes all the difference for Tim Thomas

01.24.09 at 7:34 pm ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — Tim Thomas has always been a work in progress when it comes to keeping his competitive emotions in check.

University of Vermont coaches still talk about the Roy Hobbs-style swing that the former Catamounts netminder took at a puck in a fit of pique after surrendering a goal in practice. He didn’t snap the extra-wide goalie stick with the force of his blow, or hit an unsuspecting coach with the errant puck after taking the mighty swipe. Nope.

Instead the young goalie — capable of explosive tantrums that bordered on epic — took a hack at a puck that had the audacity to slide through his pads, lifting the biscuit straight into the the scoreboard at the Gutterson Fieldhouse. Light bulbs blew apart and sparks flew everywhere as both the hockey version of “The Natural” and the damaged scoreboard raged.

With that ultimate Thomas story as the fitting backdrop, the underdog B’s goaltender had to fashion a new trick last season when his mother Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thomas’ parents had moved to Boston in recent years to be near their son, and Thomas’ mom received treatment at some of the finest medical institutions in the world.

On the ice Thomas was enjoying his finest season in the NHL and earned his first All-Star berth while finishing fourth in the NHL in save percentage. Unfortunately his mother was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer last January, and couldn’t attend the ceremonies in Atlanta to watch her son earn the victory in net for his Eastern Conference team.

All that has changed this season however: Thomas’ mother is in remission from breast cancer and she is well enough to watch her son again suit up for the Eastern Conference squad. This time, she’s at the All-Star Game in person along with his dad, Tim Sr., as well as Thomas’ wife and children. The group made the trek to Montreal from Boston to take in Timmy’s weekend. Add to that the bonus of also soaking in the atmosphere of an NHL All-Star Game amid a setting that hockey executives couldn’t dream up: the hockey hotbed of the Habs during their 100th Anniversary season.

“They’re both nice…it’s a great honor,” said Thomas of the back-to-back All-Star bids. “Both of them mean a lot. Last year was my first one and this year I was left off the ballot and still got on the team. So both of them are special. I really enjoyed it last year, but hopefully this year I’ll be a little more relaxed. I know the routine a little better this year and my parents were able to come this year.

“My mom was undergoing chemo last year at this time last year for breast cancer,” added Thomas. “So that makes it really special in its own right.”

It’s the cruelest of ironies that Thomas’ greatest team and individual success — until this season — coincided with his mother battling cancer, but the casual hockey observer might never have known the inner turmoil that Thomas suffered through. Whether Kathy was having a good day or a bad day in her treatment, her son was trying to maintain the same mindset going to the rink every day.

It was something like this: “Win and play as well as you can to make your mom proud and happy.”

it worked and perhaps his mom was even a little bit of an inspiration for Thomas, who – true to his can’t-keep-him-down nature – remained optimistic in the face of mortality’s specter once his mom began her battle with perhaps the most hated and feared word in the English language: cancer. When Tim was growing up, Kathy normally steered clear of her young goaltender after games – because she knew that Tim Sr. would already be bursting at the seams with pointers.

But last season Kathy Thomas became the focal point for all of Tim’s considerable efforts between the pipes.

“[Hockey] didn’t make it any easier, but I’m an optimist so I always held out hope that things were going to be okay,” said Thomas. “Being in Massachusetts with some of the best health care in the world helps. My parents moved to Boston a couple of years ago, so they were here.

“It sounds dire to say, but the survival rate for breast cancer is getting better and better,” added Thomas. “I was playing and she was going through that. I always thought that she was going to be okay, but I also always wanted to play well because I knew that would make her feel good. It gave her something to focus on.”

With cancer thankfully in the rear view mirror for the Thomas family, Tim is doing plenty at All-Star weekend in Montreal to again make his mom feel good.

Read More: Boston Bruins, NHL All-Star Game, Tim Thomas,

Julien: Bad blood between B’s coach and Guy Carbonneau is “blown out of proportion”

01.24.09 at 12:39 pm ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, who coached the Canadiens in his first NHL gig from 2003-06, defused any notion of bad blood between himself and current Habs coach Guy Carbonneau during the NHL All-Star coach’s press conference this morning. Carbonneau succeeded Julien behind the Habs bench after Julien was fired by Montreal GM back in 2006.

“I think we have to leave the rivalry where it should be left, and that’s during the regular season,” said Julien. :You know, we both have a job to do and we do it to the best of our abilities. I think the rivalry that’s been created between the two teams has been nothing but great for hockey.

We’re here together. We’re both people that are extremely proud of our job and we’re extremely proud competitors. But we’re able to put that aside and work together with no issues at all. I’ve known Guy even before he became a coach here. It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve worked together. I think [any bad blood] has really been blown out of proportion, to say the least.”

Carbonneau was posed the same question as Julien, and said he can sometimes play the same agitator role behind the bench that Bruins fans not-so-fondly remember during his heydey with the Habs. It wasn’t quite the dinner date scenario that Habs forward Alex Kovalev painted for the two rival coaches during yesterday’s media availability, but there seems to a truce in effect for the Mid-Winter Classic.

All that being said, I don’t see these two holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” around a camp fire any time in the near future.

“It’s an interesting thing,” said Carbonneau. “The players, we’re both competitive, and I think during the game sometimes things happen and things are said. But, you know, I’ve done this when I was a player and had no problem going out after the game with the [opposing] players. This weekend is going to be great.”

