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Sounds of the game… Bruins 7, Islanders 2 11.28.08 at 2:47 pm ET
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The big train known as the Boston Bruins keeps on rolling. Following their ONLY regulation loss of the month in 12 tries on Wednesday night in Buffalo, the Bruins came out looking a little sluggish in the first period against the New York Islanders, falling behind 1-0. A true testament to their early season dominance is the following stat… It was just the sixth time in 23 games the Bruins have found themselves behind after 20 minutes. But that was not even a speed bump to the Black and Gold as they responded with five straight goals and put the game away with a five-goal onslaught of the overmatched Gordon’s Fisherman in the third. Scott Gordon, who coached the Baby B’s in Providence, was not shown any hospitality by the Bruins on the ice. Michael Ryder netted two goals and seven Bruins had at least two points in the win. Next up, the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings at the Garden on Saturday night. That’s can’t miss hockey for those wondering if the Bruins should be put in the same class as the the defending champs.

Michael Ryder was put on the line with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler and responded with two goals.

Ryder said the B’s were flat in the first.

Blake Wheeler on Manny Fernandez’s big save on Bill Guerin midway through the third.

Wheeler on facing the defending champs Saturday night.

Coach Claude Julien on the test Detroit provides Saturday.

Julien happy to see balanced scoring.

Manny Fernandez says the B’s will be out to prove something with Detroit coming to town.

Scott Gordon will try to forget this homecoming to Boston.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Michael Ryder
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
Sobotka sent to Providence 11.04.08 at 1:26 pm ET
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Sobotka will get plenty of minutes in Providence this weekend

Sobotka will get plenty of minutes in Providence this weekend

Matt Hunwick and Vladimir Sobotka have both been piling up the DNP-CD’s for Bruins coach Claude Julien as this year’s version of the Black and Gold begins to take shape, and the B’s made a move this afternoon in clear recognition of that.

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced today that the club has assigned forward Vladimir Sobotka to the Providence Bruins (AHL). Since being recalled to Boston on October 14, Sobotka has appeared in five games with the Bruins during the 2008-2009 season and has been a healthy scratch in the last four.

The move seems a likely precursor to a return by skilled, scrappy winger Chuck Kobasew to the Bruins lineup on Thursday after missing nearly a month with a fractured right ankle. Kobasew went down during the Oct. 9 season opener when he took a slapshot off the right ankle, but has been skating with the team over a week in anticipation of a return.

Prior to being recalled, Sobotka posted 2-2=4 totals to go along with seven penalty minutes in two games with Providence. He also posted a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” in an Oct. 12 game against Springfield, notching an overtime goal, an assist, and a fight. Sobotka split the 2007-2008 season between Boston and Providence. 

With Boston, he saw action in 48 regular season games and contributed one goal and six assists and added two goals in six postseason games.  With Providence last year, he had 10-10-20 totals in 18 regular season games and added four assists over six postseason games.

Sobotka was originally drafted by the Bruins in the 4th round, 106th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. The Boston Bruins return to action on Thursday, November 6 when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:00 p.m. ET.  The P-Bruins play three games in three nights beginning Friday, November 7 when they host the Chicago Wolves, travel to Albany to face the River Rats on Saturday, November 8 and return home to play the Philadelphia Phantoms on Sunday, November 9.

“He’s going to go down to play a few games, and I think we need to give those guys an opportunity to keep developing,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Playing three games in three nights [in Providence] is going to help [Sobotka].”

The move to drop Sobotka’s $750,000 salary cap hit leaves the Bruins roughly $1.5 million under the salary cap.

Read More: AHL, Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew, Claude Julien
Krejci on the rise 10.15.08 at 11:40 pm ET
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David Krejci expects to raise his hands in lamp-lighting celebration many times this season...Glen Murray, not so much

David Krejci expects to raise his hands in lamp-lighting celebration many times this season...Glen Murray, not so much

David Krejci had never scored less than 20 goals in any season during his hockey career — whether it was developing his puck magician skills in the minors, maturing in the Quebec Major Junior League as a Czech Republic native slowly growing comfortable with the English language, or dominating amateur leagues in ice rinks all across his native land.

That is until last season.

The craftier than crafty 22-year-old has obviously honed a puck identity as an assist machine during each level of his hockey development — a byproduct of his wise-beyond-his-years ability to think the game through. And a gifted set of fast-twitch hands that easily make split-second transitions between puck possession and a perfect dish to the high-scoring areas on the ice. It’s a gift that the skilled elite in the National Hockey League all possess, and Krejci has it in glorious abundance.

