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Bruins are looking to retain shaprness with the time off 04.28.09 at 1:12 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — It feels like a big holding pattern is taking place here at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday morning as the Bruins await the identity of their next opponent. That identity will be learned after both of tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7′s between Carolina/New Jersey and New York/Washington have been decided.

The B’s skaters went through a spirited scrimmage for a large portion of practice with plenty of hard skating and fast-paced hockey designed to keep the hockey club as sharp as possible following a potential 9 day layoff. That would be the amount of time between games if the second round series doesn’t begin until Saturday night — following a potential Game 7 between the Celtics and the Bulls at the TD Banknorth Garden.

With that in mind “game situations” was the buzzword of the day with the Bruins following practice.

The players have all been attempting different methods to stay sharp during the long layoff period — with goaltender Tim Thomas harkening back to the big breaks that the Finnish Elite League took during the season for Olympic competition and youngsters like 20-year-old Milan Lucic drawing on the junior hockey experience of sometimes going an entire week without games. But there is some unknown territory as to how much rust will be present when the Black and Gold skaters again suit up this weekend. There could be some level of rust in a Game 1 against a team that hasn’t had much more than five or six days off leading into the upcoming series.

Defenseman Aaron Ward enjoyed the time off, and had friends up from Carolina for the weekend while taking in all three of the Red Sox/Yankees games at Fenway Park — including a stint in the NESN booth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on Friday night. Ward has also watched every playoff game while he’s been at home, and derives a similar adrenaline rush watching playoff hockey as he does playing in it. Getting that rumble in the pit of his stomach allows the veteran to feel like he’s taking a “shot” of game adrenaline — and retaining some sharpness – during the long layoff between series.

“I won’t purposely take time out of my day to watch regular season games unless there’s some underlying theme to it — rivalry, there’s going to be a fight or some magical theme to it — but in the playoffs I’ll watch any game I can possibly find,” said Ward. “Last night I was watching San Jose/Anaheim and watching Calgary even though they’re Western Conference (teams) and we could only possibly play one of them.

“They mean something and it keeps you sharp,” added Ward. “We’ve got ten days off and it kind of incites that feeling in you where you get nervous even though you’re thousands of miles away and you’re not playing. You still get the stomach turning and the butterflies going because you know what kind of pressure (those players) are under.”

The B’s are instead focusing on the positive, and the good health that has returned to many of their players. Patrice Bergeron was allowed to rest a sore foot after taking a shot off the skate during the final regular season brawl-a-thon against the Montreal Canadiens. Bergeron endured through the first round of the playoffs in some level of pain, but has had ample time to heal leading into round two.

Defenseman Andrew Ference is back skating with the team after missing all of the first round with an undisclosed injury, and he’s expected to be healthy entering the Stanley Cup semi-finals. Any injuries and minor ailments that have slipped under the all-knowing, all-powerful scope of the Bruins media corps should be healed up, and ready for a war against whichever squad wins the three-legged puck race.

“It’s important that we don’t let ourselves slip,” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien. “We’re trying to stay on top of our game. (The layoff) is a tough challenge right now. We all know that, but it’s a challenge we have to face. There are no excuses at this time of year. You just have to do it.

“What’s going to help is by (Tuesday) night we’ll know who we’re playing, so by tomorrow there is something to look forward to and you’re preparing against a specific team,” added Julien, who jokingly said he’ll be watching two TVs tonight. “Right now you’re sitting there and talking about three teams. Tomorrow we’ll know it’s one team, and we’ll start preparing accordingly. No doubt that’ll help the focus of the team.”

The return to health is the silver lining, and the Bruins are intent to make the most of it.

“(The time off) is a privilege we earned by winning four straight,” said Julien. “We have to take advantage of it. With everything you get, there’s always challenges. I think the fact that we’ve got an opportunity to rest and heal is all positive. The only challenge is to try and remain sharp. I think we’re doing a decent job of that. We’re going to slowly crank it up, so that by the time the first puck drops we’re going to be ready.” 

–Congrats to Zdeno Chara, who gave birth to a bouncing baby girl on Monday night: Elliz Victoria Chara. The baby girl was 7 pounds, 12 ounces at the time of birth at around 7 p.m. last night. On Tuesday morning at practice, Chara called the birth of Elliz ”the best day of my life”.

