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The Goal of the Year in the NHL? 12.22.08 at 11:07 am ET
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Boy am I glad I took this sweater and hat off...chicks dig the Spoked B

Boy am I glad I took this sweater and hat off...chicks dig the Spoked B

Here’s a look at Blake Wheeler’s amazing short-handed goal from last night’s 6-3 stomping over the St. Louis Blues. Wheeler’s lamp-lighter is one that B’s fans will be talking about for the rest of the season and an appropriate catalyst for the “Blake Wheeler as Calder Trophy Winner” hype machine that should really begin gaining some traction. Wheeler basically powered and dangled his way through four St. Louis Blues defenders while killing off a penalty, and somehow flipped a shot past Blues goalie Manny Legace after putting on his puck-handling feat of strength to get to the opposing cage.

Wheeler is now tied with Blues center Patrick Berglund and Maple Leafs center Mikhail Grabovski in rookie goals scored with his 11 strikes in 33 games this season and holds a commanding lead with the +19 number built up as a trigger man on the B’s explosive third line.

Here’s Wheeler’s biggest competition as he continues to build a Rookie of the Year resume: Columbus Blue Jackets center Derek Brassard (10 goals, 15 assists), Chicago Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg (8 goals, 17 assists), Berglund (11 goals, 10 assists), Grabovski (11 goals, 9 assists), Vancouver Canucks Jannik Hansen (4 goals, 13 assists), Pittsburgh Penguins’ defenseman Alex Goligoski (4 goals, 11 assists) and LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (3 goals, 8 assists). There’s still obviously a big, honking amount of the hockey  season to still be played, but Wheeler is smack dab in the middle of the mix right now and has to be considered one of the early favorites. It also appears that top-scorer Brassard will be out of the picture after suffering a right shoulder injury that will likely require season-ending surgery.

Just what Boston needs: another young up-and-coming superstar about to make a sizeable impact on the pro sports scene.

The 22-year-old power forward is on pace for 50 points this season (27 goals, 23 assists) and is a brawny, puck-possession cog on Boston’s electric third line that’s thrown up 45 points and an amazing +31 over their last 11 games. The third line has become Boston’s main scoring threat over the last month of hockey, and continues to gain steam here in the season’s first half. The only question now is whether Wheeler will hit the “rookie wall” as he doubles the amount of games he might have skated in at the University of Minnesota as a senior this season.

But that’s a query for another day. Here’s last night’s goal because, as always, a moving picture says a 1,000 hockey words:

As an added bonus — and to show you that Wheeler isn’t really a stranger to the whole highlight reel goal thang in his career — here’s an amazing game-winning score he racked up while still with the Golden Gophers. This seems like as good a time as any to ring the bell once again for B’s General Manager Peter Chiarelli for creating the kind of hockey environment that persuaded Wheeler to choose Boston over other NHL destinations on the map. Here’s the highlight reel goal for the University of Minnesota, something Wheeler seems to be making a habit of at a ripe young hockey age.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Peter Chiarelli,
Sturm out at least a month with knee injury 12.20.08 at 12:07 pm ET
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The Sturm Face has been shelved indefinitely by a knee injury...

The Sturm Face has been shelved indefinitely by a knee injury...

The Bruins will be without the services of left wing Marco Sturm for at least month with a left knee injury — a bit of bad news along with Patrice Bergeron’s upper body/head injury in a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes this afternoon.

“[Sturm] will be out indefinitely,” said Chiarelli. “We don’t know yet [about surgery]. We have to further evaluate with the doctors.”

Julien said that the swelling needs to come down in the leg before the doctors will be able to better diagnose the injury, and determine whether the surgeon’s knife is necessary to repair the problem.

“Well, we’ve had a lot of practice [playing without Sturm] since that original injury,” said Julien. “We went without him for 12 games. It was obviously bad news that we got for his situatuon. It’s long term. Hopefully he’ll be back sooner rather than later. We’ve been through this road before…mostly last year. We’ve just got to keep playing hard and hope our teams stays as healthy as possible.”

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli confirmed that the “Sturm Face” will placed on LTIR for a minimum of 30 days retroactive to Thursday night’s game, and that offensively-skilled Martin St. Pierre, who can play center or wing, will be the call-up from the Providence Bruins.

“[St. Pierre] is having a very good offensive year and in the latter third of this season he’s played better two-way hockey,” said Bruin GM Peter Chiarelli of the Baby Bruin forward’s call-up, who has 10 goals and 25 assists in 30 games in Providence this season. “He deserves on merit to be called up.”

The leading scorer for the P-Bruins this season and second leading scorer in the AHL, St. Pierre has recorded a 10-25=35 line. His 25 assists lead the team and his 10 goals rank tied for second. This
is St. Pierre’s first recall to Boston this season.

