Whitfield doing well in 'Crash Davis' role with P-Bruins

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Whitfield doing well in 'Crash Davis' role with P-Bruins

Trent Whitfield knows he must be doing something right.

The 35-year-old pro hockey veteran is starting his fourth season in the Bruins organization as a borderline AHLNHL player that provides leadership and experience at the AHL level, and gives the Bruins good veteran injury insurance at the NHL level if something should compromise their center depth. That makes him a valuable commodity to a Bruins organization that keeps bringing him back to set an example for the young wave of players.

In fact Bs assistant general manager Don Sweeney said it had a palpable negative effect on the P-Bruins younger players last season when Whitfield went down with a concussion.

Part of our trouble last year in Providence was that he was hurt for a long period of time and wasnt allowed to show other players his professionalism on a regular basis, said Sweeney. The year before when he returned so quickly from Achilles surgery that was a huge testament to him, and other guys need to see how hard he works to come back. When you lose a veteran presence like that, and Jamie Tardif falls into that category as well, those things are hard to overcome.

When youre at a developmental level like the AHL with young players, you need your veteran guys to be the first one through the door for practice and working the hardest. It sets the precedence for everybody else.

The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Saskatchewan native isnt going to post another 33-goal and 78-point season for Providence like he did with the Peoria Rivermen back in the 2006-07 season in a career AHL season. Whitfield clearly knows that, but he can apply the Bs organizations principles of playing responsible two-way hockey on the ice. More importantly he can show young forwards like Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight how to prepare for an 80-plus game season like a professional.

Little things like what to eat, how much sleep to get and how to ensure consistent performance despite crazy AHL travel schedules are lessons learned over time, and they are things that Whitfield has mastered at this point. That includes keeping focus on the task at hand when something like a lockout could easily become a distraction.

The lack of an NHL training camp was disappointing for me, but it was probably even more so for the younger guys that have only been once or twice if at all, said Whitfield. In essence this whole first half of the AHL season or however long it takes for the NHL to get-going it a big tryout period for guys.

When the season starts up theyre going to be looking for guys from this league, and individual players need to keep their eyes on it. It makes me feel good that Ive done things right during my career: Ill give guys a boost when they need it and Ill also give them a kick in the butt when they need it too. Ill let the coaches do the scolding and I can be a little bit of a buffer between the coaches and the younger players.

He can also fill in like he did three years ago when David Krejci was knocked out of the series against the Philadelphia Flyers with a dislocated wrist. Whitfield was a member of the Black Aces during the playoffs as hes been for the last few seasons, and Claude Julien actually chose to go with the grizzled center over an unproven Brad Marchand during postseason crunch-time.

In all, Whitfield has played in 17 games with an assist and a minus-2 rating for Boston during his four years in the organization, and has returned quickly from a partially torn Achilles and concussion injuries over the years. The quick return from injuries is another quality the Bruins love in Whitfield as it sets the tone for expectations right on down the line for their AHL farm club.

One bonus for Whitfield: the AHL will be much higher quality this season due to the NHL lockout just as it was in 2004-05 when he was skating with the Portland Pirates.

I was up in Portland and there were five or six NHL guys on every single team. It was electrifying hockey and the skill level was exceptional, said Whitfield. Well need to be ready. Weve got good young talent in Providence and were looking forward to see where well be at.

Its pretty clear to Whitfield that chunks and bites of NHL action are the best he can probably hope for heading into his late 30s as a player thats spent nearly his entire career at the AHL level. The term Crash Davis derived from the movie Bull Durham where Kevin Costners character is a lifelong minor league catcher brought on to tutor a wild young pitcher applies to a degree with Whitfield after a working mans career built around the game of hockey.

So whats the next step for a guy like Whitfield after the next handful of years play out in pro hockey?

Moving into coaching at the pro hockey level would be a natural next step, and Whitfield said hes already kicked around that notion while still fully intending to play for at least a few more years.

I still enjoy playing. If I didnt then I probably wouldnt be grinding it out here at 35 years old. I wouldnt have stayed in the minor leagues for as long as I have, said Whitfield. Being around these young guys makes me feel young too. They probably give just as much to me as I bring to them, you know?

Maybe I can tell them a few things to help them get over the hump, but being around this young energy keeps me young too. It works both ways. Ive thought a lot about coaching over the last few years. I want to play as long as I can, but a career as a coach is definitely something in the back of my mind. Ive taken baby steps and learned nuances while watching coaches over the last few years, but hopefully thats still a few seasons away.

It sounds like Whitfield is in no hurry to move on from his elder statesman hockey role, and the Bruins are certainly glad to have him.

Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

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Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It’s a bit of a helpless feeling for an NHL general manager watching their star players participate in an intense hockey tournament like the World Cup of Hockey that doesn’t directly benefit their respective teams.

Not helpless because of the tournament’s outcome, obviously, but helpless because players could return from Toronto dinged up, or even worse significantly injured.

Aaron Ekblad had to shut it down for Team North American with what many speculated was a concussion, and Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray is out a month, or more, with a broken hand sustained playing for the same young guns team.

So, it certainly must have been an uneasy few moments for Don Sweeney when Brad Marchand was pulled from Team Canada’s last game for the concussion protocol after a nasty-looking collision with Team Europe forward Marian Hossa.

Marchand went through the testing, and ended up returning to the game no worse for the wear. But it could have been a lot worse for a Bruins team that can’t afford to be missing Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or Zdeno Chara, who are still playing for teams alive in the semifinal round of the tourney.

“I would expect all of us to have been in a similar situation. For everybody - any general manager, coaches, staff, you're concerned about [injuries],” said Sweeney, talking about the World Cup and Marchand’s close call. “I mean, especially when you realize the stakes are going to go up as the tournament goes along. The pride involved - it's a risk. There's no question, it's a risk.

“But you also want to see them play their best hockey and they're not going to hold back. Yeah, it's a definite concern. You've got your fingers and toes crossed.”

David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask have already returned to Boston fully healthy. David Backes should be joining the team anytime now after Team USA’s rude dismissal from the tournament. But Sweeney and the Bruins still have their sensors out for the three B’s players taking part that aren’t quite out of the woods yet before returning to B’s camp in one piece. 

 

Bruins lose Vatrano for three months after foot surgery

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Bruins lose Vatrano for three months after foot surgery

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The first bad break of Bruins camp arrived on Saturday with the news that scoring winger Frank Vatrano will be out three months after tearing a couple of ligaments in his left foot.

The 21-year-old winger from UMass and East Longmeadow, Mass., sustained the injury training just prior to the B’s fitness testing for camp and will have surgery on Monday at Mass General Hospital with Dr. George Theodore.

Vatrano had missed the first two days of camp after participating in captain’s practice just about right until the start of main training camp, so the injury must have happened just prior to Thursday’s off-ice testing.

“He had an injury just prior to testing, and it took a couple of days to make sure he had the proper evaluation. He saw a specialist yesterday and he’s scheduled for surgery on Monday,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “One or two of the ligaments were torn when he was doing some running, so he’s out.”

The injury is a big blow for a Bruins team that clearly had plans on Vatrano filling out a top-six role and leaves the door wide open for a young players Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn or Peter Cehlarik to win an NHL job out of camp. Perhaps a veteran such as camp invite Peter Mueller could secure a job when it didn’t appear to be any room on the NHL roster just a few days ago.

Either way it’s damaging to a Bruins team that was relying on goal-scoring and explosive forward play from a guy who topped 40 goals combined in the NHL and AHL last season.

“Obviously it’s a blow. Frankie looked at as an opportunity to [win a top-6 spot]. We all did. How that was going to play out remained to be seen, but he was going to be afforded a position to see if he could grab hold of it,” said Sweeney. “So obviously, he’s disappointed, and we are as well. You look at as with all injuries…it’s a setback. But the doctors feel very good that three months from now he’ll be able to play and move forward.”

It’s not officially NHL training camp until a major injury strikes, so now the Bruins are in the middle of it after learning they’ll lose Vatrano until Christmastime. 

Here's Vatrano's "Countdown to camp" profile