|Chara puts Right To Play in the spotlight||01.25.09 at 2:37 pm ET|
MONTREAL — Zdeno Chara defended his title as owner of the NHL’s hardest slapshot when he fired off a 105.4 mph blast in his final attempt during Saturday night’s All-Star SuperSkills competition at the Bell Centre. The feat of hockey strength marked the third straight year that the 6-foot-9 defenseman snagged the hardest shot hardware, but there was a bit more of a humanistic spin to this season’s victory.
With a bright yellow “Right to Play” toque sitting atop his giant Slovakian cranium following the performance, Chara reared back and fired an NHL-record 105.4 mph slat shot that won the competition and banked $24,000 for his favorite Right to Play charity. Chara’s booming shot broke former B’s defenseman Al Iafrate’s record of 105.2 mph set back in the 1993 skills competition, and the money raised for charity put a well-intentioned, altruistic spin on the proceedings.
Right To Play is a Canadian charity that, according to its web site, is “creating a healthier and safer world for children through the power of sport and play.” Both B’s defenseman Andrew Ference and Chara have traveled to Africa to witness the work done by Right To Play with African children first-hand, and have continued serving as ambassadors to the program.
The gesture even quieted the Montreal crowd, who normally save their lustiest boos for the intense and physical Chara during heated Habs/Bruins games.
“I gave it all that I had, and I’m glad it worked out,” said Chara. “That’s the highest I’ve ever shot (a puck). I’ve been a few times around 103, 104, 102 (mph). You know, you always want to shoot the hardest shot, but it’s the All-Star record, so I’m very happy.”
Chara and Right To Play Deputy Director Mark Brender were locked in a joyful embrace following the Bruins defenseman’s rousing victory for both himself and charity, and shared a few thoughts about Chara’s relationship with Right To Play — and his own mad scramble to find a gold-ish Right to Play hat that Chara could wear on television while breaking land speed records with his shot.
That was a pretty dramatic win for Chara. MB:Yeah, I know he was really pumped to do it and he was really excited and happy about doing it. So, you could tell how happy he was and he is really committed. Obviously for us to have a champion like him — and like Andrew Ference who helped Z get into it — and all of the other NHL guys is huge. It’s the kind of money and exposure that will go directly to help children develop through playing sports.
What does it mean for the program to have a guy like Z climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro and visiting Africa this summer, and all of the other things that he does for the program? MB: It gives us so much credibility. A lot of times when pro athletes lend their name to a cause, it’s really just in-and-out. But when a guy like (Chara) gets involved he is so committed that he gives us credibility when we say that we have athlete ambassadors. We have many, many Olympic athlete ambassadors and it was born under the Olympic movement.
So it’s a great thing to have pros like Z and many other NHLers as well because there’s a lot of credibility to them. (Raising money in the skills competition) shows it’s more than just lending their name. It’s believing in it, and that’s something that really shows.
How gung ho is Z about Right to Play? It seems as if he mentions it a lot in his day-to-day world of hockey. MB: Yeah. He went to Mozambique this summer with us and he got to see the impact of our work. When you go a town a couple of hours north of the capital city and then you see 16-year-olc coaches, who are leading 400 children and through that you can do all kinds of developmental things, and talk about education and HIV and things like that.
So he has seen that work, and when you see that work then you come back and see the emotions that you have. That’s why (he’s still involved).
Word trickled out that he had made the challenge. When did you find out about it? MB:The Bruins were in Toronto on Wednesday and he and Andrew went out to dinner the night before and conceived of this thing then. It was in the works for a little bit that they had been planning something. Andrew and Zdeno are very good together.
You must have been pretty happy to see the Right to Play hat out there? MB: He actually asked for the hat when we were in Toronto, so we had to go digging to find one. He said “make it Bruins colors, make it Bruins colors.” So went went digging and found a yellow one that was actually from the 2006 Olympics. I’m really happy it worked out.
|A year makes all the difference for Tim Thomas||01.24.09 at 7:34 pm ET|
MONTREAL, Quebec — Tim Thomas has always been a work in progress when it comes to keeping his competitive emotions in check.
University of Vermont coaches still talk about the Roy Hobbs-style swing that the former Catamounts netminder took at a puck in a fit of pique after surrendering a goal in practice. He didn’t snap the extra-wide goalie stick with the force of his blow, or hit an unsuspecting coach with the errant puck after taking the mighty swipe. Nope.