The 25-year-old St. Pierre has appeared in 21 NHL games in his career – all with Chicago – and has tallied one goal and three assists. Signed as a free agent by the Blackhawks on November 12, 2005, St. Pierre was
acquired by the Bruins on July 24, 2008 in exchange for Pascal Pelletier. The 5’9’’, 185-pound Ottawa, Ontario native spent the majority of the 2007-2008 campaign playing for Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford where he earned 21-67=88 totals in 69 games.

Sturm has appeared in 19 games this year for Boston and recorded 7-6=13 totals with a +9 plus/minus rating. Sturm led all Boston goal-scorers last year with 27 tallies.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marco Sturm, Martin St. Pierre
Bruins’ pace of scoring 12.15.08 at 8:18 am ET
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The Bruins have taken their share of thunderous hits and injuries as of late...

The Bruins have taken their share of thunderous hits and injuries as of late...

Though it’s starting to seem more like a MASH unit than a hockey team, injuries haven’t stopped the brazen Bruins from streaking on a number of different fronts. The Back in Black B’s have won 11 straight games within the friendly confines of the TD Banknorth Garden, Phil Kessel has grown into one of the most dangerous scorers in all of the NHL and posted  at least one point in an NHL-best 15 straight games, and veteran netminder Manny Fernandez has emerged from Tim Thomas’ shadow to win eight straight games.

One has to wonder when some of the myriad injuries will seriously affect a B’s train that just keeps on rollin’, but — in the even better news department — coach Claude Julien is optimistic that Marco Sturm might be available later on this week.

“[Aaron] Ward, lower body, he’s still day-to-day.  [Marco] Sturm, upper body, he’s actually, yeah, we know about Sturm, but again, my comment with him would be ‘cautiously optimistic’ because it was very good [Saturday]. It was even better than [Friday], and you’ve heard me say that many times, but unfortunately with those injuries there’s sometimes setbacks, but I’m going to say cautiously optimistic and he’s heading in the right direction,” said Julien. ”[He’s on the LTIR right now] because, dating it back to when it happened, he’s still good for Thursday.  It’s the month.  It’s just the, I guess you’ll call it paperwork.  Nokie [Petteri Nokelainen], upper body.”

The Nokelainen injury could keep the Finnish forward out of the lineup for a week or longer, according to Bruins coach Claude Julien, but Spoked B keeps turning and winning.

Since the Bruins continue to win and ring up points on an incredibly consistent basis, I figured now would be a good time to project some of the current offensive numbers over the course of an entire 82-game regular season. Here it goes along with a brief note for each player that’s been a major factor this season:

Marc Savard (22 goals, 71 assists for 93 points): Savard was on a pace to top 100 points for the first time in his career until going through a bit of a quiet stretch as of late. His current pace is right in line with the rest of his assist-crazy career, but the whopping +46 he’s on pace for would be the stat to focus on when it comes to the nifty centerman.

Phil Kessel (52 goals, 33 assists for 85 points): By far the biggest jump on the team for the Bruins, as he went from solid 40 point threat to bona fide sniper in his third NHL season. Kessel has been deadly on the power play and is on pace to bank 16 power play tallies this season. Would be the first 50 goal scorer for Boston since a guy named Cam Neely if he can stay consistent.

David Krejci has blossomed into a No. 2 center in his second NHL season

David Krejci has blossomed into a No. 2 center in his second NHL season

David Krejci (22 goals, 57 assists for 79 points): Krejci has stepped up to give the Black and Gold the kind of strength up the middle at the center position that teams can only dream of. As good as he’s been through the first portion of the season, there’s always the back-of-your-mind feeling that he can be even better than he’s already been. When he unleashes it, the young center has a blistering shot to go along with his keen instincts.

Michael Ryder (27 goals, 30 assists for 57 points): Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that the Greek Chorus was bemoaning Ryder’s inability to live up the free agent contract he signed before the season because he is…like…here to score goals. Well, the critics have curbed their song of woe as Ryder continues to score goals in a big bunch. In seemingly no time at all Ryder has risen to second on the team with 10 goals scored this season.

Milan Lucic (25 goals, 33 assists for 58 points): Looch had stated that his offensive goal this season was to score between 20-30 goals in addition to his typical game of intimidation and rough stuff. For a 20-year-old left winger still learning his craft, a 50 plus point season would represent a quantum leap forward for the big left winger.

Dennis Wideman (19 goals, 30 assists for 49 points): The 25-year-old blueliner has finally arrived at a development spot where people aren’t bringing up Brad Boyes anymore. Many now realize that a legit puck-moving defenseman is worth the same as a potential 40 goal scorer. Wideman is on pace for career-highs in nearly every category while Boyes is on his way to a big minus number with the Blues this season.

Patrice Bergeron (11 goals, 36 assists for 47 points): Bergeron has definitely started out of gate slowly for the Bruins after missing nearly all of last season with a horrific concussion, but he still brings value with his hockey smarts, faceoff ability and defensive responsibility. If he ever gets it going circa 2005-06, this team will be extremely tough to stop.

