Morning Skate 214: Lemieux in tough spot to talk

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Morning Skate 214: Lemieux in tough spot to talk

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

PHILADELPHIA Life in the NHL certainly isnt boring.Within the last week, a pair of games filled with fights, hate and blood boiling on the ice grabbed everybodys attention with the second one garnering nearly double the penalty minutes of the BruinsCanadiens tilt and crossing the line from tough hockey over into thuggery. The New York Islanders embarrassed themselves, plain and simple, and guys like Trevor Gillies, Matt Martin and Michael Haley werent looking to make plays or win a hockey game. That trio of meatheads was looking to intimate, hurt and get even with the Pittsburgh Penguins after Brent Johnson had broken Ricky DiPietros face in the game leading up to that rematch.Their actions were as filled with ill intent as you can get on the ice, and they deserved to have the book thrown at them with the lack of mercy that Cobra Kai was famous for. So they deserved to get the book thrown at them, as did Eric Godard for leaving the bench in an understandable move that the Pittsburgh enforcer knew was going to cost him in the wallet.Somewhat predictably there was unrest in Pittsburgh that the punishment wasnt severe enough to fit the crime, and it prompted Pens owner Mario Lemieux to fire out the infrequent-but-weighty missives hes become known for now that his Hall of Fame playing career is over.Lemieux said in a release: "Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be," the Penguins owner and Hall of Famer said in a statement released by the team. "But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn't hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that."The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed."There are even those within the Bruins dressing room that wholeheartedly agreed with Lemieux, including former teammate and future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi, who has seen plenty in his 20-plus years in the NHL and recognizes the kind of gong show incidents that need to be dealt with swiftly and decisively."Good for Lemieux," veteran Bruins player Mark Recchi told CSNNE.com. " I'm glad he said it because the NHL sanctions weren't strong enough. Not even close.That was completely premeditated by the Islanders and theres no place for that.So on many levels Lemieux is correct to intervene on behalf of all players, but more specifically his Penguins players that hes clearly looking out for. But theres no denying the hypocrisy that Andrew Ference wisely avoided in this entire debate when he simply spoke the truth about Daniel Pailles hit against the Dallas Stars.Its a charge that the great Super Mario cant avoid because he forked over a wheel barrel of cash to re-sign Matt Cooke this summer after the Pittsburgh hatchet man became a free agent. Cooke was fresh off the Marc Savard cheap shot elbow that has him reviled around the NHL, and especially in Boston, and Lemieux could have made a statement against that type of cheap hockey.But he decided to keep his deal with Pittsburghs own little hockey devil going, and put the safety of every other player in the NHL at risk by encouraging Cooke to continue attempting to end the careers of players as hes potentially done with Savard after last March.That decision was as wrong as they come, and is in complete contrast to every word Lemieux uttered in the wake of fight night at Nassau Coliseum. Nobody is going to care one whit if a hockey great like Lemieux pipes up simply when something is happening in his own backyard as opposed to across the league.Do us a favor, Mario, and sit out the next shift on the ice when your team is treated unfairly because everything that took place with your own team hatchet man last season was the pure definition of the term unfair.On to the links: An interesting look at NHLplayer Mike Rupp, and the simple philosophical differences between one hockey player and a monstrous entity like the NFL. A good even-handed take on the Lemieux statement by USA Todays Kevin Allen as opposed to the two-hander I just tossed at Super Marios ankles. Friend of Haggs (FOH) Rob Simpson has a lot of thoughts over at MSG.com and Im always glad when he shares them with me. Michael Russo takes issue with Lemieuxs statement on VERSUS.comand comes up with a similar verdict as I did: guilt by hypocrisy. Ryan Miller once again shows that he is both very thin and very thin-skinned when the going gets tough for him. Apparently the big, though Sabres media was too hard on him after his 31st straight start for Buffalo. Rick Nash and Steve Mason are slowly dragging the Blue Jackets back into the playoff picture. The question is whether its too late. A good look by Andy Strickland at potential NHL lottery pick Ryan Murphy at truesports.com.Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN -- For those excited about the idea of an intense, hard-hitting David Backes in a Bruins uniform for the next five years, you have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to partially thank.

Backes, 32, didn’t know either of them all that well prior to this summer, aside from his experiences on ice against them. But Bergeron and Marchand called Backes multiple times while recruiting him to Boston, and it was a major factor in the former Blues captain signing a five-year, $30 million deal with the B's.

“Being an outsider, we need to have a little bit of confession here that Marchand is the kind of guy that gets under everybody’s skin. I was no different,” said the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes, who has 206 goals and 460 points in 727 career NHL games, all with St. Louis. “But then talking to him a little bit in the interview process prior to July 1, I hung up the phone and had to take a deep breath and say to myself, ‘That little disturber, he’s actually a pretty good guy.’ Those guys end up being the best teammates.

