The Bruins have aged down the middle. Top center Patrice Bergeron, a Selke Award finalist for the ninth consecutive season, turned 35 on July 24. No. 2 pivot David Krejci, with but one year left on his deal, celebrated his 34th birthday in April.
Oh, and left winger Brad Marchand turned 32 in May.
COVID-19 may have put a pause on the sports world, but Father Time keeps his own game clock and it never stops ticking. The Bruins are getting heavy in the thirtysomethings demo.
On Sunday afternoon, if coach Bruce Cassidy keeps to the plan he sketched out late in the week, the Bruins will have two of their best young forward prospects, Anders Bjork (24 on Wednesday) and Jack Studnicka (21), logging significant ice time against the Flyers.
It’s the first of the Bruins’ three round-robin games, which will determine their seeding when they enter the playoffs on Aug. 11 or 12. For the likes of Bjork and Studnicka, as well as Karson Kuhlman (25 next month), the days ahead in Toronto, and perhaps later in Edmonton, could serve as the stage for them to play their way into vital offensive roles that their elders will be forced to surrender.
During the club’s recent two-week refresher camp in Brighton, Bjork and Studnicka looked especially ready and eager to claim significant minutes.
“I think Jack is clearly a better player than when he left here,” said Cassidy, who was afforded only a two-game glimpse of Studnicka, in his first full year as a pro, during the regular season. “Some of that is probably the confidence of going down to [AHL Providence] and getting some accolades there, playing well. And four months in the gym. We talked about when he got here that he’d get pushed around [at only 175 pounds] — you’re not going to build yourself up overnight.”
As Cassidy noted, David Pastrnak, now among the game’s elite goal scorers, needed time to add to his frame. Pastrnak was only 18, with a body befitting the average high school senior, when he plugged into the lineup. He has added about 20 pounds, much of it muscle, from his freshman season.
“We’re seeing it a bit with [Bjork] as well,” added Cassidy. “His injuries [requiring two shoulder surgeries] have allowed him to be in the gym more. It needs to translate. We’ll see in playoff hockey — he hasn’t had a taste of that. We don’t know the answer to that.
“I like where both of them have been in camp. I think they’re more assertive in their play and now it’s just a matter of taking it out against good opposing players.”
If Bjork can stay healthy, keep building his game and confidence — the two are always related — and develop into a bona fide top-six contributor, the new deal he signed last week (three years/$4.8M total) could prove a budget bonanza for the Bruins.
Bjork has been bitten hard by the bad-luck bug, including one bad concussion and the pair of shoulder injuries that cut short two seasons. He had only 108 NHL games played, not one of them in the postseason, in three years to take to the bargaining table.
Formerly of Notre Dame, Bjork has the wheels and shot to aspire to full-time work at wing in the top-six mix. The issue will be maintaining health, and developing a stronger, more robust presence along the wall and down low in the greasy scoring areas.
“The guys that are scoring a lot and being productive that way, they’ve found confidence,” observed Bjork. “To me, it’s not like they always have it naturally. I think they have it because they continually work at it. I want to follow their lead and constantly work on my offensive abilities.”
Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak are ideal role models in that sense.
“Exactly what I am trying to emulate,” Bjork said.
Work along the boards and the will to fight down low for primo chances often are the toughest elements for young forwards to incorporate. Adding them to their game can prove the difference between being given a chance to landing a full-time gig and making huge money.
“Definitely, it takes some time,” said Bjork. “You just have to keep at it because it can be frustrating at times when you’re not [scoring] and you can get away from it. But persistence is hugely important and sometimes overlooked.
“Guys who have high skill and score such pretty goals, the reason they have that is because they are persistent with it — they keep learning and developing that. Being persistent, learning and growing offensively is extremely important.”
END OF AN ERA
Playoffs pushing on without us
There will not be a single Boston media member inside Scotiabank Arena to chronicle any of the playoff action in Toronto.
The NHL’s coronavirus-related restrictions and regulations did allow for media to attend, though the league was adamant that no players, coaches, or other team personnel would be made available for interviews beyond Zoom access. Not much of an invite. The overwhelming majority of media members from the cities of the other 18 US-based teams that qualified for the 24-team tournament also elected not to attend.
For the Globe, Sunday stands to be the first time in the history of the Bruins, dating to the club’s first playoff round against the Black Hawks in March 1927, that it won’t have a reporter inside the building to bear witness to one of their postseason games.
