Tag Archives: Patrice Bergeron

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

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

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

P.J. Axelsson, making the right play

Hockey card of P.J. AxelssonThe mid-2000s represented something of a revival for the Boston Bruins. Following the trade of Ray Bourque, two seasons removed from the playoffs and the mind-boggling decision to let Bill Guerin walk away for nothing, the team had settled into a groove and were establishing an identity.

Joe Thornton was installed as captain, and he centered two hard-working wings — Glen Murray and Mike Knuble. Murray was a sniper on the big side, using his size to get in position, find the net and fire them home, averaging 35 goals over a four-season stretch when offense in the NHL cratered. And on the left, Knuble was an unglamorous, yet highly efficient grinder who cleaned up all the garbage around the crease. He went into corners, crashed the net and plowed his way to 30 goals in 2002-03 and 21 more in 2003-04. The three of them were dubbed the “700 Pound Line,” and they sparked a real excitement with a fanbase desperate for something exciting.

Crashing that party, meanwhile, was P.J. Axelsson. Axelsson never topped 36 points in a season, didn’t fight often (though that did happen), hardly spent any time in the penalty box for a top-6 forward. And for a time, there were a number of fans who didn’t think he belonged anywhere near the top 6. Certainly, they weren’t pleased whenever Knuble was swapped out of Thornton’s top line for Axelsson. [1]

But he was essential to that group’s success. Throughout his 11 years with the Bruins, it could be argued that there was no smarter player than Axelsson on the roster. That hockey sense and willingness to make the right play bailed them out of more danger than he’d get credit for on the stat sheet, or from those in the balcony. Continue reading

When in doubt, turn to hockey

Hockey cards of Boston Bruins players spread out on display

I was trying to think earlier: when was the last time I knew for sure that I would be home, all day, every day?

Throw out any year beyond college, since I’ve been thankfully employed for that time. That’s five days a week, minimum, where I know I have to leave the house. College, too, included classes for nine months, and by then I had friends and a part-time job, so even the summers were spoken for.

The friend aspect was lesser in high school, and even middle school, but there were still some days during the summers then — maybe a Friday or Saturday here and there — where I’d have plans and get to leave the house. This basically takes me to sixth grade and earlier, during the summer, sans friends, where I knew I’d be indoors, left to my own devices for entertainment.

I’m not 10 anymore, but I am home. I’m going to be home for some time, and there’s not much else to do. So forgive me if I revert to some pre-teen tendencies, like playing with hockey cards. Continue reading