Walsh willing to fight for a spot
WILMINGTON -- He has hopped around a little. Spend five minutes with Brendan Walsh, who calls himself "the poster child for Ritalin," and it becomes apparent that he cannot exist without standing, then sitting, pacing, sitting again, switching seats, leaning against a wall -- hopping around enough to make anyone around him hope that a clock goes off or an alarm blares, that somehow his perpetual motion stops perpetuating.
He prefers energy over air, the latter of which he takes in very short gulps.
"I guess I've always been like this," he said yesterday, following a late-morning skate here with the Bruins, who happen to be his latest, maybe best ride to who knows where. "I don't sit around very well."
At age 28, with three full years of minor league hockey behind him, Walsh would like to find a seat in Boston. Specifically, he'd like to carve a niche on the Bruins bench as, what else, an energy guy, a third- or fourth-liner who would jump into the action at coach Mike Sullivan's behest and, if so ordered, spread a keg of penny nails and a burlap bag full of marbles all over the ice. Just to capture the opponent's attention, mind you.
"Exactly. I want to be a tick, a nuisance out there," said a beaming Walsh, who grew up in the Adams Corner section of Dorchester. "I'm gunning to do whatever it takes. I mean, to be a Dorchester kid and put on a Bruins uniform? That's just a dream come true right there. Growing up, I cried every time these guys lost to Montreal. I remember watching Chris Nilan, and asking my dad, "How can this guy be from Boston and play for Montreal?' It just didn't make sense."
Walsh did not play in the Bruins' annual Black-and-White intrasquad game last night in Salem, N.H., and after the game he was assigned to Providence of the AHL. He hopes to be back.
In less than a week in camp, Walsh had no fewer than five fights with his own Black-and-Gold brethren. Three of those were with right wing Colton Orr, signed two years ago as a free agent. Adam Smyth, a free agent invitee from Ontario, was another sparring partner. Pint-sized pugilist P.J. Stock, a fan favorite and resident energy guy, also had a waltz with Walsh. "It's not that I'm here to fight, and I think everyone understands that, but I am here to try to win a job," said Walsh. "I know Colton's OK about it -- we've even gone out to dinner, and talked and stuff. But it's like they say, this isn't show friends, it's show business. I wouldn't want guys to think, `Hey now, he's looking to take my job away.' It's not that at all. But I am here to take my best shot with this chance, and do what I've got to do to be the last guy standing."
Just when you thought old-school hockey was dead and gone, a little bit of the '50s and '60s comes skating down the wall. Long ago, before guaranteed multimillion-dollar deals, every hockey training camp in the land had at least a couple of guys looking to knock everyone's block off for a shot at the bigs. A little guy could go a long way with two willing hands and a lot of heart. That's not to say that Walsh will win a job in Boston, or so much as challenge the likes of Sandy McCarthy for the heavyweight role, but he'll make it tough for an incumbent like Stock to keep his seat on the bench without at least engaging Walsh in another scrap or two.
Walsh, at age 21, was an old freshman when he played for Boston University in 1995-96, and some disciplinary issues ("I had some growing up to do") led to his exit from Comm. Ave. after his sophomore season. He found a much better fit at the University of Maine, where he parlayed a couple of good Hockey East seasons into a pro contract with the Minnesota Wild organization. Now he's here, after three seasons in the minors, neither the Wild nor the Penguins impressed enough to summon him to the NHL.
"Maybe I didn't make the most of my chances, who knows?" said Walsh. "When it came time, they picked other guys and I went to the minors. But that's the past. This is the present, and the present is a gift. All I know is, I'm 28 years old now and maybe I've got to be a little more serious about my career."
To that end, he returned to his family's home in Dorchester this summer to prepare for this shot with the Bruins. He bumped his weight up to just over 200 pounds and put on some muscle. After living the previous six months in a hotel, mostly in San Antonio, it felt good to be home.
"A little weird, too," he said. "But at least I wasn't back home as a failed dot.com-er. I was just home for the summer, you know?"
From here, no one knows. The hockey season opens Oct. 8 on Causeway Street. To get back to Boston, Walsh not only will have to fight for a spot, he'll also have to show that he can contribute a little something on offense.
Just as important, he will have to show that he can play with controlled energy, put his emotion to good use, but not get into penalty trouble.
"Third or fourth line in the NHL, that's a great job," said Walsh, popping up from his seat in a corner reserved for wannabes, moving his arms as if the job were right in front of him to embrace. "You have to be on every night -- 10 minutes of the hardest hockey you will ever play in your life."
Maybe all of his hopping around ends here. If so, the Boston bench will have a little more elbow room in 2003-04, because there is no way Walsh will sit down long enough to take up any space.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.