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Bear Essentials: December 16th & 17th

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
5:49 p.m.

As I said earlier, Aaron Ward was off the ice today -- that came as no shock as Claude Julien had said the team would continue to take a cautious approach with their veteran defenseman.

But Marco Sturm looked pretty good.

"Yeah, it was encouraging today," said Coach Julien. "He has felt pretty good the last few of days.

"He’s willing to give it a try, but I think we will wait and see tomorrow, see how he feels, and make a decision tomorrow on gameday, which is easier.

"He will skate with us. If we can make the decision tomorrow morning we will make it tomorrow morning. If we have to stretch it out to game time, that’s not an issue either," he said.

Despite the rather loud volume of Coach Julien's words during the Bruins skating session, the head coach thinks his club is ready to return to action.

"I thought we had a good practice today," he said. "We [did] a lot of things, fine-tuning, competing drills, and that kind of stuff. I think when you look back at what we have gone through, two days off the ice was probably a good thing for them at this stage.

"Yesterday we had a pretty good off ice work-out. We really felt that mentally and physically it was the right thing to do. I thought they looked like they had energy.

"Tomorrow morning we'll have a good morning skate, and hopefully we will be ready for tomorrow night."

The Bruins are aware that tomorrow night's game marks a return to Northeast Division play.

"I saw the game against New Jersey," said Julien of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "They compete hard and there are not any soft shifts out there.

"They are going to be in your face the whole game. They are not intimidated by anybody. They come at you hard and are patient. Their goaltending has been pretty good as of late. Their confidence is growing. I don’t see any reason why it should be an easier game than any of the other three we have played against them."

Sounds like fun!

5:21 p.m.
The scraping and shoveling of cars and driveways is done and it's back to hockey for a bit. So, here are some notes from the AHL Insider about Providence Bruins big game with the Hartford Wolf Pack tonight:

Surging Hartford entertains first-place Providence in an Atlantic Division matchup Wednesday night...The Wolf Pack, four points back of the Bruins, are 3-0-0-1 in their last four games and two games over the .500 mark for the first time all season...Hartford allowed just 15 shots in a 2-0 win over the B’s on Dec. 10, with Miika Wiikman earning his first shutout of the year...Defenseman Jared Nightingale has three points and a plus-3 rating in four games since joining the Pack, including the winning goal vs. Providence last week...Jordan Owens has tallied two goals and four assists in Hartford’s last five games...The Bruins are 1-4-0-1 in their last six road contests...Martin St. Pierre continues to lead Providence in scoring (9-22-31) and is fifth overall in the AHL in points...Rookie Brad Marchand has totaled a goal and three assists in three meetings with the Wolf Pack this season.

2:04 p.m.

Before I "skate" home in the car, I wanted to let you know that Phil Kessel will appear on WEEI's (850 AM in Boston)  "The Big Show" at 3:10 p.m.

11:01 a.m.
It looks like everyone except Aaron Ward (not to forget Petteri Nokelainen and Andrew Ference) is on the ice this morning.

Currently the squad is practicing shootouts. A scary/funny moment occurred when Manny Fernandez was flattened by Zdeno Chara who lost his footing as he entered the slot.

Don Delnegro was halfway through the door towards Fernandez, who lay flat on his back, but got then up quickly thereafter. Manny must have said something funny because assistant coach Doug Houda was seen laughing as he reset the net.


Zee just came over to Manny and the pair had a chuckle. Everything is obviously okay.

9:47 a.m.

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…"

Well, it only took two hours for me to get from the Marlborough area to Wilmington – that’s usually no more than a 40-minute jaunt up I-495.

A big sarcastic "YAY" to that!

But, it is New England and it is (almost) winter, so I should be used to it.

I saw that the parking lot was full when I drove in, so apparently everyone else got here, too.

While I don’t expect today’s practice to be too intense, what with the Maple Leafs visiting tomorrow, I do expect to see several stoppages in practice on Wednesday where the coaching staff will “explain” certain things to the club.

Even though the B’s reside at the top of the Eastern Conference, Bruins head coach Claude Julien said that there are plenty of things to work on.

“There are still some flaws,” admitted Julien. “You never go through a sixty-minute game without running into some tough times.

“Sometimes it’s about momentum, or starting a period slowly instead of building off what you did the period before. Sometimes it’s about the amount of turnovers you have in the period. We have seen our share of things like that happen at times and what you are trying to do is always build consistency in your sixty-minute game and try to maintain that focus for as long as you can.

