Kelly to play in NHLPARBC Play Hockey charity game

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Kelly to play in NHLPARBC Play Hockey charity game

Aside from a quick stint in Switzerlands second division, Bruins center Chris Kelly has kept a fairly low profile during the NHL lockout. He never really reported to Boston to skate during informal practices, and hes largely kept to his home Ontario area where hes skated with other NHL exiles.

But Kelly will be front and center this week as hes one of more than 30 NHLPA members that will be taking part in the RBC Play Hockey Charity Challenge in Toronto on Wednesday night. The game will be played at the Mattamy Athletic Centre and will be led by RBC Play Hockey ambassadors Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban. Stamkos will captain Team Blue -- Kelly's team -- and Subban will captain Team White.

Team Stamkos will include Chris Kelly, Michael Del Zotto, Mike Komisarek, Niklas Kronwall, Dion Phaneuf, Kyle Quincey, Dan Cleary, Tim Connolly, B.J. Crombeen, Steve Downie, Clarke MacArthur, Matt Martin, James Neal, Teddy Purcell, Stamkos, David Steckel, Kris Versteeg, Wojtek Wolski, Jonas Gustavsson and Mike Leighton.

Team Subban includes Chris Campoli, Carlo Colaiacovo, Tomas Kaberle, John-Michael Liles, Subban, Brad Boyes, David Clarkson, Logan Couture, Phil Kessel, Tom Kostopoulos, Matthew Lombardi, Joffrey Lupul, Jay McClement, John Mitchell, Steve Ott, Peter Regin, Chris Stewart, Dan Winnik and Martin Biron.

Kelly recently wrapped up his stint with HC Red Ice in Switzerland and had nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) before playing in his final game on Nov. 30. Kelly is entering the first year of a four-year, 12 million contract extension with the Bruins signed right after NHL free agency opened last summer.

All proceeds from the game will benefit grassroots hockey causes through the NHLPA Goals & Dreams Fund and the RBC Play Hockey program. The NHLPA Goals & Dreams fund is the largest grassroots hockey assistance program in the world. Founded in 1999, NHLPA Goals & Dreams has contributed over 21 million to grassroots hockey programs and related causes in more than 30 countries. Through the donation of equipment grants, the program has given more than 60,000 deserving children the opportunity to play hockey and benefit from the sports commitment to teamwork, discipline and physical fitness.

RBC Play hockey is one of the largest corporately funded hockey programs that supports grassroots hockey in communities across North America and has provided more than 1.5 million in grants to over 120 hockey programs.

All signs point to Rodriguez returning to rotation Sunday, Buchholz to bullpen

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All signs point to Rodriguez returning to rotation Sunday, Buchholz to bullpen

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It won't be made official until Thursday, but all signs point to Eduardo Rodriguez returning to the Red Sox' starting rotation Sunday night against the Kansas City Royals.

That, in turn, should also result in Clay Buchholz going back to the bullpen after three spot starts recently.

Rodriguez, who pulled himself out of his last scheduled start Sunday in Detroit when he wasn't confident that he could compete with a strained left hamstring, threw a three-inning simulated game Tuesday and emerged from that session convinced that he was heading toward a return to the rotation.

But just to make sure, the Sox want Rodriguez to test himself physically Thursday morning before the Sox complete their road trip with a game here Thursday afternoon.

"He went through some aggressive long toss today,'' said John Farrell of Rodriguez, "and came out that feeling fine, no restrictions in the hamstring. We'll take this each work day at a time. Once we get through tomorrow, we'll have a little bit more clarity going forward.''

Buchholz threw 94 pitches while allowing a run on five hits over 6 1/3 innings Tuesday night, so he wouldn't be available out of the bullpen for a few days.

"He's going to need a couple of days down regardless,'' noted Farrell.

 

Bruins don't poll well in latest New England Sports survey

Bruins don't poll well in latest New England Sports survey

It’s no secret Bruins fans are getting fed up with a hockey team in decline, one that’s missed the playoffs each of the last two years. Now there are numbers to prove it.

Channel Media and Market Research, Inc. came out with its annual New England Sports survey,  tabulating responses from over 14,600 polled, and, according to the numbers, the Bruins are dropping in popularity, fan support and faith in the current management group.

The B’s are holding somewhat steady with 16 percent of voters listing them as their “favorite sports team” behind the Patriots (46 percent) and Red Sox (29 percent) while ahead of the Celtics and Revolution. Claude Julien also ranked ahead of John Farrell among the big four teams in the “coaches/manages most admired” category.

But after sitting at a relative high of ranking at 27 percent for “ownership performance” in 2014 -- they year after their trip to the Cup Finals against the Blackhawks -- the Bruins now rank dead last in that category at 2 percent, behind the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and even the Revolution. Ouch, babe.

Also sitting at a lowly 2 percent is Bruins president Cam Neely in the “leadership performance” category. In "management performance," Neely has dropped from a solid 49 percent in 2014 to just 16 percent in this summer’s survey.

So B’s fans are clearly upset with a team that traded away Tyler Seguin, Johnny Boychuk, Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, and has featured a decimated defense corps for each of the last two seasons. But do the B’s fans think that things are getting any better with prospects coming down the pipeline?

Not really.

In the “which team has done the best job making its product better.” category, the Patriots (35 percent) and Red Sox (31 percent) were resting at the top, with the Celtics (27 percent) a respectable third. The Bruins limped in at just 4 percent with a fan base that very clearly sees that, on paper, this upcoming season’s club doesn’t appear to be much better than last year's.

On top of that, only 13 percent of those surveyed believe the Bruins have gotten better over the last year, and 52 percent believe they’ve just gotten worse. A lowly 3 percent of those surveyed think the Bruins have the best chance of the five teams to bring a world championship back to Boston; the Patriots (79 percent), Red Sox (11 percent) and Celtics (5 percent) all ranked higher.

Finally, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Hayes were at the top of the list of the Boston athletes “who did not meet expectations” last season. None of that is a surprise, given the state of Boston’s defense along with Hayes’ subpar season.

The good news for the Bruins: They still have a passionate fan base. But they need to start reversing course immediately before they do lasting damage to the B’s brand.

Gronkowski returns to practice; Mason, Branch still missing

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Gronkowski returns to practice; Mason, Branch still missing

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had a welcome face back on the practice field on Wednesday, as tight end Rob Gronkowski returned to action after missing the team's previous five practices as he dealt with an injury. 

Gronkowski participated in the warmup period of practice and then remained with the majority of his teammates for drills. 

The last time Gronkowski was spotted on the field was last Monday, which was the first of three joint practices between the Patriots and the Bears. He pulled up after pursuing a Tom Brady pass, walked along the sideline, met with head trainer Jim Whalen, and then left practice early. He did not suit up for Thursday's game against Chicago. 

Gronkowski has not participated in a preseason game since 2012. 

Patriots not spotted at Wednesday's practice were Shaq Mason, Jonathan Cooper, Sebastian Vollmer (on the physically unable to perform list) and Dion Lewis (also on PUP). Alan Branch, who has been suspended by the team before last week's preseason game, was also missing. 

Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Malcolm Mitchell, Shea McClellin, Tre' Jackson (PUP) and Danny Amendola (PUP) were present for warmups but went to a lower field for conditioning. Amendola and Jackson were not in pads for the short-and-shells session. 

Jon Bon Jovi was taking in the session alongside Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft.