Archive for December, 2009

Already an ‘amazing’ experience for Bruins

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Winter Classic Bruins HockeyOn cue, the snow, the Bruins and the excitement, arrived at the Winter Classic ice rink at Fenway Park Thursday.

And from the moment they left the locker room – make that the dugout – the Bruins were enjoying the moment.

“It was amazing when we walked up the stairs, the snow was coming down, seeing Fenway Park in the background,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “It was amazing. A great day, a great moment, great experience for me, I’m just glad to be part of it.”

After posing for a team picture – one with knits hats, one without – the players and coaches became reacquainted with simple concept of outdoor hockey. When it snows, you shovel.

“I remember when I was a kid that was my first job,” Bruins center Marc Savard said. “I think I was around 13 years old and shoveled the outdoor rink and opened and closed the shack.”

Things were a little different Thursday, as pro athletes and coaches jumped into grab snow shovels, although the team’s young guns seemed to be handling most of the snow removal duties.

“I kind of noticed that the younger guys had grabbed shovels, I figured I better help out too,” said rookie Adam McQuaid, obviously a quick study at the ways and means of young NHL players.

He was not alone.

“I was just doing what I was told, I remember it from the old days,” second-year forward Blake Wheeler said. “Back in the day, when it was snowing that hard we’d just go inside and wait for it to clear.”

The snow certainly added to the atmosphere inside Fenway, as did the up-tempo music and sea of fans making there way to the “Free Fan Festival” across the street.

Seat cushions were in place, albeit with a dusting of fresh snow. The left field scoreboard had replaced the American League East standings with those of the NHL’s Northeast Division.

Home plate had been transformed into a music stage, set for James Taylor to sing the US national anthem, Daniel Powter the Canadian version and the Dropkick Murphy’s to punctuate the day with “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.”

There was no doubt, the Winter Classic was in play.

“It’s crazy,” said Steve Begin, “It’s fun. The ice was unbelievable. It was special. I haven’t skated in snow in a long time.”

While the snow was fun for practice, players were in general agreement that it would not be a good thing for the game itself.

“Hopefully we are going to get some clear ice out there because with the snow it makes it pretty interesting,” Wheeler said. “If not, that’s the way it is and we have to adapt to it and play the game accordingly.”

Aside from the obvious changes from a regular NHL game, the outdoor contest presents some interesting qualities.

With Tim Thomas likely to get the starting nod in goal, Tuukka Rask could be one of the coldest players on the ice as he sits through the game. But in keeping with his usual calm approach, Rask’s taking it all in stride.

“Someone told me there were seat warmers and you could always drink hot chocolate,” said Rask. “Gear up, put a tuc on and enjoy. No stress for me. If I’m cold, then I’m cold.”

There has also never been a fight in a Winter Classic game. Former Flyers enforcer Dave “the hammer “ Schultz, was wondering about that while skating at the rink earlier in the week.

“There’s never been one so at this point, I think we should try it out,” grinned Schultz. “Flyers and Bruins – its gotta happen.”

Shawn Thornton would be a potential candidate to drop the gloves for the Bruins, but he wasn’t expressing any interest in looking to start a brawl.

“I honestly have never gone into a hockey game thinking about fighting, this is no different,” Thornton said while holding court in David Ortiz’s locker. “I’m going to go play hockey as if it were any other game. If something needs to be addressed, it will be addressed. I’m sure it’s the same on the other side.”

Fights or no fights, snow or no snow, when all was said and done there was little doubt the Bruins were enjoying the experience.

“It’s great, it’s awesome,” said center David Krejci. “I can’t wait to go out there tomorrow and see 35,000 people cheering for you and being excited about the game.”

Drop the puck.

Photos from Fenway on the eve of the Winter Classic

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Courtesy of WEEI.com’s Graig Woodburn, some photos of this morning’s preparations at Fenway Park for the NHL’s 2010 Winter Classic:

A photo from the center field stands shows the players on the rink. (Graig Woodburn)

A photo from the center field stands shows the players on the rink. (Graig Woodburn)

The Bruins enjoy a skate on the ice. (Graig Woodburn)

The Bruins enjoy a skate on the ice. (Graig Woodburn)

The Bruins pose for the team photo at center ice, with the center field bleachers in the background. (Graig Woodburn)

The Bruins pose for the team photo at center ice, with the center field bleachers in the background. (Graig Woodburn)

The Bruins hit the ice amidst a dusting of snow. (Graig Woodburn)

The Bruins hit the ice amidst a dusting of snow. (Graig Woodburn)

Getting ready for a Classic

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Bruins show their true focus

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Claude Julien wasn’t so worried Wednesday about his team looking ahead to Friday’s once-in-a-lifetime game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park .

The Bruins head coach was more concerned with his team just finding consistency and focus – both of which have been lacking in a season after finishing atop the Eastern Conference.

But on Wednesday night at the Garden, Julien watched from behind the Bruins bench with a smile as his team executed a nearly flawless performance in a 4-0 win over the Atlanta Thrashers.

Afterward, Julien, Tuukka Rask and Marc Savard, with two assists in the win, were among those to talk about the win and finally able to look ahead to Friday.

Julien said the team’s focus was much better on Wednesday.

Julien said the Bruins clearly were focused and not distracted by Olympics or Winter Classic.

Tuukka Rask said he thought Atlanta mailed it in once they got behind.

Rask said the team is now looking ahead to Friday against Philly, a team they feel they need to beat.

Marc Savard congratulated fellow Canadian Patrice Bergeron on making Team Canada’s Olympic team.

Savard said it was great to be able to put the Thrashers away.

Savard said the Bruins proved they weren’t distracted by the Winter Classic on Friday.

Olympic selection thrills Bergeron

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

It was not just another day at the rink for Bruins center Patrice Bergeron.

The 24-year-old received a message during the team’s morning skate that, Kevin Lowe, an official with the Canadian Olympic hockey team had called. Upon returning the call, Bergeron learned a dream had come true and  he was headed to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“I’m pretty happy, pretty excited about it,” said Bergeron outside the Bruins locker room before tonight’s contest against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Bergeron was the only player selected for the Canadian team that had not been invited to a training camp this summer. Instead, he earned his way into being selected as one of  the 13 forwards on Canada’s Olympic squad by playing consistently strong hockey all season.

“I worked hard, it wasn’t just for the Olympics, but for the Bruins and I’m very happy to get rewarded like that today,” said Bergeron, who leads the Bruins in scoring with 29 points and is among the top faceoff men in the league.

Still, the skilled forward was somewhat taken aback to learn he would be helping Canada try to win a Gold Medal while hosting the Olympics in mid-February.

“It was kind of hard to believe today, it was kind of overwhelming a little bit,” said Bergeron. “My family is here for the New Year, so I was real happy to have them here with me. I’m very honored and very happy. It’s a great feeling.”

NHL Power Rankings — 12/30

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

pr_header2

The end of 2009 doesn’t end the Devils’ reign atop the WEEI Power Rankings. Here’s to every team having a happy start to the New Year.

New Jersey Devils 1. (1) 27-9-1  Each week we think about making a change at the top. But it’s tough to argue with the fact that the team that has played the fewest games (37) has the most wins (27).

Chicago Blackhawks2. (2) 26-10-3  Beating Detroit once and Nashville twice in the last week helps the Blackhawks maintain a solid hold on their lead in the Central Division. Now they host the Devils Thursday, with a chance to move atop our rankings.

San Jose Sharks3. (5) 24-8-7  The Sharks knock off the Blackhawks, Ducks and Coyotes, and Joe Thornton now leads the league in scoring. That’s a good week.

Washington Capitals4. (4) 24-9-6  This would be Exhibit A in the case suggesting the Capitals simply don’t have the right focus to be taken as a serious contender. They beat Buffalo and New Jersey, then lose to Carolina at home.

Minnesota Wild5. (6) 24-11-4  Rallying from a three-goal deficit to take a 4-3 victory over the Penguins Tuesday allows the Sabres to leap past Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Penguins6 . (3) 26-13-1  After squandering a 3-0 lead in Tuesday’s loss at Buffalo, the Penguins have dropped three of their last four games.

Phoenix Coyotes7. (10) 25-13-3  Who says the desert is no place to play hockey? The Coyotes took a 3-2 shootout victory over Vancouver Tuesday and set a franchise record with their 10th straight win on home ice.

Colorado Avalanche8. (9) 22-12-6  The surprising Avalanche may be in the fight for the long haul. Colorado has gone 7-3 in its last 10 games.

Nashville Predators9. (7) 23-14-3  Tough sledding for the Predators this past week, losing to Vancouver and twice to Chicago. A 4-3 victory over St. Louis got Nashville back on track Tuesday.
Calgary Flames10. (11) 21-12-5  This says a lot about the NHL. The Flames are 4-6-2 in December, but that’s good enough to tread water and stay among the top 10 points leaders.

(more…)

Looking back: Bruins get bounced

Monday, December 28th, 2009

storm1(WEEI.com is counting down the “Top 10 Things We Couldn’t Shut Up About In 2009,” and No. 10 is the Bruins getting eliminated from the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes. Here is a written, visual and audio look at the surprising end to the B’s season.)