“We push ourselves and we push our players to try and do that and as the season progresses, those things become more and more important,” he said.

That means, these days just winning is not necessarily the ultimate goal. Obviously, teams always strive for the win, but when a team has been winning so consistently, you also strive for something beyond the "W".

“It is about pushing ourselves and trying to demand a little more out of each other, and see how close we can come to performing perfection,” said Julien.

Julien said yesterday that he did not see any problems with overconfidence – yet.

“I think, right now, our guys have been pretty good at handling [success],” said the head coach. “So far, it has been great.

“I think they realize what has gotten us here and what is going to keep us here and that we still have to be the hardest working team on the ice. We took pride in that last year, and taking pride in that this year with a little bit more talent, little bit more experience has helped move to the top, but I don’t think I have seen anyone get over-confident.

“And if we see that, I guess as a coaching staff, we will make sure we address that pretty quickly.”

Boston hits the ice at 10:30 a.m.

Boston Bruins Assistant Athletic Trainer Derek Repucci, Child Life Specialist Kirsten Fowler, Boston Bruins forward Marco Sturm and Children's Hospital's patient Richard Headley.

December 16th
8:28 p.m.
It seems pretty appropriate that I am watching A Charlie Brown Christmas while writing this particular part of today's Bear Essentials, because today everyone involved with the Bruins holiday toy delivery got to see "what Christmas (and the entire Holiday season) is all about."

By all accounts, the annual gift delivery was a big success.

Andrew Ference, Aaron Ward and David Krejci visit with Zack and one of the care providers at Spaulding.
The group I shadowed included Andrew Ference, David Kejci and Aaron Ward, Assistant to Hockey Administration Matt Falconer and Director of Publications & Information Heidi Holland.

We went to drop off gifts and visit the children at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Founded in 1971 as the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Hospital, Spaulding Hospital Netword is one of the largest rehabilitation facilities in the United States and provides comprehensive rehabilitation treatment.

Beyond all that, they help sick and injured children feel better and so did the players who took pictures, played Wii bowling and generally livened up the atmostphere.

Andrew Ference said it was all in a days work.

"It's not just a duty," said Ference. "All the guys are pretty excited about it and I think everyone enjoys it.

Aaron Ward and Colin
"You start when you [are a young hockey player], when you are playing juniors or in college, a lot of teams start that early.

"It almost becomes like a Christmastime ritual," he said.

Ference talked about the emotions that come to the surface when the players enter a hospital.

"It's not fun to see kids in that situation, but it definitely is nice to know that you can brighten their day," he said. "You don't realize that a group of 22 guys can make an impact across a number of different hospitals."

The B's made an impact at seven hospitals, to be exact. An estimated total of $25,000, donated by the Bruins players and coaches, the Boston Bruins Foundation and Volvo was used by the team to shop for toys on Tuesday, December 2 at Target in Woburn.

Members of the Bruins roster donated money from their own pockets, and for every dollar the team raised the Boston Bruins Foundation matched. In addition, Volvo donated $4,000 and provided transportation for the players driving to each hospital for the toy delivery.

"A lot of the guys had fun shopping," said Ference. "But this is the real good day."

It really was a good day.

By the way, later this week, look for a full wrap up on the day's activities, video and a photo gallery. JB

8:01 p.m.
First, for the hockey...
Boston Bruins' Michael Ryder, second from right, celebrates his goal with teammates Blake Wheeler, right, and Matt Hunwick (48) as Atlanta Thrashers' Bryan Little (10) skates past in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Bruins head coach Claude Julien gave a quick update on Marco Sturm and Aaron Ward.

"Again, [on Marco Sturm] I say cautiously because at one point I thought he was close to getting back and he had to take a step backwards -- but right now, in the last week, everything has been positive," he said. "He is moving forward towards coming back and hopefully that’s in the next little while.

"As far as Aaron Ward is concerned, he didn’t skate today, but hopefully in the next day or two, if everything goes well, he should be back on the ice.

"Hopefully when he comes back, he will be further ahead of where he was when he [initially] came back. It was more of a setback, but [this time] we took a more cautious approach, so hopefully that doesn’t happen again," said Julien.

One reason the B's haven't had a major defensive drop off with the injuries to Andrew Ference and Ward is the play of Matt Hunwick.

The young defenseman has been a major contributor. Now, there isn't a situation where the coaching staff feels uncomfortable with Hunwick on the ice.

