Morning Skate 52: Ference proud of US Armed Forces

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Morning Skate 52: Ference proud of US Armed Forces

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

PHILADELPHIA Sometimes even in the insulated, self-obsessed world of professional sports there are appropriate times to take a break for a dose of reality.One of those rare nights took place on Sunday night into Monday morning as news practically shot out of a cannonball that a team of CIA and Navy SEAL operatives took out Osama bin Laden in his hideaway compound in Pakistan. The media was talking about it, players were talking about, it and the coaches were talking about it as bits of information mounted. People began to wonder what it will be like when Lauren Hart sings God Bless America along with the late Kate Smith prior to tonights Game 2 at the Wells Fargo Center, and spontaneous USA chants erupted at Sunday night sporting events.Obviously most of the Bruins players are Canadian-born and prefaced any statements with that little bit of info, but many guys like Andrew Ference have planted roots in the Boston area and have become friends with many Bs fans actively serving their country and joining in the hunt for bin Laden over the last 10 years.Ference said his mind was on those people Monday morning, and on others who wouldnt be at rest until justice was served with the terrorist leader that set the 911 tragedy in motion.I texted my friend Lucas right away and said did you guys get him because theyve all been watching Bruins games over there, said Ference, referencing a US Army Ranger hes befriended from Massachusetts. Weve been keeping tabs with them, and I know hed been out for a couple of days because he told me they were going to go out hunting for bad guys.
I texted him right away. He was excited because he said there were a lot of sleepless nights searching for Bin Laden. Im really proud of those guys, you know? I didnt feel it myself, but knowing them and how they put their butts on the line for us. To get a victory like that is pretty cool.With that in mind in these historic last couple of days, on to the links: ESPN.coms Scott Burnside with an excellent column depicting the mixed emotions of Ace Baileys family members after hearing that Osama bin Laden had been killed and Baileys death on one of the doomed flights to Los Angeles had finally been met with some level of justice. Did you know that goaltenders are superstitious? Yeah, not a surprise but these stories are always a lot of fun. Interesting story about Zdeno Chara getting a memo from the NHL after he was spotted sipping a Coca Cola to get a little sugar and caffeine rush during Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens. A Wayne Gretzky rookie card gets almost 100,000 at an auction held for collectors with a whole lotta dough. Youve heard of the Colin Campbell Wheel of Justice? Well, heres the game of Peter Laviolette goalie roulette in Philadelphia from the Stanley Cup of Chowder. Where it stops nobody knows. The NHL is cracking down the antics of the Green Men. For shame, Gary Bettman. One of the best things about the NHL is that they very rarely get into the Fun Police zone normally inhabited by the NFL. Retired Bruins great Bob Sweeney speaks with WEEI about his familys feelings after hearing bin Laden was killed a relevant subject given that Sweeneys sister-in-law was a flight attendant on one of the doomed flights. Retired FDNY member Steve Boehm also goes onto WEEI and gives a moving account of his feelings on a historically significant day around the United States and specifically for the New York City area that was impacted so brutally by the World Trade Center disaster.TSN reporter Darren Dreger has the account of the San Jose Sharks trying to get into Jimmy Howards head by continuing to spray him with ice chips during their playoff series. A nice piece by RLD Hockeys Ryan Porth on Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne dominating in the Preds series against the Vancouver Canucks.

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

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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.