–Point of clarification: I had a link up two days ago to a story from a Bruins blogger about the “Stay Hungry” apparel that the team is wearing, and the story mentioned that Julien came up with the slogan. Julien approached me at practice on Monday, and said that the idea behind the hats and shorts was all Marco Sturm’s idea along with the Canadian Ironhead company that produced the clothing.

The hat and shorts feature a Flinstones-style steak as a Logo along with the “Stay Hungry” slogan on the side of the hat, and most of the players are sporting the hats in the postgame dressing room.

“That was all Sturmy,” said Julien. “I had nothing to do with that. Didn’t want to take credit for something that was Marco’s idea.”

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Bruins are looking to avoid past “skinny times” 04.07.09 at 12:09 am ET
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It's the first time in his career that Aaron Ward is looking to avoid the "Skinny Times"

It's the first time in his career that Aaron Ward is looking to avoid the "Skinny Times"

WILMINGTON — With nothing left to clinch during the regular season aside from the prestigious President’s Trophy, the Bruins are now strictly in pre-playoff mode designed to get the hockey club as healthy and sharp — both physically and mentally – as possible when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin roughly a week-and-a-half from now.

Achieving optimal levels heading into the playoffs involve continuing to play hard, focused Bruins hockey over the season’s final four games — with one against a playoff caliber team in the Montreal Canadiens and three versus teams in Ottawa, Buffalo and the New York Islanders that are simply playing out the string at this point. The Black and Gold are rolling with a six-game winning streak that’s returned balanced offense, responsible gritty defense and a little of the nasty snarl that was a hallmark of the B’s when they were at their level-best.

The team-wide message was that there’s no need to mess with that kind of mojo by lifting their collective feet off the gas pedal. All four lines — and three D pairings – have stacked up physically dominant and point-productive shifts, and the worse possible move could be a step or two away from the flow and intensity that’s revived their game. 

“You run into something where if you start to play apprehensive, then that’s when you get into trouble,” said Aaron Ward. “You run into problems if you start trying to back off while you’re playing. You can’t really play a game when you’re trying to keep it safe. You’ve got to play with the same kind of intentions that you’ve had through most of the regular season.

“Look at the momentum that you get from the Recchi, Bergeron and Kobasew line when they just totally crash into the zone,” added Ward. “It’d be foolish for them to step off the gas pedal now. They’re so effective out there and they’re going to maintain that level of play. Same for everybody else. If anything was shown to us during our ‘skinny times’ it was that you can’t just turn it on.”

Clinching the one seed also gives the Bruins a unique opportunity to shuttle players in and out of the lineup over the final four games, and mete out enough rest to have every player as close to 100 percent as possible when that playoff bell starts ringing.

Aaron Ward was given a day off Saturday against the New York Rangers with an injury suffered against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he’s expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday. Phil Kessel and Shawn Thornton were both likewise given ample time last week to rest injury issues leading up to the playoffs — and both are expected in the lineup Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. Likewise, both P.J. Axelsson and Dennis Wideman are getting their turn this week and will have maintenance-type days off against Ottawa on Tuesday night.

“As we go through the week we’ll go through all the stuff that (the media) is talking about whether you rest players or you bring up players (from Providence),” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien. “Those are things that are without a doubt on our agenda.

“Right now we’re in control. Last year until the second-to-last game we were in control of our own destiny, but we didn’t have a spot locked up,” added Julien. “Right now we’re watching all our (potential playoff opponents) and doing our best to prepare. We’re doing our homework.”

The one injury problem of note is Andrew Ference, who left Saturday’s game in the second period and was still being evaluated by Bruins medical people Monday afternoon prior to the team’s departure for the friendly Canadian capital of Ottawa. Losing Ference for any extended period of time would be a blow to the Bruins defensemen depth, but the trade for Steve Montador — along with the ascendant rise of the speed-skating Matt Hunwick — give Julien some options when rounding out any potential Ference-less lineups.

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Bruins turn things around in “biggest game of the year” 03.22.09 at 7:00 pm ET
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In hindsight, the challenge of the New Jersey Devils was exactly what the Bruins pined for during their uninspired March hibernation.

To find their respective games, to prod each of the 2o individuals on board the same Bruins’ bus headed in the proper direction, to capture the elusive 60 minutes of focus in a hockey game, they needed two significant things to happen.

First they needed an on-ice challenge that would bring out the team’s best and recapture the winning combination of hard work and swagger the team exhibited all through the first half of the season — and will keep needing if the playoffs are expected to be anything more than tribute to “what might have been”.

