Haggerty: Rock solid third line readying for postseason run

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Haggerty: Rock solid third line readying for postseason run

ANAHEIM, Calif. With Rich Peverley returning to action Sunday afternoon in Anaheim, Bruins coach Claude Julien had to take one unfortunate forward out of the lineup.

That forward ended up being Daniel Paille for a couple of different reasons: He hasnt been burning the world up offensively and the Bs coaching staff felt more comfortable playing Jordan Caron up on a top-six line if Peverley needed to be spelled for a shift or two.

One thing Julien wasnt going to touch was the incendiary third line, and the red-hot pieces comprising it. Once again the trio of Brian Rolston, Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot showed legs and skills as it produced a pair of goals in Bostons 3-2 win over the Ducks at the Honda Center.

Pouliot and Rolston provided the goals, with the 39-year-old former-and-current Bruins skater notching the game-winner, and theyve been seemingly doing that for the last two weeks. There was no way Julien was going to tamper with a forward combination that has put up 26 points and was a plus-23 over the last six games, and he loves what Rolston has brought to the table.

In fact, its looking more and more as if this will be Bostons third line when the Stanley Cup dance begins in mid-April.

That line I wasnt going to break up with Peverley coming back, said Julien. Rolston certainly doesnt look his age and he doesnt play like his age. Hes always had good speed and a good shot. Right now he seems to be excited being with the team and playing here for us.

That line has been outstanding for us. Its pretty hard to break up a line thats been scoring for you every night. Those guys are building some very good chemistry right now.

While the more heralded top lines were busy getting used to their new combinations with Peverley fitting up with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, while Tyler Seguin skated with former linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic it was once again Bostons depth that proved to be the difference.

Its the same story as last years run to the Stanley Cup, but its the names that are different with Pouliot and Rolston coupled with the old standby in Kelly. The two-way center was at the heart of both scoring plays as he was moving the puck up the ice in transition and carrying it into the offensive zone.

On the first, Kelly slid a drop-back pass to Pouliot and the wiry winger buried a wrist-shot to the blocker-side while Kelly formed a screen in front of him. On the game-winner, Pouliot made a strong play along the wall and moved the puck up to a speeding Kelly in transition, with Kelly then feeding Rolston for a smoking one-timer. If the casual hockey observer didnt know any better, it would looks if the third line was actually Bostons top line ringing up points and scoring opportunities.

We had a pretty strong game," Rolston said. "Were getting opportunities and burying them and really enjoying some good chemistry right now. Kelly made two great plays on Pouliots goal and my goal. Then Pouliot made another great play on my goal.

We have tremendous depth . . . tremendous depth, were getting great goaltending and guys are holding each other accountable inside the dressing room in the right way. They care about each other tremendously and thats an important part of a winning hockey team. I recognized that quality right away.

For Rolston, the chance with Kelly and Pouliot has given him a chance to prove there is still something left in the tank, and thats pretty obvious while watching him glide and rifle one-timers past a world-class goaltender like Jonas Hiller. He had to play his way into shape after sitting on the shelf for the New York Islanders much of the season, but hes been a big-time catalyst for the Bruins since getting into the swing of things.

I had no question in my mind that I could contribute on a regular basis, but its about opportunity and getting the confidence, said Rolston, who has (3 goals, 8 assists) 11 points in his last six games. The coaching staff has shown a lot of confidence in me and that gives you confidence as a player, plain and simple. Ive produced in this league before and Im not over the hill yet.

It was once thought Peverley might just snap onto the third line when healthy, and perhaps Pouliot might be the odd-man out given his inconsistent performance throughout the season. But with only seven games left and players carving out their space in the playoff lineup, it looks like Bostons third line will stay as its currently constituted providing it can continue producing and protecting the puck.

It appears that once again as it was last season the Bruins third line is going to be a big contributing factor for them down the stretch and potentially into an anticipated long and productive playoff run.

As he steps aside temporarily, Tom Brady is ever the competitor

As he steps aside temporarily, Tom Brady is ever the competitor

FOXBORO – When Tom Brady got to the Patriots in 2000, he didn’t hand-wring about offending 28-year-old Drew Bledsoe, a three-time Pro Bowler who’d quarterbacked six NFL playoff games, including a Super Bowl.

Instead, the 199th overall pick had the gall to put Bledsoe on notice. Not that Bledsoe even seemed to notice. The first overall pick in 1993, Bledsoe couldn’t have felt too threatened by a sixth-round, part-time starter from Michigan with chubby cheeks, a bowl haircut and a soft, saggy physique.

But Brady’s aim was in plain sight. This from Charlie Pierce’s 2006 Brady biography called, Moving the Chains:

Brady reported for training camp that spring knowing the 2000 season was essentially going to be a redshirt year for him. He anticipated hardly any playing time but he determined to take the long view of his career. One evening, as he was leaving the team’s practice facility with a pizza under his arm, he ran into Robert Kraft, the team’s owner. Kraft is a billionaire businessman and he’s become one of the NFL’s most influential owners, but he’s also a fan, sometimes arguably to the point of public gaucherie. This day he was just leaving his office at about 7:45.