But the 6-foot, 178-pounderalso takes pride in being able to make opposing teams pay when they expect him to pass, and he’s always been something of a goal-scoring throat along the way. So when Krejci looked back on last season’s encouraging second half performance with the Bruins, he clearly saw one area that needed some improvement: 13 goals scored in 81 games split between the Providence B’s (7 goals, 21 assists in 25 games) and the Hockey Hub (6 goals, 21 assists in 56 games).

“One of the top [improvements for me] is shooting for sure. Three years ago before I got to Providence, I just brought a net out to my garden and just shot every day for three months straight,” said Krejci. “That year I got 30 goals. Then i got a taste of the NHL and I thought I had to be stronger and I did [get stronger]. But I didn’t improve at other stuff that I needed to be good at like shooting. I hadn’t been shooting at all the summer before last season, and I could see that I was really getting weaker with my shot.”

With that in mind, Krejci spent a lot of time this summer shooting anywhere he could. There was no confirmation that a young professional hockey player named Krejci was spotted on the beaches of Krk Island in Croatia armed with a stick and rocketing stones into the ocean during his summer vacation, but the center did admit to long hours firing away at pucks in the garden outside his Czech Republic home this summer. It’s something that Krejci had always done each and every summer to strengthen his wrists and add snap to the his wrist shot and slapper attempts, and his strength and feel for his shot went missing last season.

He felt as if shying away from the hundreds of shots each week is why he wound up with 13 goals for the

I shoot therefore I am...

I shoot therefore I am...

season, and it’s a big reason why the budding B’s prospect thinks he’s going to be back up over that comfortable 20 goal level this season.  Krejci has already potted the game-winner in Colorado on opening night, and his goal-scoring touch was again key in last night’s point-winning 4-3 shootout loss to the hated Habs on Wednesday night. Krejci scored Boston’s first goal of the second period, a rocket of a one-time slap shot after a rebounded puck floated right to him in the high slot.

Did Krejci’s extra shooting work supply a little more sizzle to a shot that rattled the cross-bar before eventually dropping into the net? That just may be, but you be the judge after checking out a Q&A I had with Krejci recently. His skills are truly of the eye-popping variety and he seems poised to make a huge step forward in his second NHL season this winter.

How big was getting up to the NHL toward the end of the season and feeling comfortable last season? DK: Last year I went to training camp to make the team and i did it. But I had some up and downs, you know. I need to be more consistent. I know I had a good year and so many people told me that, but it’s time to to put last year behind me and do whatever I can do this year to be even better. I just need to focus forward rather than the past.

So you had people congratulating you on having a good year, and you’re thinking in your head that the best things are yet to come? DK: Yeah, exactly. I know I had some good games last year. Those games I would love to play every single night this year. No up and downs like I said before. Just consistent. I was happy with the season, but I wasn’t happy as the season went along because I need to be at the same level.

How much of last season was getting comfortable? What was the key for you? DK: A little bit of everything. You need a little luck. I got lucky by getting an opportunity. Savvy got hurt and I was able to play his position. Sometimes I didn’t play good, so I just need to work harder. I don’t want to go back to Providence. I liked everyone there and had a good time, but this is what I dream of. The games I didn’t play good, I just tried to work the hardest so they wouldn’t send me down.

What kind of players bring the best out of you at center? DK: I take everything from everyone. I played a lot

Would the world end if P.J. googled Zoolander?

Would the world end if P.J. googled Zoolander?

last year with Marco Sturm and Kess, and they both have a lot of speed. So you give them the puck and everything is fine. When I played a long time with Axxy, I think he is one of the best two-way players in the league. So many people think he’s only a defensive player but he’s got great skills to make all the plays. So I like playing with anybody. I can just pick two guy and then play with them all year. You never know there’s going to be injuries or something…or there’s five minutes left and you’re going out there with guys that you have played with and they know what to expect from you. And I know what to expect from them. It makes it a little easier.

When you’re in the offensive zone are you thinking in your head to pass first? Is that how your hockey mind works? DK:I know I don’t have the greatest shot in the league, so I’m trying to work on it. I’m trying to get better sticks [Krejci said this with a laugh]. 2-on-1 or whatever I don’t care whether it’s me or Axxy or whoever scoring the goal. Whether I make the pass or I shoot it, I just like when we score a goal. I don’t want to go back to the bench [without scoring] and have somebody says ‘nice play’ or whatever. If I make a nice play and we don’t score a goal, then it’s just like putting the puck in the corner, you know. I just want the team to score goals.

If you’ve got an opening to shoot then I’ll shoot it and if I have an opening to shoot or pass it I might try to look off the goalie and make a nice play. Sometimes it doesn’t work.

Do you get more of a thrill out of setting up a nice pass or scoring a goal? DK:I was always more of the passer guy all my life, but I’ll tell you one thing…I was pretty happy when I finally scored a goal last year. I like to be the playmaker and play with the puck. It’s hard to say.