"First of all, with some of the injuries that we have had, we have been kind of forced to put him in those kind of positions and he has responded well," said Julien. "Our confidence in him to do the job is growing as well.

"He is a young player and you always have to be careful how you utilize him and the situations you put him in, but so far he has answered those situations in a very positive manner.

"I think the more we see of that the more we are putting him in those positions but again top players on other teams usually have speed and skill and he has pretty good mobility, so they are going to need to be pretty fast to get around him," he said.

1:23 p.m.
The Bruins are in the TD Banknorth Garden getting ready for the big toy delivery.

As far as this morning's practice, there wasn't much to speak about in terms of on-ice action as only Patrice Bergeron, Manny Fernandez, Phil Kessel, Matt Lashoff, Vladimir Sobotka, Tim Thomas and Blake Wheeler. Their session was run by Doug Houda, Bob Essensa and Cam Neely.

The rest of the club had an off-ice workout before they headed out to the Garden.

Look for a full report of the day's activities in a bit. JB

8:23 a.m.

Catching Up…
Watch Shawn Thornton's Vlog
On Sunday, the Bruins had their annual season ticket holders’ open practice at the TD Banknorth. Nearly 1500 full-season ticket holders, which included half-season, and mini-game plans, took advantage of this special privilege.

The morning started with a shopping day at the Boston Bruins Pro Shop with a 25% discount. Then, the open practice started at noon with Marc Savard and Milan Lucic picking three children each to sit on the visitors bench during practice.

Post-practice the “Fanatic Season Ticket Holders” (the “Fanatic” is a season ticket holder benefits package) meet and greet events took place at Hurricane O’Reilly’s, DJ’s and the Greatest Bar and gave those fans who opted into the package an opportunity to meet the Bruins.

Marc Savard looks for a lucky kid to watch the season ticket holders' open practice from the bench.
On Monday, the Bruins had the day off, but Marco Sturm and Assistant Athletic Trainer and Massage Therapist Derek Repucci spent the afternoon visiting the patients throughout Children's Hospital.

The Patients aged 3 to 20, and even parents, enjoyed the friendly visit and Bruin gifts.

Today, the Bruins will practice at 10:30 a.m. and then head to Boston for another B’s tradition -- the Bruins annual toy delivery. Boston Bruins Hall of Famer Ray Bourque started the holiday toy shopping and delivery tradition when he was captain and for the past three seasons P.J. Axelsson has taken responsibility for the program, which is designed to provide a little cheer for kids who are not able to celebrate the holidays at home.

The players and coaches will be divided into seven groups, with each group visiting the following hospitals: Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, Children's Hospital, Mass General Hospital, Shriners Hospital for Children, Boston Medical Center, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Franciscan Hospital for Children.

And a couple more things...
The NHL announced today that Boston Bruins forward Phil Kessel was named NHL’s First Star of the Week for the week ending December 14.

Kessel tallied eight points with three goals and five assists in four games last week and extended his point streak to 15 games. Kessel helped lead the Black and Gold to a 3-1-0 record, which improved their Eastern Conference-leading mark to 21-5-4. Kessel notched one goal and one assist in a 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay December 8, registered an assist in a 3-1 loss at Washington Dec. 10, tallied a goal and two assists in a 7-3 win at Atlanta Dec. 12 and closed the week with a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win over the Thrashers Dec. 13.

Kessel's point streak is a career high, the longest in the NHL this season and longest by a Bruins player since Adam Oates recorded points in 20 consecutive games from Jan. 7 to Feb. 20, 1997. The 21-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native is second in Bruins scoring with 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 30 games, ranks third in the NHL in goals and already has matched his career high of 19 goals set last season.

We'll be looking for some updates on Patrice Bergeron, Petteri Nokelainen, Marco Sturm, and Aaron Ward, today.

Saturday, after the game, Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced that the club has re-assigned forward Martins Karsums to the Providence Bruins (American Hockey League).

Karsums was recalled from Providence earlier that day on an emergency basis, and made his NHL debut on Saturday; playing 8:52 in the Bruins 4-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers.

Karsums has registered 11 goals and 16 assists in 26 games for Providence this year, after tallying a career-best 20 goals and 43 assists in 79 games during his second professional season with the P-Bruins last year. The 22-year-old joined the Providence Bruins in 2006 after playing three seasons of junior hockey with Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he notched 78-66-144 totals and 196 penalty minutes in 139 career games.
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