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Julien: Time for Bruins to show some determination 10.02.09 at 2:28 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Back to work for the Bruins at Ristuccia Arena Friday afternoon following a lackluster ice-breaker against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

Plenty of talk about the power play unit, and the definite lack of mightiness after going 0-for-5 with only a single shot on net during over five minutes of 5-on-4 action in Thursday’s defeat. But in Claude Julien’s mind, the power play’s lack of bite went back to a surprising lack of determination and will displayed all over the ice after the opening 10 minutes.

Heading into the season the Bruins talked about weathering opposing team’s best punches in the frenzied opening minutes of games, and then slowly winning the game’s tide over through three periods. That seemed to work in exact reverse in their first game as the Black and Gold skaters had nothing in the tank after an opening flurry against Washington that ultimately didn’t bear any fruit.

“I wouldn’t pinpoint it as [power play trouble],” said Julien. “There was a lot more than that going on [against the Caps] in my book. Your best players have to be your hardest workers, and yesterday we were getting outworked on the power play and losing battles.

The power play breakouts and set-ups were sound, but there wasn’t enough gritty desire to keep the puck in the zone or create the dynamic puck movement that the Capitals confidently called upon on the other side of the ice. Combine the misfiring power play squad with Andrew Ference, David Krejci, Matt Hunwick and Marco Sturm all coming back from summer rehab programs amid an abbreviated preseason schedule, and there was a perfect storm of disappointment against a Caps team looking in mid-season form.

“A lot of it is we have to understand that our work ethic has to get better, and that’s a starting point for us turning it around,” said Julien. “We have a lot of challenges that are a little bit out of our control. We have a lot of guys that maybe aren’t in synch right now, and as a whole it certainly makes it challenging for our team.

“But we have to take a step back and maybe concentrate on our work ethic, and then maybe we’re giving ourselves a chance. The rest should follow. I have to push those guys to want to work harder, and they have to want to work harder. And they do it on their own as well. It’s a push from all of us, and it’s what we have to do to at least get back on the right track. ”

–The Bruins were licking their opening night wounds Friday morning, but also readying for a Saturday night date with a Carolina Hurricanes squad that ended their season in a Game 7 overtime heart-breaker last spring. Claude Julien admitted that he’s never watched a full replay of the Game 7 film after the fact, but has endured more than enough replays of Scott Walker’s OT winner in the last three months.

Shawn Thornton stayed in touch with Canes defenseman Aaron Ward following his trade to Carolina, and pleasantries will be exchanged before the hate starts flowing on the ice.  Thornton and his teammates remember exactly what happened during last year’s semi-finals after taking the Canes a bit too lightly, and that isn’t going to happen again after a soggy opening night.

“It happens all the time and it won’t be that weird because I’ve seen [Ward] in that jersey before. The tough part of the game is when guys get moved, but he’s home and it looks like he’s happy,” said Thornton. “I’ve talked to him a couple of times, but he’s not my teammate anymore and whatever happens out there, he’s on the other team.

“Obviously we haven’t forgotten that they knocked us out three months ago, so we have to bottle it up and use it in the right way. We’re not going to go out there running around like crazy and getting away from our game. But having a little bit of an edge and a little bit of nastiness to our game against the team that ended our season might be all right.” 

Dennis Wideman talked about the “too many men on the ice” penalty that started the ball rolling for Washington in the first period Thursday night.  It was one of those instances where the puck-moving defenseman wanted to pull his pass back as soon as it left the blade of his stick, but that isn’t possible without Doc Brown and a time-traveling Delorean. Instead the 26-year-old defenseman threw the puck toward the Bruins bench at exactly the wrong time during a shift change, and Brooks Laich made Boston pay with their first power play strike of the game.

“A lot of times I’m making those passes when I see the black sweater out of the corner of my eye and then make the pass without really looking,” said Wideman. “After I passed it and looked over, I saw we were in the midst of a line change. I should have looked before I made the pass over, and that’s basically what happened. I kind of put it in a spot where he didn’t know whether to take it or just leave the puck. It’s one of those instances where I should have taken a look before I snapped the puck over there.”

