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Sweeney Knows Hockey -- On and Off the Ice

by Hannah Goldman / Boston Bruins
Don Sweeney, street hockey coach

It will probably take at least a while longer for the fans of Boston to think of the Bruins Don Sweeney as part of B's Management rather than a standout NHL defenseman and Sweeney certainly wouldn't have a problem with that.

However, after speaking with him recently, it's clear that right now his focus is not on his past achievements, but on helping the Black & Gold win its sixth Stanley Cup Championship.

Sweeney played in 1,052 games with the Bruins (ranks 3rd on the Bruins all-time games played list), and toiled alongside Hall of Famers like Cam Neely and Ray Bourque, but as a skater he never had a sip from The Cup.

Now, as the Director of Hockey Operations and Player Development for the Black & Gold, he looks forward to getting that chance and believes it will be just as gratifying.

“That is what we are building for and what we are trying to do as an organization,” said Sweeney during a recent street hockey clinic in East Boston. “In a perfect world, you are supposed to be wearing a uniform and skating around, but this will be the next best thing.

"I am really looking forward to working hard with the rest of the management team...and [helping] to get us back to that [level].”

There is no doubt that Sweeney has already worked very hard in his new role and during this past season, which saw the B's return to the playoffs, he was part of every detail that goes into "hockey operations" – be it team travel, player movement, or development decisions.

“It was a steep learning curve for me this year,” said Sweeney. “But I have a lot of support and I have enjoyed the challenges."

During the year, Sweeney now spends a lot of time in Providence.

Sweeney, at the draft
“I am always communicating with the coaching staff down there, as well as the players themselves,” explained Sweeney. “I think communication is one of the fundamental things with players in the organization. They are young and they are wondering whether or not anyone is watching them play in order to give them feedback.

“So, I think [communication] is vitally important from day one -- from [the summer] when we run our development camp until the end of the season.”

And, as you would imagine, being a member of management, Sweeney doesn’t really get an off-season like he did when he was a defenseman. Hockey-ops does not take time off.

Currently, he is working every day to make sure that everything is ready for the NHL draft in Ottawa on June 20th.  Prior to that, Sweeney, and the rest of the Bruins brass, plan to reconvene with the scouting staff in order to determine which of the young players will work best in the B’s organization. Then, following the draft, Sweeney will oversee the Bruins second annual Development Camp in Wilmington, Mass. -- an important stepping stone for any new member of the club.

However, with still two weeks before the trip to Ottawa, Sweeney still had a chance to head out into the Hub of Hockey and show some of his old moves to the youngsters in East Boston.

As part of the Bruins Street Brigade and the NHL Street Program, Sweeney joined 20 kids at the Porazzo Memorial Rink for a two-hour street hockey clinic and, true to form, he was more than happy to share his skills and was very into the game during the scrimmage portion.

“I have two young boys myself,” explained Sweeney, “so I am very happy to be a part of the youth hockey movement in towns around Boston.

“And there are many situations where people can’t afford the opportunity to be on the ice, so they are off the ice, in situations where you have a ball and pavement.

"You are still able to create and simulate the game of hockey in a lot of different forms [without ice], and I think it is important to continue to grow the game from all avenues,” he said.

Sweeney is happy to be working in hockey, particularly in Boston; however, he does think back on his time with the Stars and sees it as a positive.

“In a perfect world, I would have finished my career here and not played anywhere else,” he said. “But ultimately, you play the hand your dealt, and it didn’t finish out that way.

“[In Dallas] I was able to experience another organization and how they run things. I was at a different point in my career and was able to room with a young player who I got to know personally. So, I think it was a heck of an experience for me to go down to Texas and take some things away from that and move forward."

Photo by Babineau
Sport-wise people in Boston are certainly very thankful of Sweeney’s current efforts with the Bruins and can point to the young players who contributed to the squad's success this past season; they are probably not very surprised. Sweeney has succeeded at every level of hockey, be it at St. Paul's in Concord, NH or with Harvard or with the B's.

In fact, The Boston Herald’s Steve Harris recently ranked him #6 on his top-10 Bruins of the past 30 years.

“I didn’t know that actually,” Sweeney said. “That is obviously an elite group and I am appreciative of that.

“I obviously had a long career and that [was probably the] significant part of that equation…but I felt like I gave everything I had on the ice and off the ice to uphold the standard that people like Raymond Bourque and Terry O’Reilly set.

"I could go down a long, long list of players who came and set the standard for me to try and uphold as a player…I am just very grateful,” added #32.

For sure, the Bruins, and their fans, are just as grateful.
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