|Don Cherry giving Byron Bitz some props||03.03.09 at 12:40 am ET|
A big smile quickly appeared on big Byron Bitz as he worked his way through the Bruins dressing room Monday morning at their practice facility in Wilmington, and rightfully so. The fourth-line grinder has made quite the healthy impression with his hockey smarts — something the Bruins scouting staff prides themselves on being able to spot — and gritty big man’s game, and those skills led the 6-foot-5 rookie to be featured during Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner on TSN Saturday night.
Canada’s favorite hockey mouthpiece, dandy Don Cherry, started out in fine Grapes form by calling him “Byron Blitz” and then praised him as a good Saskatoon boy while showing some of the highlights from his successful two months in Black and Gold. The big-boned winger started out as a welcome banger with ideal size and strength along Boston’s fourth line, but Bitz has begun flashing some offensive skills over the last few weeks and has something that the B’s could always use: size, strength and steely fearlessness when it comes to throwing his big body into the areas of peril around the ice.
“At first he’s playing not to make mistakes when he gets here, and once he gets his confidence level and some games under his belt, he starts showcasing a little bit more of what he has, and that’s what I’ve been saying the last little while,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien of his big forward. “I think once this guy gets more experienced and more confidence under his belt, he’s going to score us some goals here and there, and he’s starting to show that right now.”
Bitz has three goals in his last three games, and has found lamp-lighting glory with tips and strong stick work in front of the net, a dogged willingness to chase loose pucks and rebounds around the net and an opportunistic approach when a crashing lane toward the net materializes before him. The 24-year-old has been the perfect big-bodied compliment to bare knuckles winger Shawn Thornton and center Stephane Yelle on Boston’s fourth line, but a little Coach’s Corner love had to be the — pun completely intended — cherry on top for “a good Saskatoon boy”.
It certainly looks as if Big Byron has carved himself a man-sized niche on this Bruins roster.
Here’s the full Coach’s Corner segment from Saturday, and stick around to watch Cherry’s ridiculous pro-Canada, anti-Russia rant about Alex Ovechkin’s boisterous celebrations following the goals that he scores. Hate to break it Don, but oversized personalities like Ovechkin and, yes, even Sean Avery are exactly what this game needs more of if it hopes to keep growing worldwide. Aside from that, the obvious Don Cherry bromance with Sidney Crosby is a little disturbing.
|Cherry calling out Looch, or just Don Being Don?||11.30.08 at 12:25 pm ET|
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:
|‘Grapes’ gives B’s some love||11.23.08 at 7:53 pm ET|
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.
|Every picture tells a story…||11.20.08 at 8:57 am ET|
With the Boston Bruins enjoying a renaissance and starting to capture the imagination and attention of the Boston sports fan, now would be a good time to take a look at one of the best pictorials ever done on the Original Six franchise by one of the best photographers ever to cover Boston sports.
Black and Gold – Four Decades of the Boston Bruins in Photographs is out in bookstores and available on line. It is a piece of work that chronicles one man’s life of documenting one of the most storied teams on ice. But the real hook in the book are the stories that go along with the pictures that were taken by Bruins photographer Steve Babineau.
The text was written by former NESN Bruins reporter Rob Simpson with a sincere and heartfelt foreward provided by none other than ‘Grapes’ himself, Don Cherry.
My personal favorite story behind the photo is a tale of Adam Oates, Brett Hull, Neil Young and a guitar.
In the ‘Scrapbook’ chapter, ‘Babs’ also does a great job of including his two sons and daughter, detailing how they have been with him every step of his impressive photojournalist career.
