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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bruins Commentary

Missed opportunities on the media’s part

Fear not, Black and Gold complain-o-philes. Even with the Bruins’ offering you, and even themselves, a considerable hunk of time to savor this week’s nearly flawless conquest of the Canadiens and in turn sharpen your claws for whoever is on tap for Round Two, you needn’t experience withdrawal symptoms from kicking that habit of accentuating the flaws at TD Banknorth Garden.

You just need to be a tad flexible and transfer that acrid energy from ice level to the affectionately dubbed Ninth Floor and the backsides, laptops, and messenger bags that by all counts should be occupying it, but aren’t.

We Rhode Islanders grudgingly deal with the epitome of this nuisance. A week ago, the front page of the sports section in the Providence Journal featured a centerpiece photo of Celtics’ cornerstone Kevin Garnett and a concomitant story on the news of his season-ending injury. No doubt, that had to be reported and analyzed, and it was. So were some of the latest happenings on the quickly thawing Red Sox and the Patriots, who dig for their future in today’s NFL Draft.

Translation: you had the latest on three of Boston’s major pro teams all written by a real live Journal author for the edition of Friday, April 17, the morning after Game 1 of the Bs-Habs series.

Where was the account of that competitive thriller? On the next page, and as always, it was merely a vanilla-flavored blurb imported from the Associated Press.

From a Bruins’ Buff standpoint, each game got exponentially more thrilling. A week ago tonight, the Zamboni could have taken a breather on account of the host club’s polishing the Garden pond with bleu, blanc, et rouge rags, 5-1. No morning-after recap to equate or preserve that exhilaration the next day, unless you looked to the Boston papers.

On Monday, the third time in six years that these rivals have locked twigs on Patriot’s Day and the first time it ended in palatable fashion for New Englanders, most outlets filled up on the Sox, the Celts, and the Marathon.

And on Wednesday, Montreal backstop Carey Price played the lead role in reenacting every sparse opponent-friendly occurrence the Canadiens’ had to offer, emulating Patrick Roy’s sarcastic save dance from 1995 with still a good period-plus remaining in his team’s push for preservation. This coming after the likes of David Krejci, Phil Kessel, and Michael Ryder deposited fleeting, Cam Neely-esque goals to sculpt a sturdy 4-1 lead for the newly almighty Bruins. It’s minimally disappointing Tim Thomas –Price’s triumphant counterpart- didn’t pounce on the buzzer to duplicate Reggie Lemelin’s kneeling, helmet-holding fist-pump from 1988.

Actually, what’s more relevantly disappointing is that the preceding paragraph could have been somebody else’s. It could have been tucked deep into a New England newsstand as the lead for one of umpteen recaps of Game 4 on Thursday.

Yet it wasn’t, and we all know why. But being able to ascertain the reason doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

Figure it out: the Bruins beat all of their sporting peers to the one-of-a-kind Spoked-B logo, effectively signifying Boston’s influential outreach to the rest of New England. One of those spokes clearly penetrates Providence, as evidenced by the sturdy presence of the Baby Bs down at the Dunk, which serves to draw another underline under “absurdity.”

Last time I checked, there are no Providence Celtics or –apart from Peter Griffin’s place of employment- Pawtucket Patriots. The factual Red Sox’ feeder club at McCoy Stadium still gets a helping of informative ink during their season. While it is not much, it dwarfs what either of the Bruins’ teams is allotted.

Only now, with the AHL playoffs churning, are the P-Bruins answering to ProJo reporters. But you’ll notice that they are only being spotlighted in the form of feature stories composed on off days. Every actual game of their first round tussle with the Portland Pirates (a 4-1 series win polished off last night by the Jr. Spokespeople) has been detailed in the same old cut-and-paste-off-the-team’s-website format.

For the minor leaguers, it’s sadly nothing like it was as late as the beginning of this now-waning decade. I might buy the “Well, it’s just because newspapers are withering” theory, except the Sox, Pats, and Cs are all getting regular game recaps and notebooks on a constant basis during their respective months of operation.

So let me slug another slap shot into the Providence River and ask again, why not the Bs? As I recall, papers from without the Hub hesitated to cast a constant eye on the Celtics until they were certified contenders and their push for the championship intensified near the climax of last season.

Newsflash: the Bruins are well beyond that baptismal stage now. And just look at the prospective scenarios for the second round. They could be paired with Sloppy Sean and the Rangers, spelling an innately enticing Boston-New York card.

Or it could be the Carolina Hurricanes –the second reincarnation of the WHA’s New England Whalers- on deck.

Or you could be looking at a series with Pittsburgh and its celestial (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, etc.) youth movement, or Philadelphia, where one stimulated sportscaster told us a few weeks ago, “The crowd wants a call for a hit from behind!”

Again, are the likes of ProJo going to pick up the pucks any time soon, or are they just going to stay back and buy into Jim Donaldson’s ice-allergic system?

At least acknowledge the fact that the farm team is right here to slake sport-hungry Rhode Islanders by slaking those same people’s appetites for quality beat coverage, will you?

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

First tremors
Top scorers, team nuclei highlight postseason signings

As of Friday, with Colin Wilson’s grab-and-go maneuver to the Nashville Predators’ organization (hey, he got his title with Boston University, did he not?), seven Hockey Easterners out of six different programs have prematurely terminated their collegiate careers in favor of a professional gig.

We now assess the aftermath of the first month of the signing winds, in order of projected impact on the reluctant talent donors:

Brad Thiessen, G, Northeastern to Pittsburgh- As many coaches are apt to preach in bodychecking drills, the less anticipated the hit, the heavier and harsher the impact. That’s the Thiessen twist all over.