Blake Wheeler (25 goals, 22 assists for 47 points): The rookie is already ahead of schedule, so numbers like these would be gravy. It isn’t unrealistic to expect his scoring pace to improve as the season goes on — provided he can sidestep the rookie wall he’s sure to run head-long into – if he keeps developing and keeps it in his mind to shoot the puck more.  He’s on a pace for a +49 this season, which is a testament to the responsible two-way hockey he’s played as a 22-year-old rookie.

I must break you!

I must break you!

Zdeno Chara (16 goals and 25 assists for 41 points): Big Z is another player like Bergeron that hasn’t had the best start to his season despite the team’s success, and his slow beginning is also attributable to injury: Chara had surgery to repair a torn labrum after last season. Despite all of the injury talk with Chara, however, the towering blueliner is still averaging a team-best 25:50 of ice time.

Chuck Kobasew (14 goals and 25 assists for 39 points): Kobasew missed the first part of the season after taking a shot off the leg, but has averaged nearly a point per game since his return. Kobasew should easily surpass his projected numbers if he can remain injury-free — a question mark given the rugged way he plays the game of hockey at a relatively small 6-foot and 195 pounds.

Matt Hunwick (8 goals and 30 assists for 38 points): 14 points and a +14 in only 18 games played? Things are looking very promising for the 23-year-old Michigan native, and the quick-skating, puck-moving defenseman could be a member of the Bruins blueline corps for a good long time. What a revelation…he saved this team once injuries hit the blueline.

Marco Sturm (16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points): Sturm got off to a slow start and is now being slowed by a concussion/neck injury that’s caused him to miss 11 straight games. It’s beginning to look like a bit of a lost season for the 30-year-old German winger, but that can certainly change with a healthy, happy second half of the season.

Stephane Yelle (11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points): The 34-year-old center has been a perfect addition at a bargain basement price by GM Peter Chiarelli. Solid on faceoffs once he read the tendencies of his Eastern Conference opponents and invaluable on a much-improved PK unit, Yelle — while no threat for the Hart Trophy – and the intangibles he brings to the table have been everything the Bruins were hoping for.

P.J. Axelsson (3 goals and 19 assists for 22 points): While Axelsson is known for his defensive game and skating ability, the 33-year-old Swede has also potted double-digit goal totals over the last three seasons. It’s been an uncharacteristic slow start for Axy and he’s on pace to be a -14 for the season, but he did register a huge shootout goal against the Blackhawks earlier this season. Amazing that it took 24 games for Axelsson to register his first goal.

Andrew Ference (0 goals and 19 assists for 19 points): The 29-year-old was on pace for his best NHL season when he went down with a broken tibia and he won’t be back until January. Ference’s veteran savvy, grit and experience will be beneficial when the Bruins get to the playoffs. Hunwick has stepped in ably when injuries mounted, but the Bruins will need Ference when the going gets tough.

Shane Hnidy (3 goals and 11 assists for 14 points): The 33-year-old is another Bruins player that is in line to have a career year, and the +30 pace that he’s on would blow away his career-best. Hnidy may see his minutes dwindle once both Ference and Ward return to the fold, but he’s been a solid cog in the blueline corps.

Mark Stuart (8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points): A true stay-at-home defenseman that’s perfected the art of the forearm shiver in his own zone. The 24-year-old has a good, hard shot from the point when he has a chance to utilize it and brings a unique skill set and physical bent to the B’s blueline corps.

Shawn Thornton (3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points): Thornton’s value is in areas that can’t be measured by statistics, but the 31-year-old has never reached double-digit totals in any season during his five-year career. The fearless winger gives the Bruins team much of its courage and sets the tone by always watching the backs of his teammates. He’s on a pace for 169 penalty minutes, which would easily be a career-high.

Aaron Ward (0 goals and 8 assists for 8 points): Ward and Stuart have many of the same skills, but the 35-year-old also obviously brings a degree of leadership and Stanley Cup experience that many on this young team simply don’t have. Ward is another vital cog once this team reaches the “tournament”

Petteri Nokelainen (0 goals and 3 assists for 3 points): The 22-year-old would like to score some goals to go along with his fourth line duties, but he’s a solid energy forward with excellent faceoff abilities if/when Yelle is tossed out of the dot. One other little tidbit: Nokie leads the Bruins in penalties drawn this season with an amazing 10 in his limited playing time on the fourth line. A testament to how much grit and smarts the youngster plays with.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Marc Savard
Neely with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman 12.12.08 at 9:14 pm ET
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Neely in a Bruins sweater that was destined for oblivion...

Neely in a Bruins sweater that was destined for oblivion...