For those who cover sports now at TD Banknorth Garden, not only is ‘Babs’ a fixture, but so, too, are his sons Brian, an assistant equipment manager, and Keith, who has followed in dad’s footsteps as a team photographer. His daughter Jamie is also now a photographer who can be seen in and around the Garden.
|B’s Bruiser returns to the Looch Lair||10.28.08 at 9:32 am ET|
It’s a homecoming tonight for Vancouver homeboy Milan Lucic, who played junior hockey for the Vancouver Giants and is appropriately pumped to play his first ever NHL game at GM Place against the Canucks on Tuesday night. The local Vancouver media has the requisite “prodigal pugilist coming home” stories with the best of them including a photo gallery and baby picture of Looch before he became the 20-year-old glass-shattering Hulk lurking on the TD Banknorth Garden ice.
Lucic told ESPN’s Louise K. Cornetta last weekend that he was understandably besieged by ticket requests in his home city, but he instead bought just seven tickets for his parents, siblings and grand-parents to attend the game. Lucic’s older brother Jovan, however, rented out a luxury box at GM Place for at least 70 of Lucic’s closest admirers, so there should be an usual amount of cheering and “Looch Calls” for the Bruiser in the Spoked B on Tuesday night.
The Looch started slowly during B’s training camp this fall amid expectations that he was going to immediately morph into Cam Neely as a 20-year-old NHL neophyte, but it’s fair to say he’s now hitting his stride after creating a youtube sensation with his monster hit against the Maple Leafs and then following that by rattling off the first hat trick of his career last weekend. Much of Lucic’s success can be traced to the natural physical gifts bestowed upon the hulking power forward, but the youngster also has the work ethic to match — as his former Vancouver Giants strength and conditioning coach, Ian Gallagher, told Pucks with Haggs last month:
‘He’s got a great frame to put on muscle mass and handle it. He’s got great levers and he’s got a very strong core and a good musculature to him that allows him to excel,’ said Gallagher. ‘His leg mass is tremendous. His leg press is well over 900 pounds for eight reps and his power clean for reps is 275 pounds, which are both really football player-like numbers.
‘Which is a little amazing because he’s got a very unassuming musculature to him. Because you look at his arms and there’s not a heck of a lot of mass to them, but his core is just so bloody powerful. His legs are massive and his trunk is massive, and when he gets those big muscles going it demonstrates itself in a powerful way when he collides with somebody or when he’s shooting the puck. I think it’s one of his biggest assets.’
|A Canadian man and his stick||09.26.08 at 3:18 pm ET|
Let’s drop the puck on this Bruins blog, which will become “Pucks with Haggs” in the very near future, with one of my favorite B’s-related moments from last winter. I have the NHL Home Ice Package and religiously watch TSN’s Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday, and always look forward to the dapper Don Cherry’s Coach’s Corner in between periods.
With that as the preface, the best Bruins rant from “Grapes” came late in the season with the Black and Gold pressing for a playoff berth. Cherry caught a juicy bit of footage of center Marc Savard on the Bruins bench seemingly talking to his stick and patting the head of the stick like a pet schnauzer. Hockey players are obviously very in tune with their tools of the trade, but Cherry seems to be intimating that Savard was professing deep love to his hockey stick while waiting for his next shift.
I asked Savvy about this before the team departed for Halifax and here’s what he had to say: “I don’t really talk to my stick. It’s just been a habit my whole life because I really love my sticks. I do love my sticks, though, but I’m not telling them that I love them. I’m always checking my sticks and making sure they’re not broken and there’s no snow in the blade…or just taking care of it. I’m always taking care of her and making sure she’s ready to go. Maybe I was talking to Muzz [Glen Murray] beside me as I was fooling around with it. I didn’t really see it, but a bunch of my buddies that always watch Hockey Night in Canada told me about it [at this point defenseman Dennis Wideman chimes in from the next locker over and says that Savard taped the show and watches it all the time]…so I autographed a stick and sent it to him after the season was over. I signed it: To Don, take care of it for me.”
Was Savard really whispering sweet hockey nothings to his stick, or was he talking to Murray sitting next to him on the bench? You be the judge, and let me know what you think at email@example.com