Nothing might underscore the Bruins’ appreciation for the United States college game better than how their man-game totals broke down for the 2017-18 regular season.
To wit, man games for the following categories:
Players with Division 1 NCAA experience: 823 games.
Players with Canadian junior experience: 531 games.
Players solely with European experience: 207 games.
Indeed, things have changed dramatically from the days when Bob Miller, proud son of the University of New Hampshire Wildcats, was somewhat the anomaly as an ex-college kid wearing the Spoked-B, joined only his rookie year by fellow Spoked-B collegians Peter McNab, Mike Milbury, and Ron Grahame.
In Miller’s rookie season of 1977-78, the Bruins’ breakdown was:
Canadian junior: 1,113 games.
NCAA: 275 games.
European: 15 games, all from Matti Hagman.
Al Iafrate, among the most talented Americans to make it to the NHL, fast-tracked to the Maple Leafs’ lineup as an 18-year-old, after only a one-year primer with the 1984 US Olympic team and 10 junior games with OHL Belleville.
Had he to do it all over again, Iafrate said during a telephone interview the other day, he likely would have chosen the same path. But he nonetheless laments the fact now that he doesn’t have a college degree, one he might have earned had he chosen to take up Ron Mason’s offer to play at Michigan State during the Spartans’ heyday.
Nearly a decade spent in businesses related to the production of hockey sticks, more than half of those employed by Warrior, opened Iafrate’s eyes to what life is like in the business world without a college degree.
“A great business lesson,” said Iafrate, 52, who planned to be at the Garden Saturday night for Game 2 of the playoffs between his Leafs and his Bruins. “I learned that in corporate America, without a degree, you’re really limited in how far you can go. That’s the lesson, I guess — stay in school and get the degree, man.”
Nonetheless, as Iafrate’s case illustrates, it’s not always as clear cut for, say, kids who have a legit shot at being among the top 5-10 first-round draft picks in a given year. An uber talent on defense, the Planet was picked No. 4 overall by the Leafs in June 1984 and found himself that October manning a Blue and White back line with the likes of Jim Benning, Borje Salming, Gary Nylund, and Bob McGill. His game certainly didn’t need time to incubate in college hockey.
But that’s the exception, even in today’s game with clubs more eager to push teenagers into varsity lineups as a means of coping with salary-cap limitations. Far more typically, the kid drafted at 18, if he ever makes it, probably won’t pull on a varsity NHL sweater until age 22 or 23. So today, with three-plus decades of wisdom baked in, Iafrate figures most kids are better off tracking through college.
“I went the other way, obviously, and that’s not easy, either,” he said. “But for the grind most kids go through, heck, why not go the college route and have something in your hip pocket to fall back on, something to prepare you for something else, whenever the time comes?”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, a first-round pick of the Blackhawks in 1983, recently said much the same thing. He had numerous college offers, including looks from some of the top Boston-area programs, but opted for the junior route at age 17. Had he not been pegged as a first-rounder, he said, the college track would have been the wiser decision.
“It prepares you better for life, I think,” said Iafrate. “And I’m saying that as someone who didn’t do it, obviously. But I’ve worked a lot with kids over the years, talked to kids, talked to their parents, and I just think it makes the most sense.”
Often the most alluring aspect of junior hockey, noted Iafrate, is the carrot of playing an expanded schedule without the added burden of the classroom. He remains an advocate of game experience, believing that his amateur days with Compuware in Detroit — with teammates Alfie Turcotte and Kevin Hatcher — went a long way in shaping his game.
“I bet we played at least 100 games together one year in midget hockey,” Iafrate recalled. “And I don’t care who you are, nothing makes you better than playing. But again, some of these young kids head off to junior because they’re told they’re going to play a lot right away. Often they don’t. So are they better being in junior, sitting in a press box and watching games, or better in college, playing a lot and getting their degree? Seems obvious, right?”
After 10 years, life in the stick-manufacturing business “ran its course,” said Iafrate. He recently obtained his real estate license and he’s a residential broker in Plymouth, Mich., next to his hometown of Livonia. Out of the game now for 20 years, he’s still recognized by some of his clients as the former NHL defenseman with the powerful skating stride and booming slapper.