“A guy like Bergeron, when you play against him [he's] always in the right spot, and is never making mistakes. Those types of guys, again, are guys you want on your team, and guys you want to go to war with. They’re All-World players, Bergeron is an All-World player. But he’s also a down-to-earth guy that puts his work boots on, takes his lunch pail and plays his butt off. He’s nice to the young kids, and he’s nurturing in helping them come along. I think you’ve seen in the NHL that you need a few guys on entry-level deals, or a few guys to outperform their contracts, in order to have success in the salary-cap era. That nurturing and mentorship can really foster those kinds of performances.”

While Backes went on to mention Zdeno Chara as another highly respected, formidable opponent with whom he’ll now share a dressing room, it was interesting to note that players who currently have letters on their sweaters, like Chara and David Krejci, didn’t play a part in the recruiting process. Instead it was the next captain of the team (Bergeron) and a player (Marchand) currently in the middle of negotiations entering the last year of his contract.

“I talked to both Bergeron and Marchand twice before July 1," said Backes. "Just the way that they spoke about their team mentality, and teaming up together and sharing the load of hard minutes that need to be played, and also sharing the load of the offensive necessities that a team has . . . those things just rang true to my beliefs of a team.

“You’re all equals whether you’re the top-paid guy, or the top-minute guy, or the low-minute guy, or the guy that’s playing every other game because you’re the healthy scratch in the other games.

“We all needed to be treated equal, and do whatever we can to support the next guy. When the next guy has success, we have to be just as happy as if we scored the goal. That’s the type of thing where, when you get that from the full 20 guys on the ice, it’s so tough to be beat. Those are the teams that win championships.”

It will be interesting to see just how much involvement Backes has with the Bergeron and Marchand combination. He could very easily be a right-wing fit with those two dynamic forwards next season, or he could be a third-line center behind Bergeron and Krejci and give the Bruins elite depth down the middle of the ice.

True to his team-oriented nature, Backes said he’ll be happy to play at either position and do whatever Claude Julien feels is best.

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

JAMAICA PLAIN -- David Backes probably could have opted to have his introductory press conference inside the Bruins dressing room at TD Garden, or maybe even in some finished part of the team's new practice facility in Brighton, which is set to open a couple of months from now.

Instead, the new Bruins forward met face-to-face with the media for the first time while taking a tour of the MSPCA and, in the process, introducing Bruins fans to his “Athletes for Animals” charity, a foundation that promotes rescuing -- and protecting the welfare of -- homeless pets nationwide.

Backes took pictures with a pit bull named Greta that’s been at the MSPCA Adoption Center for the last seven months looking for a “forever home”.

And as he spoke, it became abundantly clear that this is what the 32-year-old former St. Louis Blues captain is all about.

“[Taking a tour of the facility] gives you a warm feeling inside, and makes you feel like you’re already a part of the city while helping give some attention to the great work that they’re doing,” said Backes, the owner of four dogs (Maverick, Rosey, Marty, Bebe) and two cats (Sunny, Poly), who is house-hunting in Boston this week with his wife and 13-month-old daughter.

“Hopefully this will be just the beginning of our connecting with the community, and helping serve the people that are great fans of the Bruins and that will be watching us every night. [Hopefully] they’re watching us go on deep playoff runs year after year.”

Backes’ efforts with rescue animals gained national notoriety when he took time to help with the stray dog situation in Sochi, Russia during the last Winter Olympics. But the roots of his “Athletes for Animals” charity goes back to his college days at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“The full story is that in college we wanted an animal or two, but it just wasn’t responsible because we were renting and the landlords didn’t approve," he said "We just didn’t really have the time or resources to support them, so we volunteered at the local shelter for the three years I was in school.

“When my wife [Kelly] and I moved to St. Louis, we wanted to connect with the community, be a part and use our voice to influence social change to do our part making the world a little bit of a better place. So we said ‘Why not connect with the animal welfare rescue community?’

“We absolutely love doing it: Walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and cleaning kennels. Let’s use our voice to kick this off and see what we can do, and it really just snowballed from that to then trying to tie other guys into it. It’s not limited to the animal stuff, but the animals that don’t have a voice, and the kids that don’t have a voice, really tug at our heart strings. We want to help them with this blessing of a great voice we’ve been given as professional athletes, and to really use that to give them some help.”

For these reasons alone, Backes is a great fit in Boston. The Bruins donate heavily to the MSPCA and were one of the first NHL organizations to come up with the Pucks ‘N Pups calendar, which each year features Bruins players and their dogs, or strays from the MSPCA, to raise money for the animal welfare organization.

To learn more about Backes’ organization, “Athletes for Animals,” visit http://athletesforanimals.org .