B's change it up
10.10.2010 / 10:15 AM ET
After losing 5-2 Saturday in the first game of this 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Game series in Prague, the Boston Bruins refused to stand pat.
When coach Claude Julien was done tinkering, two different players were in Sunday's roster and several forwards were playing different roles.
Goalie Tim Thomas, making his season debut and playing his first regular-season game since offseason hip surgery, replaced Tuukka Rask, who allowed four goals Saturday.
Rookie Jordan Caron, meanwhile, made his NHL debut in the game, taking the place of the scratched Daniel Paille.
Julien also moved veteran Mark Recchi onto Tyler Seguin's line after the two showed some good chemistry on the power play in Saturday's game.
Phoenix stayed with the same lineup from Saturday's win.
The English are coming!
10.10.2010 / 8:15 AM ET
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly spoke to reporters here on Saturday about the Compuware NHL Premiere Game initiative. In those remarks, he said part of the motivation is a long-term plan to grow the brand in Europe, as well as the more immediate opportunity to service the European fan base.
Having been to four Premiere Game locations now -- England in 2007, Sweden in 2008, Finland last year and now the Czech Republic -- I can attest that it has been a huge success in its immediate goal.
In fact, I have experienced it first hand.
When I went to England four years ago, I met some guys from the Medway Madness, a rec team from the suburbs of London. After a bit of conversation with one of the coaches -- Nigel Howard -- for a story I was doing on the local hockey culture, we became pen pals, discussing hockey on a semi-regular basis.
When the NHL went to Sweden the nest year, "Howie" wanted to be there, so I got him tickets. In Finland, he was all-in again, bringing another member of the Madness -- Warren Cook -- with him. And, you guessed it, they are here again in the Czech Republic.
And, as they might say, they are chuffed to bits.
It's an NHL fix for them that doesn't require staying up to all hours of the night to watch games on TV. It allows them to see their heroes in person and get a little taste of the NHL culture.
Their enthusiasm for the game is genuine and their knowledge of the sport and its players is probably the equal of mine, if not better -- and I do this for a living. All the hockey people that have crossed their paths are shocked by how much they now about the NHL, despite being so removed from it.
They are right proper fans and they are the ones the NHL serves by bringing the games to European markets.
But, they are more than just fans. They also play the game as I mentioned. I'd be remiss if I did not mention that they won the Great Britain rec league title this year, beating Cardiff, on penalty shots, after the two leg final ended tied in total goals. It seems my mate Howie had a big series, too. I should know the exact numbers after being told so many times, but I'm drawing a blank.
No matter, though, they are champs until next season. Congrats to all the Madness boys, the best team in all of England.
Ready to Rock
10.09.2010 / 4:22 AM ET
After nine days of buildup, the time to play NHL games has finally arrived.
Not a minute too soon, as far as the players and coaches are concerned, either.
Nathan Horton said this morning that the Bruins turned into regular-season mode before yesterday's practice and are now locked in game-day mode after a brisk morning skate.
"You can feel it," said Horton, who will make his debut as a Bruin tonight. "Everyone is ready."
Judging from Boston's skate, it appears that Tuukka Rask will get the start Saturday night for Boston. It is unclear if Boston coach Claude Julien plans to play Tim Thomas on Sunday, though.
It also appears that Adam McQuaid and Jordan Caron will be the healthy scratches for Boston. That means Tyler Seguin will make His NHL debut tonight, likely on a line with Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder.
Phoenix, meanwhile, still faces some roster decisions.
Defenseman Derek Morris is a game-time decision, nursing a lower-body injury. If he can play, coach Dave Tippett will have to chose between David Schlemko and promising rookie Oliver Ekman-Larsson to fill out the defensive pairings.
Ekman Larsson told me on Thursday that most of his family has made the two-hour trip from Sweden to watch him play this weekend.
Phoenix's other two scratches will likely be Kyle Turris and Paul Bissonnette.
Running with the Tartan Army
10.08.2010 / 6:29 AM ET
"Among the Thugs," a definitive look at soccer hooligan culture in England, is one of my favorite books. My personal copy is dog-eared after being read several times. I love anything at all to do with European soccer culture, especially its over-the-top fans.
I'm a soccer guy -- loving it almost as much as I do hockey -- so anytime I am on the continent and can see some European soccer it's a win-win situation for me.
That makes this trip to Prague a home run then. The Scottish national team is in the city for Friday night's Euro 2012 qualifier. They have traveled at least 7,000 fans and they have slowly but surely taken over the city -- particularly Old Town -- in the past 48 hours.
It is a surreal scene to watch the Tartan Army occupy an away country. Thursday night, I saw it first hand after getting out of the State Dinner held in honor of the Bruins and Coyotes.
As the night dragged on, I found myself -- in the company of my buddy Thomas Meaney from NHL Events and my mate from England, Nigel Howard -- wading into their encampment at an Irish bar on the square.
Everywhere you looked, it was blue kits and kilts, arms being bent to send another drink down. And, the singing, the non-stop singing, off-key and out of tune, but beautiful none the less as the fans celebrated their national identity through song.
When I was able to join in the singing -- when the Aberdeen fans took center stage -- I had a whole new batch of Scottish friends.
"We're the Dons, from Aberdeen and we're the finest that has ever been. And, we're going to do it, we're going to do it, we're going to do it for you!"
Don't ask how I knew that little ditty. I have watched too much English and Scottish soccer in my day. Aberdeen has always been one of my favorite sides because they're fans are such cheeky blokes.
