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NHL Conference Call with Savard (and what he said to Laraque Saturday night) 11.24.08 at 4:24 pm ET
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I never noticed the Marc Savard/Michael Jordan thing before, but man there's a lot of these...

I never noticed the Marc Savard/Michael Jordan thing before, but man there's a lot of these...

Bruins center Marc Savard had an NHL-sponsored conference call with assorted media members after being named last week’s First Start in the NHL Three Stars competition. Here’s a partial transcript from this afternoon’s call with reporters, including some interesting thoughts on the Laraque/Lucic confrontation last weekend and the punch-filled turning point for this season’s team. I skipped a few probing questions for Savard about John Tavares and the Oshawa Generals, but let’s just say that he thinks the youngster is a player and doesn’t mind that he’ll break his junior scoring records with the Generals. So now you can sleep knowing that. Here’s Savard: 

From a plus/minus standpoint you’re having the best year of your career. What have you done to improve that? MS: Well, I don’t know. I’ve just been building every year since Coach Hartley helped me out in Atlanta. Then I came here and I’ve learned a lot from Claude. So things have helped in that way, and then obviously playing in our system makes it a lot easier to be a better plus player than I’ve been in the past.

It’s right there and [Claude] tells us exactly what to do and it’s right there in front of us. You trust in your teammates and they do their job and it makes it a lot easier. It’s that and a lot of little things. Being down low and what exactly do you do when you’re down there and being better away from the puck has really helped me too.

Do you feel you’re a more complete player this year? MS:Yeah, I do. I’m killing penalties this year. It’s the first year in the NHL that I’ve done that and I’m taking a lot of big faceoffs. It’s nice to be counted on like that, it feels good and hopefully we keep on playing like that.

The Boston Bruins success has raised a lot of eyebrows around the league. What are you doing to keep playing this well? MS: We’re just playing together, you know, and we really get along so well. I know a lot of teams say that, but we really do. If something needs to be said, well then we air it out in the room and we go from there.

When Dallas came in here, I think I really look at that as our turning point for the season. We started off with a .500 schedule through our first six games, and Dallas came in here and we had a big game against them. We just grew from there, and we’ve just been on a pretty good roll since then.

If Dallas was the turning point, then what did the two recent wins against Montreal do? MS:Yeah, obviously it’s a huge rivalry. We’re not the biggest fans of the Canadiens, and I’m sure they’re not the biggest fans of us, so it’s nice to be able to finally get some wins against them. I think we’re just building off it and rolling over, and we’re just a confident team right now. We know that we have to work hard to get our victories.

Can you talk about how much instant impact Lucic has had with Boston. MS: Well, I knew from Day One of training camp last year when I went right to our GM and said that this guy is ready. I knew with his size and stuff. I played with him in one exhibition game early on, and I think it was against the Islanders in Halifax or New Brunswick or something. I knew right then that he was ready to play. He has more skill than everybody gives him credit for, and I can see that when he makes good little plays. 

We’ve been working well together, so hopefully if he continues to do that then he’s going to have a great career. After the playoffs when he was a huge presence for us in the playoffs, I think he’s just rolled that over into this year. Playing on my wing, I can take advantage of it and chip it into the corner knowing that he’s going for it. There’s not too many guy that are going to be the first one back there when he’s going. He’s a great addition, and we have a good mix on the line. So it’s nice to have him on the line.

Julien has been active in moving players around. Can you talk about the defensive awareness that you and Phil have? MS: Playing with Phil and Milan, they’re both younger guys — and for myself too — for us to be out there and get the minutes that we want to get we try and stress to each other to be good defensively. If we’re good defensively then we’re going to get a lot of offense. Really it feels like we haven’t been in our zone that much for that reason. We’ve been getting back hard, breaking up plays and getting it back in. We’re having a lot of fun as a line.

Like you said, Kess has really worked hard at that aspect so he can be out there in those situations. As he gets older he’s obviously going to be a top guy at both ends [of the ice].