Second, they needed a coaching staff that was both A) able to conjure up something to alleviate the pressure pulling away from the team’s preparation and chipping away at the team’s overall confidence levels and B) able to be bold in their game strategy.

Both things happened this week following a frustrating defeat against the Los Angeles Kings, and both things played directly into the B’s convincing 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at the TD Banknorth Garden on Sunday afternoon.

“We didn’t have any passengers at all,” said Marc Savard, who finished with a goal and an assist and nearly as much ice time (22:41) as both Zdeno Chara (23:21) and Dennis Wideman (22:43) on Sunday. “Everybody had a good game for us, and that’s what we need from here on in. We really wanted this game. We put this up there as the biggest game of the year for us.”

The first part was apparent the day following the Kings defeat, when Bruins’ coach Claude Julien — who had spent some late night postgame hours thinking about the next day’s practice — didn’t reach for the punitive “bag skate” or the fearsome Herbies (named after Herb Brooks and the grueling skating drills that became an unforgettable movie scene in Miracle) on Friday morning. Instead he had the team face each other in a passionate scrimmage and then engage in a breakaway contest that injected some fun back into the game.

Rather than playing the role of hard line taskmaster coach with whip in hand, Julien recognized a hockey club that was clearly pressing and fighting off the building pressure of expectation. He preached for his players to go out and enjoy themselves, and bring some plain old puck joy back into the game.

“I’m not in the habit of calling a coach a genius, but (Julien) surprised us two days ago when he said we’re going to go out and have some fun, play some hockey and — as long as you do it the right way — we’re going to get some fun back into this game,” said B’s defenseman Aaron Ward. “It was apparent in (Saturday’s) practice. Guys executed well and there was some pep in our step. It showed on the ice (Sunday).

“The message was pretty simple,” added Ward. “Everybody’s thinking deep, reaching deep for some momentous answer and, really, what it was was finding some fun in the game. We don’t want to start making proclamations that (the rough patch) is all over, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

All of it worked perfectly for a team squeezing the daylights out of their sticks. The Bruins skaters were gritting their teeth and attempting to slog their way out of the doldrums, but all that seemed to go away once Mark Recchi shoveled a puck off Paul Martin’s right skate and potted Boston’s first power-play strike of the game. Michael Ryder was credited with the goal when Recchi’s shot ticked off Ryder’s stick before hitting Martin’s skate and bouncing in the net.

The effort was remarkable in its similarity to so many solid, physical, concentrated 60-minute efforts during the first three months of the season, and should give assurances that this team is capable of great things. Losses to hockey lowlifes like the Coyotes and Kings can shake optimism and tarnish those December memories, but a late-season win against a motivated, experienced Devils unit — with home ice on the line – trumps them all.

The key now is to maximize the benefit of five days off, and then return with the very same famished intensity for the regular season’s final nine games.  

“Tonight was something that both teams were trying to make a statement,” said Zdeno Chara. “Both teams were playing really hard. We were really desperate. You could see it in the first minute, and the mindset was really unbelievable. You could see that everybody was on the same page. Those are the games that you really enjoy playing in when everybody is doing their job and sacrificing so that the team can win.

“We have nine games left and it’s going to be very important for us to continue to play very hard and very competitive like we did tonight going into the playoffs,” added Chara.

The Black and Gold Skating Co. played physical edgy hockey against a big, bruising Devils unit and a reconfigured power play — with the he-better-not-be-a-healthy-scratch-again-anytime-soon Matt Hunwick and Dennis Wideman manning the points on the top PP unit and Patrice Bergeron playing down low by the net — banged home a pair of power-play strikes in victory. 

A victory that clinched the Northeast Divsion title for the Bruins — their first since Jumbo Joe’s Bruins took home the crown back in 2003-04 — and also shoved away the doubters and naysayers that had been gaining in volume during a substandard month of March.

This time it was the Devils — winners of 8 of their previous 10 games coming into Sunday — that were answering postgame questions about too many men on the ice penalties in each of their last two games and a failure to play gritty, focused hockey for an entire 60 minutes. Instead the Bruins took advantage of a number of fortuitous bounces and an uncharacteristically off-night from goaltender Martin Brodeur, and put themselves back on course for a long, healthy, bountiful trip through Lord Stanley’s tourney.

All, it seems, would appear to be well again in the Land of the Spoked B.

Injury Ward: Byron Bitz, Steve Montador and Shane Hnidy were all healthy scratches for the Bruins, and it appeared that every player escaped the scrappy battle without injury.

Player of the Game: When Julien talks about “his best players not being his best players” on a given night, fair or unfair, people assume that he’s speaking about center Marc Savard. Well, Savvy was certainly one of Boston’s best players in a huge game. He collected a goal and an assist, and was a big part of the big power play unit revival that took place against the Devils. Credit Chara with also doing his shutdown act on Zach Parise during the game, and helping limit the Devils to one goal.

Goat Horns: Nobody in this one. Brodeur might have given up one that he’d like to have back, but this was as complete a game played by the Bruins as any in recent memory. As both Thornton and Savard said, there were no “passengers” in this one.

Turning Point: After a mediocre first 10 minutes of the game when the Bruins didn’t seem to have their legs under them, Michael Ryder was credited with a goal that appeared to be a Mark Recchi shot from the right faceoff circle. The shot caromed off New Jersey defenseman Paul Martin’s right skate and ended up in the back of Jersey’s net. The goal was one of several good bounces enjoyed by the Bruins — normally a smile and a nod from the hockey gods toward the team that’s working harder around the net.

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Penalties aplenty in early going, Ward, Axelsson and Kobasew score 03.12.09 at 6:18 pm ET
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Three penalties in the first two minutes of play here at the Garden in a game between the red-hot Ottawa Senators — winners of four straight — and the not-so-hot Bruins — losers of two in a row — at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The first B’s penalty to Aaron Ward actually proved fortunate for the Black and Gold when Ward finished up his sin bin time and jumped out of the box behind the Ottawa defense. Ward received a long entry pass from Patrice Bergeron in the B’s D-zone,  skated in all alone and roofed a high, hard one right on the glove hand of Sens goalie Alex Auld. The whole play was set up by a goal-saving blocked shot by Zdeno Chara in the defensive end.

The score is the first career short-handed goal for the 35-year-old Ward.

13:08: Beautiful give and go between PJ Axelsson and David Krejci that ends with Krejci putting a perfect dish on Axelsson’s tape, and the Swede roofed another shot against Auld for another Boston score. That was a flicker of the old Krejci with the uncanny puck instincts.

13:04: Fight between Milan Lucic and Chris Neil in a busy first period. Good shots on both sides, and the refs step in when Looch’s jersey comes up over his head. 

12:35: Huge hit by Michael Ryder on Anton Volchenkov as Ryder carried the puck and dished it in the offensive zone. Lots of oohs and aaahs as Volchenkov the aggressor was dumped on the ice.

9:36: Bing, bang boom. Former BC skater Ryan Shannon goes off with a penalty, and Ryder finds Kobasew right on the doorstep with a quick tap-in bid that bounced off Auld’s skate and into the net.

7:12: Great stop by Tim Thomas on a Dany Heatley wraparound bid going left to right, but the rebound kicked out to Jason Spezza in the slot, and that’s a spot he doesn’t miss from.

4:26: Snapping glove save by Auld of a Montador slapper on a loose puck that was leaking back to him at the blue line. Good jump by both the Marc Savard/Blake Wheeler/Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic/David Krejci/Michael Ryder combos.

1:03: Somewhat questionable holding penalty on Blake Wheeler, who clearly needs to start skating and moving his feet rather than bear-hugging his opposition.

The B’s lead the Senators 3-1 at the end of the first period.

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Amid second-half slide, B’s searching for answers 03.05.09 at 11:37 pm ET
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Frustration appears to be bubbling over in the Bruins dressing room as the inconsistent performances stack upon each other, and those immediately chasing the Spoked B in the Eastern Conference standings keep gaining ground in disconcerting clumps.

Things hit a new low last night, as the Bruins clearly got back to their difficult-to-play-against ways but couldn’t muster up enough lunchpail offense in a 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The straggling, struggling Black and Gold sit mired in a 3-6-2 slump over their last 11 games, and have degenerated into a mystified hockey team searching for answers amid a series of passionless periods, 80-foot fluke goals and bang-bang shots at open nets that inexplicably sail over the inviting crease.

The catalyst for the current 11-game slide back to the pack? Travel back to a Feb. 10 loss to the San Jose Sharks on their home ice where Jumbo Joe Thornton and Co. clearly turned on the jets in the third period and left the B’s scrambling for confidence after getting beaten down by the Western Conference powerhouse.

