By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
There was no mistaking just how monumentally things have changed for the Boston Bruins this summer.
When 1.5 million fans decked out in Black and Gold paraphernalia showed up for a hockey love in celebrating the Cup-winning Bs in June during their victory parade, it was clear that things have gotten bigger, better and different.
The fans have multiplied by tens and hundreds of thousands over the last eight years as the organization has completed the rocky climb from Eastern Conference punchline to legitimate Cup contender. Its a byproduct of success, but its also an investment return on the Bruins giving their adoring public a likable, entertaining brand on the ice.
The gut-punch losses and playoff disappointment of the previous few years only stoked the flames of Bs interest even higher in Boston, and the Game 7 disappointments all paid off with a cathartic, captivating 25-game romp through last years Stanley Cup playoffs.
That two-month Cup march featured Game 7 overtime goals, a false start against their archrivals that could have caved in the entire team infrastructure, head shots, show-stopping saves, coaching gamesmanship, grown men biting each other and goalies breaking fraternal code to talk trash about each other.
In other words it couldnt have been any been more entertaining had it been on pay-per-view and dropped inside a steel cage.
The Bruins barreled through the last few years of ups and downs with an identifiable, agreeable group of personalities within the dressing room that the public identified with and wanted to openly root for while representing the Black and Gold.
The citys warm and fuzzy feeling for the Bruins is all the more striking when placed next to an oafish, standoffish, arrogant group of Red Sox players that underwhelmed on every level. The Sox magic spell is over, and no longer does the Olde Towne Team hold some kind of enchantment over the region they managed to capture during the World Series years.
Many of the likable Red Sox personalities have left Fenway Park, and in essence have been replaced by an archetypal set of characters: The modest and gentlemanly Patrice Bergeron; the intimidating and punishing Milan Lucic; the everyman goaltender turned superstar in Tim Thomas; the exciting young puck prodigy in Tyler Seguin; and the pugnacious, fun-loving throwback to the old time hockey Bruins in Brad Marchand.
The thrilling wins and conscious willingness to share the Cup celebration with the entire city in the weeks afterward certainly reminded older Bs fans of the 1972 Bobby Orr Bruins with their wild ways.
But to the newer wave of fans the Bruins players had simply pushed the Red Sox out of the way as the resident rock star athletes in Boston. As one caller into 98.5 the Sports Hub said in the last few weeks, many fans have broken up with the Red Sox to start going out with the Bruins.
Its all plain to see with the naked eye.
The sheer amount of Bruins gear worn up and down the city streets in Boston, and the recognizability factor is off the charts for hockey players who used to live in relative obscurity in Boston as the poor stepsister on the local sports scene far behind the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics.
Well, the Celtics arent playing and dont appear ready to tip things off anytime soon amid their momentum-killing work stoppage.
The Red Sox have gone from model baseball franchise to a bloated mess with stunningly bad contracts and spoiled players unworthy of Bostons adoration. The Patriots are still the Patriots, but havent won a meaningful playoff game in a surprisingly long time.
So the Bruins are the hottest commodity in the Boston sports scene, but with that comes a price that each of the 22 players must now realize.
The Bs are no longer nameless, faceless young men traipsing around the city with the freedom to act like the twenty-something group they largely are. Their popularity and success means they are constant fodder for the Inside Track and non-sports news outlets that now view the Bruins as a viable story.
It means the Bruins cant go many places in Boston to truly escape, and perhaps cant be quite so fun-loving all the time.
Anytime you win in any market but especially this one youre going to be recognized more, said Shawn Thornton. People are passionate about their sports teams and we were fortunate to bring it home. It definitely turned things up a notch.
The attention is pretty much the same for me, but Im sure its a little different for the young guys. If were out to eat then its going to get called in to the newspapers. I think those girls have probably turned us down for putting us in the Inside Track because they get a million calls on us. But you try to carry yourself as a professional . . . at least since camera phones came out anyway.
Thornton was joking, of course, but its true the Bruins have to wonder now, more than ever, when exactly the lights and cameras wont be trained on them.
Witness the Track story on Milan Lucic and his girlfriend after a drunken spat in the North End last month: A story where no arrests were made and nothing substantial actually happened. But nonetheless Lucic saw his name and reputation get splashed around on the gossip pages, and the 23-year-old power forward hoped it was a good lesson for the rest of the team.
The Bruins are being held to a different kind of standard moving forward after winning the Cup, and its something they have to be prepared for.
The privacy isnt there like it was when I was a rookie here. Thats the difference, said Lucic in his first public comments to CSNNE.com about the reported incident. Even though it was something made out of nothing -- and I still have to put the blame on myself for something even happening like that -- it was eye-opening for myself and I definitely learned a lesson."
The Inside Track reported that Lucic was angered by police and asked them, "Don't you know who I am?"
I know I haveto be smarter," Lucic said. "To everybody, Im really sorry if I offended anybody for what I did. For them bringing out the 'Dont you know who I am' thing, if you asked my friends and family Im the last guy that puts myself on a pedestal and expects special treatment.
I enjoy hanging out with the regular folk. I dont put myself on a pedestal and believe that Im a better person than them just because I play hockey. Thats not what Im about. I meant in the sense of Id never be doing what those people are saying because 'Do you know who I am? I have so much to lose.' Im only four years into my career and its still a young career. Thats what I meant by it.
But Lucic has clearly learned his lesson, and passed it on to his teammates.
Some things get made out of nothing, but it was eye-opening for me. Its something you put in the past and move on, said Lucic. You take it as a learning experience more than anything at this point.
That kind of fishbowl existence is something the Red Sox routinely groused about during the 2003-07 golden age of the team, and it adds a level of immeasurable pressure to the challenges already posed to a pro sports team. Toss in a season where 13 of the first 17 games are at home this year for the Bruins, and that microscope moves in even a little tighter on the beloved hockey club.
Add that kind of market pressure to the challenge faced by being the reigning Stanley Cup champion, and there are some legitimate hurdles for the Bruins to climb this season.
But theres also the simple fact it came about because the Bruins did the unthinkable and won the Cup.
Were dialed in to what we did well last year. There are a lot of positives to take from being the defending champs, said Andrew Ference. There are obstacles, but you have to remember the good stuff.
For even the most scrutinizing Bruins fan, there is going to be a big, fat bright side to this entire hockey season no matter what happens over the next six months.
Thats exactly what happens when you nudge out the Red Sox as the resident rock stars in the city of Boston.