|Matt Bartkowski on going home to Pittsburgh: ‘Everyone’s calling in their favors’ for tickets||05.29.13 at 5:45 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Going home again has its drawbacks. Just ask Matt Bartkowski.
The Bruins’ 24-year-old defenseman is headed back to where it all began for him and he couldn’t be more excited. But the homecoming for the native of nearby Mt. Lebanon, Pa., does have some obligations to fill.
“The last few years it’s been close [to] playing Pittsburgh in the playoffs and now it’s finally happening,” he said after practice on Wednesday. “I’m stoked up, pumped up and ready to go, and I’m sure the rest of these guys are. Everybody’s calling in their favors, this and that and all that crap. It just pumps us up and we’re ready to go.”
The homecoming was made possible the moment the Bruins beat the Rangers in Game 5 on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the Penguins eliminated the Senators, also in five games.
“You can’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that,” Bartkowski said of being asked about heading home. “It’s going to be awesome. I can’t think of any other way of it happening. Playing a role on the team now, and it’s playoff hockey. We’ve been looking at this match up for a while, especially me. It’s going to be awesome.”
When Bartkowski was growing up, his current teammate Jaromir Jagr was helping Mario Lemieux win back-to-back Cups in 1991 and ’92. The Penguins then went through a down period in the early 2000s before Sidney Crosby was drafted in 2005. Pittsburgh, home of the Steelers and Pirates, once again had the hockey bug.
“It died down for four years or so until Crosby got drafted,” Bartkowski said. “It’s the same thing with Jagr-Lemieux era. Now it’s the Crosby-Malkin era. Every time they get big players in Pittsburgh, it seems to jump-start all the little kids playing. It’s good for the area.
“With the Pirates doing [great], what do even you say about them? It’s pretty unfortunate. Every year they have a chance at the playoffs and then they kind of blow it. Once football season is over, it’s a hockey town. And especially with the talent they have now, it’s a hockey town once football season is over.”
His coach isn’t worried about Bartkowski being overwhelmed with it all.
“No, I don't think so,” Claude Julien said. “I think it all depends how you approach it. He seems pretty excited, he's looking forward to it. I think at the end of the day, he knows who he's playing for. He wants to do well for his team. The better he does, the better he looks in everybody's eyes, whether it's his hometown that's rooting for the other team or whether it's us. I don't see an issue with that; if anything, it's a positive, it's exciting. You know that he's going to be ready to play.”
What’s interesting is that, as a defenseman, his idol didn’t play for the Penguins.
“Actually, it was [Scott Stevens] on the Devils,” Bartkowski recalled. “Any chance I got to watch a Devils game, I would. I remember in ’95, they played the Penguins in the playoffs.”
Reminded that it was Stevens who carved a reputation by laying out star players of other teams, like Eric Lindros in the 2000 playoffs, Bartkowski conceded, “Yeah, I don’t think you’d get away with those hits now. We talk about that sometimes.”
When Bartkowski, who was paired Wednesday with Dennis Seidenberg, gets on the ice, he won’t be worried about the fans, tickets or his hometown. The only names he’ll be concerned with are Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla and the roster of the Penguins.
“I don’t know if many adjustments,” Bartkowski said. “Just making sure you’re hard on the puck and playing as physical as you can in every situation that you can. Don’t get yourself out of position but be as physical as you can.”
|Jaromir Jagr can’t compare his Penguins to these Penguins because there will never be another Mario Lemieux||05.28.13 at 1:50 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about a loaded Penguins team, it’s Jaromir Jagr. He used to be a part of one.
Jagr was on the stacked Pitsburgh teams of the early 90s. He won back-to-back Cups in 1991 and 1992 playing with the likes of Mario Lemiuex, Mark Recchi, Kevin Stevens and Paul Coffey. Today’s Penguins feature a similarly impressive group, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and James Neal, among others.
Jagr has seen a lot in his time in the NHL, but when asked how his Penguins compare to these Penguins, he said he still hasn’t seen anybody like Lemieux.
“All the respect to Malkin and Crosby,” Jagr said. “They’re great players, but Mario Lemieux was Mario Lemieux. That guy was special. I’m not saying those guys are not able to take control of the game, but the way he did it back then, nobody is even close. And they’re great players — the best in the world — but nobody was like Mario Lemieux.”
So would Jagr’s Penguins teams beat Crosby’s Penguins teams?
“I’m not saying that,” Jagr said. “It’s different. '¦ Back then, Mario was just unstoppable.”
Jagr is the last active player of those Cup-winning Penguins teams that eliminated the B’s in the conference finals both years. He’s 41 but he still feels he has something to give, so he doesn’t seem surprised that he’s played long enough to find himself on the other end of the same matchup.
“If you love something, no matter what it is, if you love your job, wife, some person or something, you just want to be with it all the time,” Jagr said. “For me, I love this game so as long as I can play, I want to play. That’s the reason I’m playing. I just love it.”
