The pain in his neck and the potential risk it imposed ultimately became too much for Adam McQuaid, leading the former Bruins defenseman to retire last weekend after 10 NHL seasons, all but the last one spent wearing Black and Gold.
“Basically, I was told it wasn’t safe for me to play the way it was,” said McQuaid, talking by telephone from his home within walking distance of the Garden this past week. “So, not worthwhile, not a risk I was willing to take.”
McQuaid, 34, carved out a quiet but impressive career as a big, punishing hitter and willing shot-blocker, often playing through pain and injury, rarely capturing headlines. For many opposing forwards, he was their pain in the neck, particularly in the years when he teamed up with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, and Dennis Seidenberg to make Boston’s back end one of the league’s leading hurt lockers.
On quiet summer nights in the North End, the rattling of the Garden boards can still be heard echoing up and down Hanover Street from the days when Big Z, Seids, Johnny Rocket, and Quaider were on the beat.
McQuaid was only 24 and a relative newcomer to the lineup when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the 6-foot-4-inch righthander chipping in with four assists over 23 games of that memorable playoff run.
“Hard to top that one,” said McQuaid, musing briefly over what he’ll take away as career highlights beyond the Cup title.
McQuaid grew up on Prince Edward Island initially as a Canadiens fan, then switched to the Maple Leafs, which made it all the more meaningful when his career debut with the Bruins was in Toronto. Not much later, he scored his first career goal in Montreal. Not bad for a kid who was glued to the TV every Saturday to watch Hockey Night in Canada, games usually beaming in from Toronto or Montreal.
“Beyond all that, those Stanley Cup runs, even in 2013 when we came up short, just the excitement, the energy, I can remember being in the dressing at the Garden and hearing almost like, you feel the place shaking a little bit,” said McQuaid. “I have a hard time, really, putting all of it into words. It’s almost overwhelming, all the special things I got to do. Because of hockey, I got to do a lot of things, meet a lot of people — so many great friendships from the game. The travel. The Winter Classics at Gillette, at Fenway, going to Prague and Ireland. When I do think of my career, I think more of the plane rides, the dinners on the road with the guys, getting together with them for dinner at Thanksgiving or Christmas. The laughs, mostly the laughs.”
He would have stayed longer had the injury bug not caught up with him. Dealt from the Bruins to the Rangers in September 2018, McQuaid was wheeled again the same season, to Columbus, and logged his final game with the Blue Jackets on March 28, 2019.
The nerve pain in McQuaid’s neck — the pain that convinced him roughly a year ago his playing days were done — was too much for him to suit up in a playoff run that ended when the Bruins rubbed out the Blue Jackets that spring in the conference semifinals.
It was during a visit that season at the home of fellow Blue Jacket Nick Foligno, a former teammate from junior days (OHL Sudbury), that underscored McQuaid’s predicament with neck pain.
“He had us over, and I was playing with his kids,” McQuaid recalled, “and I got in the car, and my neck went out. I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ That was a real eye-opener. That’s a scary thing when those thoughts go through your head. I didn’t have any kids at the time, but that was something I’d hoped for, and then you’ve got to think about just quality-of-life stuff, right?”
The good news, beyond the huge relief of being relatively pain-free these days, is that McQuaid and wife Stephanie welcomed son Roman into their family just three weeks ago.
“Other than being a bit sleep-deprived,” said the new dad, “we’re all good, no complaints.”
Where from here, who knows? A devout Christian, one who was as an active team chapel member along with a sizable collection of Bruins in his days in Boston, McQuaid sounds at peace with it all when he says, “I just believe God has a plan for me.”
Anxious and shy as a kid, recalled McQuaid, he grew up in a Catholic home that stressed prayer, often praying with his mother, sister, and brother before school, his father praying with them after work. During the pandemic, with most houses of worship dealing with restricted attendance, Adam and Stephanie have remained connected to their faith through live-stream services.
“The last part of my career I was encouraged by more people to share my faith publicly,” said McQuaid. “I don’t go around starting conversations with it, but I try to be an example through my actions and how I treat people. My wife really encouraged me to be more open. She was probably the most open person about her faith that I’d ever met, so I was encouraged by her to do that. It’s always been an important part of my life.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was an assistant in Providence when the rawboned McQuaid first reported to the organization. McQuaid again was under Cassidy’s watch in Boston.