Read More: Alex Kovalev, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Guy Carbonneau

Muzz grievance decision expected in late February

01.24.09 at 12:30 pm ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — A continuation of a grievance hearing involving Glen Murray and the NHLPA that began in mid-January has been scheduled for February 12-13, and — according to NHLPA Exec. Director Paul Kelly — an arbitration ruling is likely to come down 7-10 days following the days of hearings.

Murray was bought out of his contract this summer, but the team was still on the hook for a $1.38 million salary cap hit this season and next. The NHL CBA rules prohibit teams from buying out injured players, and Murray’s representation is now claiming that the veteran forward was injured at the time of the buy-out. The team could be on the hook for the $4.15 million owed to Murray in actual salary. A positive ruling for Murray could, however, potentially open up roughly $1.4 million in salary cap space for the Bruins next season.

Zdeno Chara shooting slappers for a good cause

01.24.09 at 10:27 am ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — Two-time reigning Hardest Shot champion Zdeno Chara will be giving this afternoon’s NHL Hardest Shot competition a little bit of a philanthropic bent when he rears back and fires his trademark heavy slapshot. Big Z issued a charitable challenge to the five other competitors in this year’€™s Hardest Shot contest, and each of the five competitors accepted.

Each contestant will wager $1,000 of their own money and the winner of the contest will then donate the funds to the charity of their choice. Additionally, each of the player’s respective teams agreed to contribute an additional $1,000 apiece and the NHL contributed $6,000, bringing the total ante for a cause up to to $18,000.

“It is great to see the individual players, their teams and the league come together to benefit worthy causes and add a little extra competition to the all-star contests,” said Chara. “Hopefully this is
the start of a tradition that will continue in future all-star games. With everyone working together to help out charities and increasing the stakes of the competitions, it’s a win-win situation for all involved.”

The other five competitors in the contest are up-and-coming Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Webber, Canadiens tough guy and Milan Lucic punching bag Mike Komisarek, New York Islanders power play specialist Mark Streit, Tampa Bay Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier and Oilers D-man Sheldon Souray, who is thought to be Chara’s biggest competition in the event.

Chara will be shooting for the Right To Play organization. Right To Play is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for
children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.

Chara recorded triple-digit blasts of 100.4 MPH in 2007 and 103.1 MPH in 2008 to win the Hardest Shot titles the last two years.

Read More: Boston Bruins, NHL All-Star Game, Sheldon Souray, Zdeno Chara

Joe Thornton still thinking about Boston

01.23.09 at 6:52 pm ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton has played only one game as a visiting player at the TD Banknorth Garden, and admitted to the assembled media at the NHL All-Star Game this weekend that he’s already circled the Feb. 10 statement game against the Black and Gold. Playing Boston is apparently pretty high up on his pucks “to do” calendar for this season. In his only other visiting game in Boston way back in 2006, Jumbo Joe was ejected only 5:13 into the first period after rising up in anger and blasting Hal Gill from behind with a hit menacing enough that he was booted out of the game with a game misconduct.

The youtube clip above features the classic call from 850 WEEI’s own Dale Arnold, who did everything but have Joe Thornton twirling his mustache and tying the damsel to the railroad tracks after wall-papering the boards with the 6-foot-7 gentle giant body of Gill.

Despite all that, the 29-year-old is excited about the prospect of his front-running team in San Jose taking on the Big, Bad B’s in their own backyard in a soon-to-be-hyped Stanley Cup preview between the Western Conference-leading Sharks and the Eastern Conference-leading B’s.

“You do things day-to-day, but you circle those kinds of games,” said Thornton, who is just outside the NHL’s top five in scoring with 55 points and is tied for second in the NHL with 43 assists this season. “I haven’t been back there [in Boston] since I got kicked out. So it’s going to be fun going back and seeing it all again.”

While this particular matchup against the Bruins won’t be nearly as emotionally charged as the contest back in Jan. 2006 — a game that was in front of his old coach, many of his former teammates and a good deal of the Boston brass that shipped him out of town for three Sharks players and an immediate membership to the Northeast Division basement – it’s lining up to be everything that a statement game should be between two teams that are seemingly on a collision course this spring.

Has the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder allowed himself to think of a Stanley Cup Finals against the Spoked B? Has that been a fleeting thought in his hockey-addled brain given the way that the two teams have jumped ahead of everybody else this season?

Of course it has for Jumbo Joe…you betcha by golly wow. .

It’s a scenario that’s obviously way, way, way down the paved puck road, and Thornton will have to do something he’s never done before in his much-ballyhooed 10 years in the NHL: carry on a team on his back to the Cup Finals. But the potential is strong for it to happen this season, and could all begin with that game circled in red ink on his Inspirational Thoughts wall calendar for the 2008-09 season.

“Oh if [our playoff fortunes] allow it, it would be awesome,” said Thornton, who is wearing the ‘C’ for the Western Conference All-Stars during this weekend’s festivities. “But we’d have to win in the Finals to make it even more special. But it’s a long, long way to go. It would be kind of neat to see them in the Finals.”

For the record the only players still with the Bruins from Thornton’s era in Boston are Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas, P.J. Axelsson and Mark Stuart.

FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES FROM MONTREAL, CHECK BACK WITH PUCKS WITH HAGGS THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Hal Gill, Joe Thornton, Mark Stuart
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