Read More: Claude Julien, Dennis Wideman, Shawn Thornton,
Bruins brushing up on the power play 09.30.09 at 11:41 am ET
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WILMINGTON — The Bruins are putting the finishing touches on the team here at practice Wednesday morning at Ristuccia Arena as they ready for Thursday’s season-opener against Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the high-powered Washington Capitals.

A lot of power play work this morning, and a look into what’s going to be one of the more competitive aspects of the Black and Gold team this season. The Bruins legitimately have five or six players that could run the point on the power play, and B’s coach Claude Julien has been nearly giddy in the different options at his disposal in the early going. Both Zdeno Chara and Derek Morris lined up as the top points on the first power play until along with Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and Michael Ryder filling out the forward spots on the top unit. Marco Sturm was also hopping into the top unit and alternating with Lucic.

Andrew Ference and Dennis Wideman manned the spots on the second unit with David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi alternating with Chuck Kobasew as the manpower down low. The 5-on-3 work was even more impressive as Chara and Morris manned the points with Recchi working directly in front of the goalie with puck magicians Savard and Krejci working in the two corners. That’s the kind of PP combo that could make a lot of teams pay for spending time in the penalty box this season. One big change from last year: Bergeron has taken off the point and is working more off the half-wall where he can be a triple-threat ready to pass, shoot, or take it straight toward the net.

Despite the current configurations, Julien has been quick to advise not falling in love with the PP configurations as there could be a heavy “play the hot hand” philosophy on the man advantage with so many qualified players to choose from. The B’s bench boss is also reserving the right to plop the oversized body of 6-foot-9 Chara in tight by the cage if the situations calls for a an extra-big, extra-wide body during PP time.

Matt Hunwick is another player likely to find his way onto the PP units as a point man this season, but the young blueliner has been attempting to find his game through training camp. Julien hinted on Tuesday that some of Hunwick’s struggles may be the player’s attempts to justify the two-year contract he received over the summer, and may be a case of a player attempting to do too much. Either way, Hunwick wasn’t on the PP units Wednesday and will have to work his way back into the rotation.

“You’re likely to see a little bit of both. [Bergeron] may end up playing [the point] and he may end up playing up front too,” said Julien. “There are some players that are still trying to find their games a little bit, and we have to take that into account as well. Right now we’re trying to come up with the best combination to start.

“It allows us some versatility. I don’t when or if it’s really going to happen — but I suspect it will at some point — you can put a guy like Zdeno in front of the net. He’s a big net-front presence if you’ve got the right people on the back end. But a lot of things and decisions are based on the way players are going right at the time. If you have players on a roll or a hot streak, then you want to keep them on that streak by utilizing them in different place. Or maybe sometimes guys are trying to find their games , and it’s not good to put them in different kinds of positions when you’re trying to get them to simplify their games. There’s a lot of thinking that goes behind who should be where [on the power play] and who should be on it.”

Read More: Claude Julien, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara,
Turn up the volume: B’s ready for new season 09.29.09 at 9:14 pm ET
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The last time the Bruins played a game that mattered, Carolina’s Scott Walker was dancing in the West end of the TD Bank Garden following his game-winning OT goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

On Thursday night, the Black and Gold go about the business of trying to put that memory further in the past when they take on another team that was also eliminated in the same round of last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Washington Captials, featuring Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and defenseman Mike Green, come calling in the 2009-10 season opener

We present the following audio morsels to get you ready and in the mood for the occasion.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said he is naturally excited for Thursday night.

Julien happy to see hockey fever back in the hub.

Julien said it will be tougher to get to the top of the Eastern standings as they did last year as the No. 1 seed.

Tim Thomas will be the starter on Thursday night in goal but Julien said Tuukka Rask has earned the No. 2 spot.

Captain Zdeno Chara on opening with the talented Capitals.

Michael Ryder said the team is ready to go.

Blake Wheeler said it will be fun for the fans to see the Bruins open against the Capitals.

Wheeler said the Bruins have to be concerned about themselves first, not the Capitals on opening night.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Zdeno Chara,
Ference unconcerned about union issues in dressing room at 10:26 am ET
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It hasn’€™t been the most tranquil of summers for Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference after a full slate of off-ice responsibilities as the team’€™s NHL Player Association player representative.

