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Opening day icebreaker for Lewis, Bruins

WILMINGTON -- The anxiety wouldn't leave him alone, and he'd been conscious when he didn't want to be. ``If you call waking up at 3 a.m. every day butterflies," said Dave Lewis, ``then I've had them."

To soothe his jitters, occupy his mind, and pick up a few pointers, he'd been spending these witching hours reading a biography of Winston Churchill. ``About leadership," said Lewis.

Now, finally, the big moment was about to arrive, even if daylight hadn't. His on-the-job introduction as Bruins coach, the opening of training camp, was hours away, and here was Lewis, wide-eyed in his North End digs, with only darkness for companionship. What to do first on this momentous occasion? Absorb more inspiration from the master? Tinker with his alignments? Polish his first speech to the veterans as the 53-year-old new kid?

``Went to the bathroom," said Lewis.

He didn't get that from Churchill.

For a team that went in the toilet last season, missing the playoffs and dooming Mike Sullivan as coach, Lewis's approach should be a refreshing departure. His first official day at work was a study in efficiency. From the time he went to the hospital for the veterans' physicals at 6:15 a.m., to his arrival at the Ristuccia Center at 7:30, to his greeting of the players on the ice at 11:15, to the mass exodus for the locker room an hour later, everything went crisply, smoothly.

He seemed to earn the players' initial endorsement.

``The drills we did were high-paced, high-tempo, high-intensity," said defenseman Andrew Alberts.

``There was a lot of flow," said center Patrice Bergeron. ``There were a lot of forwards on the ice, and sometimes there are so many it can be disorganized and you don't skate much. But today there were like 21 forwards and I still got in a good skate."

Then again, how are the players supposed to respond to a coach, even a new coach -- by renouncing their contracts? In reality, there is no honeymoon in Boston.

``It's the first day," reminded defenseman Zdeno Chara.

``We'll see what the next few days bring," said Alberts.

Lewis is well aware that while technically the players are auditioning, he's under scrutiny, too. ``Each day, they're reading me," he said, ``just like I'm reading them."

Yesterday they read a couple of new pages as Lewis added some unconventional wrinkles to practice.

From a business standpoint, he had the forwards skating backward, like defensemen. ``Now they know how it feels," said an approving Chara. But there was a design behind the drill, and it wasn't empathy. ``Some I saw did it well," said Lewis, ``and some didn't do it well. When you're setting up your power play and you have a man on the point, you don't want to be saying, `What's he doing there? He can't skate backward.' "

For entertainment purposes, Lewis asked at the end of practice for the eldest and youngest Bruins to step forward. When defenseman Jason York, 36, and Bergeron, 21, duly responded, Lewis sent them for an extra lap around the ice as their teammates applauded.

Bergeron didn't mind the extra work. ``It was a fun thing to do," he said.

But Lewis has a no-nonsense attitude as well as a nonsense one. He believes practice should be enjoyable, ``and he's calm," said goaltender Tim Thomas. ``But when he says something, you pay attention."

It comes with the credentials. Lewis spent 15 seasons as an NHL defenseman. He spent another 15 as a Detroit Red Wings assistant and associate coach, including nine as understudy to the Churchill of hockey coaches, Scotty Bowman.

``I can see right away I'm going to learn a lot from him," said Bergeron. ``He's learned from the best."

Lewis has learned some unfortunate lessons, too. In two years as Detroit's head coach, he compiled more than 100 points each time, and the Wings won a Presidents' Trophy for the league's best overall record in his second season. But premature playoff exits each spring prompted his ouster in June 2005 amid ripples that he was too familiar with the players.

There was no risk of that yesterday.

``I hope to take some lessons from Detroit," said Lewis. ``It's like mentoring. Take chess. After the game, the queen and the pawn go in the same box."

What in the world does that mean?

``It's the same as in hockey," said Lewis. ``Teamwork."

Apparently, the star (queen) and soldier (pawn) are the same in the final analysis. But Lewis certainly didn't lose any sleep crafting that metaphor. He's off to a much better start shaping his new team.

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