But, that song -- warbled by me further off key and more out of tune than the rest of the Dons' fans -- gave me instant credibility in this crowd.
It was an awesome night for sure, a highlight of the trip. I'm hoping another English buddy of mine has scored us all tickets to tonight's game. I'll find out later today. But, no matter the result of that quest, I have had another European soccer adventure I won't ever forget.
10.07.2010 / 3:53 PM ET
To many, NHL players are heroes, blessed with physical gifts the general public only can dream about.
Maybe that is why it was so much fun to watch some of the game's most talented players struggle to keep up with a wheelchair team during a 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere event in Old Town on Thursday afternoon.
For Boston, it was a team comprised of all-star defenseman Zdeno Chara, German forward Marco Sturm, Czech hero David Krejci and goalie Nolan Schaefer that challenged the local team to a 10-minute match only to be humbled completely.
Then it was time for the Phoenix Coyotes to give it a whirl. Their quartet of goalie Al Montoya playing defense, and Phoenix's three Czech players -- Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata and Petr Prucha -- fared no better.
"We enjoyed it, but we were totally out of their league," Chara told NHL.com. "They were much better than us. That's one of those things that you don't realize how hard it is until you try it. To coordinate your arms and holding a stick and trying to control the ball, it's extremely hard."
It also was sobering, said Sturm, who is rehabilitating a knee injury.
"It's pretty amazing how much energy you need for all that wheeling around," he said. "It's a tough life for them and we were glad to do them a favor and play them in hockey.
"It's always nice to see them smile. They were pretty good and we had no chance today."
Living like a rock star
10.07.2010 / 5:45 AM ET
While it has not quite been the proverbial partying-like-a-rock-star trip, there have been some rock-star moments.
It'll be tough to beat Wednesday's police escort to Arena Riga in that department, though.
After an afternoon flight from Prague to Riga, we piled off our plane and straight onto buses from what usually is a leisurely trip to our destination, done at the pace of local traffic.
Not Wednesday. Our two-bus caravan -- one for players and one for support staff -- hurtled off the tarmac with a police car at the lead and another at the tail.
I'm not sure the drivers touched their brakes at all during the 20-minute drive. We went around and through traffic, often crossing into oncoming traffic lanes and blowing through stop signs and red lights.
Swirling lights and the hammering of the police klaxons announced our impending arrival as we went and curious Latvians stopped in street to gawk or hung out office doors to wave as we passed.
We received the same treatment -- although at a less brisk Pace -- after the game through the deserted streets of Latvia to catch our flight home.
In between, I saw one of the most unique hockey games I have ever seen.
To say the NHL was a big deal in Latvia is an understatement of epic proportions. As Phoenix assistant coach Dave King told me Tuesday, this was not a game in Latvia, it was an event.
And, it was pure theater throughout, from the pre-game show to the final whistle.
The singing of the Latvian anthem is something I will never forget.The entire crowd sang, in unison, as a band leader stood at center ice, turning slowly and keeping the crowd in synch. A goose-bump experience! I felt proud to be a Latvian at that moment, even though I have no Latvian blood coursing through my body.
Dinamo Riga played hard and its fans willed them to glory for close to three hours, singing and chanting in an endless aural assault.
But, in the end, the Coyotes were two goals better.
Not that it mattered -- much -- to the Latvians. They roared for their team at the end. They roared for the Coyotes. They roared for the men of the match. They roared when the teams raised their sticks in salute -- the echoes still lingering in the bowels of Arena Riga as we pulled away.
A rock-star night for sure. Good night, Riga! The Phoenix Coyotes debuted a new addition to their 2010-11 game-day look, sporting the initials "JN" on their helmets for Wednesday's exhibition game against Dinamo Riga at Arena Riga in Latvia.
A well-deserved honor
10.06.2010 / 12:33 PM ET
Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney announced earlier Wednesday that Coyotes players will wear the initials "JN" on the back of their home and away helmets this season to honor Jukka Nieminen.
Nieminen, who passed away June 11, had served 17 seasons (1993-2010) as the massage therapist for the Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes.
"Jukka was a very special person and an important member of our training staff," said Maloney. "We were all deeply saddened by his sudden passing this summer and we are proud to honor him by having our players wear his initials on their helmets this season."
The Coyotes' coaching staff will wear the initials "JN" on the left arm of their training jackets to honor Nieminen.
Old home day
10.06.2010 / 11:43 AM ET
Dynamo Riga goalie Mikael Tellqvist was all smiles before Wednesday's 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge exhibition game against the Phoenix Coyotes.
For him, it was a trip down memory lane. Tellqvist played for the Coyotes for three seasons from 2006-09 and saw a lot of familiar faces as the teams mingled in the area outside the dressing rooms right after Phoenix's arrival.
"It's great to see guys like Doaner," Tellqvist told NHL.com, referencing Coyote captain Shane Doan. "It's just too bad they aren't staying overnight."
If they were, Tellqvist says he would be all up for showing the boys the town. Despite playing his first season in Riga, he says the city is the jewel of the Kontinental Hockey League circuit.
But he understands that the Coyotes, playing their last exhibition before the start of the season against Boston in Prague this weekend, are here for business and will be jetting back to Prague after the game.
Tellqvist says he will get the start Wednesday night against his former team, playing half the game before giving way to Canadian goalie Chris Holt, a former Rangers farmhand and current starter for Riga.