Ference was one of the key point people in the controversial ouster of NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly after a long, late-night advisory board meeting in Chicago last month, and he’€™s been facing a consistent firing line of tough questions in that aftermath since arriving in Boston for B’€™s training camp several weeks ago.

The Bruins defenseman joined Matt Stajan, Mike Komisarek and Brad Boyes in forming an investigative subcommittee that interviewed NHLPA office employees and looked into allegations that Kelly had broken the spirit of the NHLPA constitution ‘€“ and therefore was unfit to lead the body of NHL players. There’s been plenty of details involving the unauthorized acquisition of union meeting minutes and cloak-and-dagger subterfuge to stab Kelly in the back behind the scenes, but — like just about everything in life — there’s seems to be three sides to the situation.

There’€™s a he said/she said element to the dismissal, of course, but there’€™s also no denying things were running smoothly under Kelly’€™s leadership and the NHL was gaining back the popularity it frittered away during the lockout in 2004-05.

The investigation of a Ference-led subcommittee evolved into Kelly’€™s firing after his largely successful two-year run, and it spurred on the placement of general counsel Ian Penney into an interim leadership position within the players’€™ union. As with any change of leadership in a position of such high visibility, there’€™s been plenty of tumult in the aftermath of Kelly’€™s sacking and the murmurs simply aren’€™t going away with time. There was an NHLPA-sponsored conference call among players on Monday night to discuss process and actions going forward, and perhaps even a bit of a circle-the-wagons type message.

The pro-Kelly camp claims that the hard-working, no-nonsense, Boston-bred Kelly was railroaded by a group of power-hungry individuals within the union, and that the player reps were hoodwinked into making the ultimate choice of removal.

There were certainly plenty of veteran Bruins players looking for answers to the NHLPA situation when training camp began two weeks ago. The bold move to displace Kelly was another in a long line of borderline embarrassing episodes (Ted Saskin, Alan Eagleson etc.) for the hockey players’€™ union leadership, and some of Ference’€™s teammates are clearly upset that such a change in the union’€™s corner office came without any warning or consultation prior to a bleary-eyed 3 a.m. vote on Aug. 31.

Ference had a closed-door meeting with the rest of his teammates about the Kelly fiasco last week that some sources described as ‘€œheated’€ at points, but the 30-year-old blueliner maintained at Monday’€™s media day session that the NHLPA issues wouldn’€™t be affecting the team’€™s unique chemistry off the ice.

The issues were discussed and differences of opinion were listened to and hashed out, said Ference, but there was clearly a difference of opinion in the way things eventually transpired. There remains a disconnect between the 22 player reps voting to sack Kelly/NHLPA execs still remaining with the union infrastructure, and the rank-and-file players left with the unpleasant feeling that a rug had been pulled out from underneath them without their consent or endorsement.

Ference is doggedly sticking to his guns that the union was justified in dismissing Kelly from its top spot, and that hasn’€™t been a major talking point among the union’€™s membership in the B’€™s locker room.

‘€œThere were questions about the timing of it and whether or not we should have waited until [training] camp and we can have a difference of opinion about that,’€ said Ference. ‘€œIt doesn’€™t mean there’€™s tension or fighting. But the No. 1 thing that’€™s misrepresented is about whether or not [Kelly] should have been fired.

‘€œThe guys that have the facts say it’€™s not about that, we agree that [Kelly] had to go. It’€™s more about the timing and the decision to do it in Chicago instead of training camp. We have very good reasons for that and why we couldn’€™t wait and why it had to happen based on that meeting. But those are topics that we bring up and it’€™s a healthy thing to do. But these tensions within the team are a fictional report by a sports reporter. It’€™s frustrating to read. We talk about it in the locker room and it’€™s like ‘€˜Gee, where is this coming from?’€™ It is what it is and it’€™s ridiculous. But I guess some guys are just going to write what they want to write.’€

There are heavy indications that fellow veteran players ‘€“ with Mark Recchi chief among them ‘€“ will toss their names into the running for the B’€™s player rep position when it comes up for reelection in the next few weeks. There’€™s clearly ‘€“ at the very least ‘€“ a level of unhappiness with the way the process played out leading to the bloodless coup in the NHLPA offices.