It was a national Versus game billed as a potential Stanley Cup Finals matchup between the Beast of the East and the Best of the West, and it ended with a stunning collapse from which the Bruins still haven’t fully recovered. Instead of a crowning moment punctuated by the triumphant Bruins leaving the arena with NHL bragging rights, Claude Julien’s boys have dropped into an undeniable rut that has some in the hockey world wondering whether this team was truly as good as its nearly letter-perfect first half.

Perhaps the overwhelming nature of that third period simply humbled a young, fearless puck bunch and splashed a bit of doubt into the minds of a group of brash young hockey players.

Boston has flashed glimpses of the dominant squad that simply slammed the hammer down on opponents during the first three months of the year, but it’s becoming apparent the San Jose defeat damaged the exposed psyche of a young, talented team attempting to make their first big statement.

Despite their current freefall, the Bruins have maintained the top spot in the East and have blowout wins over the Ducks and Panthers within the erratic stretch. But even Boston’s best players are starting to search for answers just out of their reach. The New Jersey Devils remain six points behind the B’s in the East, and they’ve won 8 of their last 10 and regained their Hall of Fame goaltender in the same breath.

Is it time to worry yet?

“What’s frustrating is that we know how we can play, and we can dominate when we’re at our best,” said center Marc Savard. “We didn’t put any pucks in the net and maybe we’re being a little too cute at times. We’ve got to try to nip this in the butt right now. We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us and we all know that. We’ve got to start pulling points out of games, and we all know that.

“It’s not for the lack of effort,” added Savard. “We’re trying. I know the fans come out all year. We heard the boos off the second, and we don’t want that. We want to go and show them what we can do, and want it to be a long run here. It was frustrating for us too.”

The Big, Bad hockey club put forth a grating, physical brand of hockey, outhitting the young Desert Dogs by a 31-10 margin during last night’s defeat, and Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew were all — at different times – camped out in the middle of the high-traffic zones attempting to redirect pucks, screen the goaltender and manufacture any kind of goal. There just wasn’t enough of it happening to make a difference.

It was exactly the kind of things that hockey purists preach to escape a rut, but nothing worked for a club that’s clearly squeezing the daylights out of their hockey sticks.

“I wish I had the magical answer for what’s going on, but it’s simple things right down to plain effort from every single player,” said blueliner Aaron Ward, who was part of an aggressive corps of defensemen that time and again pinched and crashed into the offensive zone without ultimately cashing in. “You’re out there and you hear the fans booing, and it’s justified right now to express displeasure for our performance. You watch video postgame and that’s simply not the way we need to be playing the game.

“I’m laughing, but it’s pretty (discouraging) to sit here and wonder what’s going on,” added Ward.

Several players talked afterward about “being too cute with the puck” and “not playing a full 60 minutes of hockey,” but they also appeared frustrated to hear boos cascading down to the ice from the 16,818 in attendance in the closing seconds of a flatter-than-flapjacks second period.

The worst part?

The B’s knew they deserved the Garden catcalls after seizing control of the game early on the strength of Chuck Kobasew’s goal, and then simply allowed things to slip out of their fingers later in the first — and then stumbled right on into an uninspired second period.

The B’s have become a shadow of their first-half selves as the postseason pressure cooker looms closer with every passing day, and the time has come to pack away the rookie walls, nagging injuries, and line chemistry questions into the excuse box in the Garden attic.

The time has come for the Bruins to regain the confident identity of the season’s first half and simply start willing themselves to goals and wins against whatever lines up across the ice from them. The time has come for the B’s to heal up the damage of month-old wounds and protect what they’ve worked so very hard for over the course of a long hockey season.

If they don’t — and fast — then things will get far worse than they were against the Coyotes on a random Thursday night in March.

“I just feel that talk is cheap,” said Julien. “The same thing with standing up front here and trying to explain to (the media). Talk is cheap right now. We have to go up there and then execute. I can stand here and give you all of the excuses. There shouldn’t be excuses. There’s got to be reasons to want to turn this thing around.”

Injury Ward: Milan Lucic came through with flying colors in his first game back from an “upper body injury” and was a physical presence with six crunching body blows against the Coyotes. Other than Looch, everyone else appeared to come through okay.

Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara. After the rare off-game on Tuesday night, Chara responded by playing with some snarl and absolutely beating down Coyotes all over the ice with punishing checks and intimidation tactics. A good rebound game for Big Z.

