Bruins return home from team bonding trip

191545.jpg

Bruins return home from team bonding trip

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins InsiderFollow @hackswithhaggs

The mystery locale for the Bruins team-bonding was revealed on Monday afternoon as the Bs returned to Boston for Thursdays opening night against the Philadelphia Flyers, and it was a bit of a surprise.

The Bruins traveled to Great Diamond Island in the Portland harbor of Maine on Sunday for two days of team-building, bonding and physical activities designed to strengthen the teams chemistry and foundation headed into a challenging season. It wasn't about grabbing a fist full of lobster rolls or spotting a moose or two along the way for the B's, however. This was all about hockey.The Bruins took part in plenty of exercises along the water in Diamond Island Cove, and Bs coach Claude Julien said it was important to mix things up with so many players returning from last years squad.The same old program might not have provided a challenge to the returning 17 players from last seasons Stanley Cup championship, so things were changed up a bit for players and coaching staff that have benefited tremendously from the team-building events since Bs GM Peter Chiarelli took over the franchise.

The Bruins kept it a secret from the players, the media and just about anybody that else didnt need to know a move that takes on a little more importance when its a Stanley Cup-winning team with the frothy following in Boston that comes along with it.

We ended up taking a ferry boat out there. It was secluded and we were able to do what we needed to do as a team, said Claude Julien. A lot of the stuff that we did was based around the water, and our guys seemed to enjoy it. We had plenty of water coming from the sky yesterday, but it was also underneath us.

It was challenging. We feel coming back from there that everybody enjoyed it, and that our group also got a lot of things accomplished as far as what we need to do this year to be competitive.

The Bs players have become accustomed to the team-building program just prior to the grind of the NHL regular season, and Tim Thomas even credited last years program with allowing the team to shift from dominant individual leadership voices to the leadership by committee method that worked so well for the Bs. The trip to Maine took on added importance this season with no long road trip in the first few months of the season for the Bs a logical time when a new team of players are able to bond together and form that tight hockey unit.

With 13 of their first 17 games at home, the two-day trip to Maine for 25 Bs players including goalie Anton Khudobin and injured defenseman Steve Kampfer will have to suffice as that early West Coast trip that used to be a staple of the Bs regular season schedule when the circus came to town.

So it truly does have an effect. But orientation exercises trust falls and ropes courses among other things can only do so much, and the Bruins are under no illusions about the challenge this season as the targeted Stanley Cup champs. The Bruins know they have to talk the talk, but its much more important to go out and walk the walk.

It would appear that was a key part of the whole two-day retreat to an island in Maine, and will be hammered home over the next few days.

I dont think anybody on this team is fooling themselves, said Andrew Ference, one of the leading candidates to earn the A on his sweater vacated by Mark Recchi when he retired at the end of last season. We all know how hard it is to make it into the playoffs first off let alone the little bounces and the good health that you need in the playoffs to have success.

We know the challenge that faces us no matter what year it is whether youre defending the Cup or not. There are some good lessons we learned last year on how to be successful. With all that said, you still have to go out there and prove it. Actions definitely speak louder than words.

Those actions continued with the two-day trip to Maine, but they get a lot more defined when the Bs put all those good team-building lessons to use Thursday night against a Flyers team they embarrassed while sweeping during the playoffs last season.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Anton Blidh plans on keeping things pretty straightforward on his first call-up to the NHL. 

The former sixth-round pick of the Bruins has earned his stripes at the AHL level with Providence over the last couple of seasons, and comes to Boston as a gritty, energy forward capable of stirring things up in otherwise sleepy games. There’s also a bit of offensive upside for a fourth line-type player with five goals and nine points with 22 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating in 19 games for the P-Bruins this season. 

It remains to be seen if the Blidh call-up means that the Bruins intend to scratch a player or that somebody is questionable for Saturday afternoon’s game in Buffalo, but Patrice Bergeron did miss Friday’s practice without any real defined reason for his absence. The 21-year-old Swede said he plans to play to his strengths if he gets into the lineup for the Black and Gold, and that could mean getting under the skin of his Sabres opponents. 

“It’s my first time called up, so I’m happy,” said Blidh, who was asked what he'll bring if he gets into the lineup. “I’ll just play simple and play my own game: be hard on the puck and play with some energy. I worked hard [in Providence] and then I got some confidence. I’m not a goal-scorer, but I scored a couple of goals and got some confidence.”

Claude Julien hasn’t been able to catch up Blidh’s work since the season got started, but was pleased by the youngster’s progress in training camp, where he earned notice for his feisty, physical play on a line with Noel Acciari. 

“They said he’s playing well, so they brought him up. We’ll get to see him, hopefully tomorrow,” said Julien. “I didn’t hear a ton of fine details aside from him being a guy that was certainly playing with a lot of energy. I didn’t mind him in training camp either. He works really hard and competes hard, and we could use that.”

That would certainly be the case after watching the Bruins go through the motions for long stretches Thursday night against Carolina before essentially stealing a game that they didn’t deserve to win.