It seems that some of the more influential veterans within the league are beginning to stand up and take notice, and there may be big alterations in the offing when election time hits for the player rep population.

Unsolicited, Ference admitted that there was a difference of opinion with 41-year-old veteran forward Mark Recchi when it came down to process and the unfortunate timing of the decision. But the defenseman said there was accordance on the one bottom line subject: that the move on Kelly had to be made by the NHLPA’€™s voting body.

Other than that, the Bruins defenseman said any union disagreements had zilch to do with chemistry on the ice or good vibes within the Bruins’€™ dressing room. That, Ference said, was much more fiction than fact as his team sits on the cusp of an NHL regular season with the highest of expectations.

‘€œWe have a reporter out there that’€™s writing down this stuff and it’€™s a tad ridiculous,’€ said Ference. ‘€œWe have a locker room that’€™s open and we talk about things, and we can have differences of opinion. But it’€™s out there and we’€™re open, and that’€™s what makes our locker room so open and good.

‘€œBut this stuff about [Recchi] confronting [me], and all this other stuff? Rex and I talked about the issues, and the bottom line is that we both agree that Paul Kelly had to go. That’€™s the stuff that doesn’€™t get reported. I don’€™t know if there’€™s a slanted perspective or some ulterior thing going when the stuff is being written, but the fact is that we do talk about it. It’€™s healthy to talk about it and we’€™re men about it. If there’€™s an issue then we talk about it, put it out in the open and we have good communication about it. Me and Rex talk about this stuff all the time.’€

B’€™s coach Claude Julien was aware of the differing opinions on union matters within the locker room, but didn’€™t feel like things were going to affect the on-ice chemistry between players arguing over unfair dismissals or advisory boards.

‘€œYou can ask those guys those kinds of questions, but for you’€™ve got to be able to separate things,’€ said Julien. ‘€œYou have troubles at home then you don’€™t bring them to the rink with you.’€

It remains to be seen if any cracks suddenly appear within Boston’€™s team foundation, but the B’€™s players would do well to keep the off-ice union issues exactly where they currently reside: away from the ice.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Mark Recchi,
Transcript: Bruins Media Day Press Conference 09.28.09 at 9:28 pm ET
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The Boston Bruins held their pre-season media today this morning. The session started with a press conference panel of owner Jeremy Jacobs, principal owner Charlie Jacobs, head coach Claude Julien, general manager Peter Chiarelli, and vice president Cam Neely. The transcript from the press conference is below.

Pressure to live up to last year’€™s 116 points within the sports culture of Boston?

Jeremy Jacobs: Simple answer? Yes. There is an expectation on my part and the community at large. I share the same goal, my ambition is to win a Stanley Cup and I think we have the personalities in place from management, coaching and players. So, I look for a great season and will be disappointed if there is anything less than that.

How impressed are you with the brain trust that has been put together in the front office? 

Jeremy Jacobs: I think he [Peter Chiarelli] has done a great job. We’€™ve extended our relationship and our contract and I expect that we are building on something. Every body here [the media] are all totally and justifiably critical when we stumbled at first but we got it going and stayed with it and I think the organization is working really well and I think there are personalities in place to run it.

On sending Brad Marchand and Zach Hamill down and the depth of the organization.

Chiarelli: I think both of them have had tremendous camps and I told Zach this morning that, we had talked about him playing at the rookie tournament and when some of the other guys just didn’€™t play. That was good thing that he did, you could see it in how he played in the main camp. I said that most importantly it was the work he did in the development camp, the summer camp, so you have to build on it when you go down to Providence. I told him he had a good camp. I told him he has to work on his battles when he goes down low and I thought the speed caught up to him a little bit at the end.

When I talked to Brad I told him that he had a very good camp and that he was on the right track and while his game is always simple, sometimes down in Providence it tended to get a little complicated and we tried to fix that and he tried to fix it during the camp. So, two young kids, both speak well for the future.

Those guys and the guys we assigned down on Saturday. I like our depth here. It is in different sorts, it’€™s not just a finesse player here or something but players that can fill in different capacities. 

