Archive for September, 2010

That was a long day

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

BELFAST — Was. Past tense. As in screw what time it is back in the states, this day — as fantastic and eye-opening as it’s been — should come to an end for the sake of re-energizing to do it all again. And I can’t wait. Let us recap.

The day started Wednesday morning with media day and pushed right on through until late Thursday (Belfast time). Not a lot of sleeping on the flight, but that’s what happens when you can have all the crackers, bacon egg and cheese sandwiches, and Diet Coke you can dream of.

The end of the plane ride was pretty fascinating in that I was surprised that the quote of the entire trip would come so early on. In doing the whole rundown of local time, weather, etc. when the plane landed, the pilot said the weather was “a little sketchy.” That would still have me confused now if I didn’t see a “Humps for 200 yards” traffic sign 10 minutes later.

For those who haven’t been to Belfast or even Ireland before, it’s amazing. Plus there are a bunch of cows all over the place. From a hockey standpoint, the team doesn’t seem dazed or confused from the travel at all, which is a good sign. The team held a productive practice and it doesn’t seem to be lost on them that though they’re overseas to open the season, they’re also being given their final two chances to shape up following an ugly loss to the Capitals Lite at TD Garden on Wednesday. There seems to be a good amount of accountability in that regard, so it should be interesting to see the Bruins go full-speed ahead in Belfast and then in Liberic before finally playing two in Prague with the Coyotes.

Bruins skate at 11 a.m. Friday, 5 a.m. your time, so look forward to waking up to a whole new batch of Belfast goodness.

Julien toys with Thornton in Belfast

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

BELFAST — There is no overstating just how big a hit Shawn Thornton has been since landing with the Bruins in Belfast on Thursday morning. Photographers and writers were eagerly awaiting his arrival as they stopped and asked him questions while he was still in the airport.

All of the hoopla, of course, is because Thornton’s mother was born in Belfast, hasn’t been there since she was six or seven by Thornton’s recollection, and will be in attendance — with 19 other family members — when the Bruins play the Belfast Giants/Elite League All Stars on Saturday. It will be a big moment for both Shawn and his family.

That’s where some of Claude Julien‘s humor came into play. Julien said in Thursday’s preference that while discussing how ecstatic Thornton was to head to Northern Ireland, coach told his forward he would be doing so in a different capacity than expected.

“I think there’s no doubt he was the happiest of the bunch [when he found out the Bruins were going to Belfast,” Julien said. “This will eb his claim to fame right now, being here in his mom’s hometown. He’s been excited. I’ve seen it in his face for a few days, so I told him he’d enjoy watching the game from the stands on Saturday.”

How did he take the news?

“He lost his smile there for a few seconds until he realized I was joking around.”

Thornton is currently switching in and out of the fourth line with Brian McGrattan.

The Bruins aren’t the only ones excited…

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

BELFAST — Phone calls out on whether the folks at Belfast will erect a statue of Shawn Thornton have yet to be returned (the Northern Ireland media has gone bonkers for the forward whose mother was born in Belfast), but in the meantime here’s a little something to show their excitement for the Bruins to take on the Giants.

Bruins have sleeping in the aisles to thank for energetic practice

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

BELFAST — If you expected the Bruins to roll into Belfast falling over themselves with fatigue, as unlikely as it would seem given the last two days and jet lag, you were somehow wrong.

Just a few hours after arriving at their hotel, the team tore up the ice at the Odyssey Arena in a high-energy practice. One of the highlights of the skate, which was a truly entertaining hour and a half, was a drill in which a skater would take a penalty shot. Players would essentially bet sprints on whether they would score, lining up on one wall to signify their faith in the scorer and the other to support the goaltender. Players laughed throughout the drill — hearing it from teammates as they would shift from wall to wall based on the shooter — but by the end of it had skated plenty.

Though one might think a practice in which players were both sprinting tirelessly and in high spirits would be impossible after a five-hour flight that came with a five-hour time-difference, that’s simply what came of Thursday’s skate.

“I think guys are trying to compensate for the tired legs and stuff and trying to get the most out of it,” defenseman Andrew Ference said. “Coach has had this planned out for a while, what the day was going to look like, just to try to get over the jet lag as quick as possible. We knew the practice was going to be a good one to get the legs going, and I think guys took it seriously. We want to get on the right foot as quick as possible here.”

Asked if he was able to get any shuteye on the plane, Ference said he employed a tactic used in his WHL days.

“I think all the guys that played in the Western League (slept) on the floor. We’re used to sleeping on the floor of the bus.”

Seriously?

“Oh yeah. The Western League guys are pros at that. I grabbed a towel that was as thin as paper and got down there for a bit.”

To sleep on the floor during a flight with a plane full of teammates may be a sign of faith that pranksters would refrain from tapping their feet or employing other tactics to disrupt one’s slumber. Ference wasn’t worried about such shenanigans interfering with his rest, but for a different reason.

