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Bergeron back on the ice this morning 01.12.09 at 10:42 am ET
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Just days after Patrice Bergeron vowed to return to the Bruins this season, the 23-year-old center skated on the ice at Ristuccia Arena for roughly a half-hour this morning. There’s still no timetable on Bergeron’s return, but getting back on the ice is a significant step in Bergeron’s progress. The B’s center also skated briefly yesterday as well. Bergeron was joined by Shane Hnidy — with a visor attached to his helmet protecting the still-massive shiner on his left eye — as well as Milan LucicAaron Ward and Andew Ference for some turns on the practice ice before the rest of the team conducted regular practice. 

 
 
 
 
 

 

“[Bergeron] did well. He was out there for over a half-hour,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He continues to progress. “It’s nice to see him back on the ice and it’s encouraging for him too. It means he’s a step closer to his goal of returning. It’s great for him and great for the team.”

–Julien also indicated that Manny Fernandez wasn’t on the ice today, and is dealing with a minor injury “issue”. Julien indicated that Fernandez won’t be a scratch for tomorrow, and that likely means Kevin Regan’s one-day dress rehearsal with the Bruins will have him back down in Providence tomorrow. The sheer mathematics of a Boy Goaltender from Southie coming up with enough game tickets to satiate family and friends is mind-blowing. Then add in the fact that it’s against the hated Habs. I simply can’t wrap my simpleton journalistic head around it.

For what it’s worth, Fernandez’s nameplate was also missing from its usual location within the Ristuccia Arena dressing room this morning — which should send Bruins conspiracy theorists into orbit. Kevin Regan was moved into the vacant locker in between Tim Thomas and Fernandez, and it looked as if Fernandez’s nameplate had been yanked from its spot. Could mean nothing, or it could mean that the wheels are in full spin toward dealing Manny Fernandez for a top flight defenseman or for some help/healthy bodies at forward. Stay tuned.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Manny Fernandez
B’s finally getting some good health news 01.05.09 at 5:15 pm ET
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In a much-needed reprieve from the war of attrition that’s been going on with the Bruins’ squad over the last month, B’s coach Claude Julien and his team needed some good news in the health department — and got it at this morning’s practice in Wilmington.

Andrew Ference took part in the hour plus practice at Ristuccia Arena — though he skated off early for “precautionary reasons” — and was among the healthy-enough-to-skate B’s players that heard Julien’s booming voice screaming during the intense morning of drills. Ward didn’t skate at practice with the team, but Julien deemed that his charley horse situation is improving dramatically.

The “mild” charley horse knocked the 35-year-old out of Saturday’s loss in the second period, and Ward will be a game time decision for tomorrow night’s tilt against the trap-happy Minnesota Wild. Granted Marco Sturm is likely gone for the season with left knee surgery and there’s no timetable for Patrice Bergeron’s road back from his concussion, but things are starting to look up for the band-aid B’s. 

”He’s doing a lot better,” said Julien of Ward. ”His motion and range today was pretty good. He’s going to skate with us tomorrow and we’ll see how he does.”

Ference, out since mid-November following surgery to repair a fractured tibia incurred after blocking a shot during a penalty kill situation, continues to work ahead of schedule and should be back playing in real games over the next week. Tomorrow is a longshot, but nontheless healthy bodies are beginning to fill up the dressing room.  Julien was asked if he could presumably go from having six healthy defenseman to a choice of eight living, breathing, healthy bodies for tomorrow night’s game, and the B’s bench boss didn’t rule out the possibility.

“Ference is still day-to-day and he’s been put through some battle drills today [in practice] so we’ll see how he fares tomorrow,” said Julien, of a Tuesday morning skate that will portend whether Ward or Ference return to the lineup against the Wild. “There’s a possibility that we’ll look at Ward tomorrow and Ference is practicing with us and day-to-day. We’re kind of on the bubble with that.

There’s still some question marks that will be answered tomorrow morning, but we could be [anywhere] from 8 to 6 tomorrow very easily,” added Julien.

All-Star Snub Reaction

Bruins players selected for the Eastern Conference All-Star team will find out Thursday around noontime when the NHL announces the reserve players for the Jan. 25 NHL showpiece event. The B’s didn’t have a single player voted into the Eastern Conference starting lineup — a group filled solely with Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens players — announced over the weekend, and goaltender Tim Thomas felt like it might be a case of too many good Bruins to choose from. Or perhaps not enough tech-savvy, prospering cheaters among the B’s fan base.