"Age before beauty," Tellqvist said, laughing. "We're playing half game each. I think that is right way. Get everybody into the game. We'll see what happens."
It's that same wait-and-see philosophy that Tellqvist is using when it comes to his hockey future. He is out of contract this summer and he wouldn't mind returning to the NHL.
"I tried a bit this summer to get back," he said. "You never know with the (salary)-cap system. They are always looking for a reliable backup goalie. Next summer is a new contract deal, so we'll see."
But he knows what lies in store later tonight.
"They are probably going to be excited, trying to score on me all the time -- especially Doaner," Tellqvist said, smiling again. "It will be fun."
Getting a second wind
10.06.2010 / 5:22 AM ET
Boys and girls, let me apologize for my absence these past 48 hours. It has been a crazy time, only to get crazier with a trip later Wednesday to Latvia.
Really looking forward to the scene in Latvia, but it will make for a long and bruising 15-hour day.
Not complaining, mind you; although this is the time in these European trips when you start to hit the wall both mentally and physically. The time change, the moving from country to country and the constant unease at finding your way in unfamiliar surroundings is definitely taxing.
Emotionally, this is the time you begin to become sick for home a bit. It is always tough for me right around this time because my wedding anniversary is today, Oct. 6.
It is incredibly hard to be away on this day, but I am fortunate to be married to the most amazing woman I know. She allows me to chase my passion wherever it brings me and embrace the wonderful opportunities that have been put before me. She is a beauty and I would be remiss not to thank here in this forum for all she does to make me who I am. I miss her and my entire family so much.
But, that's enough of my emotional wanderings. You have come here for hockey and a peek into life on this trip to Czech Republic. So you shall have both now.
Tuesday's trip to Liberec was fantastic.
The city is about a 90-minute drive through farm country that was absolutely beautiful. The city itself was bonkers with the Bruins coming to town. When we arrived 45 minutes before faceoff, traffic was so bad, we couldn't get off the highway exit ramp. Instead, we had to pile out of the bus and hoof it -- with a constant stream of fans -- about a quarter mile to the rink.
But, that was just the start of an incredible night. The Liberec rink is a small building, but it was jammed to the rafters and it was loud all night, even when the home team was down six goals. The White Tiger fans could hang with any fan base in North America, I will tell you that.
While there has been a ton of work -- two practices a day since the Coyotes arrived -- I have also found some time to see bits and pieces of the city. More of the heavy-duty sightseeing will come Thursday and Friday.
I have, though, figured out the mass transit system here, which helps. I took the No. 17 tram out to Tesla Arena on Monday. The past two days I have taken the subway from the hotel to O2 Arena. It is such an empowering feeling when you accomplish simple tasks like that in a foreign country.
Plus, I went shoe shopping Tuesday. Not as easy as it sounds, seeing shoes are in European sizes, which have no correlation to American sizes. For those of you that have been following my trails and tribulations religiously, you know I blew a heel Sunday getting off the bus upon arrival here in Prague. Seeing as it was my only pair of dress shoes, a replacement pair was in order. Got it done just minutes before bus left for Liberec.
The other cool thing so far has been the self-serve pub some of the boys have found right across the street from our hotel. The concept is brilliantly simple. At each booth, there is a four-tap system. The serve r gives you a glass and you're on your own. Somehow, the system measures what you have poured and a bill shows up at the end.
It is a great concept, trust me. Although, the scoreboard on the TV that documents how many 1/2 liters each table has consumed does add a little pressure to the proceedings.
Ready for 'Hell'!
10.04.2010 / 6:22 AM ET
As AC/DC sang, Hell ain't a bad place to be -- at least in this instance for the Boston Bruins.
The NHL team travels Tuesday to Liberec to play the White Tigers in their final exhibition game before the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series against Phoenix this weekend.
The Liberec fans are famous for creating a "White Hell" -- dressing in white, waving white towels and screaming throughout the match -- that is legendary across the Czech elite circuit.
Boston center David Krejci, who played his junior hockey in the Czech Republic, knows all about Liberec's reputation.
"Liberec, every game is sold out there, 8,000 people," Krejci said. "You'll see (Tuesday) -- it will be something cool."
Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata has played for Liberec and experienced the advantage the home fans can give the home team. He believes the Bruins will be in for a unique experience.
"They have good fans, and when that team gets to the playoffs, there's a little white out there," Vrbata told NHL.com. "The fans are really good and I think it will be a good, interesting game."
The Bruins believe that and say, "Bring it on!"
"When you play the home squad, it's a lot of fun," Boston forward Mark Recchi said. "The atmosphere is great, they are cheering and chanting. And it's awesome.
"That will be great for us. It will be a hard game, but a fun game."
Plus, the Bruins have paid attention to what has been going on across Europe as five other teams play their final preseason games before the Premiere series begins Thursday.
San Jose needed a shootout to beat Adler Mannheim in their first European exhibition. Minnesota found itself in hard against Finnish club Ilves Tampere for almost half a game before pulling away for a 5-1 victory. Carolina, meanwhile, dropped a 5-3 decision to SKA St. Petersburg on Monday, a game that more resembled the Stanley Cup Playoffs than a meaningless exhibition.
Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien certainly has been paying attention. He is excited to see how his team responds to the hostile atmosphere it will encounter and how his players handle a quality side.
Liberec is a middle-of-the-pack team this season, going 3-3-1 with a plus-3 goal differential after seven games. Former NHL star Petr Nedved is on the club, joining Miloslav Horava as co-leading scorers. Each player has 6 points in seven games.