There is a real sense of regret in acknowledging that, particularly for your faithful puck chronicler. Everyone here takes pride in the paper’s legacy of covering all of Boston’s teams, and that’s especially true for the many sports staffers who grew up here, living the ups, downs, and sidewayses of these storied franchises.
Globe scribe John J. Hallahan was there March 29, 1927, when the Bruins, with Art Ross behind their bench, played their very first playoff game in year No. 3 of their NHL existence. Final: Bruins 6, Hawks 1.
It was a road game for both clubs, played before a crowd of some 8,000 inside New York’s Madison Square Garden. A scheduling conflict at the Chicago Coliseum forced the Hawks to shift their home game some 800 miles east.
Hallahan noted in his gamer how hard it must have been for some NYR fans to cheer a goal by Eddie Shore, the Bruins’ flamboyant and talented blue liner considered by some as the Bobby Orr of his era. The Rangers and Bruins already were not, shall we say, kissin’ cousins, despite their common bond of being relatively new US-based franchises in a Canadian-based league.
The Bruins didn’t win a postseason game by a five-goal spread again for more than 30 years, until a 5-0 thumping of the Rangers in a first-round series in 1958.
The Globe’s inimitable Tom Fitzgerald covered that whitewash of the Blueshirts, March 29, 1958, a significant part of his lead detailing the Black-and-Gold’s great relief that Bronco Horvath, rushed to Carney Hospital after getting “creased on the head” by the stick of Ranger defenseman Jack Evans, would be OK for the Game 4 two nights later. Whacks to the head weren’t out of the ordinary in those days.
The Carney’s docs determined Bronc was OK, no concussion or fractured skull. The gash on his head was patched up with eight stitches and he was sent back to duty with his Uke Line pals, Johnny Bucyk and Vic Stasiuk.
In 1927, Hallahan was back at MSG the night of April 4 for the 3-1 win that eliminated the Rangers in Round 2 that spring. His report was one of four played across the top of Page 1 in the next morning’s Globe. Page 1 was routine placement in the Globe for Bruins game stories whenever they reached the postseason in the ’20s, ’30, and ’40s, the days when baseball, hockey, boxing, and horse racing were the main dishes on the city’s sports menu.
Eliminating the Rangers that night, noted Hallahan, set up the Bruins to face Ottawa for the championship, and “the honor of being the first team from this side of the border to earn its way into the Stanley Cup series.”
The Sens clinched the Cup in four games, with two victories and a pair of ties, collecting seven of the 10 goals scored. The following year, 1928, the Rangers became the first US-based NHL team to win the Cup, dumping the Montreal Maroons in five. (American teams made the series prior to it becoming NHL exclusive, with the Kraken’s forefathers, the Seattle Metropolitans, winning it in 1917.)
The Bruins would have to wait until 1929 before their first Cup, eliminating the Habs in three games of Round 1, then dismissing the Rangers in two, the knockout punch a 2-1 win at MSG on March 29, 1929.
The Globe headline on Hallahan’s story the next day, one of three stories stripped across the top of Page 1, read, “Bruins Clinch World’s Title.” Harry Oliver and Dr. Bill Carson scored for the Bruins, and Butch Keeling was the lone Ranger to beat Tiny Thompson.
Headed into this weekend, the Bruins have been in 653 playoff games, won six Cup titles, and at least one Globe reporter has been present to chronicle it all.
Globe accounts of all Bruins games in Toronto will be written here by Boston-based staffers monitoring TV and radio broadcasts, some of those narrated by NESN and 98.5 announcers (who are also all absent from Toronto). The paper’s coverage will be augmented by comments from players and coaching staff provided through Zoom interviews.
A long way from Hyannis
Adrian Dater, who grew up in Keene, N.H., is one of just a handful of US-based reporters to make the vigil to the Canadian hubs. Dater, who has covered the Avalanche since Game 1 in Denver in 1995, this weekend finished his two-week quarantine in Edmonton and is ready to get at it.
“Not a bad place,” said Dater, connecting by phone from his two-bedroom rental in downtown Edmonton. “A whole lot better than my one-room rental in Hyannis, summer of ’86, at Aunt Sara’s Boarding House — $400 bucks a month, no window, and nothing but a hotplate for a kitchen.”
Dater, now 55, graduated from selling timeshare units near the Hyannis docks to a career in sports journalism. He eventually moved west, became the first Avs beat man for the Denver Post, and these days owns and operates coloradohockeynow.com.