“So this skinny beanpole guy walks out and he comes up to me and he says, ‘Mr. Kraft? I’m Tom Brady. We haven’t met yet, but I’m the best decision this franchise has ever made.’

“And it was weird the way he said it, you know? It wasn’t like he was arrogant, but it was more like he was very confident. It was almost matter-of-fact the way he said it. I wasn’t offended at all.’

Adorable story. If it weren’t for the fact the maniac Brady believed what he said.

An accomplished high school baseball player, at the highly competitive Junipero Serra High School, who was drafted by the Expos, Brady eschewed both baseball and West Coast football. He wanted to prove himself against the very best in the country, he told me many years ago, and believed Michigan was where that would happen.

But Brady wound up buried on the depth chart when the Wolverines iced Gary Moeller, head coach when Brady came aboard, and replaced him with Lloyd Carr. After a bout of appendicitis left Brady 25 pounds lighter and Michigan started pursuing Drew Henson during Brady’s sophomore year, he wanted to transfer to Cal.

He sought counseling with Greg Harden, an associate AD and advice dispenser. Harden tough-loved Brady through it. By the time Brady got to Foxboro, he’d built up a pretty thick hide and had a far better understanding of what it was like to compete for a job than he had when he arrived at Michigan.

Meanwhile, here’s Bledsoe. Starting quarterback at Walla Walla High by the age of 16, christened the starter at Washington State in 1991 when he was 19 and two years later named the starter in New England. Never had an occasion arisen when Bledsoe was anything but the chosen one. So who could be surprised if Bledsoe didn’t perceive his job as being in any kind of jeopardy.

Bledsoe was a seal in a shark tank and didn’t even know it.

I asked Brady on Tuesday about the dynamic with Bledsoe when he arrived in 2000.

“That was a long time ago, but in college you have maybe a little bit of that [position competition],” Brady began. “That was probably right out of college where there are a lot of guys close to your age that you’re competing with, but you’re still real good friends with. Some of my best friends were Scot Loeffler, who is the offensive coordinator at BC [Boston College] now, and Brian Griese who has been a good friend of mine, and Jason Kapsner who was one of my buddies, Scott Dreisbach and Drew Henson. We were all friends. We played ping pong and we played pool together, but there was a healthy competition on the field too. We all wanted to play, but at quarterback, one guy gets to play. Then you get fresh out of college, and then I was probably – with Drew [Bledsoe], I was the same way. I used to hang out with Drew all the time. We played golf together; I’d be at his house for dinner.”

There was nothing Machiavellian about Brady announcing to the owner his intentions on rewriting Patriots history and then setting out to do it. It’s the way it’s supposed to be done. Brady, in actuality, was pretty damn forward about it. And Bledsoe accommodated.

“I was trying to learn a lot from Drew, and I learned a lot from Drew because he was such a phenomenal player and leader,” said Brady. “He was tough, disciplined. It meant so much to him. I think I learned a lot from him, I learned a lot from Damon [Huard], I learned a lot form John Friesz when I was first here. I think I used all those people as great examples because they were already pros. I had a lot to learn. I just came in, tried to do the best I could do with the experiences that I already had and then tried to transition those to a different level, a different caliber of playing, and just do the best I could do. It’s easy to do when you love what you do.”

It was Brady’s good fortune to join a team where the once-rising-star quarterback had plateaued and grown world-weary. And to have a head coach in Bill Belichick who not only loved to see players “establish their level of play” annually, but loathed seeing a sense of entitlement. It also didn’t hurt that Belichick had designed defenses that routinely made Bledsoe look inept from 1994 through 1999. 

The path for Brady was there. Bledsoe helped lay it out. Brady had the guts to take it.

All of this backstory to present you with the contemporary comparison between Tom Brady in 2000 and Jimmy Garoppolo in 2016.

If Garoppolo approached Robert Kraft in 2014 after Garoppolo was drafted and said that he would be the best decision the organization ever made, Kraft may have had Jimmy removed for the heresy.

And the nyuk-nyuks that Brady had with Drew – glitter in the AC vents! – weren’t happening with 37-year-old Tom Brady, who’d heard Belichick mention both Brady’s age and contract status when Garoppolo was drafted.

Garoppolo, unassuming, inarguably nice person from Eastern Illinois was now in the shark tank with Brady.

Brady played the first few weeks of that season in a barely controlled rage. After a loss in Kansas City when Jimmy looked delightful in late relief, Brady came back the next week, took his doubters by the metaphorical neck and – over the next few months – choked the life out of them.

Brady has never been more earnest and sincere in his support of Garoppolo than he was Tuesday.