The resurgence of the Bruins has led to plenty of attention from the national media, and Boston Bruins Vice-President Cam Neely has been one of the up-front-and-center voices and faces helping to promote the team. Neely was the guest of Bill Clement and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman during the “NHL Hour” on XM Radio and NHL.com this week. Here’s some thoughts from Neely about a host of different Bruins and NHL-related issues along with an admission that center Patrice Bergeron is still working up the form he showed prior to last season’s concussion.

You retired in 1996 and then didn’t formally get back involved into the Bruins front office until 11 years later…what were you doing all that time? CN: I was getting away from the game. I’ve got to tell you, and I know you’ve heard this from other athletes — and not just hockey players — but when it’s not your decision to retire it’s very difficult to be around the game when you feel like you can still play. Once I finally got to an age where I felt like — even if I was healthy — I wouldn’t be able to play…it got easier.

How long did it take you to recover? CN: Ah…from not playing? It probably about five years anyways of having that feeling that you wanted to get back out on the ice and play. It was difficult to leave the game. But I’m thrilled now to be a part of the game again and especially back in Boston. 

Most people wouldn’t remember that you were drafted by Vancouver. When they think of you they think of the Boston Bruins. CN: Yeah, they really do. I was fortunate enough to have 10 fairly good years, although some of them were riddled with injuries. I certainly am remember as being a Bruin, no question.

What’s it like to be a part of the Boston sports scene that’s had so much success over the last few years? CN:It’s obviously been a lot of fun. You become a fans of a lot of the local teams — I’ve been living in Boston now for over 20 years — and you become friendly with some of the players on the teams and follow their success. It’s been great because you know, Boston, it’s a great sports city and the fans really support all the teams and hopefully we’re next, Gary.

Let’s talk about being next. The Bruins are having a tremendous amount of success for the first time in recent years. What do you attribute that to? CN: Well, a lot of his to do with our depth. We have great depth this year and the development of our young players have probably accelerated a little more quickly than we first anticipated. We have a fantastic coaching, and last year they came in and they really needed to shore up the defensive end of things and cut down the goals against. And they were really able to do that.

This year we needed to focus on how we were going to get more offense, and the growth of our young players has really helped. Also with implementing how to create more offense from defenseman, that’s helped as well. We have a pretty good plan in place, not just for this year but also for the foreseeable future.

Claude Julien as coach. What is the secret formula he’s using? CN:Well, the thing that I really like about Claude — and I look at this from a player’s perspective — is that there really is no gray area with him. As a player, you have to respect that it’s black and white and he demands a certain level of commitment and work ethic from each player. And it goes down from the top guy on the team to the 23rd player.

This is what he expects and this is what he demands, and if you don’t give it to him you’re going to hear about it. But if you do give it to him then you’re going to be rewarded. I think any player would respect that kind of coach.

Has Bergeron made the difference in coming back, or has it been a matter of everything really coming together for the Bruins? CN:I think it’s a combination of everything, Gary. Obviously Bergeron helps because he’s such a good two-way player, and he’s only going to get better. He hasn’t really found his stride yet, if you will, but what he does is really give us that much more strength down the middle. We’ve got four good centers in Savard, Bergeron, Krejci and Yelle on our forth line.

When you’re able to roll out four lines like Claude likes to do and three of those lines are gifted offensively — and the fourth can chip in offensively as well for us and they generally carry the play of other team’s fourth lines — we have four lines we can roll which is a nice luxury.

I think only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull have scored a better goals-per-game average over a season than you. Is there anybody on this Bruins team that reminds you of yourself? CN:Well, there’s been a number of comparisons with Milan, but I’m not a big fan of comparing one player to another. Everybody has got their own personality and skill set. I think the fact that Milan is a big, strong, tough young player and he’s playing right now with Savard and Kessel so he’s getting a lot of great opportunities. He can put the puck in the net. But he’s a guy that we really rely to play a physical game first and foremost, and he’s a guy that’s able to creat a lot of space for himself and a lot of time and space for his linemates.

I think we certainly expect him to continue to improve as its only his second year in the league, but there is some comparisons there. I wouldn’t really say it’s fair to Milan. 

Did you see much of a difference as a player as opposed to now being in management? CN: It’s certainly a much bigger difference in terms of perspective than it is in the game actually changing, although the game has changed even from 1996 until now. I know here in Boston we have some classic games on NESN and every once in a while I’ll tune in to them now and I’m just amazed at how many mistakes I made out there.

But the game is faster now, isn’t it?. CN:Yeah, the game is faster and the guys are certainly bigger and stronger. That goes with nutrition being thought about a lot more. When I was a player guys really worked out a great lot in the offseason like they do now, but a lot of it is nutrition.

There’s a lot of thought and emphasis put into what guys are eating with an emphasis on taking care of their bodies. Players are bigger coming into the game now for the most part. Even 18 or 19 year-old kids coming into the league are bigger now than they were 20 years ago.

So there’s some elements to the size of the players, and the game…the skating. The big emphasis on skating. We’ve got some big guys now — and not that there wasn’t a big emphasis on the skating before — but we’ve got some big guys that can really skate now. So the guys are improving not only at this level, but at all levels. I think a lot of it has to do with focusing on the sport much earlier to probably.