“This is the Detroit area, Hockeytown, right?” he said. “So let’s put it this way, a lot more people would know me if I’d played for the Red Wings. It’s like when you play for the Bruins, you’re a Bostonian. And what I loved about being in Boston was, if you’re not a Bruin, then they want a piece of you. Toronto and Boston fans are the best in the world.”
A prediction on the Bruins-Leafs series?
“No comment,” said the Planet.
One of only 126 players to play for both franchises, Iafrate on Saturday night in the Garden had his choice to sit with Bruins alums or Leafs alums. A man torn.
“Not sure about that,” he said, asked if he would sit with the sinners or the saints at the Garden. “I’ll have to check out the food first.”
Lucic couldn’t keep up the pace
Only one word for Milan Lucic’s second season in Edmonton: awful.
The ex-Bruins power forward, once the most menacing presence in the NHL, looked dial-up s-l-o-w all season and barely could buy himself a spot on the scoresheet. Final line: 82 games, 10-24—34. And the big fella is on the books for five more years at a whopping $6 million per.
“I felt like I let a lot of my teammates down,” said the hulking Lucic as he and his Oil buddies cleaned out their lockers last Sunday.
Lucic’s game was descending in his final two years with Boston, well before general manager Don Sweeney broomed him out to Los Angeles in the summer of 2015. Lucic agreed late into his tour here in the Hub of Hockey that he found it difficult to reach his A-game if he wasn’t playing in an emotional pique. For Looch, that meant fight-induced rage.
And in a league that has all but turned sweet science into lost art, it’s impossible to imagine him ever getting angry enough, even on a twice-a-month-basis, to deliver at Full Looch Level.
“I’m not happy or even proud with the way I played,” said Lucic.
If there is a way back, and it looks like a small window of opportunity for the 6-foot-3-inch left wing heavyweight, it will be to trim some 12-15 pounds this summer and report to camp with his head fixed on being a fleet-footed crash and banger.
He doesn’t have the speed to keep up with Connor McDavid, which is to say he is in a group with everyone else in the NHL. Of all of McDavid’s talents, his most unique is that he can maintain his skill package while playing at top-end speed.
Lucic will be 30 when he reports to camp. He is durable, having only missed one game in three years since being deported from Causeway Street. Age and game-to-game endurance remain on his side.
“I’ve always found a way to come back even stronger, and that’s basically where my head is at heading into the offseason,” Lucic told the Edmonton media. “There are definitely ways to bounce back, but it’s all on me to do that. I am not giving up on myself or this team.”
Hard not to root for Lucic. He was a huge fan favorite in Boston, his No. 17 Bruins sweater a No. 1 seller league-wide for much of his time here, particularly when he was rolling up career highs of 62 and 61 points in back-to-back seasons and beating down anyone nuts enough to challenge him.
When he did fight, he often did so with frightening, intoxicating fury, and his big hits along the wall shook the entire house. It’s entirely possible we’ll never see that again from him, and an equal bet the game won’t see anyone deliver like him again in a game that, quite frankly, ran too fast this season for him to catch.
“With me,” Lucic said, “it’s about trying to get with the times and adjusting to the way the league is going.”
Sedins have a lot to be proud of
The NHL will be hard pressed to find a classier brother duo, twins or otherwise, than Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who called it a career last weekend at age 37 after logging a combined 2,636 games and 2,111 points.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who helped deny the Swedish twins the Stanley Cup in 2011, saw plenty of them over his career, in both the NHL and international play.
“It’s pretty amazing what they were able to accomplish,” said Chara, whose charge often was to keep the duo from creating in Boston’s defensive zone. “With their skills and vision, you know, without even having to look at each other, they changed the whole aspect of the cycle game.”
The twins also instituted a change in the power-play attack, noted Chara, with Henrik backing away from the crease in the slot and providing far-out tips of Daniel’s feeds off the half-wall.
“They were the first ones to use that play,” said Chara. “So credit to them. It’s pretty amazing that they both were able to reach 1,000 points and over 1,000 games. A pretty amazing career for both of them and I wish them the best in their lives after hockey.”
They’ve come a long way
Defenseman Shea Theodore scored the winning goal, and the only goal, in the Golden Knights’ 1-0 trimming of the Kings in Game 1 of their series. A former first-round draft pick (Anaheim, No. 26, 2013), Theodore and Bruins rookie Danton Heinen were born less than a month apart and grew up in adjacent towns in British Columbia.
“I was watching that,” said Heinen, his Bruins off Wednesday night and Heinen able to watch the broadcast of the Knights’ opener. “That was pretty cool to see.”
Theodore, at age 16, headed off to junior hockey with WHL Seattle. A later bloomer, Heinen played lower-tier junior in British Columbia and then chose the college route, enrolling at the University of Denver as a 19-year-old freshman, just weeks after the Bruins selected him 116th overall in the 2014 draft.
“We played on a couple of teams together back home, spring hockey and that stuff,” said Heinen, who grew up Langley, with Theodore in Aldergrove. “We were on the same teams till about 12. Then I played against him in midget and we skate together back home in summers.”
Opening night playoff oddity: Penguins drub Flyers, 7-0, and in a winning cause, ex-Bruin Phil Kessel goes 0-0—0 and lands zero shots on net . . . Another ex-Bruin, Joe Morrow, knocked home the winner in Winnipeg’s 3-2 trimming of the Wild in Game 1. JoMo left the Hub as an unrestricted free agent after last season, hitched on with the Canadiens for the NHL minimum $650,000, then was moved to the Jets at the trade deadline for a fourth-round pick in this June’s draft.
In Vegas this season, ex-Bruin goaltender Malcolm Subban finished with a better winning percentage (.737) in his 19 decisions than Marc-Andre Fleury (.674) in his 46 decisions. A couple of injuries sidelined Subban for the better part of two months, but the former first-round pick is back now as Fleury designated backup for the playoffs . . . Bruins netminding prospect Jeremy Swayman, picked No. 111 in last June’s draft, finished his freshman year at Maine as the Black Bears’ workhorse, going 15-12-3 with a .921 save percentage. He won the No. 1 job over Weymouth’s Rob McGovern, a 6-foot-4-inch junior . . . Henrik Sedin, when asked by the Vancouver media about who would pick up the meal tab for teammates now that he and his brother are moving on: “I don’t know, there are a lot of cheap Canadians on this team.” . . . The Coyotes’ PR staff is pushing ex-Boston University standout Clayton Keller for Rookie of the Year (Calder) honors. But it looks from here like Islanders freshman Mathew Barzal, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2015 draft, will walk away with it. The dynamic Barzal led all rooks with 85 points (20 more than Keller at No. 2) and also topped the charts with 63 helpers. Winnipeg forward Kyle Connor led all rookies in goals with 31 . . . Champions are defined in many ways. Logan Boulet, one of the members of the Humboldt, Saskatchewan, junior team killed when their team bus collided with a tractor trailer, signed up to be an organ donor just weeks before the accident. At least six people received Boulet’s organs. There are some 4,500 Canadians in need of organs and hundreds die each year when no suitable matches are found . . . Ken Hitchcock’s resignation as Stars coach Friday was both a surprise and disappointment, particularly for those in the media. Hitch, sharp and engaging, was among the game’s best talkers and a media favorite throughout the Original 31. And bless his soul, he refused to play the “upper-body” and “lower-body” charade when detailing player injuries. Sometimes a wrenched knee is just a wrenched knee, and saying it would make everyone happy. Even adults . . . Brad Marchand going all smoochface on Leo Komarov in Game 1 of the Bruins-Leafs series might linger as long as the elbow Pat Quinn drilled into Bobby Orr’s noggin in the 1969 playoffs (we don’t let things go easily here). In Game 2 of that series at the old Garden, a stuffed dummy of Quinn, a noose around its neck, dangled from the second balcony. Now that’s an upper-body injury . . . In case you missed it, Fluto Shinzawa, curator of this space for the past three years, moved on last weekend as a charter member of The Athletic’s Boston venture. Stick salute to a good friend and colleague, whose eye from six stories above the ice surface is sharper than the NHL’s entire on-ice officiating crew.