“Great teammate, hard-working, student of the game, always came to the rink wanting to get better,” said Cassidy, effusive in his praise of McQuaid. “He was one of my favorite guys to coach in Providence. I ran the D. We used Matt Lashoff and Adam as the shutdown pair. Matt was more of a puck-mover, and Adam was more of a punishing hitter, tough as nails, quiet demeanor.”
For McQuaid to make the jump to the NHL, recalled Cassidy, he had to improve his puck-moving game, neutral-zone decisions, work some on the power play. McQuaid absorbed it all and moved up to Boston after 2½ seasons with the WannaBs and never returned to the AHL.
“I was talking to Brandon Carlo about that today,” said Cassidy, following Friday’s practice. “About how Adam built his game up. Listen, no one’s going to mistake him for this puck-moving, offensive guy, but he could make a good first pass, you could rely on him to make plays that were there, see the ice. Some of that stuff we are trying to do with Brandon. They’re not the same player, but similar in their roles: shutdown guy, penalty killing … I really enjoyed Adam McQuaid, one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
Chara is off to solid start
The Bruins on Saturday will get their first look at Zdeno Chara in a Capitals uniform when they play their first of back-to-backs in Washington. Game 2 is Monday night.
Chara was not among the four miscreant Capitals who violated league COVID-19 protocols on the road, assembling as a group without masks in a hotel room, rendering all four out of the lineup for a minimum four games. Ownership also was fined $100,000.
The Not So Fab Four included superstar Alex Ovechkin, dazzling center Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman Dmitry Orlov, and No. 1 goalie Ilya Samsonov. All four will be reevaluated, per D.C. and Virginia COVID-19 regulations, after the four-game hiatus. It’s possible all four could be eligible to play in both games against the Bruins.
“Card games in the room just got more expensive for those guys,” said ex-Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft Thursday night during the NESN broadcast.
Big Z, meanwhile, has plugged seamlessly into coach Peter Laviolette’s backline. Did anyone expect otherwise? Chara headed into weekend play with a 0-0—0 line in four games, but stood plus-4 (tied for second on the team) and was averaging 19:39 in ice time, behind only John Carlson and Orlov. He’ll likely see his minutes move up into the low 20s with Orlov sidelined.
Checking up on some other recent Bruins alums:
David Backes, Anaheim — Was placed on waivers just prior to the start of the season, cleared, and entered the weekend relegated to the Ducks’ taxi squad. Yet to play this season.
Danton Heinen, Anaheim — Didn’t factor in any goals in the Ducks’ first four games, but averaged two shots per game with his average 14:44 ice time.
Torey Krug, St. Louis — Getting plenty of work (average 22:59 through four games), chipping in with but a lone assist. He landed only seven shots on net in those four games, behind his Boston pace. Might be difficult to gauge Krug’s offensive impact for a while, with top gunner Vladimir Tarasenko likely to need until at least April 1 to recover from October shoulder surgery.
Joakim Nordstrom, Calgary — Signed on for a similar fourth-line/penalty-killing role, but played in but one of the Flames’ first three games, logging 0-0—0 and a minus-2 vs Winnipeg Jan. 14. Likely first man up to replace the injured.
Brett Ritchie, Calgary — Scored season-opening goal for Bruins last season. Hooked on with a two-way deal with the Flames in the offseason. Yet to play. Likely headed to minors or ride the taxi squad.
Dubois dealt after benching
The curious case of talented Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois grew curiouser and curiouser Thursday night when coach John Tortorella rolled him out for five shifts in the first period vs. Tampa Bay, then sat him on the bench for the rest of the night.
Dubois wanted to be dealt before training camp began, which Torts was public about, and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen moved quickly to deal him. On Saturday, he dished the pivot to Winnipeg for one of the game’s elite scoring threats, Patrik Laine, and Columbus-born forward Jack Roslovic. Dubois and Laine are 22, Roslovic 23, and all three are former first-round picks. The Jets also picked up a third-round pick in the 2022 draft.
Tortortella on Thursday was pointed but not demeaning in his postgame comments, stating that players dictate their minutes by the quality of their play. Fair enough. But the rub here is that Dubois’s trade value began to drop — and Kekalainen’s leverage in talks with it — when Tortorella humbled the kid in public.
Dubois is a horse (6-3, 220 pounds) but wasn’t up to doing the required heavy work, at least by Tortorella’s eye. Now we’ll find out if Laine, one of the game’s elite goal scorers, can mesh with the acerbic coach or if the sizzling 6-5 Finn forces a deal over the summer as a restricted free agent. Roslovic also wanted out of Winnipeg, remained unsigned, and agreed promptly to a two-year deal ($1.9 million cap hit).
“It’s up to the player to show me,” said Tortorella after the loss to the Lighning. “If there’s one thing I’m pretty easy to read on it is the minutes. You’re going to get out there if you play the proper way ... the onus is on the player. And it’s on all players — not just the player we’re talking about here that sat. It’s all the players. I’m not a hard guy to read as far as that’s concerned.”
Another obvious option for Kekalainen would have been to send the 62-year-old Tortorella packing. It would not have been a first. The Lightning, Rangers, and most notably the Canucks all maxed out on Torts, the Canucks getting there faster than anyone (one year and good riddance).
This is Tortorella’s sixth season as the Blue Jackets’ bench boss, and Kekalainen is well aware he has an old dog unwilling to learn new tricks. Thus far he has accepted the bark, one that most players today find hard on the ears.
High-tech pucks are sidelined
Tough start for the NHL’s tricked-out new pucks, unveiled on opening night as the centerpiece of the league’s Puck and Player Tracking initiative. A little more than a week later, noting inconsistency in the manufacturing, the league sent the rubber on the road.
The same pucks were used during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, with no imperfections or issues reported. A new batch of the tech pucks, at a cost of $40 each, should be ready in about a month, perhaps less, and the PPT program restored.
Asked if he noticed any problem with the pucks during a Zoom news conference this past week, Bruins winger Brad Marchand deadpanned, “Yeah, they wouldn’t go in the net.”
While waiting for the new batch, the league has returned to the same vulcanized rubber version, kept chilled at rinkside, it used for decades before the switch to the PPT version.
The problem, according to NHL headquarters, was not in the technology, which has each puck fitted with battery, circuit board, and light tubes that emit infrared beams. The fault rested instead in the exterior finish of the puck, a nuance, albeit slight, that had some players and on-ice officials noting issues in bounce and feel.
PPT eventually will feed a huge stream of data collected off the puck, and the players themselves, for use in television broadcasts of games and also for use in associated legalized gambling.
When the day comes that fans are allowed into buildings again, they’ll be allowed to take home pucks that land in the stands. Just like the good ol’ vulcanized rubber days, back when, oh, the way Glenn Miller played.
Noticeably absent for the Bruins home opener Thursday: longtime Garden organist Ron Poster, whose indefatigable work at the keyboard gives the Vault a distinct sound and feel. With no fans allowed in the building, the ninth-floor control room also was trimmed back to skeletal crew. Still no word on when/if patrons will be allowed to come back for live viewing. City and state regulations call the tune there. Prior to the season starting, however, commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged the possibility that most buildings could be forced to operate fan-free for the entire season … The September 2018 deal that sent Adam McQuaid to the Rangers brought Steven Kampfer to the Bruins, along with two draft picks — a fourth-rounder the Bruins dished to the Hurricanes and a seventh-rounder, No. 192 in 2019, that the Bruins used to select Jake Schmaltz, a 6-2 forward. Schmaltz, 19, is in his second season with USHL Green Bay. He entered the weekend No. 2 in Gamblers scoring, behind Mason Lohrei, the 6-4 blue liner chosen No. 58 by the Bruins in last October’s entry draft … The Maple Leafs placed Jumbo Joe Thornton (fractured rib) on long-term injured reserve on Friday, meaning he’ll be out for at least 10 games. In his 20-plus year career, the ex-Bruins pivot has been among the game’s most durable performers, missing but 100 of a possible 1,741 games (a 5.7 percent absentee rate). Thornton ranks No. 2 for games among current NHLers, a status he won’t lose even if he is forced to sit out the remainder of the season. Zdeno Chara ranked third at 1,557 as of Friday. Patrick Marleau is No. 1 (1,727 into weekend play with the Sharks) … Some things don’t change. To wit: Heading into Friday’s action, 13 NHLers had taken more than 80 faceoffs. Patrice Bergeron stood second among that group for win percentage (64.5), behind Team Canada pal Sidney Crosby (64.7).