PJ Axelsson has also been moved up to the top lines a few times, so you have Axelsson and Phil playing in different roles and winning games. Julien seems to be asking a lot of everybody [on the team]. MS: Yeah, he is. He’s a demanding coach, but in the same sense he’s fair. If you’re playing hard and you’re playing good, then you’re going to get that ice time. We’ve been getting that as a line, and obviously our team has been playing great as a whole lineup. If someone isn’t going one night, then somebody else picks them up. It’s been good in that way.

We know what we have to do to win: we have to keep working and Claude keeps stressing that every day. There’s not too many days where he lets that stuff slide. We know as a team what we have to do to win, and we’ve been able to do it.

One of the subplots of last weekend’s game was staying clear of Laraque. 1) Was that talked about and 2) there was a faceoff where Georges and Lucic were squaring off in the faceoff circle and they were yakking it up a little. You seemed to come over and have something to say and things calmed down a little bit. What happened there? MS: I just told Georges that there’s going to be another time for this. Right now we’re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little bit anyway.

If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’t want anybody fighting, especially because we’re obviously a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘well, why didn’t [Chara] grab him’. There’ll be time for that. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but right now it wasn’t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’re capable of doing, we didn’t want that to happen either. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.

Would you like to be considered for the Canadian Olympic team, and do you take a lot of pride in your passing ability? MS: Yeah, that would be a huge honor for me. It’s something that I obviously don’t go into every game thinking about, but it would be nice to work for that. Right now I’m worrying about the Boston Bruins, but it would be a huge to wear the jersey of my country. You see a lot of big players on that list, and it would be nice to be mentioned with them.

On the passing side, I’ve always been a passer first. I tried to get away from that to open up more things and try to get more shots on goal this year, and I think I’ve done that. It’s obviously worked out well. It’s nice to get some recognition on that, and hopefully I can keep setting up my wingers for some nice goals.

Do you think the Bruins won’t be able to fly under the radar anymore this season? MS:Now, for sure we know that teams are going to be coming for us and we need to be ready every night. Claude keeps us pretty honest in that we have to ready to go every night. The best thing about our hockey club, though, is that we’re obviously a confident group right now…but we also know what we have to do to win games, and that’s work hard and stay with our system. Play at both ends of the ice, and we’ve obviously been able to do that and get great goaltending and we’re getting different guys stepping up every night. We’re getting a good mix right now, but like you said we’re only 20 games in so we’re obviously not getting too high and we’re trying to keep an even keel. Things are going well.

Can you talk a little about how important Tim Thomas has been this year? MS: Tim has been huge. He’s been a great goaltender and he hasn’t got a lot of credit over his career, but he’s having a great year this year. It’s nice to have a goalie back there that’s going to make the big save for you, and he’s done that this year. Obviously with Manny back there it pushes Tim even a bit more because when when Manny has gone in there he’s played well too. So we have a great one-two punch going on right now, and hopefully they can keep playing the way they have for the whole season.

I thought that moment with Laraque and Lucic from Saturday night’s game was a pretty good example of veteran leadership. Have you always been that kind of leader at each stop in your NHL career, or is that something that’s blossomed in Boston? MS: I think throughout the years, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a leader and I’ve learned a lot through my career. Obviously in my career there’s been some tough times, and you only get stronger from that. We get along so well in the dressing room and we have so many young and me being an older guy I’m able to help those kids out a little bit.

Playing with two kids — Kessel and Lucic — I’m always talking to them between shifts, and I always want more and I want them to always want more too. I think they’re proving that this year. [Being a leader] isn’t always about just saying something, it’s about going out and doing it too. So hopefully I’m able to do that stuff. I do talk a lot and I like to have a lot of fun before the game and keep guys loose, but — in the same sense – when the puck drops I think it’s time to get serious and get things going. Those of the types of things I want to bring and hopefully I’m able to do that.

What have your impression been so far of Blake Wheeler? MS:Blake’s a skilled hockey player and he’s a big boy, so he’s got a lot of things going for him. He skates well. He’s really come in here and looked like a veteran out there and he’s played really well. Coach is giving him an opportunity to play a lot a lot, and his line is playing really with Krejci and Kobasew right now too. They bring a lot to the hockey team, and Wheeler seems to keep getting better every day.