Instead the young goalie — capable of explosive tantrums that bordered on epic — took a hack at a puck that had the audacity to slide through his pads, lifting the biscuit straight into the the scoreboard at the Gutterson Fieldhouse. Light bulbs blew apart and sparks flew everywhere as both the hockey version of “The Natural” and the damaged scoreboard raged.
With that ultimate Thomas story as the fitting backdrop, the underdog B’s goaltender had to fashion a new trick last season when his mother Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thomas’ parents had moved to Boston in recent years to be near their son, and Thomas’ mom received treatment at some of the finest medical institutions in the world.
On the ice Thomas was enjoying his finest season in the NHL and earned his first All-Star berth while finishing fourth in the NHL in save percentage. Unfortunately his mother was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer last January, and couldn’t attend the ceremonies in Atlanta to watch her son earn the victory in net for his Eastern Conference team.
All that has changed this season however: Thomas’ mother is in remission from breast cancer and she is well enough to watch her son again suit up for the Eastern Conference squad. This time, she’s at the All-Star Game in person along with his dad, Tim Sr., as well as Thomas’ wife and children. The group made the trek to Montreal from Boston to take in Timmy’s weekend. Add to that the bonus of also soaking in the atmosphere of an NHL All-Star Game amid a setting that hockey executives couldn’t dream up: the hockey hotbed of the Habs during their 100th Anniversary season.
“They’re both nice…it’s a great honor,” said Thomas of the back-to-back All-Star bids. “Both of them mean a lot. Last year was my first one and this year I was left off the ballot and still got on the team. So both of them are special. I really enjoyed it last year, but hopefully this year I’ll be a little more relaxed. I know the routine a little better this year and my parents were able to come this year.
“My mom was undergoing chemo last year at this time last year for breast cancer,” added Thomas. “So that makes it really special in its own right.”
It’s the cruelest of ironies that Thomas’ greatest team and individual success — until this season — coincided with his mother battling cancer, but the casual hockey observer might never have known the inner turmoil that Thomas suffered through. Whether Kathy was having a good day or a bad day in her treatment, her son was trying to maintain the same mindset going to the rink every day.
It was something like this: “Win and play as well as you can to make your mom proud and happy.”
it worked and perhaps his mom was even a little bit of an inspiration for Thomas, who — true to his can’t-keep-him-down nature — remained optimistic in the face of mortality’s specter once his mom began her battle with perhaps the most hated and feared word in the English language: cancer. When Tim was growing up, Kathy normally steered clear of her young goaltender after games — because she knew that Tim Sr. would already be bursting at the seams with pointers.
But last season Kathy Thomas became the focal point for all of Tim’s considerable efforts between the pipes.
“[Hockey] didn’t make it any easier, but I’m an optimist so I always held out hope that things were going to be okay,” said Thomas. “Being in Massachusetts with some of the best health care in the world helps. My parents moved to Boston a couple of years ago, so they were here.
“It sounds dire to say, but the survival rate for breast cancer is getting better and better,” added Thomas. “I was playing and she was going through that. I always thought that she was going to be okay, but I also always wanted to play well because I knew that would make her feel good. It gave her something to focus on.”
With cancer thankfully in the rear view mirror for the Thomas family, Tim is doing plenty at All-Star weekend in Montreal to again make his mom feel good.
MONTREAL, Quebec — Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, who coached the Canadiens in his first NHL gig from 2003-06, defused any notion of bad blood between himself and current Habs coach Guy Carbonneau during the NHL All-Star coach’s press conference this morning. Carbonneau succeeded Julien behind the Habs bench after Julien was fired by Montreal GM back in 2006.
“I think we have to leave the rivalry where it should be left, and that’s during the regular season,” said Julien. :You know, we both have a job to do and we do it to the best of our abilities. I think the rivalry that’s been created between the two teams has been nothing but great for hockey.
We’re here together. We’re both people that are extremely proud of our job and we’re extremely proud competitors. But we’re able to put that aside and work together with no issues at all. I’ve known Guy even before he became a coach here. It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve worked together. I think [any bad blood] has really been blown out of proportion, to say the least.”
Carbonneau was posed the same question as Julien, and said he can sometimes play the same agitator role behind the bench that Bruins fans not-so-fondly remember during his heydey with the Habs. It wasn’t quite the dinner date scenario that Habs forward Alex Kovalev painted for the two rival coaches during yesterday’s media availability, but there seems to a truce in effect for the Mid-Winter Classic.
All that being said, I don’t see these two holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” around a camp fire any time in the near future.
