The Black and Gold resuscitated the puck pride and the hockey love in the pre-Christmas portion of the 2008-09 schedule, and now they simply have to keep the puck pedal to the metal during the hockey club’s traditional stretch run.
Normally a Bruins team didn’t really start gaining momentum until after New Year’s Day, but the sellouts, W’s and enthusiasm have bloomed a bit early this year. They now simply have to keep it up while protecting their playoff pole position as the intensity level starts to heighten.
And then the B’s have to win a playoff round or two to truly cement the love connection between the fan base and the blue collar, rough and tumble Bruins. They’ve impressed and captured the imagination of legions over the last few months, but they need to succeed and conquer in the postseason to settle in with the rest of Boston’s dynastic teams.
As an aside, every sporting goods store that I visited while Christmas shopping was out of Bruins’ merchandise and reported that it was flying off the shelves. Another great sign to all of the hockey krishnas out there that the Bruins are truly back, and perhaps now a new generation of Spoked B heroes will inspire another hockey talent boom in New England.
The day and age existed not long ago when Massachusetts high school hockey talent would be plentiful in the first round of the NHL draft, but that currently seems to be the domain of Minnesota high school hockey. I hope that can change. With that particular request on my Christmas Wish List, here’s a list of Christmas gifts left under the tree by jolly St. Looch. It seemed an appropriate time to dole out gifts to the Bruins players and organization on a day when most people are out and about returning clothing that didn’t quite fit or exchanging that Cosby sweater from grandma that just had Huxtable written all over it.
Marc Savard – a spot on Team Canada. The playmaking center has clearly become the apple of Don Cherry’s eye on Hockey Night in Canada. By my count, it’s four straight weeks that Grapes has mentioned Savvy in one way or another and last week he matter-of-factly said that Savard should be assured a spot on the national team. The two-way talent has proven he belongs with the hockey elite from his country, and it goes without saying that he’s the key cog for the Bruins.
David Krejci — good health and a catchy nickname. That’s all you can give to the slick, young, humble, talented playmaking center that is the future of this Bruins franchise. Anybody who has ever skated with or against Krejci leaves the experience raving about just how good he is, and how high his skill level goes. The kid is simply special.
Phil Kessel — An All-Star nod. The 21-year-old is on pace for the first 50-goal season since Cam Neely memorably scored 50 in 49 games back in 1993-94 and has busted his way onto the NHL national scene. He is the latest scoring superstar in the Lecavalier, Vanek mode and should be another puck constellation in Montreal with the galaxy of hockey stars next month.
Michael Ryder — Plenty of crow to feed his critics.
Bruins doubters were chomping at the bit to jump all over Ryder after he served as the $12 million consolation prize this summer following Marian Hossa’s deal with the Detroit Red Wings. The 28-year-old scored 14 goals and found himself on the pine during the playoffs last year with the Habs and started hearing it in Boston after scoring only two goals in the first 17 games. Now Ryder is third on the team with 12 goals and on pace for the 30 goal season expected out of him to begin with.
Milan Lucic — Brass knuckles and an awesome pair of nunchucks.The Looch is going to need everything in his arsenal when the Habs come visit Boston on Jan. 13 during the next round of the completely electrified Bruins/Habs rivalry. Big Georges Laraque will be gunning for the Looch and this might be the right time for The Rumble in the Hub.
Zdeno Chara — A copy of Rocky IV. Whenever I think of Chara’s speech patterns, his insanely crafted conditioning program that includes world class cycling and his towering frame, I think of only one man: Ivan Drago. I must break you. If he dies, he dies.
Blake Wheeler — a Calder Trophy. Wheeler already has a hat trick and a highlight reel goal to his credit in his first 34 games in the Black and Gold and is among the top NHL rookie producers this season. This is a signing that Peter Chiarelli, Don Sweeney, Cam Neely and Jim Benning can look at as a huge win for the organization, and validation that they’re on the right path.
Dennis Wideman — An oxygen machine. Behind Chara’s amazing 26 minutes per game that he’s averaged since the start of the season, the 25-year-old blueliner is averaging 25:22 of ice time while playing good offensive and defensive hockey. Wideman is a good role model for young puck-moving defenseman in the system such as Matt Lashoff, and his continued improvement has mitigated the need to deal for a puck-moving defenseman.
Patrice Bergeron — Good health and a fast recovery from his second concussion.
There was scary silence in the Garden stands when he went down against Carolina with his second concussion, and the reports of lingering headaches make you fear for the worst. Bruins fan can only hope and pray that he doesn’t become the latest concussion cautionary tale. Everybody is rooting for #37.
Chuck Kobasew — An opportunity to take part in the playoffs. Kobasew went down with injury just prior to the playoffs last season and missed a chance to take part in the franchise-altering series against the Canadiens. Kobasew plays a gritty game and is made for playoff hockey, and hopefully should be a healthy factor for the B’s this time around.
Matt Hunwick — A permanent NHL paycheck. Necessity is the mother of invention…at least that’s what I’ve been told. With injuries all over the blueline, Hunwick was called up from Providence after being one of the last cuts during training camp, and he’s been among the best rookie defenseman in the NHL this season. His compete levels and tenacity have improved, and he could always move the puck and serve as an offensive partner with more defense-minded D-men like Aaron Ward and Mark Stuart.
Marco Sturm — a “Sturm Face” mask that the German-born winger can market for next Halloween. With Bruins merchandise again gaining popularity in the Hub, who wouldn’t want to wear a “Sturm Face” mask for Halloween. I can picture a Halloween tilt at the Garden next season with thousands of fans donning their Sturm masks as a clear sign of mental warfare against the opponent. Frightening.
P.J. Axelsson — a DVD copy of the movie “Zoolander”. Not sure if the Swede has ever seen the movie, but it could give him some new fashion ideas for the New Year. A couple more goals in the second half of the year might be nice too.
Stephane Yelle — A carbon copy of his first 34 games. There was some questioning of the Yelle move because it displaced younger players for the time being, but his opportunistic offense, PK abilities, faceoff skills, big game experience and quiet leadership are final ingredients that the team badly needed. Yelle will be valuable come playoff time.
Shane Hnidy — A Sheriff Shane Hnidy badge from NESN’s Jack Edwards.
The 33-year-old had his career year with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006-07 when he totaled 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) and a +15, and he’s in line to surpass those totals while providing valuable play amid the defenseman injuries in Boston. Another solid underrated pickup by GM Peter Chiarelli and the B’s front office during his time in Boston.
Andrew Ference — Good health. Don Cherry said that Ference showed “Good Canadian fighting spirit” when he continued killing off a penalty with a broken tibia earlier this year. His toughness, offensive ability on the power play and willingness to stand up for his teammates are attributes that make him a key part of this team. Despite the team’s success, he’s been missed while recuperating from the broken leg. Ference is another guy that raises his game noticeable levels in the postseason and will be needed.
Shawn Thornton — a bucket of ice for his right punching hand. Signing Thornton away from the Ducks was one of Chiarelli’s first moves when he decided the Bruins needed to be tougher to play against, and he’s given the Black and Gold exactly what they were searching for. Isn’t afraid to scrap with players twice his size — something he’s done numerous times in so many blowout wins this year – and has enough offensive ability to sting a team that takes his fourth line lightly. Has taken as many or more shots on goal (58) than David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler, Chuck Kobasew and Marco Sturm thus far this season.
Mark Stuart — A Captain Caveman T-shirt. Teammates have said at times that Stuart has “caveman strength” and he’s shown it off in developing the Aaron Ward-style forearm shiver he throws puck carriers around with. Stuart isn’t flashy, but he has a booming shot, he’s physical and his ability to stand up for his teammates makes him a perfect fit for this team.
Aaron Ward — A bionic body. Ward inevitably breaks down each season given the way he throws around his 35-year-old body, blocks shots and plays a physical game to neutralize young, faster opponents. But the Bruins need his leadership. Ward knows what it takes a win a Cup, and is invaluable in a young locker room.
Petteri Nokelainen — A couple of goals. Nokelainen works hard — as attested by the 10 penalties he’s drawn while skating on the fourth line — and plays a physical game and deserves a few fortunate bounces of the puck in the second half of the season.
Vladimir Sobotka — a roster spot with the Bruins. Sobotka aggravates, irritates and has the clear offensive ability to make things happen on the ice. Signing a veteran like Yelle was the right move, but Sobotka also clearly belongs in Boston.
Martin St. Pierre, Martin Karsums, Matt Lashoff, Johnny Boychuk — More playing time…in Providence. Each young player has done exactly what was expected out of them when called up from the AHL, and is a testament to the B’s organizational depth. But more ice time in Boston for each means more injuries, and that’s about the only thing that can derail this Bruins train.
Tim Thomas — a new three-year contract extension. Thomas has proven that he will excel as part of a two-goalie tandem, which frankly is something that all NHL teams should be looking at adopting. Sources have indicated to me that Thomas and the Bruins are making good progress on a three-year deal, so that’s a great sign. One goalie expected to play 70 games leaves a team in a dire situation if an injury occurs, and has clearly led to goaltender fatigue during the postseasons in the recent past. That won’t happen with the B’s this season.
Manny Fernandez — a hearty handshake and an interested NHL suitor following the end of this season. Fernandez has been excellent in tandem and it would be tempting to simply sign both Thomas and Fernandez for the next 2-3 years, but Thomas and Rask will be the future between the Boston pipes. I think it would be foolish to break up the best goaltending tandem during a run to the playoffs, and there will be ample interest in Fernandez after he puts up numbers this season.
Claude Julien — A shiny Jack Adams trophy for the mantle piece. Julien has coached circles around the rest of the NHL for the last two years, and he should finally get the award this season after a pair of very deserving years. He’s been able to adjust his style with whatever talent the Bruins have on their roster, and that’s the true sign of good coaching. He’s the best coach and mentor of young players that the Bruins have had behind their bench in a long, long time.
Peter Chiarelli — A contract extension. Chiarelli has done everything he said he was going to upon his arrival in Boston, and he’s proven to be the right guy to bring back another worthy chapter in the history of the Big Bad Bruins. He has surrounded himself with talented front office people and has avoided dealing young talent before it was in full bloom. His decision not to deal Phil Kessel last year is paying off huge dividends as he’s blossomed into an elite sniper this season.
Cam Neely — A new #8 sweater in the third alternate home jersey.
Is it wrong to hope that — just prior to Game 7 of a playoff matchup with the Canadiens this season — the spotlight goes up to Neely in the GM’s box, he rips off his suit to show his Bruins sweater underneath, and he storms pro wrestling-style onto the ice to skate with the B’s and puts them over the top against the dreaded Habs. I’m not asking for the mighty, mighty Cam to hit Georges Laraque with a folding aluminum chair, or anything like that. That’s not too crazy, is it?
Jeremy and Charlie Jacobs — a few thank yous from a Boston fan base that continues to be way too harsh on them. There was a time when it was en vogue to trash JJ and — by proxy — CJ, and they did deserve skepticism for their past unwillingness to spend money. But that time is over now. There’s a salary cap in the NHL and the ownership is spending to the cap limit. Not only that, but they gulped down the contracts of Peter Schaefer and Glen Murray when it was deemed necessary by hockey operations. Their willingness to spend money and hire the new wave of hockey executives is a big part of the Bruins again gaining relevance.