On health situation at the start of the year.

Chiarelli: As of today, I haven’€™t talked to the training staff, but as of today I believe we will be pretty healthy at the start of the year unless something were to happen between now and then. You hear of a lot of these teams with groins and hips and, you know, it was a condensed training camp this year and we had maybe one more game than maybe we wanted to. So, I think Claude [Julien] can speak to this, but I think the off day yesterday was good and I think we will get some productive work in between now and the start of the year.

On having first five games at home.

Julien: Well, first of all I think the first part of the season is probably more important no matter whether you are on the home or on the road than most people think and it’€™s been brought to our attention every year that teams in good shape on Thanksgiving are usually the teams that end up in the playoffs. So, we are aware of that and the important-cy of getting off to a good start but even more so this year in front of our fans. No doubt the first five games in front of our fans will be crucial in their minds.

Filling Phil Kessel‘€™s Shoes.

Julien: We are confident with the team that we have here, no doubt. We have Marco Sturm back and healthy so, as a group we are a strong team. We fell stronger as well with some young guys having matured and Marco Sturm in as I mentioned he was out most of last year. David Krejci is ahead of the curve right now and we’€™re hopefully looking forward to seeing him in the opener. All in all I think our team is in great shape. Tuuka Rask is going to be a great goaltender to support Tim [Thomas].

We’€™re very confident and I think this Kessel issue for us is in the past and we’€™re moving forward. 

Addition of ECHL Redding team helping the organization.

Chiarelli: We will providing some players there as those who won’€™t be on Providence. So, anytime you can expand your organization depth wise it’€™s going to help in the long run. I think we are probably going to provide two or three players there, so, it is a good addition. The last few years we have had east coast affiliates and I think they are affiliated with a couple other teams so they have good staff there and good for the development of our young guys.

On what the race for the conference will look like.

Julien: I am not one to look at these situations as a whole and just sit there and say that we have to be at the top. I think we have to work our way to the top, just like we did last year. There is nothing different except that the challenge will be bigger. There is more respect towards our team this year so obviously there are teams around our conference who are certainly improved. Philadelphia is one of those teams with [Chris] Pronger on the back end, they are certainly going to be a better team. I don’€™t think I am going to spend all my energy worrying about what’€™s on the outside. I think it’€™s important to worry about your back yard and for me it is about the preparation of our team. I have said all along that if teams want to beat us, they are going to have to adapt to us, because we are not going to adapt to others. We play our style of game and we feel confident with it and we will go forward with it as well.

Patrice Bergeron has an extra bounce to his skates this pre-season?

Julien: I think Patrice has taken off where he left off last year. You know, he went through a lot and we were patient and helped him along the way to find his game again but what he went through is something that you don’€™t want to see again and I think he had a great second half and even the playoffs. I have mentioned that before, he was one of our best forwards in the series. I think he was excited about it when he left here last year and is excited about coming back and I think that is a continuation of what you saw last year.

For someone who has played in the finals twice, what does this team need to do to reach that mark?

Neely: We just need to learn from last year. As a player you learn from the experiences you go through. I think when we got to the finals in 1988 it was the first time for a lot of us to be in the finals and I think a lot of us, including myself, were thrilled to be in the finals. Then, in ‘€™90, we understood what happened in ‘€™88 and we don’€™t look at it like we are excited to be in the finals. You have to remember two years ago, for a lot of our players it was their first time being in the playoffs and a lot of our key players, it was the first time for them. So, the learned from that series and took it a little bit further last year and what I always have these guys try to remember is how it felt to win those games and how it felt to lose that final game and you can learn from that. I think we have a lot of guys that know we should have gone a little deeper than we did and I think they’€™re hungry to get back to that challenge to go a little deeper.

Will the team be actively searching the waiver wire as the league wide roster cut deadline looms? 

Chiarelli: Waiver acquisition that we’€™d look at? You basically react to that. You have a general idea of who is going to be on and we will look at who is on today. We will see who is up there and I suspect we will see some activity as far as trading players, for teams that are under cap crunches. So, I will be fielding some calls but I don’€™t anticipate anything happening.

