BostonBruins.com – When Coach Julien blew the whistle on practice at Ristuccia during Training Camp, the message was inherent – bring your hard hat.
The battling began every day with the first drill, and carried through until the first Bruin left the ice to head to the locker room postpractice.
Three Bruins who exude that level of work ethic day in and day out, game in and game out, are those who make up the famed “Merlot” line of Gregory Campbell centering Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille. Among their teammates, the net-front presence of these B’s has been on display throughout camp.
“These practices are basically our exhibition games so to speak,” said Campbell. “We have to, as a team, make sure that our practice are sharp, are intense.
“The coaching staff’s made it clear that we’re not going to get a lot of practice time this year, we’re not going have long practices. But our practices have to be intense and they have to be game-like.”
While never able to fully replicate games during practice, Campbell knows that the B’s need to find ways to force themselves into that mindset, especially as Saturday’s Opening Night against the New York Rangers, a team that has depth similar to the Black & Gold (and a pit in their stomachs from a playoff exit to early for their liking), draws near.
“When Saturday rolls around it’s for real, we have to be prepared for that and the way to prepare for that is to push each other at practices and make it as intense as possible," the center said.
The depth in the lineup helps keep the intensity high during practices, and Thornton acknowledged the energy his line brings to the club is not contained to just the three B’s donning the Burgundy jerseys every day.
“We’re built fairly deep all the way through,” said Thornton. “For the most part, we roll four lines and that’s because everyone’s on the same page and everyone’s going in the same direction.
“The team hasn’t changed much, so our mindset hasn’t changed much either.”
While the entire team may exude that mindset, it’s the trio’s capability to push through any situation on the ice that has landed them as one of the toughest fourth lines around the league – whether by defending the opposing team’s top lines, being strong on the penalty kill, or changing the momentum of games with a strong shift.
“I think we understand the role that the coaching staff has put on us," said Campbell. “First of all, we have to be responsible, but we have to be a line that provides energy.”
“I think that everybody knows their role and for me and for Danny and Shawn, I think we have to get back to what made us good two years ago and what made us good on nights last year, and that’s being a positive line, a line that could change momentum of game and a line that is trusted by the coaching staff.
“But also a line that can contribute offensively, but our offense is going to come through hard work and simplicity and we know that.”
Two years ago, the fourth line’s lunch-pail, blue-collar attitude is what landed them with their higher combined offensive output. In the 2010-11 run to the Stanley Cup, the trio posted 3-7=11 totals in the playoffs. When the current Merlot Line was formed following Brad Marchand’s ascension from the fourth line (and we assume his subsequent passing of the burgundy velour jacket to Dan Paille), they combined for 29-33=62 totals, with Campbell at a plus-11 rating, Thornton with plus-8 and Paille at plus-3.
Just one year after that run, Campbell finished the 2011-12 season with a minus-3, Thornton a minus-7 and Paille posted a minus-5 rating. Though No. 20’s game did see his point total increase by two, his linemates did not find the back of the net as often.
But the tough-minded line is not worried about past numbers and offensive output – its members know that moving forward, they need to compete as they have in the past, by keeping it simple and bringing the energy.
“Things went well that year, I guess, career stats for me,” said Thornton, referring to his 2010-11 career-highs in goals (10), assists (10) and points. “But, I’m more concerned about wins and losses and I think when our line’s effective it’s not necessarily the offense, it’s more of the being able to sustain pressure in the other team’s zone and get in on the forecheck and create O-zone time.”
“I think that’s when we’re at our best.”
Paille echoed his teammate, explaining what the line needs to put forward on the ice for it to be working at its best.
“One thing that we understand is, we know how to play our role, and we can’t get away from that,” said Paille. “For us, we want to do what we can to help out like we did a couple of years ago, to help this team win.”
“We want to relate to that positive feedback where we can have the team rely on us if things are going sour, and you know, they need some type of energy and we’re there to provide for them.”
Their reliability stems in part from their familiarity on the ice and the ease with which they can have open levels of communication. With all three B’s signing contract extensions in the spring and summer, beginning with Thornton back in March, that chemistry will help them start the season with a jump.
“The familiarity between us is there,” said Thornton on not only his line’s togetherness, but the majority of the B’s roster. “So we’ll keep working at it just like everyone else and hopefully it becomes second nature by the time we get going.”
And for the Merlot linemates, they’re looking towards getting back to their Cup-run form this season. While it presents a challenge to have less time to improve over the course of an 48-game campaign, Paille is hoping the extra rest during the the past four months of the work stoppage gives them an advantage.
“I think there’s no excuse going into this year and being prepared for a season that we need to play like two years ago,” said Paille. “We certainly had enough amount of time to rest and for us we just need to prepare ourselves every night.”
“Some nights will be a lot harder to fight through, but those are the kinks of a shortened schedule that you have to work out of and continue to fight.”