Sometimes things come together and bring success in ways nobody could have imagined. The 2008-09 Bruins were an unlikely candidate for such an achievement. An aging goaltender, a front office that — like the one before —  was starting to look like it was getting taken advantage of, a 2006 free agent class that had yet to bring Eastern Conference dominance for the money invested, and an inability to beat the bad guys of Montreal were just some of the things that had the Hub down on hockey.

The infamous Joe Thornton trade having doomed the franchise, Harvard product Peter Chiarelli was named general manager in 2006 and, after spending the fifth overall selection on University of Minnesota winger Phil Kessel, signed top free agents Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. With Andrew Raycroft out of the picture, Tim Thomas assumed the job in net under a team to be coached by Dave Lewis. After finishing the 2006-07 season with just 76 points and finishing dead last in the Northeast Division, the B’s ushered Lewis out and brought in former Devils and Canadiens coach Claude Julien.

storm2The team made strides in the 2007-08 campaign but doubt still lingered on Causeway Street. Despite Dennis Wideman, who a year earlier had been acquired for Brad Boyes, finishing the season a plus-11, naysayers pointed to the lack of a 30-goal-scorer and to the fact that Boyes wound up with 42 goals. The Bruins finished the season with 94 and secured the final playoff spot in the East before being eliminated in seven games by the Canadiens, who had also beaten them seven of eight regular-season contests. It was after their comeback from 3-1 in the series fell short, however, that the tide turned.

With offseason additions that included Blake Wheeler and former Hab Michael Ryder, the 2007-08 Bruins represented a departure from the hockey that had been seen post-lockout in Boston. Kessel emerged as the 30-goal-scorer that Boston had been calling for, with 32 goals, and Ryder wasn’t far behind with 27. Savard was the team’s third 25-goal-scorer and led the team with 88 points as Boston finished the season first in the East with 116 points, just one behind the Sharks for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Thomas and Manny Fernandez established themselves as the league’s best goaltending tandem early on, as Thomas, who in April turned 35, posted a 2.10 goals-against average en route to winning his first Vezina Trophy. Fernandez had a 2.07 GAA in 19 games in the season’s first half, though he followed it up with a 3.65 mark in nine games following. Eventual Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara — who anchored the season’s only defense to allow less than 200 goals (196) — added 50 points and a plus-23.

storm3Everything had changed. Even the Canadiens, who for years had left Boston hopeless, were no match for the Bruins, whose success landed Julien the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach. Boston went 5-0-1 against Julien’s former team in the regular season and in an ironic turn of events faced its rival as the No. 1 seed after facing the top-seeded Canadiens as the No. 8 just a year before. Unlike 2008’s nail-biter, the first round was a breeze for the Bruins, who swept their rivals in four games. With a 4-1 victory at the Bell Centre in Game 4, the Bruins had finally given the Canadiens — who were ESPN’s preseason Stanley Cup favorites — and their fans a feeling that they themselves were all too familiar with.

If Boston fans were scared by the ghosts of Montreal, their next opponent should have been just as scary. The Hurricanes had experience on their side, as they raised the Cup in ’06 behind goaltender Cam Ward. However, the team had fired coach Peter Laviolette in December and hired Paul Maurice en route to a 96-point season that landed them the sixth seed.

The Bruins improved to 5-0 in the playoffs with a Game 1 victory in Boston, but Ward stepped up in Game 2 by silencing the offense and the TD Banknorth Garden crowd with a 3-0 shutout. The Hurricanes used home victories in Game 3 and 4 to push the East’s top team to the brink of elimination, but Thomas allowed just two goals through the next two games to send the series to Game 7.

It seemed only fitting that a season as exciting as ’08-09 would have to end in overtime of a Game 7, which is exactly what it did. After the teams sparred to a 2-2 tie (including a Hurricanes goal from old friend Sergei Samsonov) Scott Walker took a rebound from a Ray Whitney shot and beat Thomas to send the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference finals and end what had been a faith-renewing season in Boston. The run had ended, but the season had injected an Original Six town with Bruins fever all over again.

Peter Chiarelli: The Sporting News Executive of the Year said that maybe the Bruins underestimated the Hurricanes in their playoff series: http://audio.weei.com/m/22330315/peter-chiarelli-bruins-gm.htm
Jeremy Jacobs & Gary Bettman: Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs joined Dale & Holley for the second edition of the Owners Series. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman joined the conversation to discuss the overall state of the NHL and the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals: http://audio.weei.com/m/22483980/jeremy-jacobs-bruins-owner-gary-bettman-nhl-commissioner.htm

Claude Julien: The coach talked about last year ending on a disappointing note but looked ahead to this year and discussed the new players adjusting to the Bruins system and players returning from injuries, and helped preview the 2009-10 Bruins: http://audio.weei.com/m/26670179/claude-julien-bruins-head-coach.htm