There have been a number of outstanding players recently that have become executives…really great players. Does this surprise you and do you all get together and talk about what you’re doing? CN: I’m not overly surprised, but I think it’s fantastic for the game.  I think it’s great that there are ex-players that are involved at the level that you’re talking about, Gary. I think it’s helpful for the owners to get a perspective that played at an elite level and get their perspective on the game. I think it’s only going to help the organization in having players around to pull their players aside and give them some pointers.

I think that’s only going to be beneficial. We certainly talk to each other. if you were to ask me 15 years ago if I could see myself doing this my answer would have been a quick “No.” But I’ve really enjoyed getting involved and I think it’s been a great learning experience for me so far. And I’ve had fun at the same time.

What do you do in a typical day? CN: Obviously we’ve got a lot of catch-up to do here in Boston with — not just our fan base — but also with the business side. So I get involved with a number of initiatives from the business side to reengage sponsorships and our fan base and work a great deal with Peter from the hockey operations standpoint. That’s obviously where I gravitate toward because I’m comfortable with that side of it, but I’m also enjoying learning the business side of it as well.

I am an incendiary ball of hockey intensity just waiting to blaze!

I am an incendiary ball of hockey intensity just waiting to blaze!

The Jacobs family, I think, are sometimes misunderstood in Boston. Can you talk about their passion for the Bruins and hockey because I don’t think they’re completed understood? CN

: Well, they’re probably not because not because I played here for 10 years and I wasn’t aware of it…and that’s the truth. One of the things that I have tried to do is to get Mr. Jacobs — when he is around — is to let people know that he’s in the building and that he’s around. I know it’s not his personality, but I’m surprised how much he’s involved and knows what’s going on from a day-to-day basis.

I certainly didn’t have that feeling or understanding during my time as a player, but I’ve seen it first hand and I never would have guessed it.

Sometimes when you’re quiet and behind the scenes [like Jacobs] people don’t know about you. CN: No, they don’t. And as I said earlier, I would like him to…it’s not in his makeup but I think it would be helpful and he knows how I feel about that. When you’re a player, there’s nothing better than knowing that your owner really cares about the team and winning. He does in a big way, like you said.

Did you have fond memories of doing Dumb and Dumber? CN: Well, I did enjoy it…I can tell you that. I don’t know if acting as a bit player and not knowing if you’re going to make the cut is for me. And I certainly didn’t pound down any doors trying to get any acting work. But I can tell you that it was a lot of fun…a lot of fun doing that.

Talk to people about the Can Neely Foundation and your work with the NEw England Medical Center and Neely House. CN: I lost both of my parents to cancer while I was playing hockey, and I did what most hockey players do in their situation: I decided to give back. When cancer struck my family I focused most of my time and effort toward cancer-related causes and I decided start my own charity organization so I could have a say on where the money was going to go.

What we wanted to do was help cancer patients and families. We started the Foundation in late 1994 and we’ve raised close to $17 million. We’ve averaged 91 cents out of every dollar goes directly toward the cause. We’re very passionate about trying to get as much money to the programs that we’re doing.

I don’t look at us as a bank and trying to accumulate a lot and put it toward the program. When we commit to doing a program we try to get the money as quickly as we can to that particular program. The Neely House was the first initiative that we worked on and that was opened in 1996. We’ve had over 4,000 families stay at the Neely House which is right inside the building at the Tufts Medical Center.

It shows what kind of a need there is for a facility like this and we just opened a new pediatric BMT Unit at the Floating Hospital for Children, which is a state of the art unit and facility. We’ve actually incorporated a mini-Neely House right inside the unit so that parents can be that much closer to their children. So we’re very fortunate with the support we’ve gotten over the years and — to be honest – the foundation was built on support from hockey fans in the early going.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Cam Neely, Gary Bettman, Milan Lucic
Savard on Dale and Holley 12.02.08 at 4:47 pm ET
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It's been a very good year for Savard and the Bruins...

It's been a very good year for Savard and the Bruins...

Marc Savard has been in the middle of the most effective and high-powered Bruins line this season and he’s putting up some pretty good numbers for himself in the process: Savard has been among the NHL’s scoring leaders all season, collected his 600th career point earlier this year and is widely considered a strong candidate to put together his second All-Star season in a campaign that’s already garnered him National notice. Savvy sat down for a phone interview with Dale and Holley this afternoon to talk about his two young linemates, PJ Axelsson’sunique fashion sense and whether he ever had second thoughts about signing with Boston. Here’s the transcript:

You had a nice little run there in November. MS: We obviously had a good run. We didn’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. We just kept working and that was the big thing. We’re a team that knows we have to work hard to win, and we were able to do that.