"If you did your homework, Carolina lost in St. Petersburg and San Jose won in a shootout, so there are a lot of teams here that, for them, it's like a playoff game," Julien said. "They are playing an NHL team and they are definitely motivated and ready to play. For us, it makes for a great opponent. No one should think it is going to be easy because they got that extra motivation that makes them hard to play against."
Boston also is close to making its last cuts. The team has to make its final roster decisions soon after Tuesday's game and must pare down by at least two players.
Fortunately, Tuesday's game against Liberec will be played with 22-man rosters, the norm in the Czech league. That means Julien will be able to dress an extra forward and an extra defenseman.
"If somebody is not going well, you have somebody to replace him," Julien said when asked about the dynamics of having extra players at his disposal.
Julien said after Tuesday's morning skate that all the skaters except for forward Brian McGrattan and rookie defenseman Matt Bartowski will dress against Liberec. Tim Thomas will play goal for the Bruins.
10.04.2010 / 2:55 PM ET
Shane Doan never ceases to amaze me.
The Phoenix captain is everything a hockey player should be. He gives it his all on the ice -- no quarter given nor asked for. Off the ice, he handles all his responsibilities with a grace and humility to which all of us should aspire.
Monday afternoon, he was all smiles as he dealt with the media after a 13-hour flight and a practice that took all his jet-lagged body had in reserve.
In answer those questions, Doan talked about all hockey has given him. Basically, he said he was a small-town Alberta boy that got to see the world because he could skate, shoot and hit better than 99 percent of the world.
While we hear it from people in our game, we need to hear it more. Heck, we need to say it more. So, I'm saying thank you to hockey right now.
Like Doan, the game has given me so much.
I never would have gotten to the Czech Republic today without hockey and my skills to cover it. The same goes for Belfast, Stockholm, Helsinki, London, Japan and the countless other places my profession has taken me to document grown men playing a kid's game at a level that inspires the passion necessary to justify the interest.
But it is not just about the travel the game has given me. Hockey has provided me so much in my life. It is the means to support a family I love more than I ever knew was possible. It has provided a circle of diverse friends that rival that of anyone and it has given me the ride of a lifetime that, thankfully, is not done yet.
So, here is a hearty thank you to the game and an even bigger thank you to Shane Doan for once again reminding me how much gratitude I owe the sport of hockey.
This old barn
10.04.2010 / 5:48 AM ET
Welcome to Tesla Arena, home to Sparta Praha hockey club, but also home to the Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes on Monday.
Boston is practicing presently (11 a.m. local time) and Phoenix, who just landed, will practice at 4 p.m.
The arena is unbelievable, with a ton of nooks and crannies and overhanging balconies and the like. There's not a bad seat in the house. I'd love to see a game here before I go.
The rink, which has that same Quonset Hut look that so many Muni rinks in North America have, is hard against a small amusement park and a planetarium. Amazingly at 10:30 a.m., the bumper cars were going at the amusement park. I wanted to join in the fun, but duty called.
For those of you wondering, Tesla Arena is not named after the hard-rock band TESLA, which was named after Czechoslovakian inventor Nikolai Tesla. It seems that Tesla is a car-making company over here, but I'm not 100 percent sure of that. But, I trust, that they must bang out some Heaven's Trail or Party's Over in the course of Sparta Praha games.
The rink is also a fair piece away from the downtown hotel. Being the adventurous sort, I decided to take the tram over. It proved to be a solid decision as I got here without incident and saw a good bit of the city at a casual pace.
Last night, I was able to check out Old Town, as well, as I took a brisk walk to get the traveling out of my system. It was amazing. So much history and so many take-your-breath-away buildings
Stopped for a bite at a place off the main square there. Not sure of the name in Czech, but have been told it translates to the fat Koala. It was a funky little place, but the food was great (spicy beef goulash with bread dumplings to die for).
Czech media swarms Chara
10.03.2010 / 12:41 PM ET
David Krejci is the only Czech on the Boston roster, but he was not the biggest draw as the Bruins caravan arrived at its downtown hotel, only to be met by a throng of Czech media.
No, that honor was reserved for Zdeno Chara, who hails from neighboring Slovakia. Sure, people wanted to talk to Krejci, a young player blossoming into an elite talent, but it was the Bruins captain who took center stage.
Chara spent one year with Sparta Praha junior club before heading to North American to play in the NHL. Sparta is one of the clubs that calls this city home.
Despite a long day of travelling, Chara -- and Krejci, as well -- gave the journalists a few minutes of time before ducking into the hotel.
We'll talk to Chara and Krejci about the greeting and their initial thoughts of being in Prague at practice on Monday.
10.03.2010 / 12:25 PM ET
Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest and so it was for the Bruins.
Well, rest to a degree. We did have to make a two-hour flight from Belfast to Prague Sunday. And, with all the time lost on both ends -- getting to and form the airport -- it ended up being close to a six-hour effort.
That should tell you the pace the boys have been keeping if a six-hour day is considered a day of rest.
But, nobody is complaining.
The flight -- on a British Airways jet -- was uneventful and featured a yummy lunch of grilled shrimp Caesar salad.
It's about a half-hour ride from the airport to downtown Prague and fall has fully arrived here. Some trees have lost their leaves already and others are in full foliage mode. It also quite brisk, which makes me think I should have packed something heavier than my windbreaker.