“No matter what, it’s a chance for unique storytelling,” he said. “I can go to the games, so that’s good. If the Avs maybe make some guys available off Zoom, for one-on-ones over the phone, then that could help, too, right?”
Dater had the good fortune to be in the Denver Post’s office, answering phones in the sports department, on the summer day in 1995 when a Boston sportswriter called to see if anyone there was aware the Nordiques were packing up in Quebec City to take up residence in Denver. He turned that tip into a Page 1 story the next day, then a full-time staff job and a career that last week had him sitting in an apartment absent air conditioning as muggy Edmonton temps hit the mid-90s.
During his first weekend in quarantine, Dater cooked up a slab of moose meat. When that far north of the border, dine as the locals do.
“Definitely musky kind of aftertaste,” he wrote. “Otherwise, it tasted like a really good lean piece of steak. Except it was moose.
“Am I finally an honorary citizen now, Canada?”
During a Zoom session on Wednesday, a random reference to Bobby Lalonde had Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy telling reporters that he is related to the 5-foot-5-inch ex-Bruins pivot (1979-81). “My cousin, from my mother’s side,” noted Cassidy, and kiddingly added, “Nice fella, so leave him alone.” Cassidy’s mom grew up in Montreal and, of course, loved her Habs. A first-round pick of the Canucks in ’71, Lalonde played two years as No. 2 pivot behind Gil Perreault on the OHA’s Montreal Junior Habs . . . During a lengthy NBC Sports phone gab with the media last week, ex-NHLer Eddie Olczyk, one of the game’s top-notch TV commentators, noted how important it will be for the 16 teams in the qualifying (play-in) round to come in hot, because they’re playing in a best-of-five format. Less room for error. “I’m not going to say [winning Game 1] is a must,” he said. “But I’m going to say it’s an m-u-s and I am getting ready to cross the ‘t'. Game 1 will be absolutely pivotal.” Playoff history underscores Olczyk’s point. A total of 83 best-of-five series have been part of Stanley Cup play, and the team to win the opener has won 68 series (81.9 percent). Prediction: Play in those eight series will open fast, furious, and messy; will and adrenaline will outpace execution. Maybe not pretty, but certainly entertaining . . . Doc Emrick, NBC’s legendary play-by-play announcer/storyteller, will call an ample load of games in the early rounds while working solo from a studio built just for him in the Detroit area. The Michigander could be in Edmonton for the final two rounds there, but it was clear during the network’s conference call that it remains undecided . . . The Bruins game on Sunday will be followed by the second round-robin tilt Wednesday vs. Tampa and then the closer next Sunday vs. the Caps. We’ll get to see the season’s two top goal scorers, David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin (48 strikes each), square off in what could be a preview of the conference final. The Great Ovie went 2-1—3, factoring in every goal, in the Capitals’ 3-2 exhibition tuneup win over the Hurricanes. “The shape he came back after the pause,” said coach Todd Reirden, “and how he’s been working at practice, the energy he’s had — that doesn’t happen by accident.” Reirden, by the way, played four seasons on the back line for Bowling Green (1990-94), where his bench boss was Jerry York. In the spring of ’94, Reirden launched his pro career, while York headed for the Heights . . . During their Zoom sessions with media, Bruins players sit at a podium and hear questions piped into the room. “Voices from the ceiling,” noted Cassidy. Rather than see each reporter’s face on a video screen, players only stare into large monitors that show images of themselves sitting at the podium. Pastrnak and Charlie Coyle shared the podium Tuesday, and Pastrnak, staring into the screen, flexed his arms slightly and asked which of the two had the bigger biceps. The high-scoring Czech did look bigger through the chest and arms, but TV can be deceiving. “I think maybe he needs a haircut,” said team captain Zdeno Chara . . . Bruins president Cam Neely, when your faithful puck chronicler asked him Friday if he would have locked arms in solidarity — as the Bruins and Jackets did Thursday — if he had found himself long ago standing next to, say, Claude Lemieux or Ulf Samuelsson: “We might have locked horns — I don’t know about arms.” . . . Late purchase for the NHL’s two bubble sites: Pool skimmers. Arena workers are repurposing them to fetch pucks that land on the large tarps that mask the seats in the lower bowl of each rink. Still waiting to see the inflatable water wings and the blow-up . . . wait for it . . . Kraken.