“Z’s part of the Western League boys,” he explained, “so if anybody messes around [they to deal with Zdeno Chara].”

As for how Ference did at choosing in the penalty-shot fiasco, he ended up skating quite a bit after the shooters got off to a hot start.

“I’m a good guy, so I bet on the gaol-scorers every single time,” Ference said in defense of himself. “Well, maybe the goalies won’t think I’m a god guy, but I believed in our goal-scorers every time. It was probably about half (right) and half (wrong) I think.”

Cultural differences: Part 1

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

BELFAST — I was champing at the bit to make up a “cultural differences” series when I saw this poster outside the playhouse in Belfast. You know that really popular play “Movin’ Out”? You know why it’s set to Billy Joel music? Because Billy Joel sings everything. Everybody knows all his songs. He can play “Zanzibar” live and everyone in the house will know every word, even though the song was never a single. He definitely has enough hits to last an entire play.

Well, our first cultural difference encountered has a lot to do with that. This is a poster for the play “Sunshine on Leith.”

The Proclaimers. Even a bad music aficionado couldn’t name five songs by them. Must be a short play. Off to practice now, check back here for some interesting stuff.

We’ve landed in Belfast

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

BELFAST — …And I could totally bust out a “5,000 Things We’ve Learned” right now but Bruins’ practice and drowsiness from barely sleeping in the last however many hours would get in the way. Instead here are some pictures from the first night/morning of the trip, many of which were taken on a camera phone, so all apologies.

Shawn Thornton and Patrice Bergeron: Irish brothers?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

BELFAST — The European trip to kick off the Bruins’ 2010-11 season can be viewed as being about a lot of things. From seeing new places to seeing unfamiliar teams in preseason and getting a good deal of team bonding in, there are plenty of story lines that run congruent with the team’s 10-day trip. Just days away from the Bruins’ exhibition game with the Belfast Giants in Northern Ireland, one player comes to mind for embracing his family ties and soaking up the tradition. That player, of course, is Shawn Thornton, but should there be more?

Thornton’s mother, born in Belfast, flew in on Wednesday to stay with her cousin while her son is in town. Given all the excitement throughout his relatives, the veteran forward is expecting 20 family members to both show him around and attend Saturday’s game. Reallocation of the players’ tickets certainly came into play as a result.

“There’s a lot of guys who did not need tickets for this game. Thank God,” Thornton said with a smile. “I’ve got the most.”

Yet while Thornton is eager to see family members, some of whom he’s never met, there’s another Irish relative he’s excited for, and one Bruins fans might be a little more familiar with: Quebec’s own Patrice Bergeron.

“My grandfather was born in Northern Ireland. He came over a long time ago with his parents. It’s been a long time, but it’s going to be pretty special to go there,” Bergeron said of the surprising bloodlines.

Born and raised in Quebec and a star of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a teenager, there isn’t much about Bergeron’s upbringing or time in the game that screams “Northern Ireland.”  Though Bergeron isn’t sure if he actually still has any relatives in the area, Thornton can assure him that he has at least one.

“I mean, we’re Irish brothers,” Thornton said. “I call him Patrick Cleary, not Patrice Bergeron, so we’re probably related back from back there at some point.”

And thus perhaps the most unlikeliest of connections, even by sarcasm’s standards, is made. Both players are Canadian-born, of course, and neither have been to Belfast before. Though they’ll be there for just three days before departing for Prague on Sunday, the anticipation isn’t lost on either of them.

“It will be good to see some family,” Thornton said. “I’ve met some of them — they used to come over and visit my grandmother over time — so it will be good to see them again and hopefully get some local knowledge of the city.”

Bergeron, whose father’s last name actually is Cleary, is definitely excited for the trip, though it’s unlikely he’ll play the role as resident Belfast expert like Thornton hopes he will. Asked if he and Bergeron would embrace the culture heavily through the wearing of scally caps to truly reflect their Irish heritage, Thornton didn’t hide mask his pride a bit.

“I’ve got tons of them. We’re going to look for some while we’re over there, but I’ll be bringing a few just in case,” he said.”

Especially in the case of Prague, many players have some places in mind when it comes to sight-seeing. Bergeron spoke of how beautiful he found the city when he last played there in 2004 representing Canada in the World Championships.

For the Belfast leg of the trip, Thornton has put forth an effort in looking up interesting spots to take teammates during the team’s three days in Northern Ireland. That doesn’t mean he still won’t rely heavily on the natives in his family to direct him.

“I’m sure I don’t retain as much information as I should when I [research places], so I’ll probably just play it by ear when I get over there,” Thornton said. “I’ve got aunts and uncles that will be taking me around. I’m sure their knowledge of it is better than what I can find on Wikipedia.”