You’ve had a string of games there and some regularity in the schedule, and now you’ve got some time off. Is that something where you would have liked to keep playing? MS: I think this time off is good. We’ve been going at it pretty hard here in the month of November, and I think some time off really helps a lot with the bumps and bruises that guys have that nobody knows about. We’re resting those up and getting ready to go south, so we’re getting ready for that.

Speaking of that, you had some bumps and bruises yourself. You took a hit against Florida that some might view as questionable. Did you think it was dirty? MS: I’m not sure. I think it was a good hit. It came in low, but it was just a hip check and you can’t really complain about that. But as we’ve done all year Wardo jumped in there and helped me out when he thought it wasn’t a legal hit. We’ve been covering each other’s backs like that all year and it was a good job by Wardo to do that. It was a little bit of a charley horse there, but no real damage done.

We brought up this point to Milan Lucic last week. This team is tougher this year. When did that attitude change for this team? MS: I really think it was last year, and then we got into the playoffs against Montreal and grew as a group and we really took big steps. We put [the Canadiens] against the wall and almost snuck out that seven game series. I think coming into this year we knew that we had a pretty good hockey team and we just had to put it out there on the ice.  We’ve been able to do that this year. We’ve had each other’s backs for a long time.

We’ve got some big boys. We’re not only tough dropping the gloves, but we can bang with the best of them when we have to. We’re a good team, we have good balance and hopefully we can keep doing what we have to do to win.

Big Picture: you recently scored your 600th career point. When you first played hockey, what were your expectations for yourself? MS: Okay, when I first started playing and when I was growing up in Canada I dreamed of playing in the NHL, and that was my dream. At junior hockey I kind of knew that if I put in the time then I could achieve [the NHL] and then once I got here I honestly never thought I’d get 600 points and be as productive as I’ve been as a player.

I’m come a long way as a player and I’ve learned a lot and had some great coaches along the way and had some ups and downs as a player along the way. I’ve learned a lot. I think in the last few years I’ve seemed to grow and grow and keep getting better at the game and learning every day. Just trying to work hard and having a lot of fun doing it. Who knows how many more that I’ll get, but I’m enjoying my time right now and I am thankful for what I have done.

Be like Wayne?

Be like Wayne?

Who was your guy that you grew up wanting to be like? MS:

Oh, it was Wayne Gretzky for sure.  As a kid it was Gretzky everything, and  I used to have his video called “Hockey, My Way” and I would pop it in before every game I went to. I would watch his highlight goals and always try to emulate everything he did. He was the Greatest to play the game as far as I was concerned. Obviously I got the chance to play  with him in New York. It was tough because I got caught watching him all the time and being around him was a special thing.

I always felt a little nervous, but he was a great guy and he would always tell me to just be myself and act normal because he was just a normal person. It was a special thing.

The Bruins made a big splash when they signed Z and they signed you. Did you ever have second thoughts about coming here? MS: No, I always loved this city. Every time I came in as a visiting player I always loved the city and thought this would be a good place to play. When Peter called me on July 1 I had a couple of offers too but this one kept jumping up at me because I’ve always loved this city and I love playing in Boston. I’m happy and I’m really happy now obviously, but there were some growing pains coming here and I went through a tough year my first year. But we really built off that last year and had a great season. This year we want to do more and keep getting better.

I imagine Claude Julien wants you guys to be happy with how things are going, but he doesn’t want you to be satisfied. MS: Exactly. He keeps reiterating that to us and he’s not going to let us get comfortable around here…that’s for sure. That’s his job and he’s done a good job with it at that. We keep coming to the rink and he keeps putting it in our heads that we’re a good team but if we don’t work then we’re not very good. So he keeps putting it in our heads and it’s in there. Even today in practice today if we’re not doing a good job he’ll stop practice and let us know and bring us back down to earth.

We don’t get too high around here and we just keep it even. We know we’ve got 60 games left still and there’s a lot that can happen. We keep bringing up the Ottawa Senators who got off to a flying start last year and then kind of went down. We can’t get too high. We just keep trying to play hard do things right.

I’m sure there are adjustments you’ve had to make as opposed to when you were in Atlanta with Kovalchuk and Heatley? MS: Well, I think the big thing is playing with those guys they were my No. 1 options and pretty much I went with them most of the time. Where here I’ve had to look around a little more and I’ve always been one of those guys that if you’re open then I’m getting it to you…It doesn’t matter who you are. But in Atlanta, Kovalchuk was my No. 1 target and that worked out well.

Playing with Kessel and Lucic we’ve got a great thing going and we’re having a lot of fun coming to the rink every day. They’re great kids and they make me feel like a kid skating with them and I’m really enjoying it. We’ve got a good mix going and hopefully we can keep it going.

What have they taught you? They must have some pop culture stuff going on you haven’t heard of? MS: They’re excited all the time and they’re little chirpers. They chirp me all the time so we have a lot of fun with that. They keep me cool, I guess, yeah. They keep me cool and up to date with what’s going on in the younger world. We have a lot of fun with that.

