Bruins President Cam Neely and head coach Claude Julien areno different than the rest of the NHL-loving public. Just as the fans andplayers want to get back on the ice as soon as possible, executive and membersof NHL coaching staffs are chomping at the bit for a resolution to a lockoutthat passed 80 days in length last week.
So when it appeared things were close to a resolution duringthe meeting between the group of six owners and players last week duringmeetings at the Westin Hotel in New York City, naturally Neely and Julien gotexcited that theyd be headed back to work soon.
Like everybody else, emotions run high and then they go lowdepending on how everything turns out, said Neely. I think everybody wasfeeling cautiously optimistic at the Board of Governors meeting that we weregoing to get something done. Unfortunately it didnt happen. Ive been a glasshalf-full guy this whole time and Im going to stay half-full.
Im not going to lie. Its difficult to keep morale up whenwere not out doing what were supposed to be doing. I know people are going tobe upset that were not playing. Thats a given. But its days like this when wereally want to get staff out and show everyone what this organization is trulyall about. You try and make sure that everybody stays as positive as possible.
Instead things fell apart in spectacularly ridiculousfashion last Thursday with dueling Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman pressconferences. Then the NHL announced that all scheduled games through Dec. 30have now been cancelled as the two sides continue their war of labor attrition.
So it was refreshing that Neely and Julien were among agroup of Bruins employees, front office staff, coaches and media personalitiesthat spent Monday morning shopping for thousands of dollars in toys at theTarget in Woburn. The carriages full of toys, games and stocking stuffers are beingpurchased to be donated to kids stranded in local hospitals during the holidayseason in the coming days.
I certainly enjoy this. It puts all in perspective, and noteven because of the hockey things, said Julien. But to see the smiles onthose kids faces in the hospitals in the next few days or the next week willbe a very special day for me. Those kids are what its all about. It not onlyputs you in the Christmas spirit, but its about spreading joy and happiness.Weve got an opportunity to do that.
Its an outstanding Bruins tradition that started back in1990 by Ray Bourque, was passed to P.J. Axelsson in the early seasons in thisdecade, and has been organized by Zdeno Chara in recent years.
Everybody isnt happy with the lockout situation that wereinvolved in. But that doesnt mean we cant help others out around theholidays. Its fantastic to be involved with this, said Neely. To havechildren that arent able to be home for Christmas and you can shed a littlelight on them. I think its important for the organization to do that whetherits the front office and coaches, or its the players.
Regardless of how other athletes feel, were in a positionto give back and were obligated to do just that. Were fortunate to be able todo what we do for a living. For us to get out and get involved in thecommunity, in various ways, is something we should be doing."
Neely, Julien, assistant GMs Jim Benning and Don Sweeney andassistant coaches Doug Houda, Doug Jarvis and Geoff Ward were among thefriendly faces that lent their time and shopping acumen. They replaced theBruins players that normally organize the toy drive, and insured that someneedy Boston area children will have a joyful Christmas.
The event is just part of an ongoing excellent job theBoston BruinsTD Garden staff has done staying active in the community even ifthe hockey season is in limbo.
Weve always maintained a strong relationship with thecommunity in a number of ways and were always going to continue to do that,said Neely. The lockout doesnt mean that we cant keep getting involved asan organization like we always have.
Of course the Bs executives and coaches are looking forwardto handing the charitable endeavors back to the players eventually. The returnof the NHL players would mean that the business of the NHL is back up to fullefficiency, and that the fans are cheering instead of berating both the NHL andNHLPA.
Bruins officials clearly expect the fans to return in ahockey hotbed like Boston with a Stanley Cup-caliber hockey club, but they alsoknow that it might be as easy for places like Florida, Dallas, Anaheim,Carolina, Phoenix and Nashville among others.
Were bystanders just like everybody else. I can just tellyou that Im looking forward to getting back to work. I know that everybody inthere negotiating feels that same way, said Julien. Recovering from thelockout depends on the areas. Some areas bounced back more quickly than othersin 2004-05. We know hardly any Canadian cities have the NBA or Major LeagueBaseball, so hockey is the famous Canadian sport.
There were also some traditional cities in the US that hadtheir fans back. But there were some cities that had a struggle to get theirfans back, and I dont think its going to be any different this time around.We just hope that it will get resolved quickly, that the fans understand it andthat theres a real positive message there at the end.
Collateral damage from the lockout is a sad reality of thislatest work stoppage in an NHL thats had too far many of them over the last 20years.
But Monday was not about that at all. It was about a Bruinsorganization doing something tangible to improve the lives of kids looking fora lift around the holiday season just as theyve done for years.