Fourteen years to forever

Hockey card of Zdeno Chara

I’m fairly sure I was in my car, on the highway somewhere between Quincy and New Bedford, when I got a call from Mick Colageo and his message was simple, to-the-point and more than a little excited:

“They got Chara.”

If you’re not familiar, Mick is a hockey svengali and criminally underrated. He sees the game clearly, understands its nuances and can place it all in context, be it historical or present-day. If he was calling me and that excited, this was a tremendous moment.

I don’t know if even he could’ve seen what was to come: fourteen seasons as the captain of the Bruins, lifting the Stanley Cup and creating countless Paul Bunyan-esque folk tales along the way. Zdeno Chara has shown would-be goal scorers the door and sent anyone who dared to harass a Boston netminder into the fifth row. He’s blasted in goals from the blue line with terrifying velocity and, when given the chance, shown skill and poise with the puck. He’s logged hours and hours on the ice, extending shifts and keeping the wolves at bay when needed. He’s been the ultimate quiet leader, treating teammates young and old with respect and demonstrating exactly how much work was to be expected — and if anyone was ever able to hang in the gym longer than him, I never heard about it.

Through it all, there were moments where it felt like Chara would tower over the Boston blue line forever. If I had known even half of that was to come when he signed up, I’d have careened off the road. Continue reading

Listen to Doc

 

Why not Jaroslav Halak?

Hockey card of Jaroslav HalakThinking about the idea of the NHL’s dueling “bubbles,” the image I couldn’t get out of my head was that, best case scenario, this ends with a team getting the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman and celebrating to the echo of a nearly empty arena. No boos for the commissioner, not even the resigned gaze of those unfortunate fans who have to watch the visiting team hold the trophy aloft.

And because I’m not a player, my real issue with this was from the self-centered perspective of a fan — how is it going to feel watching a team win the championship in a vacant rink?

I don’t have an answer for that, and I won’t until this tournament winds down to a close some time in late September. But I do know, after watching the Bruins set the Carolina Hurricanes aside in five games, that I’m just about as invested as I ever am. I can’t go to a bar with friends to watch a game and I can’t even partake in the futile exercise of seeing how expensive playoff tickets are getting. Even the start times of these games — 11 a.m., 4 p.m., etc. — is messing with my equilibrium, nevermind the incongruous act of watching hockey in the middle of oppressive August heatwaves.

But I’m here, and I’m in, pretty much as deeply as I’m ever in. And while the Bruins are alive in the bubble, I’m in on Jaroslav Halak. Continue reading

Preparing for a fan-free Celtics experience

Basketball card of Kevin GarnettIn the midst of looking back on sports past, sports present is basically upon us. The NHL is packing up for the safer environment of Canada. MLS is down two teams but still moving forward with their tournament in Orlando. And their Florida neighbor, the NBA, is getting ready to figure out the end of its season and finalize seeding for the playoffs.

For someone who follows the Celtics, this is an especially intriguing period. Kemba Walker had been slowed by a knee injury when the coronavirus put a sudden halt to the season, just as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were continuing their respective coming-out parties — the latter shaping into one of the better two-way players in the game, the former solidifying into a deadly scorer. With all these guys reasonably healthy, this could be an engaging run for Boston.

It’s still going to be weird, though. All the games will be played on a uniform court for the benefit of ESPN’s cameras but without fans. And it’s not hard to think about how long this is all going to last, and when some sense of normalcy returns to the game.

With that, I thought ahead to next season, when the Celtics are planning to retire Kevin Garnett’s number, and hopefully doing so safely in front of 18,000 cheering fans in the Garden.

Continue reading

It was impossible to ignore Jarome Iginla’s genius

Hockey card of Jarome Iginla

There’s so much nuance to hockey that it can sometimes take a while watching a player before any inherent greatness becomes obvious. Watch Pavel Datsyuk or Jonathan Toews for the first time, for example, and their overall prowess might not stand out if they’re not putting the puck in the back of the net.

That was not the case for Jarome Iginla. Watch any game, and his virtuosity seemed to jump off the ice immediately.

I covered Iginla’s first game in Boston as a member of the Bruins. My memory — that he had a somewhat shaky first shift, followed by a dominating second swing through the ice — was confirmed by a column I wrote that night. He lined up on the right wing alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and from that shift on, he was a powerhouse. He didn’t score a goal, but it was impossible to ignore his impact on the game.

He would score 30 goals as a 36-year-old, tying Patrice Bergeron for the team lead, and was a rock on that top line. He more than filled the gap vacated by Nathan Horton and was a tremendous cog on a team that won the President’s Trophy. And with this week’s news that he’s earned induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in his first year of eligibility, it seems like a good time to look back on that single season in black and gold. Continue reading