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Blame Canada: Bruins ready for Western Sweep

10.30.08 at 9:55 am ET

Much was rightfully made of Milan Lucic returning to Vancouver for the first time in his NHL career, but it’s a homecoming for a number of the Bruins each and every time they make the trek to the Great White North of Western Canada. Chuck Kobasew is traveling with the team — and nearing a return from a fractured ankle — and was formerly a member of the Calgary Flames for parts of four seasons. Kobasew was a scratch for Thursday night’s game, but could be ready to play next week.

Andrew Ference was also a card-carrying Flame for parts of three seasons while the stop through Edmonton allowed the 29-year-old a brief visit to his hometown. I still remember Ference telling the story — when he was first traded here — that he grew up in the same neighborhood that Petr Klima lived in while he was playing with the Edmonton Oilers. Believe it or not, young Ference was a hockey-loving 11-year-old mowing Klima’s lawn when he potted the memorable overtime goal in Game One against the Bruins in 1989-90 Stanley Cup Finals.

So, for guys like Ference and Kobasew, the voyage out to Western Canada is just as enjoyable as it was for Milan Lucic, who was grinning ear-to-ear given the attention he was showered with by the Vancouver media prior to the B’s 1-0 win Tuesday night.

“It’ll be fun for me to go back to Calgary and see a few of the guys that I played with that are still on the team,” said Ference. “We have a lot of young guys on our roster too, and it’s going to be good for them to play in these games. In many ways the hockey out in places like Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton is the purest pro hockey that you’ll ever experience.

“It’s something I’ve really come to look forward to, so hopefully we do well while we’re out there,” added Ference.

Kessel still impressing

Well, the B’s have already stamped a Borat-style “Great Success” imprint on the three-game road trip with a pair of Tim Thomas-authored 1-0 shutout wins over the Oilers and Canucks, but can really go for the gusto with the road finale at the Pengrowth Saddledome tonight. [Quick Pucks with Haggs aside here: Pengrowth sounds like something you have surgically removed from your body rather than a traditionally imposing moniker for a hockey rink in Alberta. Can you imagine a couple of Flames fans asking each other if “they’re going to the ‘growth to watch the Flames game tonight?”]

Anyway, the B’s have been impressive in the defensive zone and obviously enjoyed some superior goaltending, but they continue to get tremendous offensive pressure/play from Phil Kessel, David Krejci and Marc Savard despite only registering a goal in each of the first two games on the long and winding road.

Many around the B’s have expressed genuine pleasure watching both the physical and emotional maturation of Kessel as a 21-year-old puck prodigy growing into adulthood. Kessel obviously leads the B’s with six goals this season, but has really grown up in a whirlwind two years that saw him recover from cancer and experience a career-changing benching in last year’s first round of the playoffs.

“I think even though [Phil] is perhaps a bit stubborn in admitting that last year’s playoffs was a learning experience — and I appreciate that same stubbornness that also makes him a good player — it’s been great to watch his maturation both on and off the ice,” said B’s General Manager Peter Chiarelli. “He really seemed to be starting to come out of his shell during training camp this fall. That was good to see.”

Kessel has truly been a different player since coach Claude Julien inserted the young speedster back into the lineup in Game Five against the Canadiens last spring, and it’s been easy to see through his performance firding off wristers on the ice. Off the ice, Kessel has also begun taking on the responsibility that comes along with a being both a professional athlete and cancer survivor — and the powerful effect he can have on youngsters stricken with cancer that view him as an inspirational role model.

The NHL has declared October Hockey Fights Cancer month and over the course of the last month members of the Boston Bruins — including Kessel — reached out to patients of all ages suffering from cancer. Hockey Fights Cancer was a league wide initiative to create cancer awareness.

Here’s some video from the NHL Networks “The Hockey Show” during a recent visit to some of the pediatric patients at Mass General Hospital by Phil the Thrill.

No Money?

Interesting report from Forbes Magazine concerning the NHL and each of the 30 teams in the league. According to Forbes (who has been covering the finances of each team over the last 10 years) the B’s are seventh in the league with a current valuation of $263 million — which includes the TD Banknorth Garden as well as the hockey team.

Interesting to note that the team reportedly lost $3 million last season — one of 11 NHL teams that reportedly lost money during the 2007-08 season. Some have expressed doubt about that figure, but it’s not surprising given that the B’s had one of the worst average attendence figures in the NHL last season while still suffering the post-lock-out aftermath from the bottom dropping out for the B’s.

This might be another chance to try and bash Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs for “cooking the books” to make it look like he’s losing money, but the truth is that it’s a dated, inaccurate criticism when the team is spending up to the NHL-mandated salary cap. Look at the numbers and the product out on the ice, and it’s hard to deny it.

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