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High on Hnidy

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
He is one of a handful of hockey players on the Boston Bruins who fulfills the traditional archetype: He's Canadian (from Neepawa, Manitoba). He's tough (550 penalty minutes in 434 NHL games). He's played in places you've never heard of (Yellowhead, Swift Current, Prince Albert).  And he's even missing teeth.

Most importantly, he's one of those really good guys that separate the hockey community from its cousins on the diamond, gridiron or court. But if you check the various news purveyors that cover the Black & Gold, you just won't find many mentions about defenseman Shane Hnidy -- and he's just fine with that, thank you very much.

Already a throwback at 33-years-old, Hnidy, nicknamed the Sheriff, is not necessary a puck-moving or offensive-minded defenseman. His slapshot is not going to get him into any contests. He is, instead, a steady, stay-at-home defenseman whose acquisition (January 2, 2007, for Brandon Bochenski and a 2008 6th round draft pick) should be labeled as one of the moments that would eventually define the Bruins fast start to the 2008-09 season.

"When you have guys going down like (Aaron) Ward or (Dennis) Wideman, he's come in there, and he's done a great job," said Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien. "He hasn't done anything more than he normally does – he keeps his game simple.

"But when a guy doesn't make any mistakes, or limits his mistakes, especially when you play that much and against the best lines, it's a good sign."

With each loss to injury on defense, beginning with the man labeled Boston's best during the early going of the current campaign – Andrew Ference – Hnidy has been called upon to take on increased responsibility and has been up to the task on virtually every occasion.

On Saturday in Sunrise, Florida, Hnidy scored his first goal of the season (he has a dozen markers in parts of 10 NHL campaigns) and closed the door on the pesky Florida Panthers. Coach Julien had predicted as much earlier in the week when he said to a group of reporters that he wished Hnidy would shoot more often.

"Hopefully, he gains confidence from that goal tonight," said Julien. "Obviously, he's one of those guys who has a pretty heavy shot from the back end."

Truthfully, however, Hnidy has brought whatever has been needed whenever it's been needed, be it goal, shot, hit, fight, or plain old, steady defensive play.

"We talked about it, when the point's open and the forwards can get us the puck," said Hnidy, who spoke about his goal like he was describing a fender bender. "I just saw that a guy was in the lane, and I kind of tried to get it on net.

"It was one of those things where I was lucky enough to have it bounce off someone and go in."

Clearly, there's nothing lucky about playing the point properly or making the simple play when others might be tempted to get fancy. But the blueliner was certainly not going to take much credit. Hnidy
prefers, instead, to speak about other teammates' accomplishments.

As such, asked about the play of Tim Thomas and Saturday's winner Manny Fernandez, Hnidy said that he had never played with a hotter set of goaltenders.

"It's great to see because they are both great guys, and they are playing so well," said Hnidy with an incredulous shake of the head. "Sometimes mistakes happen out there for us on the back end, and it's great to know we have those guys.

"We have the confidence (in them) and know that they are going to make the saves when we need them."

Informed that the goalies both feel the same way about him and his teammates in the defensive corps, Hnidy smiled. Team players know how to fit into a system and a squad successfully, and for Hnidy, his goal or his steady defense is just part of a larger goal of finishing contests and not letting teams back into games.

"We caught ourselves, early in the year, sitting back, and we know going into the third periods with a lead that we really want to be the aggressor without really compromising ourselves defensively.

"It was good to go out there and get a goal. And when you go out there and do stuff like that it helps the momentum. And momentum is a big part of the game," he said.

And the energy that sustains that momentum over myriad games is youth. Right now, Boston is relying heavily on the youngest members of its organization.

"It's huge for these young guys to step in and play they way they have has been great," said Hnidy. "It's great to see these guys come in and play as well as they have.

"That's the whole team concept we have here, and part of being a team is people pulling their own end and sometimes doing a little more than they have to.

"If we continue to do that and have success it's a great feeling."

Looking around the room, Hnidy emphasized the real strength of the Boston Bruins.

"In this dressing room we have great chemistry," he said. "We have a group of guys who want to go out and play hard for each other every night.

"We want to stay on that path."

If they don't, it seems certain that The Sheriff won't let them stray for too long.
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