Goat Horns: Dennis Wideman. It was a bad night for Wideman, who turned a puck over in the D-zone during the Phoenix power play that quickly led to Scottie Upshall’s first Coyotes goal. The score deflated the team for a bit, and Wideman was on the ice for both of the Coyotes’ goals on the evening. Blake Wheeler has also continued to struggle in the final months, and was limited to little more than 10 minutes of ice time on a night when backchecking seemed optional among many of Boston’s forwards.

Turning Point: The Bruins basically crawled up and died for the next 30 minutes of play once Scottie Upshall banged home the Coyotes’ first goal — a power play score — off a bad Dennis Wideman turnoever. A hockey team simply can’t do that anymore in March and April.

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Ryder out indefinitely with facial fracture 02.07.09 at 12:06 pm ET
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The injury bug has hit the Bruins again, and this time Michael Ryder is the victim after suffering a high-stick against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. According to B’s coach Claude Julien, Ryder is out indefinitely with a facial fracture to the nose/eye area and team doctors haven’t ruled out surgery as a possibility to repair the damaged area.

The latest news is a pretty big reversal from the last few days when it was expected that Ryder had his nasty nose gash stitched up and he would be ready to go.

“Ryder is not going today; we got some bad news on his situation,” said Julien, who said Ryder will be evaluated again on Monday. “It’s a small fracture, so he’s out indefinitely. It needs to be determined whether he can play with a shield, or how far it needs to be looked into.

“It’s a shame,” added Julien. “When you say indefinitely you hope it’s shorter than longer. There’s a fresh fracture and you really can’t let him go now. There’s a possibility of (surgery).”

Julien indicated that Ryder’s eyesight is “okay” and has not been affected by the injury, but further testing will be required next week.

In other news for pregame against the Philadelphia Flyers in yet another Saturday matinee at the Garden: Milan Lucic will play with a bruised up and purple left foot after taking a shot off it on Wednesday night, but Aaron Ward will not be in the lineup after battling the flu over the last few days.

Manny Fernandez gets his first start between the pipes since the beginning of January when he took to the ice Jan. 8 against the Ottawa Senators.

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Bruised left foot for Milan Lucic 02.06.09 at 2:20 pm ET
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The last guy to give Lucic purple toes was last seen eating through a straw

The last guy to give Lucic purple toes was last seen eating through a straw

Bruins left winger Milan Lucic was back at practice this afternoon and declared himself ready to play in tomorrow’s matinee against the Philadelphia Flyers. Looch suffered a bruised left foot when he took a shot off his big dog in last Wednesday night’s tilt versus the Flyers in Philly. According to the hulking forward, he’s got a colorful and healthy bruise and some “purple toes” after taking a shot off the left foot near the skate’s lacing.

Lucic was trying to get a tip on a shot in front of the net at the time of the injury, but he missed the puck with his trusty blade and instead caught the speeding rubber biscuit flush off the front of his left foot.

“It’s good news,” said Lucic, who missed Thursday night’s game against the Senators with the injury. “I think we treated it right (Thursday) and today, and it looks like I’m going to be ready to play tomorrow.

“It’s the game of hockey; stuff like that happens all the time and you just have to be mentally strong and battle through it,” added Lucic. “I’ve got some nice purple toes. It looks funny right now, but it made a lot of progress from yesterday morning to last night.”

In other tidbits from practice:

–Dennis Wideman obviously isn’t a big listener to WEEI during the late morning and early afternoon hours, if at all. When I told him that he should tell Holley that he was a big fan of his “Holley Hockey Minute” when he gets on the air, Wideman replied without missing a beat: “Oh…you mean Holley isn’t a girl? That’s good to know.”

–Aaron Ward was down with the flu that’s been traveling around the Bruins club — and the Celtics for that matter over the last week — and wasn’t at practice. Chuck Kobasew was also given a maintenance day away from the ice by coach Claude Julien.  Michael Ryder was also given the day off after a high stick caught him in the face and cut him open during last night’s shootout win against Ottawa.

Julien and Manny Fernandez also both revealed that physically he’s ready to jump back into game action, but it’s more a matter of getting a certain feel in net between the pipes after three weeks of inactivity.

“He’s feeling good and physically I think he’s 100 percent,” said Julien. “I think we made the right decision in doing what we did and letting him heal his aching back. That’s the main thing right now, so it’s just a matter now of spotting him in a situation when we feel that he feels he’s ready.”

It was a pretty good showing at practice this afternoon at the TD Banknorth Garden given that B’s Media Relations maestro Matt Chmura estimated that the team finally got into Boston around 2:30 a.m. Friday morning.

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