He’s been a big part of our success at the shootout lately too. He shoots first and I think in his three shootouts he’s scored twice. He keeps growing and he has one of his best buddies in Kessell here too, so that’s helped him out with the adjustment. The sky is the limit for him.

When you look at the size, is he as physical as you expected him to be? MS: When you’ve got a big guy there you obviously expect a guy to finish his checks — or when you’re any size you expect them to finish checks — but when you’ve got that kind of size and that kind of gift you hope that he uses it. And he uses it well and he uses it to his advantage. He gets to the net hard and with that big body he’s able to get some goals.

Was there a moment last year when you realized this was a team that was really together? MS:I think it started last year when Bergie went down, we came together closer and you knew each guy had to step up. And then when it came to the end of the year really had to battle to make it into the playoffs, and from then on in we had a seven game series against Montreal. We were able to battle back the way we did and really have the same team come back besides a couple of guys and then add three players.

From there we’ve really taken off and in the room — whether we’re on the road — we really get along so great and I know a lot of teams say that but it’s the truth here. We hang out all the time.  Even yesterday we had a little team get together and it’s like a family here. Every sticks up for each other. But that Dallas game this year brought us even closer together this year and we really stick up for each other. It was one of our first big games at home this year and it really brought us together.

Did this start change expectations in the room? MS: Yes and no. I think at the beginning of the year we thought that we had a great team, and it was just a matter of when it all came together. It obviously came together pretty fast. Off that Montreal series we knew that we really grew as a team and we saw what kind of damage we could do if we played together, worked hard and just stayed within the system. We’ve done that and now we’re a confident group, but at the end of the day we know what wins us hockey games. That’s working hard, and coach keeps us honest in that regard and helps us do it.

Somebody told me that today’s players really like playing in a system. How important is that in Boston? MS: It makes it easier because you know that the system is there to protect you, and if you get away from it then you’re going to get into trouble. I think we know that as a team. We probably don’t have the most skilled team in the NHL, but if we stick with what we’re taught we’re able to win games through hard work. We do have skill players and it’s proven every night because we have guys stepping up. We’re a confident team right now, but we know that we have to work hard.

You’ve put up some pretty impressive numbers since the end of the lockout. What do you attribute that to? MS: I don’t know. I think I’m focused and going into games I want to help the team offensively and I want to produce every night. I think I’ve been hungry to do that. I think that’s why I’ve been able to stay so consistently since the lockout. Obviously I’ve gotten a great opportunity to play in the division that I’ve been in, and things have worked out.

Are you upset because Lucic is a big guy that other guys want to fight him? You’ve got guys like Georges that want to fight him simply because he’s a big guy. MS: On the Lucic stuff, I think he’s going to get challenged a lot because I think his record is pretty flawless in the fighting department, and people not only want to fight but get him off the ice because he’s such a factor in most hockey games and he’s only getting better every day. I like having him out there obviously, and when he goes in the box if shifts up our lines and stuff like that. So it makes it a little tougher.

 Myself coming into the league I had a lot of growing pains to go through. Coming into the league I played with the Rangers and we had a lot of stars and obviously it was hard for me to make a name there. I went to Calgary and got a great opportunity to play. When I moved on to Atlanta that’s where things started to get a lot better. Obviously Coach Hartley really helped me out and I owe him a lot to him – especially in the early stages — because he basically told me there’s the ball right there and if you want to take it then just go. He gave me a lot of ice time and I was able to succeed there before I moved on to Boston, where I’m happy and I hope that i can finish out my career here and keep getting better.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Georges Laraque
Julien ordered Lucic to keep the gloves on 11.22.08 at 9:06 pm ET
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MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Bruins coach Claude Julien, who continued his march toward the Jack Adams Trophy by coaching the pants off Habs coach Guy Carbonneau in a big statement game last night, seemed fairly agitated after a tense, playoff-like game that ended with a thrilling 3-2 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens. Julien admitted that he (rightly) told Milan Lucic not to drop the gloves and go berserk when enforcer Georges Laraque came calling for a throwdown. Instead, Big, Bad Looch got the last laugh with a game-tying second period goal which he immediately followed with a little post-score posing, primping and styling for the angry masses in Montreal.