Those that think Lucic just drops the gloves are missing out on a lot. He’s got some skills. MS: Yeah, I keep going back to Day One when he came out and i got to play with him against the Islanders in the first exhibition game. I went to Peter Chiarelli, our GM, after the game and I remember just saying this kid can play, he’s ready and he’s got more skills than people give him credit for. It’s become evident each day when he’s out there. He makes those little plays, he’s great along the wall and he knows where the net is and he’s going to keep growing.

I think the sky is the limit for him and I hope I’m around for a lot longer than next year because I enjoy playing with those guys and I enjoy playing in this city.

When Phil Kessel got benched in the playoffs last year he could have gone in two directions, and it seems as if he’s really gone in the right direction since then. MS: Yeah, exactly. When he was sat out in the playoffs I had a chance to talk to him and I just told him to really stay with it. I know it’s a bit different these days because a lot of these kids get a chance to play right away. I know when I came in with the Rangers I would play two games and sit two, so I just told him to keep his head on straight and work hard and be ready because you’re going to get another chance. He’s obviously run with that and taken the high road. He works hard every day and he’s getting better at both side of the rink every day too. Obviously his speed is incredible and I love playing with him because I can take advantage of that.

Does Phil remind you of anybody? MS: Well, he has a lot of Kovalchuk in him too with the speed and the skill level and getting to holes really fast. He does. He’s just a great player and the sky is the limit for him too. That’s why I want to say around here and stay on this line for a long time. That would be a lot of fun.

What did you guys think that Claude Julien tapped PJ Axelsoon for the shootout a few weeks ago? MS: Send the Swede in, Oh no! Axy has been working on in practice and he’s a skilled forward. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for that and he hasn’t scored yet this year, but that’s coming. He’s got some great hands on him and he’s patient with the puck, so the shoout out fits him pretty good and obviously he’s proven that.

That’s the highlight goal of the year. MS: It was and he lets us know it all the time…that’s for sure.

People that don’t know, he’s also Mr. Fashion on that team. MS: Yeah, but he’s Mr. Fashion out of left field, though. He’s got some fashion that we’ve never seen before. I guess if you call it fashion, then he’s pretty fashionable.

Well he isn’t Aaron Ward-type fashionable. He’s got his own style. MS: Yeah he’s out there for sure. He’s not Aaron Ward Mr. GQ, but he’s got PJ Axelsson GQ.

Read More: Claude Julien, Marc Savard, Milan Lucic, Peter Chiarelli
Lashoff called up to Boston 11.19.08 at 7:28 pm ET
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In an entirely expected move, Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced before Wednesday night’s game that the club has recalled 22-year-old defenseman Matt Lashoff from the Providence Bruins (American Hockey League) and placed defenseman Andrew Ference on injured reserve. Lashoff has played in 15 games this season for Providence and has posted 3-10=13 totals and 21 penalty minutes. Ference is expected to be 6-8 weeks with a broken right tibia.

Lashoff is considered a highly-skilled offensive defenseman and potential power play specialist with skills and instincts tailor-made to quarterback the power play. He hasn’t been gritty enough, productive enough or defensively responsible enough, however, in coach Claude Julien’s system to stick with the Big Boy B’s.

 But the kid still has a world of potential on a team with limited blueline depth, and this will constitute another opportunity for Lashoff to show his stuff before Chiarelli is forced to venture out into the unpredictable trade market for another puck-moving top-line defenseman.

“We’ll see how things go in practice and we’ll see if [Lashoff gets in the lineup],” said Julien. “He’s one of those guys who should move the puck and offensively he’s very gifted. We told him when he went down [to Providence] to work on the other part of his game defensively,” said Julien. “He needs to win battles and compete in his own end, and the rest of it will follow. We’ll look at him practice and see how he does, and who knows…eventually we may see him in there.” 

Here’s a little piece of youtube evidence that shows off the offensive skill set of Lashoff, who wasn’t in the Garden early enough to potentially crack Wednesday night’s lineup and likely wouldn’t have suited up above Shane Hnidy anyway:

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Matt Lashoff, Peter Chiarelli
Versteeg is the one that got away 11.11.08 at 1:48 pm ET
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Versteeg has perfected the art of the dangle in the Windy City

Versteeg has perfected the art of the dangle in the Windy City

Sometimes the deals that stand out like a blinking neon marquee in the minds of NHL executives across the NHL landscape are the ones that simply got away from them. A potentially successful deal that was passed over due to prohibitive cost or concerns about how much an older player still has in his career tank, or frittering away a young asset on the verge of development into a bone fide NHL maker of plays.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has stayed the course with the vast majority of young players that are now flourishing within a rising Boston Bruins organization, but Chicago Blackhawks right wing Kris Versteeg easily qualifies as “the one that got away” for a B’s GM that’s been coming up aces lately. The 22-year-old Versteeg was the Bruins prospect sacrificed in a forgettable deal — along with a draft pick – for minor league journeyman Brandon Bochenski, who totalled 11 goals and 17 assists in 51 games over two seasons for the Bruins before plummeting off the Black and Gold landscape. At the time of the trade, Versteeg — a B’s fifth round pick in the 2004 draft – had 22 goals and 27 assists in 41 games for the Baby B’s and was another in a long and winding line of bright light B’s talent that’s now filling up the roster in the Hub.

Ultimatelly Bochenski was spun off to the Anaheim Ducks for “Sheriff” Shane Hnidy and a sixth round draft pick last season, so currently Hnidy stands as the only remaining remnant from a trade that netted the Blackhawks one of the top rookies in the NHL this season.

Bochenski appears more and more like a career AHL player with each passing period while Versteeg enters Thursday night’s game among the NHL rookie scoring leaders with 3 goals and 9 assists through Chicago’s first 13 games — a stretch that’s also seen him earn PK minutes and impress the Chicago coaching staff with all-around game. 

“Kris has got a ton of skill and its always been National Hockey League level,” said Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland between periods of Sunday night’s Blackhawks/Flames telecast. “The other parts of the game I really had to get through to him…turning pucks over and when not to turn pucks. He’s playing with some real skill guys and he’s a skill guy. He’s getting a chance to show what he can and he’s a competitive kid. I think he’s really matured on and off the ice.”

Former P-Bruins teammates Mark Stuart and David Krejci each remember Versteeg as a crafty, slick offensive playmaker that was among the youngest players in the AHL during his time in Providence, and he’s only grown more dangerous since getting paired with fellow ”Young Guns” skaters Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago.

“He’s a good player and when I heard that he had a chance to play with Kane and Toews I knew he was going to make it,” said Krejci, who lit up the P-Bruins scoreboard in 2006-07 when they both skated on the same line together. “We had a good time. On the ice and off the ice he was a good guy. We played most of the year together.  He was actually kind of like me as a player: he can handle the puck and he was patient with it to make plays, and he could shoot it. He’s good.

“I guess it was good for him to be able to go out to Chicago and make the team,” added Versteeg.

Stuart qualifies as a willingly physical member of a B’s blueline corps that will be under a good deal of heavy pressure from a young, skilled Chicago attack. Its expected Stuart and Co. will up the physical ante against the young ‘Hawks to slow down the skating speedsters racing up and down the United Center ice before a packed house. 

“I’ve heard he’s doing pretty well,” said Stuart. “But I’m not very surprised at what he’s doing. He’s a really young guy and he’s skilled enough to play with anybody. They definitely have the talent there for him to play with some highly skilled guys.

“He’s able to find guys [out on the ice], he’s got really good hands and is good with the puck and he’s also very shifty,” added Stuart. “He’s good around the net too, so we’ll try to slow him down a little bit and shut him down. Off the ice he’s a nice kid. He was a young kid [during his time in Providence] and he still is…really fun to be around too.”

Apparently he’s also got a devastating singing voice somewhere between Fergie and Jesus…an ear-piercing gift that his teammates in Chicago recently discovered. Here’s the damning video evidence:

 

 –Shane Hnidy skated at practice on Tuesday morning for the first time since suffering a lower body injury against the Dallas Stars 10 days ago, but head coach Claude Julien cautioned that the veteran D-man likely wouldn’t return to the lineup until Thursday night’s much-anticipated home tilt with the Canadiens.

“I don’t think I’m going to dress him [Wednesday night] because it’s been a while, but is he a possibility for Thursday? Yeah,” said Julien.

Speaking of the Habs, Thursday night’s game against the Canadiens at the Garden represents the first of three different Habs/Bruins matchups this season taking place in the second game of back-to-back efforts for the B’s. Thursday night at the Garden is the first, a Nov. 22 Saturday night game at the Bell Centre after a Friday night game against the Florida Panthers is the second and a Feb. 1 Sunday matinee in Montreal following a Saturday afternoon game against the Rangers pulls off the scheduling hat trick.

The Cigarette Smoking Man may be behind the NHL schedule...

The Cigarette Smoking Man may be behind the NHL schedule...

For the consiracy theorists out there, the first two aforementioned games between the two Northeast Division rivals also allows the Habs to enjoy a full day off against a potentially weary B’s team fighting through back-to-back games.

Julien apparently doesn’t believe in the grassy knoll or Area 51, and definitely doesn’t believe that “The Truth is Out There.”

“I guess unfortunately we don’t have much control over the schedule and it’s ironic that its always [Montreal] waiting for us at home, but so be it,” said Julien. “I think the best way to handle it is to have all 19 of your guys going and being able to stretch your bench as much as you can to get the results you want. Then try to get home as quick as possible and get your rest for the following night.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Brandon Bochenski, Chicago Blackhawks, Claude Julien
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