After being called up to fill in for the injured Jakub Zboril last Saturday against the Lightning, defenseman Jack Ahcan got Bruins fans buzzing on Twitter as much for his handle as his impressive debut.
His name of choice, “LilUziAkon,” is a mashup of mid-aughts pop-rap hitmaker-turned-entrepreneur Akon and present day trap-punk star Lil Uzi Vert.
It traces back to his college days at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, and part of the reason was that people kept mispronouncing his last name
“In college, a bunch of my roommates did it,” Ahcan said. “My last name is Ahcan. Nobody really gets it, so ‘Akon’ is what a lot of guys called me in college.
“The Lil Uzi part, he’s a rapper. I don’t even really listen to him that much, I just kind of clicked with it. I saw a few things on Twitter that people either liked it or hated. I didn’t really have an opinion on it, really, but that’s kind of funny.”
Despite the Bruins’ 3-2 loss in overtime to the Lightning, Ahcan made an impression beyond social media. After the team called on the 24-year-old in a pinch, acting head coach Joe Sacco praised him for moving the puck, playing well in transition, and making plays at the blue line.
“He played more to his identity as a player,” Sacco said. “We talked with Jack before about what he needed to do and it was play his game.
“He’s a guy that transitions the puck well. He can jump up in the play at the right time and try to create some offense for us off the rush on our attacks. And also be good at the offensive blue line, that’s another area he can help us.”
Ahcan worked 22 shifts over 15 minutes and had Sacco’s complete trust while he was on the ice.
“He was competitive, didn’t seem out of place, last game anyway against a good hockey club, so it was a good game for Jack,” Sacco said.
Achan played three games with the Bruins last season, hardly getting settled in three separate one-game stints. But he has excelled this season with the Providence Bruins, with 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists). He came away from his NHL regular-season debut encouraged.
“It was awesome,” Ahchan said. “Kind of getting in a few times last year [was] a little scrambly, and then getting back at it this year was pretty sweet. I just tried to keep it simple at the start.
“It had been a while since I’d skated or been up with the Bruins, and like I said, I just tried to keep it simple, move pucks up and down the ice, and I felt good out there.”
Calling in sick
Matt Grzelcyk, Charlie Coyle, Tomas Nosek, and Linus Ullmark all missed practice with non-COVID illnesses.
Sacco said the team will reevaluate them Tuesday.
The Bruins adjusted their travel plans to give the sick players more time to recover. Rather than leaving Monday for a three-game swing through Western Canada, they will travel Tuesday.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy is still in COVID protocol after testing positive last week. His symptoms have dissipated and he is feeling better, so it’s just a matter of going through the protocol.
Sacco said there were no immediate plans to have Cassidy join the team for the three-game trip.
“That’s more of a day-by-day scenario right now,” Sacco said.
Patrice Bergeron also missed practiced, given a maintenance day after getting his nose reset. It was broken last week in the win over the Predators. Sacco said Bergeron is expected to practice Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Charlie McAvoy, who missed Saturday’s game against Tampa, skated on his own during Monday’s practice.
Rask joins in
The practice got an unexpected jolt when Tuukka Rask suited up and stepped between the pipes.
Rask underwent offseason hip surgery and has occasionally come to work out at Warrior Ice Arena throughout his rehab.
“It was good to see him,” Sacco said. “Brings the excitement level up a little bit there for the boys, so yes, it’s good to see him out there.”
Rask, 34, isn’t under contract with the Bruins, but the team has left the door open for a possible return. Sacco stopped short of saying Rask looked ready.
“Just by watching him, he looked good,” Sacco said. “I can’t tell as far as how close he is or not, but certainly looks good out there. I think he had some fun, and I know the guys were excited to see him out there too.”
Brad Marchand said some things never change about Rask.
“It’s always fun having him out there,” Marchand said. “It’s incredibly frustrating shooting on him. You try to shoot as hard as you can and he just makes it look so simple. He’s a gifted, talented goalie. It’s great to see him out there again.
“I think, obviously, Tuuks is one of the best goalies to play, during our time anyway. So him coming back, if he’s ready to play, that’s obviously great for the group. But we have two great goalies that regardless of who goes in every night we have to do our job.”
Staying out of it
Marchand had to serve a three-game suspension for slew-footing, but as multiple instances circulate of Devils defenseman P.K. Subban doing the same thing with little recourse, Marchand is taking the high road.
“I don’t really focus on that,” he said. “It’s not my job to decide who should be punished for which play.”
Marchand acknowledged the three-game ban might have been a result of his track record with disciplinary issues.
“I know that I have a history that kind of gets me,” he said. “I have a lot shorter leash than maybe some guys. I guess I kind of put that on myself.
“Would I trade that leash to be the player I was and not the player I am now? Absolutely not. It kind of comes with the territory. All that stuff allowed me to kind of get where I am today.”
He refuses to dwell on whether he’s being treated the same as other players around the league.
“I’ve gone down that road before, and it’s not a good road to go down,” he said.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.