Bruins take off for team bonding retreat

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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

Time for a tough transition

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Time for a tough transition

This is the fifth and final installment of a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

Casual Bruins fans probably thought they were getting a Shawn Thornton-type player when Boston traded a third-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Zac Rinaldo last summer.

Instead it was a deal that was a win in the ledger of Flyers GM Ron Hextall from the very second it was approved by the NHL’s central registry. Hardcore hockey fans knew the Bruins-Rinaldo marriage had little chance of ever working out.

Rinaldo is a physical player who likes to wildly throw the body around. He has above-average skating ability and is fearless, as evidenced by the much bigger, stronger players he tangles with on a regular basis. But there's no comparison between a cheap-shot artist like Rinaldo and a genuine enforcer like Thornton, who struck a tone of intimidation with opponents whenever he was in the Bruins lineup. Thornton gave the B's an air of toughness and courage, and was one of the unquestioned leaders in the dressing room, able to command both respect and accountability.

Thornton's final year in Boston wasn’t without its challenges, given the lengthy suspension he received for knocking out Brooks Orpik at center ice and the needless water-bottle-spraying incident with P.K. Subban in that season's playoffs. But one thing is certain: Thornton would never have watched Adam McQuaid get train-wrecked from behind on a dirty hit by Washington’s Zach Sill, and then simply skate to the bench. That, however, was the reaction of Rinaldo when Sill hit McQuaid this season.

Rinaldo explained his non-actions by saying he was tired at the end of his shift and wary of getting in trouble with the league. He left it to Patrice Bergeron to grab hold of Sill, even though that sort of retaliation is exactly what the Bruins were expecting from Rinaldo when they brought him to Boston in the first place.

It was similar to the hesitation 6-foot-6 Jimmy Hayes showed at times as the opposition pushed around his linemates, or took runs at other Bruins players while he was on the ice. Hopefully Hayes learned that he needs to knock that indecision out of his game if he’s going to be effective here.

But it all speaks to a bigger issue: The change in the makeup of the Bruins, and the need to get back to a tougher, more intimidating style of play.

During their seven-year playoff run, the Bruins earned a reputation as one of the hardest teams to play against in the NHL. Players like Thornton, McQuaid, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk had size and strength, and were hard-hitting and tough when it was called for.

Very few teams messed with the Bruins. If they did, there was a good chance it would explode into a back-alley brawl . . . like the night when virtually all the Bruins went to war with Sean Avery, Steve Ott and the rest of the Dallas Stars:

It didn’t matter how those teammates felt about each other off the ice. It was no secret that Ference and Mark Recchi had their differences early in their time in Boston, stemming from things that were happening within the NHLPA. But that didn’t stop Ference from jumping to Recchi’s defense when he got smashed in the open ice by David Backes:

That should be the standard for any Bruins team when opponents start to take cheap shots, simply because it makes the B's much more difficult to handle. There were too many nights last season when the Bruins simply didn’t want to battle out on the ice. Not coincidentally, there were also too many nights when they buckled under the bright spotlights of big games.

"We’ve shown some positive stretches and things that we’ve done well . . . " said Chara. "But when times were [there] to fold up or respond, we always kind of find ourselves taking steps backwards. That was one of the things that was disappointing, and frustrating."

Those things might happen a little less if they returned to the previous standard of intensity, engagement and urgency.

That might be easier said than done, but it all starts with the players the Bruins are bringing into the fold.

Matt Beleskey is a prime example of a callback to those previous B’s teams: The kind of hard-hitting, high-energy gamer who would have fit in perfectly with the Stanley Cup-era squads. While the Bruins seemingly missed on Hayes and Rinaldo, they hit -- in the best way -- with the free-agent signing of the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Beleskey. He changed momentum in games with massive hits thrown on the ice, led the club in registered hits last season, and showed up in many of last season’s big-game disappointments when so many others did not.

The Bruins simply need more players like Beleskey, and who preferably can also play the game at a similarly high, or even higher, level. 

Torey Krug is often the smallest guy on the ice, but never stops fighting against XXL-sized opponents while refusing to give in on any level. He even dropped the gloves with the massive Chris Stewart, the very definition of courage (with perhaps a little insanity thrown in for good measure).

Noel Acciari is another young player who energized the fourth line toward the end of the regular season with his fearless style of play. He's unafraid to throw violent but clean hits against even the biggest of opponents while bringing energy and thump to the lineup. He didn’t quite get the hang of the offensive game at the NHL level during his brief audition, but the hope is that will change with a little more experience.

Players like Beleskey and Acciari speak to the Bruins’ acknowledgement that regaining their traditional identity is important, and it’s something they did intermittently last season.

“I still think we have room to improve in that area," said president Cam Neely. "I believe the group [last year] was a closer group; they enjoyed playing for each other and working hard for each other. I thought . . . aside from a couple stretches, we were a team that showed more passion probably than the year prior. But it’s still an area we need to improve upon.”

Most importantly for Neely, general manager Don Sweeney, coach Claude Julien and the Jacobs' ownership group is the need to understand how important their fan base feels about that style of play. The loyal Bruins followes can forgive quite a bit if they feel their team is hustling, working hard and fighting for each other at every turn.

That’s the bare minimum the Bruins should be striving for next season. A lot of good things could start happening if they get back to those basics. 

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: