Lucic, Krejci ready to lead with Ference gone

Lucic, Krejci ready to lead with Ference gone
June 27, 2013, 11:45 am
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Milan Lucic was at Team Canada's orientation camp and was able to update his status.

(USA Today Sports Images)

BOSTON – When a player that wears an ‘A’ on his sweater moves on as Andrew Ference did on Wednesdaymorning, it represents a lot more significance than the simple run-of-the-mill offseason transaction for a hockey team.

The Bruins defenseman was a dependable, bellwether-type player for the Black and Gold that brought to the table a passionate approach to hockey, an underrated feistiness and an incredibly important willingness to stand up for his teammates.

They were all qualities that made him perfectly suited for the Bruins. They are qualities that also made Ference a perfect longtime leader in the Boston dressing room for the last seven years as the B’s went from Northeast Division doormat to perennial Stanley Cup contender.

The leadership component is where the 34-year-old defenseman will be missed most of all with youngsters like 22-year-old Torey Krug and 24-year-old Matt Bartkowski poised to fill his spot in the Bruins lineup. Nobody knows that more than his defensemen partner in the playoffs over the last three postseasons, who enjoyed a great postseason with Ference until Dave Bolland scored the game-winning goal in Game 6 with each of them on the ice.

“I’ve played with [Ference], and he’s been my partner I think for every playoff run that we’ve had. It’s going to be different, I guess,” said Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “There’s going to be guys that have to try to step up and fill what he’s been doing the last couple years. He’s a great guy and I wish him the best because he’s been part of this team. You’ll never forget a guy like that.”

So with Ference surrendering the ‘A’ on his Bruins sweater as he walks out the door for a different NHL employer next season, there is very clearly a vacancy among the leadership group.

That job opening will need to be filled by the Black and Gold, and there’s no doubt it will be an internal solution. It’s unlikely that his youthful successor on the ice is going to be a dressing room leader in their first couple of years, and it’s impossible to replace the 120 playoff games of experience, the three Stanley Cup Finals appearances and the experience that comes along with 13 years in the NHL.

Nobody will be able to exactly replicate the Ference leadership role, but the absence will force some of the younger Bruins players to continue stepping up into budding leadership positions. Clearly Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly and Shawn Thornton are ensconced as the leadership group with the Bruins dressing room, and guys like Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Dennis Seidenberg play secondary leadership roles.

But it’s also time for the new generation of Bruins leaders to step up and take ownership of the team.

The Bruins already started to witness this transformation during the playoffs as David Krejci and Milan Lucic helped carry the team to the Stanley Cup Final, both on and off the ice. Krejci has been the picture of excellence in the postseason throughout his career, and is coming off the most consistent regular season of his NHL career.

Lucic, meanwhile, was the physical and emotional driving force behind the Game 7 comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and is the ultimate emotional tone-setter for the Black and Gold.

“[David Krejci], I thought, was an impact player this playoffs. I thought his wingers really helped him. That line has to be all as one to really be effective, and I think when it is it’s the best line in hockey,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “I think what you saw [in the playoffs], it was the best line in hockey. What I can take away from these playoffs with respect to Looch [Milan Lucic] is, I just go back to that Toronto game.

“He passed it to [Nathan] Horton for the goal, and then he came behind the bench and the way he said it, delivered his message to the bench: ‘There’s one, boys. [We] got a couple more to go.’ That, to me, that speaks to the leadership. I’ve been on the bench before with stuff like that said. Claude [Julien], obviously you were there. I think it just raises the level. He was a man among boys in that game. He had a real good playoff.”

That is the kind of stuff that leaders are made out of, and it’s a role Lucic has always been comfortable with throughout his hockey past. He was the captain of his Memorial Cup junior hockey team with the Vancouver Giants, and he’s always been remarkable for the mature approach to his NHL responsibilities starting as a teen-aged rookie in the NHL straight out of junior hockey.

Now Lucic and Krejci will pass on the knowledge and experience they’ve accumulated through a remarkably successful six-year run with the Bruins in Boston. As the names and sweaters change for the Bruins because of the salary cap era, Lucic and Krejci are among the constants in Boston that aren’t going anywhere.  

“It’s something I think I’ve always tried to be, but when you start out you’re one of the younger guys on a veteran team,” said Lucic. “Now I’ve been in the league for six years, and the young guys are players like Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. You want to do whatever you can to take that leadership role, and teach those guys all the things you were taught by the guys that came before you.

“We’ve built a really good culture in here with the winning culture that we’ve created. As you get older you want to do whatever you can to try to sustain that culture and the winning tradition inside this locker room.”

Krejci is a bit more of an underrated presence in the Bruins dressing because he speaks softly and carries a big scoring stick when the big moments arrive in the playoffs. The center might be not be the first choice for a “rah-rah” speech between periods, but Krejci sets an expectation for intensity and approach that’s felt throughout the rest of the team.

It’s no coincidence that Krejci was the first player to utter the word “love” in association with the feeling of family and tightness that a unique group of Bruins players feel with one another. He always speaks his mind regardless of the aftermath, and that is a tremendously necessary component in an NHL dressing room where honesty can sometimes be curbed by respect and politeness.  

He’s now twice led all NHL players in points during the playoffs, and always knows when it’s time to turn the intensity dial up a few notches. It was also Krejci that took the Game 6 loss the hardest in the postgame locker room, sitting at his locker stall and staring straight ahead in equal parts shock and disappointment.

The creative, playmaking center does it in an understated way, but he’s one of the most competitive players on the Bruins roster and consistently expects greatness out of himself in the big moments.

Those two are the standouts among the younger leadership group with the Bruins, and also the two leading candidates should Claude Julien be on the lookout for the next player to don an ‘A’ on the shoulder of their jersey. It remains to be seen what the Bruins will do, but players like Lucic and Krejci guarantee that the Bruins are in good hands as Ference passes the baton to a younger group of B’s skaters.