DENVER — The Bruins, deep into a nine-day, four-city road trip, canceled Wednesday’s practice. The rest was no doubt good for Matt Grzelcyk.
The defenseman was hurting after absorbing a Valentin Zykov wrister off his left foot in his first shift of Tuesday’s 4-3 win in Vegas. He returned to finish the game, and while coach Bruce Cassidy said afterward that “X-rays were negative,” it’s likely Grzelcyk, though not broken, was plenty bruised.
If he can’t play Thursday against the Avalanche, Steven Kampfer will be ready. He would have been regardless.
Kampfer, the Bruins’ extra defenseman, has not played this season. Speaking early last week, Cassidy wasn’t sure when he would get him in the lineup.
“Right now we like our D corps, him included,” Cassidy said. “I suspect he’ll get in there in due time. Hopefully that’s not the case, but just the way it is.”
Kampfer, 31, is pragmatic about his situation. He could hold a regular third-pair job on a less powerful team. But he wants to get his name on the Stanley Cup, and re-signing with the Bruins for two years and $1.6 million after last year’s run ended was the best way to keep chasing the prize.
While the Bruins’ top defensive prospects — Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, and Jeremy Lauzon — bake in Providence, Kampfer gives the Bruins a steady hand. He has the supportive, enthusiastic attitude that helps him contribute, even at the fringe of the lineup.
“We’re playing so well,” he said. “You can’t be mad as a player when the team’s winning. You just stay ready and when the opportunity comes, you’ve got to hit the ground running.”
He did that in May, tapped for duty when Charlie McAvoy was suspended for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. In his second career playoff game, Kampfer scored the opening goal of the series. He got in once the rest of the way, in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
With Kevan Miller (knee) and John Moore (shoulder) still far from returning, Kampfer is an excellent fit for his role. He understands and appreciates it, especially since he once asked to be traded from the Bruins, after his days as a black ace during the 2011 playoffs. Knee injuries and stints with Minnesota, Florida, and the Rangers made him appreciate the stability and success of the Bruins.
Not all players would accept the role the Bruins handed him.
Kampfer is often late off the practice ice, bag-skating to keep up his wind and legs. He takes extended target practice with whichever of the Bruins’ two goalies needs extra work. He fills in elsewhere as needed; at Tuesday’s morning skate, his defense partner for a few drills was rehabbing forward Joakim Nordstrom, who was trying to get in a few reps. Kampfer has regular chats with defensive assistant Kevin Dean, informing him what he sees from the top floor of the arena.
He spends a lot of his workday visualizing game situations, anticipating how he would react. It’s good practice.
“I went 31 games last year without playing,” Kampfer said. “Then I stepped in and played. The guys in the locker room are relying on you and you’re relying on the guys. Everyone picks each other up.”
A little mystery
Cassidy did not name a starting goalie for Thursday’s game against the Avalanche, who are 2-0-0 after home wins over the Flames and Wild. Nathan MacKinnon and Co. will come to Boston on Dec. 7 . . . The Bruins had practice ice booked at Joy Burns Arena at the University of Denver. That’s where Danton Heinen went to the 2016 Frozen Four with then-coach Jim Montgomery, now with Dallas . . . Colorado Springs-bred Brandon Carlo didn’t get a chance to play here last year, but the defenseman was excited to head home. “A lot of family and friends still in Colorado, driving up from the Springs, and a lot of buddies who are finished college but are still in Denver,” he said of the expected crew. “Not sure how many will be there. This year I’m kind of starting to let everybody else figure out the ticket situation.” Carlo, who last year assumed duties as the Bruins’ NHLPA rep after Adam McQuaid was dealt to the Rangers (for Kampfer, incidentally), is learning another side of the hockey business. Last year he bought a place close to downtown Denver. But since he can’t use it during the season, he rented it out to Colorado’s skating coach.