On Versus and Direct TV customers not seeing opening night.

Jeremy Jacobs: I think you are right, it doesn’€™t look good. The commissioner and everybody in the league office is doing what they can do but the situation is not within our control. We know how unhappy the whole hockey world is. I think the best thing is that everybody should be put on notice that if they want to watch our game with what the circumstances are, if they want to watch our game get to a location where they can see it from. Right now it does not look good to be broadcast. They are moving at glacial speed.

Giving Sturm a try out on the top line with Savard considering how the speedy Kessel played there. 

Julien: We’€™d certainly like, to a certain extent, put some speed again on that wing and Marc is good at finding those guys so we will give those guys a try. Like I mentioned through training camp there is nothing carved in stone. We are going to put the best lines together as we can possibly find and if that means tweaking them and moving them around we will until we find the right combination. I think right now it is worth having a look at and Marco has played the off wing before and he feels comfortable there as well so, again, there is a guy who hasn’€™t played in a while so we have to take that into consideration whether he’€™s on top of his game or whether he is trying to find it again.

With the stable situations in the front office and on the ice, what are the tweaking points that could be made during the season?

Chiarelli: Structurally I do not foresee anything. I mean, we always exchange ideas and philosophies where we hope to improve the communication between the management, the coaching staff and the team. We always look to improve. I can’€™t tell you anything that we haven’€™t told you already, I know there are some themes that Claude and I have talked about that we want to impress on the team all year. Besides that, I am happy where we are at. We always look to improve but there will nothing really significant from within the management group.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Cam Neely, Charlie Jacobs, Claude Julien
Krejci: I’ll be a ‘game day’ decision for Oct. 1 opener 09.24.09 at 1:50 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — David Krejci had one of his best practices of the preseason on Thursday afternoon at Ristuccia Arena, and said afterward that he’ll likely be a “game day” decision for the Oct. 1 NHL regular season opener against the Washington Capitals at the TD Garden. The 23-year-old center said that crossing over to the right side remains the biggest area of difficulty he’s experiencing while taking part in a full practice workload, but he’s well ahead of the curve after undergoing surgery on his right hip last spring.

“I think the chances of me playing are a little better. Much better actually. But you know it’s going to be, I guess, a ‘game day’ decision. It’s going to be really close,” said Krejci, who less than two weeks ago said there was a 10 percent chance he’d ready for the season opener. “The doctors said it was going to be 4-6 months, and next week it’ll be four months. So I believe all summer I only took two weeks off when I went back home. I worked really hard to try and get back into shape. The doctors said it’s a good thing I didn’t take any days off, and it’s made the process faster.”

The Bruins clearly aren’t going to push Krejci out onto the ice before he’s ready, and B’s coach Claude Julien has stressed that the young center won’t see game action until he’s 100 percent ready and cleared by the training staff. That being said, the B’s bench boss won’t hesitate to throw his No. 2 center back out onto the ice against the Caps if he’s healthy enough to play.

Krejci hasn’t been restricted from anything during practice over the last week, and Julien said the only thing missing from Krejci’s is that short, confident skating burst that comes only with a clean bill of health in his right hip.

“We’ll just have to wait and see about Krejci,” said Julien. “He’s ahead of schedule and that bodes well. When last season ended we figured we’d be without him for a month to a month-and-a-half to start the season, and that was the diagnosis for his recovery.

“Now things are going well. We are talking about right now ‘if’ Krejci can start the season. You don’t work all summer and go through all of training camp, and then think about taking a risk (with Krejci) by putting him in early. That for sure won’t happen. When he goes in it’ll be when we’re really confident that he’s feeling good.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, David Krejci,
Sobotka looking to make a big impression with the B’s 09.22.09 at 1:39 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Vladimir Sobotka had to look at this as a make-or-break kind of year for him at Bruins training camp.

The 22-year-old Czech Republic native is looking at his best chance to make the Bruins roster right out of camp, and he has played in three preseason games thus far for Boston. Sobotka hasn’t cracked the score sheet in those three contests, is a minus-2 and has lifted three shots on net during game action. Hockey clearly isn’t a game about numbers, of course, but they indicate what the naked eye has already revealed to the casual observer.

