When Bruins veteran forward Mark Recchi
entered the NHL in 1988 as a Pittsburgh Penguin, the gritty forward already knew that to succeed in hockey you need to pay the price by driving to the net and going to the dirty areas.
The 5-foot-10 Recchi became known as the "wrecking ball" for his relentless, fearless game. That approach has led to a Hall-of-Fame career where he has amassed 1,470 points (13th all-time) and won two Stanley Cups (2006 with Carolina, 1991 with Pittsburgh).
As he heads into the stretch run of his 20th season, Recchi is trying to teach younger Bruins teammates Blake Wheeler
and Milan Lucic
that paying the price and going to the net is the way to go.
"I was lucky enough to have that instilled in me at an early age," Recchi said of being a net-front presence. "I mean, I did get to play with guys like Joey Mullen and Bryan Trottier
as a rookie and that obviously helped, but I learned this style of play early on. Now, yeah, I'm trying to pass along that knowledge to guys like Blake and 'Looch' (Lucic)."
The Bruins have been asking the 6-5, 205-pound Wheeler and 6-4, 220-pound Lucic to use their size and skill more and drive to the net.
"With their size and pure skill," Recchi said, "I really think the sky is the limit if they learn to do the little things, like play harder along the boards, go to the net and just park themselves in front."
There have been many days this season when Recchi has stayed after practice with Lucic and Wheeler to teach them the art of tip-ins or talk strategies with them on the ice and in the dressing room. The extra time he takes to do this has not gone unnoticed by the Bruins coaches and brass.
"That's what you hope for from your veteran players, and especially with a guy like Mark who's been around the block a few times," Bruins coach Claude Julien
said. "He's been great sharing his knowledge with the young guys on the team and also stuff that maybe he wishes he knew when he was young as well. He's really helped our young players be hungry and learn how to do things they need to do to win like going to the net or areas they may not like to go to.
"That's what coaches always say make players great, is when they learn to do things they may not like doing but need to do to be better. That's part of what Mark does with those guys, sharing those tidbits with the players and it's been good."
Due to injuries, Lucic has struggled to find the game that made him such a dynamic player in his first two seasons. But he acknowledged he is learning a lot from Recchi and got a good dose of advice from him.
"We had a talk about it," the 21-year-old Lucic told the Boston Globe on Feb. 14. "About how he does it, going to the front of the net to create tips, create traffic. He let me in on a little bit of his secret. I think it was a good, productive talk."
Recchi also explained what he has been working on with Lucic. He knows the fan favorite in Boston can reach his potential if he plays this type of game.
"You've got to get in right positions," Recchi said. "You can get there. But a lot of times if the defenseman gets in better position, you're not going to get to pucks and you're not going to be able to get good screens.
"(Lucic) wants to learn and wants to figure it out. The biggest thing for him is to know that his game is being a physical presence. Part of that is going into those areas. Everything else will fall into place if he is that presence."
Wheeler can't say enough about what Recchi's presence has meant to him and appreciates the opportunity to bounce ideas off him, ask him for pointers and simply watch him in person every day.
"You figure out really quickly which spots to be in (when you watch) him," said Wheeler. "He’s scored 'X' amount of goals standing in front of that net taking physical abuse, and even though he's not the biggest guy or the strongest guy in the world, he's just the best at being in those spots and wanting to be there. That's what you learn from a guy like (Recchi), is that if you get in those spots, get your nose dirty, battle for five or 10 seconds, you're going to up your goal count quite a bit just by being in those spots.
"That's where I've tried to be again lately, especially when goals -- and pretty goals -- haven't been as easy to come by as they may have once been. It seems cliché, I know, saying we need to go to the dirty areas, but once we start doing it on a regular basis, it's evident that it works. It's always nice to get rewarded for dirty goals like that. I like to be in front of the net -- it's where I belong -- and I need to be doing it more often than not."