Northeastern’s nucleus for each of the last two seasons, the undrafted netminder followed teammate Joe Vitale to the Penguins’ AHL feeder club (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) merely six days after he had finished consuming every possible minute of crease time in the Huskies’ anticlimactic 41-game slate.

Of coach Greg Cronin’s likely replacement resorts, rising junior Mike Binnington hasn’t been seen laboring in formal game attire since the first half of a 5-1 shelling at the hands of the Friars on January 26, 2008. (How times have changed all over the place.) Binnington and classmate Ryan Mula have combined for 54:32 worth of playing time spaced over three games and there are no newcomers to be detected at this time. Surely at least one recruit can be scooped up in plenty of time for the coming season, but can Husky buffs bank on the uncanny notion of the next John Muse/Kieran Millan blossoming on their side of town?

Bottom line: Thiessen was the first token of Northeastern’s rise to relevance and his departure, at best, yanks the program back to its old state circa 2007.

Nick Petrecki, D, Boston College to San Jose- We can grant this much: Petrecki stood out as the enforcer on an egregiously underachieving BC team (161 total PIM when no one else exceeded 52). But more seriously, the Eagles were losing three blue line regulars to graduation as it is. Assuming he does not follow suit to sign on with Pittsburgh, rising senior Carl Sneep will be tasked with helping Bruins’ prospect Tommy Cross rediscover his game and fostering a batch of fairly or utterly untested defenders. He really could have used some assistance from the would-be junior Petrecki.

Colin Wilson, F, Boston University to Nashville- Wilson, followed immediately by classmate Nick Bonino, topped the champion Terriers’ scoring charts. Four seniors ranked third through sixth on that leaderboard and there’s no cause to assume that Bonino –an Anaheim Ducks’ satellite- will not submit to the signing winds between now and September. Ditto backliner Colby Cohen, who placed seventh under BU’s point column with 32 points and is fast ripening his appeal to the Colorado Avalanche –especially seeing as his plus/minus rate spiked from a +1 his freshman year to a rigid +24 this season.

Wilson’s take-off is indubitably a jutting loss, but the fact that those other names were mentioned means it will take an old-fashioned “team effort” of defection to really enhance Professor Parker’s already taxing rebuilding project. Sorry to have to underline that a week after the parade, but this is a fact of life.

Viktor Stalberg, F, Vermont to Toronto- Vermont’s runaway scoring leader with 46 points –directly ahead of senior Dean Strong’s second-rate 31- Stalberg would have made a nice resident bar-setter had he hung about for his senior season. The youthful Catamounts could stand to replenish and/or upgrade their strike force, but in the meantime they figure to return every defenseman and goaltender from their recent venture to the Frozen Four. The loss of Stalberg up front, as well as Strong and fellow graduate Peter Lenes, may hamper the team’s upward climb, but a progressing fortress should keep them from falling far.

James van Riemsdyk, F, New Hampshire to Philadelphia- Household status aside, van Riemsdyk arrived at a long-underachieving UNH program two years ago and he left a still-underachieving program early this month. The Wildcats –going on seven years’ worth of no Lamoriello Trophies or Frozen Fours- are far more scarred by tattered defense and goaltending.

Rob Ricci, F, and Joe Loprieno, D, Merrimack to South Carolina (ECHL) and San Jose, respectively- Two would-be seniors join but three actual graduates and leave behind as many as 21 returnees. Merrimack’s durable annual wager is still no different: are they going to make that head-turning leap to the postseason or what? Note that Chris Barton and Jesse Todd tied Ricci’s team-leading data of 23 points, another five projected returnees finished in the double-digit range, and a respectable goaltending tandem is expected back in Andrew Braithwaite and Joe Cannata.

Singular stardom
Out of seven regular Canadian-raised backstops in the WHEA this past season, only PC’s Genevieve Lacasse has an engagement at next week’s coveted U22 conditioning camp. Not even New Hampshire’s Kayley Herman –who was offered a hack at last summer’s team- saw her name surface when the invited list was discharged late Thursday.

Lacasse will be flanked by a grand total of 26 fellow NCAA collegians, including six direct rival skaters (Courtney Birchard and Kelly Paton of UNH, Rebecca Hewett and Dominique Thibault of Connecticut, and Jenelle Kohanchuk and Tara Watchorn of Boston University).

Perhaps more intriguingly, though, Mercyhurst College –which famously forcefed the radiant rookie a 53-shot workload two months into her career- will send four of its proficient puckslingers to the five-day training convention.

Lacasse’s shot at nosing past at least five of her fellow seven crease cravers en route to a spot in the annual August series versus the U.S. and next winter’s MLP Cup are, shall we say, hardly a lock. But please stand by. She's pulled a surprise or two before, after all.

Unbearable conduct
Orono puckheads would have to be sacrilegiously indifferent not to shudder at the latest off-ice blemish on Maine goaltender’s permanent records. Established freshman starter Scott Darling, one may recall, missed one November bout with Merrimack due to a brief suspension for “violation of team rules”. And now veteran Dave Wilson, who saw a good 33.1% of the Black Bears’ crease time this past season, will reportedly ride the pine as penance for an alleged domestic assault committed earlier this month.

Specifics as to the length of Wilson’s suspension are still at their greyest as head coach Tim Whitehead merely told the Maine Campus “we're waiting to get some feedback from the court system, and then we'll address any potential punishments through the student athlete code of conduct.” But the mere mention of “court system” projects omens of a year’s absence at best.

Quick feeds: The Central Scouting Service’s final prospect leaderboard has PC pickups Alex Velischek and Tim Schaller rated 63rd and 101st, respectively, amongst North American skaters…According to the program’s official website, this Tuesday is the final day to offer up a $35 fee and nab a seat at the PC women’s awards banquet, which will be held considerably later than usual –Friday, May 1 at the Providence Courtyard by Marriott.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com