Sobotka was a point-per-game player last season while logging 44 points in 44 games for the AHL Providence Bruins before succumbing to a concussion toward the end of last season. He has proven his tenacity, skill level and confidence at the highest levels of minor league hockey.

But he needs to step up his game in camp and show off the same effective blend of pesky, annoying, in-your-face forechecking and dangerous skill that made him an unmistakable factor in Boston two seasons ago.

Sobotka has yet to make an impression on B’s coach Claude Julien and the coaching staff this preseason, and is perhaps trying a little too hard knowing that a potential roster spot is at stake. After all, he’s heard about it from the media throughout the first few weeks of camp, so how could he possibly forget that a job is on the line.

He got a big taste of the NHL when he played in 2007-08 down the stretch and participated in the playoffs when Claude Julien relegated Phil Kessel to the bench for the first three games of the series against the Canadiens. Sobotka savored that early exposure to the NHL as a 20-year-old, and it’s the reason why he came over from his native Czech Republic to play professional hockey in the United States in the first place. He’s played a grand total of 63 NHL games over the last two seasons but still hasn’t had his breakthrough campaign like fellow Czech David Krejci enjoyed last winter.

“I keep getting the same questions. I always say that I’m going to try to do my best and do what the coaches say,” said Sobotka. “We have some injuries and we have some open spots, but it’s the same answers. I’m going to do my best. This is my important camp. I’m going to play hard, try my best and try to stay here for the whole season.

“I learned a lot last season. It’s not hard to go down [to Providence] and come back and play. I learned a lot last season and I’m trying to stay here [in Boston] this season. I came here to play hockey in the NHL, but if I get sent down [to Providence] I’m not going to be disappointed. I’ll go down to Providence and I’ll play there, you know. But, like I said, I want to stay here, would love to play here and stay in the NHL all season. I just want to do my best.”

Sobotka has perhaps felt the pressure of auditioning for a roster spot, and admitted as much in saying that “this is my important camp.” That, paired with heavy competition from another young Bruins grinder, Brad Marchand, has made things challenging. Marchand has impressed throughout camp and plays with a Chara-sized chip on his shoulder, and he shares many of the same strengths with his European counterpart. It’s been up to Sobotka to match his competitor, and the coaching staff has noticed he’s been pressing a bit in the early going.

“He’s been OK. I talked to him a little bit this morning and it’s more ‘€” with Vlad ‘€” that somehow he has to find that confidence that he has at the American Hockey League,” Julien said. “He’s got to feel confident about his game. We say it all the time about this guy, he plays like he’s 6-foot-3 and he’s not afraid to go into the corners. He’s got some skill. He’s got a great shot, you know.

“He just has to go out there and play the game, and maybe relax a little bit. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself to crack the lineup this year. Can he be better? Absolutely. I think it’s just a matter of confidence, and we told him we have the utmost confidence in him. He just needs to go out there and play the way he knows that he can.”

Roster spots aren’t won in the first two weeks of training camp, however, and the real competition begins in this final stretch of exhibition games prior to the Oct. 1 start to the NHL regular season. Handicapping a roster prior to the late camp games when the real preseason bullets flying is akin to predicting a final score after a hockey game’s first period. It’s possible, but more oft-times futile.

With four games left in five nights prior to the start of the regular season, the NHL regulars will start commanding more of the ice time, and some early camp wunderkinds will begin to show their age and experience.

It’s not too late for Sobotka if he begins to brandish the same kind of fearless, brash certainty that marked his AHL style of play prior to a concussion that prematurely ended his last season last year. The 2005 B’s fourth-round pick impressed the heck out of Bruins officials during that first go-round in Black and Gold two years ago, and it’s about time for Sobotka to return to his established level of play.

“It almost looks like he might be a little nervous and might be trying to do a little too much,” Julien said. “You’re not playing with the confidence that you normally have, and I’ve seen him play in Providence last year. He went out there and made up his mind he was the best player on the ice, and played like it.”

Sobotka simply needs to show no fear and begin playing like he’s intent on making the most of his Black and Golden opportunity this fall.

Read More: Brad Marchand, Claude Julien, Vladimir Sobotka,
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