While Julien’s hockey Gandhi move undoubtedly had something to do with the current state of Lucic’s hand after pummeling Nick Boynton in Friday night’s win, the B’s head coach also seemed to take some exception with Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau’s calculated decision to send his noted enforcer after Boston’s 20-year-old, second-year winger.

Georges Laraque has put the beatdown on many an NHL player

Georges Laraque has put the beatdown on many an NHL player

“He’s probably the toughest guy in the league, and I know Georges Laraque was [goading Lucic] because he was told to. Georges is not that type of guy and he respects the young kids and knows what that is all about. There was no way that was going to happen. [Shawn] Thornton was there ready for Georges and that never happened either. My tough guy was ready for their tough guy and it’s as simple as that. I told [Lucic] not to fight, and if you were wondering…it was me.

“I don’t send guys to fight. When guys go out and fight they do it on their own. That’s all I’m going to say. I know for a fact that [going after Lucic] was said and [Laraque] had a job to do tonight. He was to shadow Lucic and that was his job. It’s as simple as that. For us I think Lucic is a good player and if they want Georges to shadow him then that means more ice time for Georges and good for him.”

Lucic clearly seemed a bit non-plussed to be answering questions about why he refused to drop the gloves with Laraque after the big Canadiens winger skated nearly side-by-side with the Incredible Looch on four different shifts in the first period. It seemed as if the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Laraque was doing everything possible to entice the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lucic into a fists of furty competition. Looch does lead the B’s with 48 penalty minutes on the season, but he wasn’t biting this time.

Thornton is pretty familiar with the job requirements for a tough guy/enforcer, and he empathized a bit with the plight of Lucic, who obviously didn’t want to be seen as backing away from a physical confrontation with Laraque.

“I’m sure it’s[difficult],” said Thornton. “He did a good job of staying disciplined. He did his job. [Lucic] got a goal and we got two points out of it. I think that’s the most important thing that we got the two points.

Did Thornton expect that Laraque was going to make himself Looch’s Siamese Twin out on the ice for nearly the entire first period, and practically big for a fight?

“I don’t know. I thought we did a good job and [Lucic/Komisarek] was a good fight and that was the end of it. Obviously they didn’t feel the same way, but whatever. If the guys wants to do that then it’s his barn and he can do whatever he wants. But Lucic did a good job staying disciplined and helping us get the two points.”

Each time Lucic headed to the bench following his shift, the Bell Centre crowd let him have it with hoots, hollers and chants of “Luc-cic”. The Carbonneau move seemed to be devised to quiet the spirited, physical Looch in a must-win game for the Habs, but instead Lucic finished with revenge on a hockey dish served cold: a goal and nine hits in 15:10 of ice time. Carbonneau’s game plan of intimidation and frontier justice might be considered trash barrel material the next time the two Old Time Hockey rivals tangle.

Here’s a word-for-word transcription of the terse Lucic interview with the assorted Canadian and Boston media after the game:

What happened with Laraque? ML: Nothing.

What did he say? ML: Nothing.

Is that the first time in your life that somebody shadowed you like that? ML: Yeah.

How does it feel? ML: Okay. If that’s what they want to do then they can do it.

Did Claude tell you not to fight:? You’re a first line player and he isn’t so it’s a bad match-up. ML: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.

Did he also tell you not to talk about it? ML: No, I just don’t feel like talking about it. That’s about all I have to say.

When you scored you seemed to ham it up a little bit there. ML: Yeah, a little bit. It’s nice to score when the fans are on you a little bit there.

Do you enjoy when the crowd gets on you like that? Is that a fun environment for you to play in? ML: Yeah, it’s fun if they’re on you like that or they’re not on you like that. It’s a fun building to play in. 21,000 people in the crowd and they’re always whooping it up. It’s a tough building to play in, and we’re just happy to get the two points.