I also should have packed more than one pair of dress shoes considering I blew a heel on the right shoe of the only pair I did bring. I was helping get some luggage off the bus when I slipped on the steps and cleaved the heel right off.
Guess who is going shopping first thing tomorrow for new shoes?
Tonight, though, I will don my sneakers -- which are still in working order -- and take a walk around the city a bit and get a bite to eat.
10.03.2010 / 11:47 AM ET
Sadly, Belfast is now in our rear-view mirror.
A whirlwind 72-hour stay came to an end on a beautiful Sunday morning as we boarded our buses and headed to the airport for the quick two hour flight to Prague and the start of a new adventure.
But, it is impossible to say goodbye to this amazing country without reflecting on the past three days.
Everything here has been amazing.
On the hockey side, Belfast GM Todd Kelman took care of everything and made the stay a pleasure. He was rewarded for the insane amount of work he put in with a great game Saturday night, one the fans at the Odyssey Arena will cherish forever despite the 5-1 scoreline for the other side.
If I had a pound note for every person that thanked Todd for the game and bringing the Bruins to Belfast, I would be a very rich man.
And, he deserves all the props that came his way as he organized a first-class experience for the Bruins. He is a man that clearly loves hockey and love his adopted city of Belfast just as much.
After the game was over, we got to spend a few hours with Todd and some of the other organizers, celebrating what they accomplished.
It would have been a special moment anywhere, but the fact that it happened at the Merchant Hotel bar made it even more special. This was one swanky cocktail lounge. In fact, the cocktail list was actually an 80-page book.
Amazingly, one of the cocktails went for 700 pounds. It is made with the rarest Jamacian rum in the world and also featured gold leaf. Fortunately for us, they emptied their bottle a few months earlier and had to discontinue the drink thereby eliminating the temptation.
That is just one of the memories I will carry home with me from this trip, though.
I will forever remember the kindness of the people we met; people who welcomed us to their city like family and were only happy when they were assured you were having the time of your life.
I will remember the meals -- although they were few and far between. Irish food may not be high on the world cuisine list, but the meals I had were all spectacular. I will definitely try to make some champ when I get home.
The joy the Belfast players felt in playing against -- and competing with -- the Bruins was special, as well.
The smile on Jade Galbraith's face as he discussed his goal could have lit up the whole Odyssey Arena. In was a special moment for him in a career that has not always taken the road he hoped. I felt honored to share it with him. I also felt honored by the way the Giants team accepted me into their lives, even if it was for just a fraction of time. They are, as much as any NHLer, the definition of hockey players, playing the game because they love it and won't let it go.
As Mike Hoffman told me, "The dream never dies, no matter how old you are."
I wish them all the best this year as I join -- at least on an honorary basis -- their legion of crazy supporters.
If the next seven days in Prague come even close to the past three days, I won't have a complaint in the world.
Thank you Belfast!
Bruins lead 3-1 after two
10.02.2010 / 03:52 PM ET
Jade Galbraith gave the home team a 1-0 lead , but the Bruins responded in dramatic fashion with three goals in a 45-second span.
Rookie center Tyler Seguin scored on the power play for Boston, while Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara also chipped in with goals. Shawn Thornton assisted on two of the tallies.
The Bruins are outshooting the All-Stars by a 25-14 margin through two periods.
Bruins-Giants scoress after first
10.02.2010 / 03:00 PM ET
NHL hockey arrived in Belfast Saturday night with the home side -- the Belfast Giants Selects -- making their fans extremely proud after one period.
Through 20 minutes, the English Premiere League All-Stars stood toe-to-toe with the mighty Boston Bruins, holding the visitors to a surprising 0-0 draw.
Scottish goalie Stephen Murphy was the star of the show in the first, making several acrobatic saves -- including a lunging stop of a bomb from Zdeno Chara.
He also made three saves on Matt Hunwick, who was extremely dangerous during the period's only power play.
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask was not nearly as busy, but was tested on three separate occasions by a Belfast team that started finding its confidence as the period progressed.
Odyssey Arena was packed well before the start of the game with fans from throughout Great Britain streaming into the building to witness Northern Ireland hockey history.
The crowd, a raucous unit that banged drums and sung songs about Belfast players throughout the period, welcomed the Bruins warmly. Chara and Mark Recchi received the biggest ovations for Boston.
But, neither was as loud as the pre-game ovations reserved for Murphy, Scottish forward Colin Shields and Mike Hoffman, the Massachusetts native imported to be the Giants hard man this season.
Thornton's athletic family
10.02.2010 / 11:12 AM ET
In a brief chat with Shawn Thornton's mom, Christine, on Friday, it was learned that Shawn has some pretty accomplished athletes in his family.
One cousin, Zack Greer is a very accomplished Div. 1 lacrosse player in the States and another is even bigger here in Northern Ireland. That young man would be Chris Brunt, a midfielder for Premier League soccer club West Bromwich Albion.
Brunt, born in Belfast, has played with WBA for the past four years, helping that club gain promotion into the prestigious Premier League. Brunt also has represented Northern Ireland in international soccer more than 25 times.
Thornton's hopes to see Brunt on this trip, however, were dashed as the schedules did not match up.
Brunt had a Saturday afternoon game against Bolton, while Thornton is playing Saturday night.
As the locals would say, Friday was a right proper craic for me here in Belfast.
Friday night is alright for...
10.02.2010 / 9:28 AM ET
Craic, pronounced crack, is an Irish term used broadly for any fun situation and it is the perfect word to describe a night that will not soon be forgotten.