Hours after the Bruins' 5-2 victory over the Rangers last Sunday, the TD Garden sat still and empty.
The boisterous crowd had long since departed after Boston took care of business, holding serve on home ice, supplying the team with a 2-0 series lead in its Stanley Cup playoff conference semifinal series. The players and coaches trickled steadily out of the building, the janitorial crew had finished cleaning. Hours after the final whistle, Jaromir Jagr returned, alone, to the ice.
'Hockey is who he is,' said Mark Recchi, Jagr’s former Penguins teammate. Last seen in a Bruins sweater hoisting the Stanley Cup, Recchi now is a hockey operations advisor with the Stars, the team that dealt Jagr to the Bruins. 'That's his life. He's passionate about it, he works hard at it, and he still wants to be a great player. He does whatever it takes to stay at that level.'
In front of 17,565 empty golden seats, the 41-year-old Jagr skated. Using every inch of his 6-foot-3, 240 pound frame, the forward from Kladno pushed himself, feeling the burn in his thickly muscled thighs. Living over 3,900 miles from his family in the Czech Republic, Jagr needed to be back on the ice, back home. The man with such phenomenal balance on skates then skated some more.
'This is playoffs,' reminded Jagr. 'Any player will find out. It doesn't matter if you're on the first, second line or third. It's tight checking. It's harder to score.'
Jagr began his NHL career with the Penguins but now is looking to end Pittsburgh’s season. His playoff resume includes 78 playoff goals, though none have come recently. Amidst the longest scoring drought of his career, Jagr has not scored in 21 consecutive playoff games (his last playoff goal came against the Penguins in 2012). Though he has accumulated 193 playoff points over the course of his career, Jagr has registered just four points in 12 games during the Bruins’ 2013 postseason run.
'It's harder to score for me, and it's harder to score for anybody else,” he said. “Unless you the best player in the world.'
Jagr would know better than most, considering, once upon a time, he was the best in the world.
Just like Jagr can't fathom the idea of leaving the rink after a game (he is on record stating his desire for the NHL to begin playing doubleheaders), the concept of life without hockey is far removed from his mind. The offensive dervish entered the National Hockey League at the age of 18. Since then, every imaginable part of his life — and the world — has changed. His identity as a hockey player has evolved over the past 23 years, but his profession remains unchanged. Jaromir Jagr, all these years later, is still a hockey player.
'I don’t think he’ll ever change,' said Craig Patrick, general manager of the Penguins from 1989-2006. 'He was built this way.'
|Mark Recchi: ‘Nothing better’ than bringing Cup to Bruins fans||06.18.11 at 3:11 pm ET|
“They’re all special in different ways,” Recchi said before getting on a duck boat and going for the three-mile joyride of his career. “To go out on top is something very special and you never forget. Regardless of what would’ve happened in Game 7, this was going to be one of the best groups I ever played with anyway. To get that chance to win with them is incredible.
“They were different. Obviously, ’91 was a long time ago. It wasn’t a parade, we were down at a point down in Pittsburgh. We had a parade in Carolina, which was really good, but not like today. This is something really special.”
The outpouring affected each and every Bruins player, coach and executive on the duck boats Saturday. For the 43-year-old Recchi, it was an amazing feeling.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s such a great sports town anyway. With the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots all winning in the last 10 years and for the Bruins to do it now – and it’s been a long time, 39 years – it’s great to be a championship city again. There’s nothing better.”
“ was the same thing,” Recchi said. “I was able to just watch the guys react, how react to things, how they feel under pressure. That’s the great thing about it. Now these guys start the playoffs, and hopefully, they get back into this position again and they’ll be able to enjoy it that much more.”
But all of the joy aside Saturday, he said he’s have absolutely no thoughts of extending his career one more season with the Bruins.
“No, that’s it,” Recchi said definitively, though he noted he would like to stay in the game in some sort of management role.
Has he officially contacted the Bruins about a front office gig?
“Oh no, I haven’t talked to anybody about that,” Mark Recchi. “We’ve been having too much fun.”
|Don Cherry on D&C: Matt Cooke is ‘a little rat,’ Mario Lemieux ‘one of the biggest phonies’||03.22.11 at 9:20 am ET|
CBC hockey commentator Don Cherry joined the Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday morning to discuss the Matt Cooke suspension, what could happen the next time Zdeno Chara travels to Montreal and the recent slide of the Bruins.
After a seven-game winning streak that seemed to announce the Bruins as serious Stanley Cup contenders, the club has struggled, posting a 1-3-3 mark in its last seven games. Cherry was asked if the Bruins were built for a deep postseason run.
