Bruins take off for team bonding retreat

550696.jpg

Bruins take off for team bonding retreat

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BRIDGEPORT, CT. The Bruins are spending Sunday and Monday at a team-bonding retreat away from the ice and the hustle and bustle of Boston just prior to the start of another NHL season.

The entire team loaded onto a bus outside the Webster Bank Arena Saturday night following their final preseason game against the Islanders, and they were headed to parts unknown for two days of role playing, trust exercises and team activities designed to bring the entire square closer together.

The Bs organization was making arrangements for several of the younger players to take part in the weekend along with the established cast of veteran characters just as theyve done the last couple of years. The big wrinkle this season is that the location of the team-bonding camp hasnt been identified, and none of the players know exactly where theyre going.

Im not even curious, basically, said Tim Thomas with a laugh while alluding to the importance of the team-building process. Whatever. Well see when we get there.

Last fall the team went to Vermont for the two-day team-bonding activities and brought Marc Savard with them even though the center was still suffering from post-concussion syndrome and nowhere near ready to get on the ice.

The thinking is that inclusion in the bigger Black and Gold group makes some of the Providence-bound training camp players more comfortable with their teammates if theyre needed during the regular season.

Claude Julien spoke about last seasons team-building event shoehorned in with the trip to Belfast and Prague, and how it helped with getting over the catastrophic loss to the Flyers in the playoffs.

To us it works well and thats why we keep doing it every year, said Julien. We like getting the guys together to do things that are going to get them to bond, and we do have some new faces in our lineup this year no matter how we look at it. Those new faces have to bond with the team and get comfortable. But it never hurts to spend some time together.

We have a pretty good idea of what the players thrive on and enjoy, but at the same time we take a lot of consideration into what the group needs. Thats what we did last year with the theme and the approach when we talked about going from contenders to champions. We contended every year but didnt get the job done, and there were certain things that had to change. We focused on that and made it a part of our team-building.

Tim Thomas has watched plenty of hockey over the years and played with all manner of teammates as one of the last remaining Bruins with a resume that includes games for the Bs during the Joe Thornton Era in Boston. He has come to understand what works or doesnt work for any particular team, and he said that last years team-building in Vermont actually helped the Bruins rethink their approach by the leadership group.

It is what you make of it. It was helpful to us last year and to a certain extent its been helpful for us every year. It forces us to a work as a group, said Thomas. Different people have to take control at different points in the process. You kind of learn where the leadership lies.

I think last year we learned it was leader by committee, which was a good thing as compared to some previous years when we had certain guys that tried to be dominant. Every year you have a little bit different group. Its set up in a manner where you learn a lot. It was valuable to me last year.

The stressed points and message behind this years team-bonding activities will certainly center on the pressures of repeating and avoiding the complacency that can decimate a hockey team.

What else the players take from their two days off the grid will likely not be on the table for public consumption. But maybe just maybe it will help the Bruins form a tighter group as it did before last years Cup journey.

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.