It started with a three-course dinner with the Lord Mayor of Belfast at a very posh City Hall. The food was fantastic -- cream of pumpkin soup, stuffed chicken wrapped in bacon over champ (which is mashed potatoes with scallions in it) and a scrumptious apple and blueberry cobbler that played to rave reviews at our table.
After dinner, myself and co-worker Barry Monaghan headed out for some real ale, the hand-pulled, lukewarm variety that is famous in England. It is not as prevalent here, but we found a place -- the Bridge House -- and sampled the local wares. I had a Jackknife Ale and a Black Adder and both were quiet tasty in a way only cask beer can be.
Then, it was off for a little slice of Belfast nightlife, which found us at Fibber Magee's, which is not even a block from our hotel.
The place was jammed and I soon learned why when the three piece band started its second set, belting out traditional Irish music. All three men were easily in their 50s, but boy could they play. Browned-eye Girl, in tribute to local product Van Morrison, and Irish Rover were the highlights.
And, the people were just as good as the music. Not five minutes into the place, we were stopped by a local who saw our NHL pins on our suits (yes we were overdressed) and asked if he could buy us a beer.
Turns out John, and his lovely wife Andrea, are season-ticket holders for the Giants and are over the moon about Saturday's game. We chatted for the better part of an hour about the Bruins and Giants and Belfast in general.
Sometimes in the throes of doing this job, you forget the point of your mission; of all of our missions. John and Andrea reminded me of it during our talk. Our job as hockey fans is to be ambassadors for the game wherever you go, to sell its merits and share in its joys.
Hockey not only brought me to Belfast, but it has linked me with so many great people since I have arrived. That is the game's gift and we should always remember it. Thanks to John and Andrea, I won't forget anytime soon.
Soon after, the band was done and the magic spell was broken. It was time to say goodnight to a Friday night that will be hard to beat.
But, who knows? There is always Saturday night after the game.
Giants ready for experience of a lifetime
10.02.2010 / 9:03 AM ET
The Belfast Giants Selects know that they are not in the same league as the Boston Bruins, but that has not put a damper on their excitement for Saturday night's 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge exhibition against the NHL club at Odyssey Arena here.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," forward Colin Shields told NHL.com.
Shields, 30, is a Glasgow native who was an All-American at the University of Maine in 2003. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers, but did not sign there. He also attended a San Jose Shark camp on a tryout basis.
He knows all about NHL hockey and has at least a passing knowledge of all the veterans in the lineup for Saturday's game. Yet, he is excited to show off the Giants and the city of Belfast to the Boston team and its fans.
That is a sentiment that all four Bristish players on the roster echoed. They only want to show of their league and their stars to a broader audience. The Belfast Giants Selects are, after all, the cream of the crop in Great Britain's top-flight league.
"It's a great event for British hockey and a great event for the city of Belfast," goalie Stephen Murphy told NHL.com. "It shows the world that businesses here can do well. There's a handful of British players on the roster and this game is a big deal for all of us."
Murphy, a cousin to Shields, also plays for Belfast and is one of three goalies on the roster. He also plays goal for the Great Britain national team. Last season, he had eight shutouts en route to helping Belfast win the League title and himself Player of the Year honors in the Elite League.
So, could a shocking shutout against the Bruins be in the works for Saturday night?
"That's the aim of every game," Murphy said with a shy smile. "It doesn't always work out that way, though."
This game is also a big deal for the North Americans that dot the Select team roster."
Some, like Rob Globke and Ben Simon, have actually played in the NHL. Others, liked Shields and Ricard Seeley, have kicked around in the minors for several years, coming tantalizingly close to realizing their dream.
Yet others, like defenseman Tim Cook, from Montclair, N.J., have foregone the minor-league route and settled in Europe to start their pro careers.
"It's funny how life works," Cook told NHL.com. "I thought my days of going up against guys like these were over and here I am playing the Boston Bruins."
Could this then be an audition for a return to North America after three years in Europe, including an award-winning season with Belfast last season?
"Realistically, no," Cook said. "But, as I just said, you never know what is going to happen in life."
While Cook holds just the slimmest of hopes about making the NHL, some of his Belfast teammates still hold onto the
dream of making it to the sport's pinnacle.
Mike Hoffman, a seasoned AHL vet, still believes he has a shot at the show. He has been close a few times in his career, only to be derailed by injuries.
Now, he is studying for his MBA here while playing for the Giants, trying to change his game to break out of the enforcer niche he has occupied for much of his career.
"The dream never dies, no matter how old you are," said the 30-year-old Hoffman.
Saturday, the dream will live -- at least for a night -- for all of the Belfast Giants.
Time to work
10.01.2010 / 10:03 AM ET
Boston coach Claude Julien put the Bruins through some serious paces Friday morning, holding a brisk 90-minute practice that featured a ton of skating.
Despite stopping practice at least twice to exhort his boys to give more effort, Julien said afterward that he was happy with the pace and progress Of the final practice session before Saturday's exhibition against the Belfast Giants Selects.
"Today, was much better," Julien said. "Yesterday was pretty good for a team that had flown and just had a few hours sleep, but today was much better -- the intensity, the passing, the scoring, the commitment. We got a week to keep having these kinds of practices."
The players also noticed the difference. To a man, they said that they have overcome the shock of yesterday's jet lag and were functioning on a level more close to normal.