“It’s an interesting thing,” said Carbonneau. “The players, we’re both competitive, and I think during the game sometimes things happen and things are said. But, you know, I’ve done this when I was a player and had no problem going out after the game with the [opposing] players. This weekend is going to be great.”
|Zdeno Chara shooting slappers for a good cause||at 10:27 am ET|
MONTREAL, Quebec — Two-time reigning Hardest Shot champion Zdeno Chara will be giving this afternoon’s NHL Hardest Shot competition a little bit of a philanthropic bent when he rears back and fires his trademark heavy slapshot. Big Z issued a charitable challenge to the five other competitors in this year’s Hardest Shot contest, and each of the five competitors accepted.
Each contestant will wager $1,000 of their own money and the winner of the contest will then donate the funds to the charity of their choice. Additionally, each of the player’s respective teams agreed to contribute an additional $1,000 apiece and the NHL contributed $6,000, bringing the total ante for a cause up to to $18,000.
“It is great to see the individual players, their teams and the league come together to benefit worthy causes and add a little extra competition to the all-star contests,” said Chara. “Hopefully this is
the start of a tradition that will continue in future all-star games. With everyone working together to help out charities and increasing the stakes of the competitions, it’s a win-win situation for all involved.”
The other five competitors in the contest are up-and-coming Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Webber, Canadiens tough guy and Milan Lucic punching bag Mike Komisarek, New York Islanders power play specialist Mark Streit, Tampa Bay Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier and Oilers D-man Sheldon Souray, who is thought to be Chara’s biggest competition in the event.
Chara will be shooting for the Right To Play organization. Right To Play is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for
children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.
Chara recorded triple-digit blasts of 100.4 MPH in 2007 and 103.1 MPH in 2008 to win the Hardest Shot titles the last two years.
|Joe Thornton still thinking about Boston||01.23.09 at 6:52 pm ET|
MONTREAL, Quebec — San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton has played only one game as a visiting player at the TD Banknorth Garden, and admitted to the assembled media at the NHL All-Star Game this weekend that he’s already circled the Feb. 10 statement game against the Black and Gold. Playing Boston is apparently pretty high up on his pucks “to do” calendar for this season. In his only other visiting game in Boston way back in 2006, Jumbo Joe was ejected only 5:13 into the first period after rising up in anger and blasting Hal Gill from behind with a hit menacing enough that he was booted out of the game with a game misconduct.
The youtube clip above features the classic call from 850 WEEI’s own Dale Arnold, who did everything but have Joe Thornton twirling his mustache and tying the damsel to the railroad tracks after wall-papering the boards with the 6-foot-7 gentle giant body of Gill.
Despite all that, the 29-year-old is excited about the prospect of his front-running team in San Jose taking on the Big, Bad B’s in their own backyard in a soon-to-be-hyped Stanley Cup preview between the Western Conference-leading Sharks and the Eastern Conference-leading B’s.
“You do things day-to-day, but you circle those kinds of games,” said Thornton, who is just outside the NHL’s top five in scoring with 55 points and is tied for second in the NHL with 43 assists this season. “I haven’t been back there [in Boston] since I got kicked out. So it’s going to be fun going back and seeing it all again.”
While this particular matchup against the Bruins won’t be nearly as emotionally charged as the contest back in Jan. 2006 — a game that was in front of his old coach, many of his former teammates and a good deal of the Boston brass that shipped him out of town for three Sharks players and an immediate membership to the Northeast Division basement — it’s lining up to be everything that a statement game should be between two teams that are seemingly on a collision course this spring.
Has the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder allowed himself to think of a Stanley Cup Finals against the Spoked B? Has that been a fleeting thought in his hockey-addled brain given the way that the two teams have jumped ahead of everybody else this season?
Of course it has for Jumbo Joe…you betcha by golly wow. .
It’s a scenario that’s obviously way, way, way down the paved puck road, and Thornton will have to do something he’s never done before in his much-ballyhooed 10 years in the NHL: carry on a team on his back to the Cup Finals. But the potential is strong for it to happen this season, and could all begin with that game circled in red ink on his Inspirational Thoughts wall calendar for the 2008-09 season.
“Oh if [our playoff fortunes] allow it, it would be awesome,” said Thornton, who is wearing the ‘C’ for the Western Conference All-Stars during this weekend’s festivities. “But we’d have to win in the Finals to make it even more special. But it’s a long, long way to go. It would be kind of neat to see them in the Finals.”
FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES FROM MONTREAL, CHECK BACK WITH PUCKS WITH HAGGS THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND.
|NHL conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien||01.17.09 at 12:11 pm ET|
Here’s the transcript from an NHL-sponsored conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien, who — as all of Bruins Nation knows — will be behind the bench for the Eastern Conference All-Star team at the Bell Centre in Montreal next weekend. It’s a homecoming for the B’s bench boss, who was the head coach for the Habs five years ago when the bottom-seeded Canadiens shocked the top-seeded Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Q. Coach Julien, I wonder what the emotion will be for you to not only coach in an All-Star Game but to do it in Montreal where you coached a few years and where you left abruptly? And what would it be like to have some guys that you you coached in your starting lineup who played for Montreal, still?
CLAUDE JULIEN: I think everything will be great. This is a city where I really enjoyed coaching. Again, with the coaching carousels, every once in a while you’ve got to move around. But it’s been great. There’s no animosity there at all. For me, it’s a pleasure to go back. Not just to Montreal, but also to represent the Bruins and the fact that I’m probably going to be hooking up there with some of the players that I’ve coached. It’s great. It’s great to see those guys again.
There’s always good relationships that get built between players and coaches over the course of the years. I think just having an opportunity to put everything aside for a couple of days and taking time to enjoy it is going to be great for me.
Q. What do you rate this in terms of achievements in your career? Going from where you started in junior and now you’re coaching an All?Star Game in the NHL? CLAUDE JULIEN: I think the thing that you have to keep in mind here is that you’re there because of the people around you. As I’ve mentioned often, if it’s not for the players, your coaching staff doing such a great job.
You don’t get that honor just because of your individual work. You get that honor because of the work that people around you have done and helped you along the way. The way I look at it is I’m representing the Boston Bruins, and not necessarily representing myself.
Q. I just want to talk about your Windsor days. It was obviously a long time ago, but I understand you still have quite a few friends in town, and I just wondered how you think your time in Windsor impacted you as a player and a coach? CLAUDE JULIEN: Oh, there’s no doubt. Everything in your life when you’re involved in hockey whether it’s a player or coaching, there’s always something that impacts you. I was there in the days when Wayne Cashman was a coach. And definitely a coach that got the most out of his players.
We were a character team. And I think I grew as a player there. And everywhere you stop, you take a little bit from everybody. There’s a lot of things I liked from different coaches, and a lot of things I’ve seen from different players. You take a little bit from everything. At the same time, you try to build your own identity. But Windsor was definitely a place I enjoyed. But I still come back every once in a while to visit friends.
Q. Why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season? TODD MCLELLAN: I don’t know if San Jose is. We’re competing right there with them. I still believe Detroit is the team to beat in the National Hockey League, with all due respect to Claude’s team and to our team here in San Jose. Obviously, the Calgary Flames are playing well. But Detroit has an aura about them.
They believe in themselves. They believe they can repeat as champions. It will be a tough task for anybody to knock them off. But at this moment as far as our hockey club goes, we’ve had a really good start. We’ve harnessed some of the early season energy, and we’re able to get out of the gate quickly. Our confidence grew, and now it’s about maintaining our game.
And tomorrow night we’ve got the Red Wings here. It will be a big task for us. But right now I still believe Detroit is the team to beat. Are the Sharks playing better than them? I don’t necessarily agree with that.
Q. Douglas Murray has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?TODD MCLELLAN: Douglas is a huge part of our success and our future moving forward. He’s a big, physical defenseman. He provides that element of abrasiveness around our net. He’s certainly not the smoothest with the puck, but we don’t ask him to do that. We want him to play within his own means. He provides us that physical element and a real important part of our hockey club.
Q. Julien, what lies behind Boston’s success this season compared to last season? CLAUDE JULIEN: Obviously, it’s a little bit more experience. I guess for the first part until lately it was obviously the health issue with our team. We remain pretty healthy for the most of the year so far until, as I mentioned, the last few weeks we’ve had guys go down.
But we’ve had a lot of guys grow through adversity last year. We’ve had some young players put into situations that they normally wouldn’t have been going through had there not been injuries last year. And I think with the acceleration and their progress has certainly shown this year and taken advantage of it.
But we’ve added a few players as well that’s kind of stabilized our team even more, and given us a little bit more scoring. Right now we’ve had most of our players playing pretty good hockey. You know, as Todd mentioned also, this is a situation where it’s just half the season. And most people don’t remember how you start, they remember how you finish. We’ve got another task ahead of us, and probably a tougher one, and we look forward to the challenge.
Q. P.J. Axelsson been with the Bruins for a few years now. What’s he contribute to the team? CLAUDE JULIEN: With the amount of time he’s been with the Bruins, and the respect he’s gained from his teammates he’s been a great leader for us on and off the ice. I think his anticipation of plays and he reads the play well.
He’s a smart player. We use him a lot in penalty killing situations. We’ve been using him a lot on the power play as well because of injuries. He’s a smart player that can make plays. So he brings a little of everything to our team. But most of all, I think we’ve appreciated his leadership qualities especially this year.
Q. Sorry to go so local, but if you look back at the 2002?03 season, you guys coached respectively the best two teams in the NHL, and Claude, you got your job in Montreal. And I wondered if you could comment on that year, and what you remember of the Calder Cup? And did that season seem to impact your careers as much as it looks like from the outside? TODD MCLELLAN: I know from my perspective in Houston, it was a tremendous year. I really believed the two top teams ended up playing in that Calder Cup final, and it was a heck of a series. Claude did a tremendous job in growing that team, and he had the opportunity to leave. And Jeff Ward who is with him now took that Hamilton team right to the finals. So their coaching staff did a tremendous job in Hamilton, and a number of those players have gone on to play in the National League.
When you revert back to the Houston team again, it was a young team with veteran leadership. A number of those players have made impact in the Minnesota Wild organization. The series itself was incredible. It was extremely fast, skilled hockey. I remember the sellout in Hamilton in the final game. It was the last game played that year. I think the Stanley Cup had been awarded the night before. Just a real thriller.
Did it impact my career? I believe it did. It was the first opportunity to win a championship as a head coach. Certainly it’s something that I revert back to on a daily basis here in San Jose about some of those experiences and how we handled ourselves.
CLAUDE JULIEN: There’s no doubt it was an incredible year. As you mentioned, I ended up leaving halfway through. And I guess as great as it was to go to Montreal, you always have a little bit of regret not having the opportunity to finish your job.
So I really felt confident that our team was capable of challenging for that cup, and, you know, I actually attended Game 7, which Todd alluded to earlier, it was a sellout crowd. Something we hadn’t seen in Hamilton for years, and I don’t think it ever happened in the American Hockey League and in Hamilton itself.
But it was a great game. I think Todd’s team was just on top of their game. It was really the better team that night. Certainly was a fun year for me. Obviously a great year as far as my personal career was concerned. I got the opportunity to move up to the NHL.
|Fresh Thomas locks Islanders down||01.15.09 at 11:24 pm ET|
Tim Thomas didn’t earn the shutout last night when he coughed up a goal off David Krejci’s skate late in the third period, but he looked as fresh as he has all season in the 2-1 win over the Islanders.
There’s a good reason for that.
B’s coach Claude Julien has done a masterful job of sharing the workload between his two thirtysomething goalies, and it’s allowed them to become the best goaltending tandem in the NHL this season. In season’s past, the energetic and athletic style employed by Thomas would cause him to wear down over the grind of a long season — a situation worsened without a ton notch partner between the pipes.
The 34-year-old appeared in 66 games during the 06-07 season when injuries and the stunning collapse of the SS Raycroft pushed him into an extreme workload, and it was something that even Thomas himself acknowledges might have been a few too many games jammed into one regular season. Last year’s brief Manny Fernandez appearance along with some great support work done by Alex Auld allowed Thomas to scale back nine games and — coupled with an excellent defensive system installed by Claude Julien and his coaching staff — resulted in career-highs in save percentage and GAA.
At this point last season Thomas had appeared in 29 games and the B’s have slackened that pace even more this season with Man-Fern in the wings — as last night was his 25th appearance of the season. The fresh-as-a-daisy tender turned away 40 shots on a night when the Black and Gold clearly weren’t at their best against the mucking, scrapping Isles, and is on pace to appear in 47 games this season — the lowest games played total for him since surfacing from the Providence Baby B’s to play in 36 games way back in 2005-05.
“I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have had good relationships with lots of goaltenders that I played with. I’ve actually played kind of in tandem like this with Raycroft in Providence, where we both pretty much played half and half,” said Thomas during a recent NHL conference call. “I did get used to it then. For a few years I haven’t played in a goaltending tandem like that.
“Last year we had Alex Auld. He was great, took a lot of the pressure off of me. But I still played more games percentage-wise than I’m playing this year,” added Thomas. “The good thing about playing with Manny this year is we’re pretty much the same age with pretty much the same experience level. We’ve been able to help each other out. Through a season, players don’t always have their A games. When that happens, I think as goaltenders we can see it in each other. We either settle each other down if that needs to be or kind of try to fire each other up if that’s what needs to happen. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that this year.”
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