In anticipation of their game against the Penguins on Tuesday, the Bruins arrived in Pittsburgh late last night.
You can excuse the uninitiated amongst the traveling throng when they initially thought that the black and gold clothing scattered about limbs and torsos and heads of the denizens of the Steel City, and the black and gold scarves tied around the gargoyles at our hotel were in honor of Boston’s own high-flying Black & Gold.
Obviously, the Steelers were playing and the steel city was mad with a combination of football fever and worry over the status of Big Ben.
But off in the distance, in the winter darkness of the baseball off season, and with home plate completely visible through my hotel room window, PNC Park or the home of the black and gold clad Pittsburgh Pirates, beckons.
With all of that in mind, I was thinking how appropriate that Bruins netminder Manny Fernandez should declare the Boston Bruins “a family” in the home of Willie “Pop” Stargell’s “We Are Family” Pirates.
|AP Photo |
Paul White wrote of that special time for baseball and of Pittsburgh’s new ballpark back 2001.Stargell owned the clubhouse, owned the town and had made a down payment on the nation's baseball public. It was all relative in that summer of '79. Hear a few bars of We Are Family and you thought of Pops, not Sister Sledge…I suspect that if you stand there on a game day and listen closely, you'll hear someone humming a few bars, catch a few lyrics:
Everyone can see we're together as we walk on by...
High hopes we have for the future...
Have faith in you and the things you do...
We are family...
Ever since Stargell’s Pirates of the late 1970’s, and even before their familial exploits, the word “family’ has been thrown around pretty freely in the media in order to describe the relative merits of a clubhouse or locker room or dugout. In those cases “family” comes to mean a certain type of unseen camaraderie that is thought to exist behind the scenes – and often doesn’t exists beyond a tacit appreciation of each other as professional athletes.
But Fernandez was adamant about the Bruins own burgeoning family unit when he talked in the locker room following the club's Monday practice in a facility in the Pittsburgh burbs.
“I think it’s just a family type of thing, you know?” he said when asked how the B’s take care of each other, most especially their youngest members. “They bring up problems and to talk about it makes [them] feel a little bit better and brings a smile to your face.
“You get it out of your system and sometimes that’s what you need. To have somebody to talk to that you can fully trust and say, ‘It’s hard to get out and you can die with that secret’ that’s another good thing.
“That shows a lot of respect and that shows we are a good team.”
Clearly, Fernandez thinks the Bruins are a family in the truest sense of the word.
“I don’t think so, I know so,” he said. “There’s been a lot of things going on, but we seem to just be there for each other and we forgive.
“That’s what families do. We are close knit, we try to help each other and if you see that there is a guy with a problem or a guy who’s stepping off track we try and pull them back. That’s what good teams do and that’s what we are all about, I think.”
Although they didn’t use the same terminology, other veterans in the locker room said as much when asked about the team’s strengths going into the New Year.
“I think a big thing was ‘work’ today and we skated pretty hard,” said Marc Savard
of head coach Claude Julien’s drills during today’s session. “I think we got away from working hard as a team and we did some skating drills that were part of backchecking, forechecking.
“We did that and obviously we need some faceoff work so we touched up on that area, too. It was all dedicated to the game and what we’ve been doing wrong and trying to fix that.”
Obviously, it’s not only Julien who is helping to keep the Bruins family on the straight and narrow – his oldest charges are keeping things in line as well.
“I think it’s just focus and just wanting to keep this thing going,” said Savard. “We came in after the second period last night [against Atlanta] and said we want to make sure we win.
“I think that’s why we’ve been successful…we really stress that this is [a special] year and that we’ve got to be ready and we’ve got to want it."
For his part, Julien implied that his practices often carry a subtle message.
“It’s just a little reminder to our players…about what got you here and what’s going to keep you here,” he said. “Natural instincts, I guess, allows you to put your guard down a bit when you are having success and that can sometimes last a little while, but eventually it will catch up to you.
“So we really try and do our best to keep our guys grounded and understand what we need to do to remain successful.”
Fernandez said that Boston’s youngest members have done their very best to keep the good ship Bruins afloat during this period of success.
“The rookies have been carrying us for a while now,” he said. “The young guys have been playing really good, but at the same time they’re young and there’s a lot of things going on in their heads.”
Hence the special care the team’s freshmen and sophomores receive on a daily basis, but Fernandez didn’t limit the TLC to just the kids and said everyone on the team needs to remain focused on one goal.
“I hope that everybody will try and realize that and as we move forward [understand] that we can lose it all or we can continue this way and be a very successful team this year and accomplish a lot of things,” said Fernandez. “So, the sooner we get this in our minds and we get everybody in the same boat, I think it’s going to be better.”
Stephane Yelle, a two-time Stanley Cup champion would seem to agree.
“I think you have to keep pushing,” said Yelle of the team’s next step. “[The team should] keep approaching the season one game at a time and not look too much forward and don’t look back; then, when you have highs you don’t get too high and the same way the other way around.
“I think on this team we have a good mix of guys, in terms of younger guys and guys with experience. And I think the coaching staff has done a good job of reminding us of where we need to be and what the goals are…as the year goes on sometimes you get away from certain little things and the coaching staff is doing a good job of noticing what needs to be worked on.
“Today, we had a few things that we wanted to fine tune and get better at and that’s what we did. That’s their job and it’s our job as hockey players to try and get better with whatever needs work on and that’s just part of the game,” he said.
However, everyone seems intent on helping each other along that path.
“There are definitely parts of our games that we’d like to address,” said Fernandez. “That said, we’re happy with our successes of late, at the same time, too. I think we all know that it’s not going to go [that] well for 82 games and that there’ll be some close calls and somebody is going to have to step up eventually.
“So that’s stuff that we try and bring up in the room. We’ve got to feel the urgency and be professional enough to have every guy look at himself in the mirror and be able to say to himself, ‘Well, I have to work at this and I’ve got to do this to get better.’
“That’s something totally aside from the success that we’ve been having. As a player I think you want to get better,” he said.
But according to Fernandez, as a family, the Bruins are on the right track.
“I know this is only the beginning or the first half of the season, but still, whoever can get out of the box that quick – you certainly have something special going,” he said.