Just taking Thomas’ case, it’s a tough decision to choose between Thomas and fellow veteran goaltender Manny Fernandez. Both goaltenders have worked together in seamless fashion to become the best goaltending duo in the NHL this season. Thomas and Fernandez, Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel are all certainly deserving of All-Star recognition, and it’s a safe bet that at least two of them will be invited to participate in Montreal’s All-Star weekend three weeks from now.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” said a clearly amused Thomas. “Obviously it was fan voting, so it was unrealistic. The other angle to look at is that this team is so good that it makes it really hard to choose [individual players]. Obviously [the fan voting] was Pittsburgh computer programmers versus Montreal computer programmers. It’s tough to make choices when you could pick so many good players, or you could be like Pittsburgh and Montreal and pick your whole team.” 

Read More: Aaron Ward, Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien
Hockey Notes: Hunwick earning his spot 12.07.08 at 12:27 pm ET
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Members of the Bruins brain trust correctly predicted that — after playing 10 games in 18 days through a brutal November stretch of hockey — the Black and Gold would begin incurring some injuries that would challenge the team’s overall depth. The Bruins flew through that stretch with a bevy of W’s and continue building a burgeoning lead in the Eastern Conference’s top spot, but bumps and bruised began cropping at a position where Boston could seemingly least afford them: the blue line.

First it was Andrew Ference going down with a broken right tibia and then Aaron Ward followed with a left leg injury, likely a sprained ankle that wasn’t going to keep a tough-as-nails customer like Ward out for a long stretch. But then Dennis Wideman missed a game with the dreaded “middle body injury” and things really began to stretch out in an area that Boston wasn’t especially deep.

But a funny thing happened along the way to Boston succumbing to their defenseman injury woes: they discovered a host of other young guys that have stepped up and filled in along the vacant spots. Matt Lashoff and Johnny Boychuk, who was send back down to the AHL this afternoon, have both arrived fresh off the AHL bus ride circuit to step up and provide steady D-man coverage — with a hint of offensive potential from each young colt — and 23-year-old Matt Hunwick has been an absolute revelation for the Spoked B.

Hunwick was the last defenseman returned to Providence when cuts came down at the end of training camp, and he was handed marching orders to continue raising his competitive levels during one-on-one battles for the puck while gaining physical strength to shake off the hurtling bodycheckers abundant in the NHL.

Hunwick kept his solid D-zone responsibilities and puck-moving ways sharp in two games with the P-Bruins between two different call-ups to Boston, and the 23-year-old was the first one called up to “The Show” when Ference was lost for an extended period.

Young forwards Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel are rightfully getting much of the credit for the puck renaissance that’s currently taking place in the Hub, but Hunwick has similarly emerged as a force within Claude Julien’s defense-first system. The 5-foot-10, 187-pound rookie is behind only Wideman and Zdeno Chara when it comes to defenseman scoring for the B’s with three goals and six assists in 14 games, and he boasts the second-best +/- along the blueline with a sterling +12 mark. More importantly, he’s given the Bruins an average of 21 minutes of ice time per night over the last five games, which has softened the sting of the injury bug along the blue line.

The game of hockey is — in many ways — a game of dopplegangers, where any observant player can scout out another skater with the same skill set, physical attributes and on-ice temperament and begin absorbing valuable puck lessons. Prior to the iron man hockey act he’s pulled over the last handful of games, there were a glut of contests early in the season that Hunwick didn’t dress for. Hunwick instead opted spent his time watching his fellow defensemen — with a discerning eye toward Wideman and Ference. Ference, in particular, is a good match for the relatively undersized Hunwick and offensively-skilled defenseman. 

“I’ve tried to be more aggressive in the play and I’m trying to get more of an edge out there,” said Hunwick. “[Ference] is the same size as me and he’s definitely a guy that I paid attention to when I was up in the press box watching the game. Not only is it the size thing, but the way he’s able to be physically involved at his size too. How hard and intensely he plays, how smart he plays and how good he is on special teams. He’s been around playing this game for a long time, and there’s a lot I’ve learned from him.”

Hunwick’s elevation within the eyes of the Bruins’ coaching staff was never more apparent than their highly successful two-game swing through Florida. During the third period a tight, one-goal effort against Tampa Bay, Hunwick (a career-high 23:27 of ice time), Shane Hnidy (who also elevated his game to another level during a serious time of need for the B’s) and Chara were all playing yeoman’s minutes with a depleted corps, and they still managed to hold down a group of individual offensive talents to one goal. Down three D-men, it was just another night for the NHL’s best defensive crew ( one of only three teams that have allowed less than 60 goals this season along with the Ottawa Senators and the notoriously defense-minded Minnesota Wild) and another rookie quickly learning the new-and-improved Bruins Way of doing things.