In fact, many of the players welcomed the workout Julien provided.
"You need to pay a lot of attention to details now," Chara told NHL.com. "The closer you are getting to the season, you have to pay attention to system details and make sure we are playing the structure that we want to accomplish before we start the real games. These practices now are intense. There's a lot of skating involved. It's a good thing because it is still camp and still preseason."
There was much discussion about the Odyssey Arena on Thursday afternoon as the Bruins took the ice for the first time.
Afterward, the reviews were stellar.
"The facility itself is very nice," coach Claude Julien said after a hard Thursday practice. "We're enjoying it and everything we have in our dressing room and around it is just like you have with a pro team. So, it has been well-designed and we have all been impressed with that."
Shawn Thornton expected as much. He has had a couple of friends -- including goalie Mike Minard -- play for the Giants in the past few years. Minard, who was in Thornton's wedding party, tended net for the Giants from 2005 to 2007.
Ironically, Minard played with Todd Kelman, who is now the GM of the Giants and made this Boston trip here a reality
"I have had friends play out here in the past and they have told me some stories and told me about the rink," Thornton said. "It's a really nice building."
Clearly, Belfast residents are proud of their crown jewel. One of Thursday's lines of questioning is if the 10-year-old building, which seats close to 6,000 for hockey, could hypothetically host a NHL game if the league expanded to the European continent.
"Right now, looking at the size of the rink, in the NHL new are talking about rinks the size of 17,000 and up," Julien said. "They would probably need a few more seats in here I would imagine. All you have to do is raise the roof, put in a few more seats and you might be in business."
One of the coolest things about the Odyssey Arena is the ice surface appears to be wider than an NHL surface, but still smaller than an Olympic surface.
The Boston players noticed the extra room right away and stated without a doubt that it will have an impact on Saturday's game.
"A lot more skating," Patrice Bergeron told NHL.com. "That's good. A lot more room on the ice. It's an adjustment for sure. It's different, but more room so you can create more plays."
Checking out the digs
09.30.2010 / 11:27 AM ET
The Bruins are practicing right now, getting their first look at the Odyssey Arena here in Belfast.
The first thing that is striking about the building is the ice surface. It appears to be a hybrid rink, probably about 110 feet wide.
The Bruins were flying throughout the session, using the extra width for passes during line rushes.
Boston has two days of practice here before Saturday night's exhibition against the Belfast Giants Selects and the team is working at finding the proper line combinations in the absence of No. 1 center Marc Savard, who is out with post-concussion syndrome.
Plus, the team still needs to make one more cut before Saturday's regular-season opener against Phoenix in Prague. Right now, the Bruins are carrying 25 players and must get down to the League-mandated 23 before the start of the regular season.
Third-string goalie Nolan Schaefer, here as insurance, will be one of the cuts. The other will likely come on the blue line as Boston is still carrying eight defensemen. If that proves to be the case, it means that rookies Jordan Caron and Tyler Sequin, the No. 2 pick in this past June's Entry Draft, will make the Bruins' opening-day lineup.
Before practice, NHL merchandise maven Barry Monaghan and myself were able to grab a quick bite to eat across the street from the hotel at a place called Robinson's Bistro. We each had the steak pie, which was even more awesome than the waitress promised it would be.
After that, it was a quick cab ride to the rink. I think I only understood one of every five words he uttered during the 10-minute trip, but we did manage to have a conversation about fighting in hockey. Wherever you go in this world, it seems people want to talk about the fights in hockey. In this case, though, the cabbie had a legit interest as he was a massive boxing fan.
Welcome to Northern Ireland
09.30.2010 / 8:10 AM ET
Well, we have arrived in Northern Ireland.
Boston's overnight charter was an uneventful 5-plus hour jaunt across the ocean.
Most of the players sacked out immediately upon boarding the plane, sleeping a good deal of the way across the Atlantic. Yours truly was not so lucky, taking almost 3 hours before finally falling asleep.
Unfortunately, two hours is not enough sleep for anyone -- especially me. I will be dragging later today. Time for some caffeine!
It is beautiful here today, sunny and in low 60s. That is only surprising because our pilot called the weather "sketchy" -- something you probably never want to hear from the man charged with getting you on the ground safely.
It seems there was some pretty dense fog cover this morning -- fortunately, according to the pilot, we had plenty of reserve fuel to circle as often as necessary -- but we knifed right through the low ceiling and burst into a sea of green meadows for as far as the eye could see.
I'm glad I didn't have to drive the 30 minutes to the hotel in downtown Belfast. As you know, they drive on the wrong side of the road here, which would be quite the challenge in my sleep-deprived state. The rotary just outside the airport, which has to be tackled in a counter-clockwise direction just about threw me over the edge and convinced me I will not be driving anything until I step back on North American soil in 11 days time.
Our hotel is beautiful as well and is one of the most historic in the city. Bill Clinton stayed here during visits to Northern Ireland and during The Troubles this hotel was the headquarters for many of the journalists that covered the sectarian conflict.
I hope to check out the city a bit in the next little while and grab a bite to eat before practice. I'll be back with an update after the Bruins skate.
Savard won't make trip
09.29.2010 / 4:32 PM ET
Boston center Marc Savard will not travel with Boston when it leaves for Belfast later Wednesday night.
Savard, who suffered a concussion last spring, but made a dramatic return against Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, has missed all of training camp with post-concussion syndrome symptoms.
