Archive for September, 2009

Bruins name Sweeney to Assistant GM post

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

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

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

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

Friday, September 25th, 2009

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

Friday, September 25th, 2009

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

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

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.”

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

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

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.

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

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

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.