“The more he plays and the better he’s going to get, and that’s really just the normal cycle of experience,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. “He’s been put through game situations and so there’s improvement through game experience and there’s a real raising of his confidence levels.

“Every game we keep a close eye on him and gauge how things are going, and if he’s playing well then we’ve got to make sure we find him some ice and if he’s having a tough night then we make sure he doesn’t lose his confidence,” added Julien. “We keep a close eye on him, but he’s playing very good hockey right now.”

For Hunwick, watching Wideman and Ference — before he went down — was like attending a Defenseman Master Class. The young defenseman, who displayed outstanding leadership abilities first skating for the US National Team Development Program and then along to the Michigan Wolverines and the minor leagues, is beginning to look like a steal out of a productive 2004 entry draft for the Bruins that also churned out Krejci and high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg. While Krejci and Versteeg were both taken in the first few rounds, Hunwick was a seventh round selection that’s already begun making inroads toward a full time job in the NHL.

“It’s a big opportunity to play good minutes and be a big part of this defensive corps,” said Hunwick. “I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help this squad, and also show the coaching staff that I’m capable of playing at this level.”

Read More: Aaron Ward, Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien
Cherry calling out Looch, or just Don Being Don? 11.30.08 at 12:25 pm ET
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Don Cherry is always nothing if not outspoken, but did he step over the line and invite the ire of a top-of-the-world Bruins Nation after his weekly edition of Coach’s Corner yesterday evening on Hockey Night in Canada? Grapes was doing his usual eight minutes of hockey bluster thing and going through his observations for the week, and then he stopped to applaud rugged New York Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt.

Cherry gave Witt an attaboy and called him a warrior for taking on “Lucy” when the Isles played the Bruins last weekend. Grapes was pointing out that Witt was showing courage in dancing with Milan Lucic during a blowout loss before a frenzied Garden crowd last Friday, but there seemed to also be a potential dig at Lucic.

Co-Host Ron MacLean quickly corrected Cherry and said Lucic, but it caused me to wonder whether Cherry was purposely mispronouncing Looch after the “L’Affaire Laraque” in Montreal last week. Grapes can sometimes be at a loss for names and bungle anything that doesn’t sound like a name out of the Mississauga phone book, so pure Grapes error is more likely. In fact, Dandy Don butchers at least a couple of names in the Coach’s Corner segment before even getting to Lucic. Cherry has always been complimentary of Looch in the past, and just last week he had a few bon mots for both Marc Savard and Andrew Ference.

All that being said, one has to wonder if there’s any possibility Lucic was using his heightened platform as CBC’s High Priest of Hockey to take a veiled shot at the Big, Bad Looch.

Here’s the video, and you decide whether Cherry’s gaffe was purposeful, or simply his always motoring mouth moving faster than his brain. It should be noted that Cherry later goes on to call Looch a monster, which he most certainly is when he laces up the skates. The Lucic/Witt portion begins around the 6:15 mark of the youtube video:

Read More: Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins, Brendan Witt, Don Cherry
‘Grapes’ gives B’s some love 11.23.08 at 7:53 pm ET
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Everybody knows that Don Cherry has always harbored a soft spot in his heart for the Spoked B of the Boston Bruins — the team that gave him his first shot behind an NHL bench — and the inimitable Grapes gave the Big, Bad B’s a couple of screaming one-timers during the must-see Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend.

First Dandy Don — decked out in a Looney Toons tie in honor of the Grey Cup held in Montreal last weekend — tosses a few deserved attaboys at Marc Savard for potting his 600th career point last week, and then praised the B’s center for the all-around game he continues to play for Coach Claude Julien in Boston this season. He’s built on last year’s All-Star worthy season with a campaign that currently has him ranked second in the NHL in assists (19), third in points (27) and third with a sterling +13 mark for the season. This from an undeniably gifted skater/playmaker that was a minus player in all but one season before coming to Boston, and is currently still a -61 for his career. Three more years of a Julien/Savard combo might just see him break into positive territory.

The Savard kudos continues a growing back-and-forth mutual admiration society  between the crafty center and the God Father of blustery hockey talk in the Great White North.

A little later on Cherry also ladles some puck love for the “great Canadian spirit” that defenseman Andrew Ference displayed when he powered right through the pain of a broken tibia in his right leg to still clear the puck during a PK situation against the Canadiens. As B’s fans will remember, Ference was hit in the right leg with an Andre Markov slapper, dropped to the ice in obvious pain, and then battled several times to regain his footing. The felled blueliner then cleared the puck from Boston’s zone once he got back on his skates.  Ference was diagnosed with fractured tibia several days later, but — even after repeated viewings — it simply doesn’t get any less compelling watching the blueliner battle to get to his feet and do his job before gingerly skating off the ice.

Courtesy of the wonderful world of youtube, Cherry’s bon mots on Savard start at about roughly the four minute mark and Ference is at roughly the 5:50 mark…enjoy.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins, Don Cherry, Marc Savard
Crushing the Canadiens 11.13.08 at 9:45 pm ET
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Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez perhaps put it best after getting the start and earning the best seat in the house to watch his team trounce a shellshocked Canadiens outfit by a commanding 6-1 score last night. The Habs have owned the Black and Gold’s number over the last few years — and in particular last season when they demoralized the B’s by taking all eight regular season games from a plucky Bruins club.

Thursday’s Hab-stomping was the most lopsided win for the Bruins over their Montreal rivals since they dropped a 5-0 butt-kicking on the Habs on Dec. 20, 2001 — a time when guys like Bill Guerin, Rob Zamuner and Marty LaPointe still roamed the Boston ice wearing the Spoked B on their sweater. The white-hot B’s have also won an impressive five games in a row. 

“It seems like it’s a different page this year,” said Manny Fernandez, a riff on the “Turn the Page” philosophy that another pro athlete named Manny used to employ in the Hub. “From just watching last year in the playoffs we broke the ice there just a little bit. We showed each other we could actually win against that team. Today was huge for us. Any time you can back them off a little and make them think about…that’s big.”

“The next time we play them we’re going to show up twice as hard as we played tonight, but still a win [is huge] against that team knowing the history — especially last year when it was tough,” added Fernandez, who made 27 saves on the night, but was at his best early in the contest when tested on a two-shot rush by Robert Lang.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said he opted for Fernandez to give his potentially fatigued team — after they arrived back in Boston a few minutes before 3 AM Thursday morning — any edge they could possibly find against a rested Montreal Canadiens group. After the game, the B’s coach beamed at the prospect of having two goalies playing as well as both Fernandez and Tim Thomas both are between the pipes.

“We had an opportunity to put in a fresh goaltender tonight in case we got in the situation that we had some tired guys.  We had to give ourselves an edge somewhere.  We’€™re so lucky to have two goaltenders right now that are at the top of their game,” said Julien. “Right now it’€™s important for me to try and handle it in a way where both of them maintain that standard of goaltending. 

“They both deserve to play, but we all know goaltenders like to play as much as they can, and right now they’€™re both responding.  Not only that, I think they’€™re both very supportive of each other, and that’€™s something that’€™s important.”

The Last Shall Become First

The fourth line of Stephane Yelle, Shawn Thornton and Petteri Nokelainen had been lauded from here to Moncton over the first six weeks of the season for the energy and sandpaper-style they brought to the B’s fold, but the addition of a healthy Chuck Kobasew — and the subtraction of the hard-working Nokelainen — has admittedly brought some added offensive punch to the trio.

During Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over Chicago the “energy line” was kept off the ice for long stretches of a penalty-filled game and Kobasew (9:34), Yelle (13:43 largely due to his duties on the PK unit) and Shawn Thornton (3:32) all played short minutes. In a strange way the idle moments at the United Center might have helped the trio find their legs quickly last night against the hated Habs,and given them some jump that started up the B’s attack.

The fourth line grinders popped in the first two goals of the game and set the Black and Gold off and running in what became a Boston hockey celebration with 16,816 invites to the TD Banknorth Garden. The first was a great hustle play by the usually rough-and-tumble Thornton as he busted right through Mike Komisarek and Mathieu Dandenault, stole the puck from the half-hearted Canadiens duo and then rifled a five-hole backhand bid through the pads of Montreal wunderkind goalie Carey Price.

Yelle followed with a pure hustle goal and popped in a loose puck rebound in front of Price’s net with three minutes to go in the period, and all of a sudden a snake-bitten line was lugging both energy and points to the table. The fourth line outburst is all the more impressive as it — on most nights — gives Claude Julien and Co. four different lines that can strike offensively and clearly raises the team’s overall offensive potential this season. The Law Firm of Thornton, Yelle and Kobasew collected a whopping seven total points on the night.

“Did you see [Yelle] look me off on that 2-on-1…he’s lucky he scored right there I tell ya,” said a tongue in cheek Thornton after the game. “He’s looking awfully dangerous out there, and we’re getting along really well on and off the ice. Chucky too. He’s easy to play with because he’s always in the right spot and half the I don’t have to look because I just know he’s going to be there. He’s been a treat, and Chucky has been on the second line on just about every team that he’s played. He works so hard and he’s such a skilled guy. I think it’s been a while coming for us, and we’ve been working, working, and working and it finally paid off for us.” 

Hey I’m just a simple Irish guy living in the city of Boston,” said Thornton, who is in possession of more offensive skill than traditionally given credit for given his usual role as Bruins’ enforcer. “I think the fact that all 20 guys are going hard and we didn’t have any passengers tonight — and we haven’t had any in a while — and that’s the way we have to be successful.”

The Looch finds his first victim

Bruins left wing Milan Lucic was again an emotional and physical catalyst for the Bruins, and gave everyone another Neely-esque taste of the tone-setting, skilled hockey player he continues to develop into. Looch may not be Cam redux, but he’s as close as the Bruins Nation could possibly hope for in the sanitized era of the NHL.

 Canadiens captain Saku Koivu finally put the Habs on the scoreboard with 6:26 to go in the second period and took back a bit of momentum, but the Looch seized it right back in the third.

During a 5-on-5 faceoff in the Canadiens zone, Phil Kessel popped a faceoff draw directly onto the stick of charging Lucic gone mad, and the brawling 20-year-old drilled a wrist shot past an unsuspecting Price to make it a 5-1 hockey game. The score marked his fifth goal of the season, and later in the period — with the game well in hand — Lucic finally dropped the gloves with longtime nemesis Mike Komisarek. It had been a long time coming for both combatants as they’ve doled out plenty of face-washes and tough talk to each other in the recent past, but the two had never actually engaged in “The Dance.”

Komisarek is probably still wishing that he hadn’t.

The Looch went Berserker-style on the Habs defenseman and hit him with a series of vicious rights before one final roundhouse punch dropped Komisarek to the ground, and a victorious Lucic raised his hand and started excitedly screaming to anyone and everyone in attendance. He then stopped and smacked on the boards by the penalty box before entering the sin bin, and then left midway through to get a bevy of cuts on his right knuckles treated before returning to the game.

“We could have made excuses coming into tonight’s game after coming in late last night, but we felt like we had a good jump to our step,” said Lucic. “We knew the importance of tonight’s game. It felt like before the game we were more calm and cool and we weren’t overexcited like we’ve been sometimes in the past.”

And as far as his first bout of the 2008-09 season?

“We’ve had our battles in the past, and it was just a matter of time before something like that happened,” added Lucic. “First off the fans have been great for the first part of the season, and they’ve really helped us be a tougher team to play against in the Garden. [The fans] appreciating that physical play is just guys from the past that created that identity of the Bruins. It’s lucky for me that I just fit into that.”

Stops and Starts

Defenseman Andrew Ference has arguably been Boston’s best blueliner this season for the first 15 games, but he went down at the end of the second period when he took an Andre Markov shot off the foot. Ference gamely stayed on the ice to help kill of a Canadiens power play after dragging himself from the ice in obvious pain, but he didn’t return for the third period.

Bruins coach Claude Julien was tight-lipped about Ference’s status following the game.

“He’€™s fine.  He’€™s being evaluated,” said Julien.  Honestly, we’€™ll probably have a little more on his situation tomorrow.  Nothing’€™s clear right now and hopefully it’€™s just something minor.”

Lucic had a priceless response after he informed reporters that he’d had a negative X-ray on his right hand to make sure it wasn’t broken after he used Mike Komisarek as a punching bag.

 “There’s so many broken bones in there from before that you can’t really tell,” said Lucic of his oft-battered right hand.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Bill Guerin, Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew
Sounds of the game… Bruins 5, Leafs 2 11.06.08 at 11:11 pm ET
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It might be time to start asking just who is Blake Wheeler.

He changed his uniform number before the game from 42 to 26. He scored his first career hat trick as the Bruins beat the Maple Leafs, 5-2, Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden.

Wheeler is now tied with Toronto’€™s Mikhail Grabovski for the NHL rookie goal lead with 6. ‘€¦ Dennis Wideman won $100 for scoring the goal on Andrew Ference‘€™s 100th career assist. Ference said before the game he would offer the reward to the lucky goal-scorer. Thursday marked Zdeno Chara‘€™s 700th career game.

Now for the stars of the game.

Blake Wheeler gives props to his line mates of Marco Sturm and David Krejci.

Wheeler on his number change.

Wheeler on bringing his A-game every night.

Tim Thomas said the 5-on-3 penalty kill in the third period was the key to the game since Boston led only, 3-1.

Andrew Ference collected his 100th career assist and explains why Thursday was such a big win.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Tim Thomas
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