But, as he approaches his month-long suspension, he also wears on his sleeve his love for the game. And it logically follows that he sees as a threat anyone who will be doing his job, whether that threat is reasonable or not.

“I’ve always been blessed to love this sport and love the preparation of this sport as much as I have. It really never feels like work because it’s always a learning experience. I’m still learning every day that I go out there. It’s always fresh when you start because there are always new players, always new schemes, always new plays, new situations to go over. That’s why there’s such a great – that’s why people love the sport. That’s why I love the sport, because it’s so challenging. It’s very humbling, too, because it’s incredibly difficult to perform at a high level every day,” said Brady.

“You’ve got to push yourself and find different ways to motivate yourself over the course of long periods of time,” Brady added, maybe giving a deeper glimpse into what helped him ratchet it up the past few seasons. “It’s easy if you just changed what you did every year. Everything would feel fresh all the time. But when you’ve been doing it for 17 years professionally, and then nine years, I’ve been doing it for 25 years, so I’ve got to keep finding ways to retool and learn and use things as motivation.”

Once, the motivation was easy. Win the job. Then it got harder. Win Super Bowls. Then even harder. Win like no one else has won. Finally, now, the cherry. Win longer and more often than anyone else has ever done. To ensure that happens, there will be no dropping of Tom Brady’s guard during this temporary changing of the guard. 

Top prospect Yoan Moncada will join Red Sox on Friday

Top prospect Yoan Moncada will join Red Sox on Friday

BOSTON - The Boston Red Sox have announced they will call up top prospect Yoan Moncada when rosters expand from the current 25-man limit.

Earlier Wednesday, Farrell wouldn't officially confirm the imminent promotion but hinted that the Red Sox appeared ready to call up their top prospect.

Farrell first noted that the Red Sox "need better production'' at third base, where both Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill have struggled mightily at the position.

Moncada, a natural second baseman, was shifted to third base earlier this month at Double A Portland. Moncada has a slash line of .285/.388/.547 with 11 homers and 27 RBI in 44 games.

Asked specifically about the potential of a call-up for Moncada, Farrell said: "We've talked about Yoan. And not just as a pinch-runner. It's an exciting young player, an extremely talented guy. There's all positive reviews and evaluations of him.

"When that major league experience is going to initiate, time will tell that. But in terms of playing the position of third base [in the big leagues], that conversation has been had.''

Previously, the Red Sox had resisted bringing Moncada to the big leagues, worried that he wouldn't be in the lineup often enough to continue his development. The Sox didn't want him to miss out on additional experience in the minors by playing only part-time in the majors.

But now that the minor league seasons are about to end -- Portland finishes Labor Day -- there's nothing in the minors for Moncada to miss.

"This is a different scenario than if it were July or early August,'' said Farrell. "The minor league season ends [soon], so is there benefit to him just being here? The answer to that is yes. Do you weigh playing 'X' number of games per week versus what he could be doing at Portland or Pawtucket? Well, that goes away [with the minor league regular seasons end].

"So, again, by all accounts, there's nothing but positives that could come out of experience here -- if that were to happen.''

 Moncada's promotion is similar to the one experience by Xander Bogaerts in 2013, who was brought up in the final week of August 2013 and remained with the club all the way through the end of the team's World Series run that fall, taking playing time from struggling third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

 "For those who have been around this team for a number of years,'' said Farrell, "teams that have had success have always had an injection of young players late in the season that have helped carry the team through the postseason. I think Yoan would be in a similar category to when Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], when Jake [Jacoby Ellsbury] came into the picture. And Andrew (Benintendi) is already here, so I wouldn't separate [Moncada] out from that at all.

"In fact, he's a direct comparison [to those cases].’’

Farrell agreed that the arrival of a young, highly-touted player can inject some energy into a team in the throes of a pennant race.

"Absolutely, there is,'' said Farrell. "You've got a newness element. You've got, likely, above-average speed. You've got athleticism. You've got the unknown across the field on how does a given [opposing] team attack a given guy.

"In the cases we've talked about, it has been beneficial to us for the young player to come up. They find a way to contribute in a meaningful role. "

Without saying that Moncada's promotion was a definite,  he said "there's a lot [of positives]going for it.''

Farrell also acknowledged that the Sox held internal discussions about how Moncada would be utilized, given that the switch-hitter has been far more productive from the left side of the plate.

"We've talked about what's strong side, how do you look to best ease him in, so to speak,'' said Farrell. "We thought that with Benintendi, how do we best ease him in. Well, he blew the doors off of that one [with his early success]. So, if it happens, and if begins here soon, you'll all be aware.''

Farrell said the reports of Moncada's transition to third base have been encouraging despite three errors in his first nine games there.

"He's shown good range, an above-average arm,'' said Farrell. "Where there will be ongoing work and continued development, just as there was at second base, is the ball hit straight at him. That's just pure technique and fundamental positioning with hands and feet.

"But as far as range to his glove side, moving to third base, that seemingly has not been that big of a challenge for him.''