“There’s something wrong there,” said Cherry, who coached the Bruins from 1974-79. “Right now, there’s something wrong with that team. When they came into Toronto, and they were absolutely awful. But if you’re going to take a swoon, this is the time to do it. I would like to see [Shawn] Thornton play. He hasn’t played that much since [Chris] Kelly came to Boston. '¦ I would play Thornton a regular shift because he’s the Bruins for sure.”
The NHL suspended Penguins forward Cooke for the final 10 games of the regular season plus the entire first round of the playoffs on Monday, the fifth suspension in Cooke’s 12-year career. Cooke, of course, was not suspended for the elbow to the head of Marc Savard last year, which directly caused what might turn out to be a career-ending concussion for the Bruins center. Cherry feels if Cooke had been properly disciplined for the Savard hit it might have prevented the elbow to Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh that led to Cooke’s suspension.
“He should have been tossed for what happened to Savard, but they said they didn’t have a rule,” Cherry said. “The guy never even got four minutes or anything for that. If he had got [suspended for] 20 games then, maybe he would have been straightened out. He should have been suspended for what he did to Savard and he got his comeuppance. '¦ They should have given him 20-30 games back then and it might have straightened the little rat out.”
Cherry added that Mario Lemieux, who complained about dirty play following last month’s game against the Islanders, is “one of the biggest phonies I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“He says, ‘we have to get ride of headshots,’ and the [president], Dave Morehouse, says ‘we have to get rid of headshots,’ and [general manager] Ray Shero, who I really like, says the same thing. What happens? They’ve got the [biggest] headshot guy of all time, they’re paying his paychecks. What a bunch of hypocrites, I’ll tell you.”
Chara was not suspended for his March 8 hit of Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, who suffered a concussion and a non-displaced fracture of cervical vertebrae. This led to outrage throughout Montreal, and Montreal police did open a criminal investigation against Chara. Cherry was asked if the Boston defenseman has reason to be concerned about future trips to Montreal.
“Who’s going to arrest him? That’s not going to happen. And the Canadiens have really have nobody to do anything to him,” Cherry said. “Who would? And if the game is close, nothing is going to happen. He’s too big, too strong. '¦ There’s no way he did that to that guy [on purpose], he was just taking that guy out. And I really give it to the owners ' the Molsons ' they didn’t have enough padding on that turnbuckle. It should have been padded, the kid would have bounced right off.”
To hear the interview, click here.
|Mike Milbury on D&H: B’s made ‘wise decision to add to their depth and toughness’||02.16.11 at 12:52 pm ET|
NESN and NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury made his weekly appearance on the Dale & Holley show Wednesday to talk Bruins and NHL news. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.
Milbury indicated he likes the Bruins’ acquisition of Chris Kelly from the Senators. “I think the Bruins have made a wise decision to add to their depth and toughness,” he said. “In both cases, you can’t get enough of it, particularly when it comes time for playoff time.”
The Bruins reportedly have interest in Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle. “He’s a quiet player,” Milbury said. “He’s efficient, he’s not a physical force, doesn’t have a big shot, moves it pretty well from the point. I didn’t mean to be too critical of him the last time we spoke. If I was, I stand somewhat corrected.”
Added Milbury: “This is a player that’s going to need to step it up in terms of intensity and commitment level if he does come to Boston. That’s how I see it.”
On Friday night, the Islanders sought revenge on the Penguins for previous hits by sparking a number of brawls. The NHL responded with suspensions and a $100,000 fine for the Islanders due to their inability to control their players. However, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux said it didn’t go far enough.
“What happened on Long Island was unacceptable,” Milbury said. “Clearly, the league made that statement. We allow fighting because we like it. '¦ We like the manliness of it. We like the immediate retribution for a perceived slight to our teammates or to ourselves. We like it when guys stand up for themselves. And we like it that they’re willing to sacrifice and are they’ll go as far as dropping the gloves to do it.
“But it’s not supposed to be a tactic. We bristle when people come up from behind, because it crosses our sense of etiquette in the hockey world. We bristle a little bit more when it seems to be not a mano-a-mano retribution thing but almost a team-wide, orchestrated thing. And we really don’t like it ' and what happened on Long Island ' is when somebody is in a compromised position that the fighter continues to pummel his opponent. And not only that, once it’s over, he comes back to taunt him from the runway. All silly, and a black eye for the league.
“Fortunately, it’s an aberration. It doesn’t happen very often any more. But when you allow fighting, and you allow those emotions to vent, it’s difficult to control it. From time to time, you’ll see this stuff. As I said, fortunately it’s less frequent now.
“The league acted. Was it strong enough? You can debate that. You could certainly have an argument about whether it was forceful enough to make changes in behavior. But it was a strong and it was an immediate statement. I think everybody would grant that.”
As for Lemieux’s criticism, Milbury noted that Matt Cooke still is a member of the Penguins. “Pittsburgh is not a goody-two-shoes team,” he said. “They’re a snippy little bunch. They’re not shy when it comes to a hit when you’re vulnerable.”
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