I guess this guy is seething in his Patrick Roy Canadiens sweater after Lucic and Laraque didn’t rumble at the Bell Centre, or perhaps Carbonneau dreamed this up and showed it to the Habs skaters before Saturday night’s game:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Shall Become First

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Looch finds his first victim

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

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

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

Komisarek is probably still wishing that he hadn’t.

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

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

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

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

Stops and Starts

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

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

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

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

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

Read More: Andrew Ference, Bill Guerin, Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew
Sobotka, Hunwick pumped to be back 10.14.08 at 11:24 am ET
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As expected, Matt Hunwick and Vladimir Sobotka were both appropriately happy to be called back up to the
Sobotka ready to follow Shawn Thornton and "run over some French guys."

Sobotka ready to follow Shawn Thornton and "run over some French guys."

Bruins Tuesday afternoon after a trade (Andrew Alberts) and an injury (Chuck Kobasew) cleared up a pair of spots on the active roster.

Sobotka was a monster down in Providence in his two games for the P-Bruins (four points and his first professional dropping of the gloves) and Hunwick said somebody told him it was like “watching a man among boys” while Sobotka was tearing up the ice at the AHL level. Hunwick is the potential quick-skating, puck-moving defenseman that is vital in this day and age of the NHL, and should be competing with veteran Shane Hnidy for minutes. Sobotka is a “gritty, in-your-face player” who “plays like he’s six foot plus” no matter size he really is according to head coach Claude Julien. The coach said that both players can expect to see ice time in the near future, if not immediately. The long on-ice practice seemed to indicated that at least one (Sobotka) — if not both — will be active Wednesday night against the first grudge match of the season at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Solid hockey hair for Hunwick

Solid hockey hair for Hunwick

“When you look at Matt Hunwick everybody notices that he’s got good mobility and he’s a great skater. He’s gotten stronger over the year since the beginning of last year and his decisions on the ice have to be a little quicker — let’s put it way – in order for him to improve the way that we want him to,” said Julien after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s still doing a good job at it, and when you look at players improving, it’s something that if he can get better at it he’s going to be a really good defenseman in the this league.

“With Vlad we talked about the numbers game and he had to go down there for a while when we had to cut our roster down, but he’s a gritty player,” added Julien. “He’s in your face. No matter what size he is, he plays six-foot plus every single night. He works hard, plays gritty and that’s part of our team identity. I haven’t made my final decision for tomorrow [night's line-up], but we didn’t bring them up here to put them on the shelf. If it’s not tomorrow then it’s some point [soon].”

Also for all those wondering, Sobotka did drive his nice, new BMW 3 Series up to Boston after learning of his call-up. The 21-year-old Czech was summarily excited to be back up with the B’s big club, and he would have likely never left the club if not for the numbers/salary cap tightness that was a part of the equation.

“They send me down and they told me I’d be back after a short period. I’m going to play NHL and try to stay here for whole season. I had maybe more ice time in Providence,” said Sobotka, who scored a goal and six assists in 48 games last year. ”I play PP, PK and it’s good for now that it’s changed and I’ll be on fourth line and maybe have less ice time. I’ll just play one game at a time up here.”

Hunwick had just finished eating lunch with his parents at the Cheesecake Factory and was book-shopping at a bookstore on Newbury Street when he heard the good news about getting called back up to Boston on Monday. The 23-year-old blueliner has 12 career NHL games under his belt — and one lonely assist – so he bolted quickly from the bookstore without buying the latest John Grisham novel  and didn’t waste any time getting his gear ready to bring back to Boston.

“It’s an opportunity to prove I can play at this level and also help the team win,” said Hunwick. “I was playing 20 minutes a night in Providence and killing penalties and getting power play team. I got some key minutes in those areas in case I’m ever needed on those units up here. I had my phone off and it was kind of a day off so I could get away from things. But then I turned it on and had a few text messages from friends that gave me a clue this was happening, so here I am today.”

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