"He's not going to start with us," Chiarelli told reporters Wednesday morning during the team's media day. "He may join us. We're putting him on a seven ... eight day plan while we're gone, to see doctors.
"He's got to ramp up his physical activity just to get to the exertion test, so there's a lot of protocol we have to go through and we decided we'd be better having him here with the guidance of our doctors. We've got a physical therapy group here too that will work with him and start his conditioning, so he's got to go through a number of steps, better served here than over there."
While Chiarelli left the door open for Savard to join the team in Prague when it plays against Phoenix next weekend in the 2010 Compuware Premiere series, it appears unlikely that will happen.
Savard did join the Bruins earlier this week when the team went to Vermont for two days of team-building exercises. Chiarelli said that Savard's time in Vermont suggests the center is on his way toward recovery.
"He just spent the last few days with (coach) Claude (Julien) and the team in Vermont to do the team building," Chiarelli said. "He's, again, from what I see, he's progressing nicely. I've talked to him every day and he's on his way, but we need to make sure we do this properly."
Planes, trains and autombiles
09.29.2010 / 12:02 PM ET
I just hopped on the Acela train out of Newark N.J. to begin a crazy travel day that will not end until the early morning hours Thursday when I touch down in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
But, before I get there, I will likely take every form of motorized transportation known to mankind.
The morning began with the 30-minute trip from home to Newark in the trusty family Jeep. Now, it is four hours on the Acela to Boston's South Station. From there, it will be the T to North Station and the Garden for Wednesday night's exhibition against the Washington Capitals.
Post-game, it will be a quick story and then a dash to a waiting bus to go with the team to Logan Airport for the overnight flight to Belfast, which will land in the wee hours of the morning Thursday, even though it will be almost lunch time at our destination because of the six-hour time difference.
As grueling as the journey sounds, it should be an adventure and the perfect start to a 12-day excursion through Europe to start the 2010-11 season. I'm glad you have all chosen to join me on this field trip and, in appreciation, I promise to give you as many details as possible -- both hockey-related and tourist-related -- from my time in Belfast, the Czech Republic and Riga, Latvia.
Roster for final NA exhibition announced
09.29.2010 / 11:47 AM ET
On Wednesday, the Boston Bruins trimmed their roster to 25 and also announced the lineup for Wednesday's exhibition game against the Washington Capitals, their final North American exhibition game. Later Wednesday night, Boston departs for Belfast in preparation of Saturday's 2010 Compuware Premiere Challenge game against the Belfast Giants Select team at Oddysey Arena.
Six players were cut Wednesday morning, including big-time prospects Zach hamill and Joe Colborne. The two forwards were sent to Providence, along with Steven Kampfer, Jeff Lovecchio, Jeremy Reich and Wyatt Smith.
Wednesday night's game is scheduled to feature the return of Tim Thomas, who had offseason surgery. He and Nolan Schaefer will dress for the game against the Capitals, the back end of a home-and-home series that began Tuesday night in DC.
Here is the full lineup:
FORWARDS: Patrice Bergeron, Gregory Campbell, Jordan Caron, Nathan
Horton, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brian McGrattan, Daniel Paille, Mark
Recchi, Michael Ryder, Tyler Seguin, Blake Wheeler
DEFENSEMEN: Matt Bartkowski, Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Andrew
Ference, Matt Hunwick, Dennis Seidenberg
GOALTENDERS: Nolan Schaefer, Tim Thomas
PLAYERS NOT SKATING IN WEDNESDAY’S GAME: Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid,
Tuukka Rask, Mark Stuart, Shawn Thornton
INJURED NON-ROSTERED PLAYERS: Marc Savard, Marco Sturm, Trent
Boston begins final preperations
09.28.2010 / 10:51 AM ET
The Bruins have begun final preparations for their trip to Europe and just two exhibition games on North American soil -- a home and home against Washington that begins in DC on Tuesday -- remain before Wednesday night's departure to Belfast.
Tuesday morning, the Bruins made several roster moves in preparation for Tuesday's game, assigning Nathan McIver to Providence and calling up Jeff LoVecchio and making Jeremy Reich and Wyatt Smith available for Tuesday night's game against the Capitals.
Here is the roster for Tuesday night's game:
FORWARDS: Gregory Campbell, Joe Colborne, Zach Hamill, Jeff LoVecchio,
Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Daniel Paille, Jeremy Reich, Michael Ryder,
Wyatt Smith, Shawn Thornton, Blake Wheeler
DEFENSEMEN: Matt Bartkowski, Johnny Boychuk, Matt Hunwick, Steven
Kampfer, Adam McQuaid, Mark Stuart
GOALTENDERS: Tuukka Rask, Nolan Schaefer
Boston flair added to Belfast roster
09.22.2010 / 10:41 AM ET
The Belfast Giants Selects added four more players to its roster, bringing the total to 19, for the exhibition game it will play against the Boston Bruins next Saturday. Massuchessetts native and former Bruins tryout participant Josh Prudden was named to the team, as was former UMass-Lowell star Jerramie Domish.
Former NHLer Rob Globke and high-scoring forward David Alexandre Beauregard were also named to the team Monday. Globke had three brief cups of coffee with the Panthers a few years back and Beauregard was a draft pick of the San Jose Sharks who saw his dreams of an NHL career cut short after losing sight in one of his eyes after an on-ice accident while playing in the QMJHL.
Here is the full story on Wednesday's announcement. The final four players for the roster for the Oct. 2 game will be added next Monday.
Also, you can find past announcements here, here, here, here and here.