Guys must like playing with you if you like passing the puck? DK: You’ve got to ask them, you know. Scoring or passing, I’ll just take whatever comes. I just think I’m more of a guy who can handle the puck better than shoot the puck from the top of the circle.

You talked about the shooting a little bit…were there one or two areas like that you pinpointed in the summer and you wanted to get better at? DK: There’s more stuff I wanted to get better at in the offseason. One of the top ones is shooting for sure. Three years ago before I got to Providence, I just brought a net out to my garden and just shot every day for three months straight. That year I got 30 goals. Then i got a taste of the NHL and I thought I had to be stronger and I did [get stronger]. But I didn’t improve at other stuff that I needed to be good at like shooting. I haven’t been shooting at all the summer before last season, and I could see that I was really getting weaker with my shot.

Puck in the garden

Puck in the garden

So this year I brought the net back and tried to shoot as many pucks as I could.  This is back in the Czech, and I have a house on the hill that has a driveway that goes down below into a garden. I set the net up there and started shooting again. I didn’t it three years ago felt great and scored 30 goals. Didn’t do it last year and scored…what…six goals in the NHL.

So are you going to score 30 goals this season? DK: I’m not saying I’m going to score 30 goals, but I will say that my shot is going to be harder this year. Training camp was tough so you didn’t have a lot of time to shoot before and after practice, but we’ll see.

Was there a moment last year where something happened and you said ‘you know what, I belong in the NHL?’ DK: When I made the team from training camp, our first road trip was in California. I thought I played good and coaches told they wanted me to play here. Then when they told me I was unsuccessful. I didn’t want to be, but I just didn’t play as good as I did before. That’s why I was talking about being consistent. I knew I could play when we were on that California trip. I knew I could play at this level. So I went to work again in Providence and got called back up and really believed I could stay all year. And that’s what I did.

That must have been important to have that idea in your head that you could play here. DK: It was a good feeling. When they brought me back I was playing 10 minutes a night and playing on the power play. So that got my confidence up. I love it on the power play. I feel like it’s one of my strongest game. I love to feel like I’m an important guy on the team and other guys will be counting on me.

Is there kind of a good feeling that there’s a bunch of young players like yourself that are all growing up on the team together? DK: It’s nice. The older guys have been nice to us. Sometimes they make a joke at us, but you’ve got to take it as a team thing. It’s nice that we’ve got some more younger guys, so you kind of turn it on them and make jokes about them.

Who’s the biggest veteran to make jokes at you guys? DK:Axxey maybe. Just fun stuff. There are more guys. It’s hard to say just one.

What’s your favorite moment from last year? DK:It was all of the momens from the first playoff series for sure. It was something I won’t ever forget. Even if I play 10 more times in the league and 10 more times in the playoff, it was my first time there and we went to seven games in Montreal. it was something special, you know. That Game 6 was the biggest thing. They scored three goals, we scored three goals. It was just crazy. Like I said, I would love to do it again.

What was your summer like? DK:Yeah, my offseason I don’t skate at all. I usually start skating three or sometimes four weeks before the camp so I can get strong and get a feel for the ice before camp.

Did you do any traveling? DK: Travel. After the season I went to World Championships in Quebec City and then I spent maybe a week in Ottawa. I played Junior hockey there and I still have a girlfriend from there so I spent a week there. Then i went back home and went on a 10 day vacation with family, my good friends and my girlfriend to Croatia. It was nice just relaxing on the beaches.

People tell me that the beaches in parts of Croatia are pretty nice. DK:Yeah. It’s not a sand beach, it’s big rocks. So it makes the water so clear and it’s pretty nice. Sometimes when you have a sandy bottom to the beach you can’t see anything below the water, but you can see all the rocks in the water. It’s pretty nice. I go there the last 10 years in a row for a week or two. I always used to go to a place called Krk Island for five years in a row, but the last couple of years I’ve just picked places out of city with my friends.

Croatia is so beautiful, you know, they have all kinds of little villages that basically come alive at night. So you got to the beaches all day and then you have stuff to do like going to shops, or street dancers or street magicians. There’s always things to do there. it’s very nice.

Is that rest good for you when you had such a long season between Providence, Boston and the World Championships? DK: Oh yeah. There was a excitement inside of me, but I was so exhausted that I couldn’t wait to rest. I was watching the Stanley Cup playoffs you know, and it was so hard to watch them last season when you knew you could have been there. It’s so nice when I go to Croatia I just totally take everything off and I eat like an animal, you know, and do whatever. Just relaxing and doing whatever I want. After that [hockey] starts over again, you know.

Read More: Boston Bruins, David Krejci, P.J. Axelsson, Providence Bruins
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.”

Read More: Add new tag, Andrew Alberts, Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew
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