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Hockey Notes

He's not just playing enforcer

Walsh goes from tough guy to cop

BRENDAN WALSH Logical choice BRENDAN WALSH Logical choice

Earlier this year, a Providence Bruin turned beat cop pulled over an acquaintance who didn't know his friend had joined the Boston Police Department.

So when the man finally recognized the officer, he was probably pondering the same crack that blazed its way around New England rinks last winter: Brendan Walsh has a gun.

"It was something that was in the back of my mind," said the Dorchester native of becoming a police officer. "My father was a fireman. My uncle was a state trooper. I love Boston and love working in the community."

During his last job prior to gaining his badge, Boston was the last place Walsh would be. After retiring as a player -- the 5-foot-10-inch agitator made American Hockey League stops in Providence, San Antonio, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Lowell, after playing collegiately at Maine and Boston University -- Walsh landed a job as an assistant coach for Greg Cronin at Northeastern University in 2005.

To recruit prospects, Walsh traveled, as he termed it, from Prince George, British Columbia, to the Canadian Maritimes, scouring rinks for future Huskies before returning to Boston for games, only to find himself on the road and starting the cycle again.

The outgoing Walsh loved his job. Besides recruiting and on-ice and behind-the-bench coaching, Walsh introduced some off-ice programs, including securing boxing lessons for the Huskies during the 2005-06 season.

"He was like the Pied Piper," Cronin said. "Kids just followed him."

But Walsh was approaching his 32d birthday -- the oldest applicants can be to qualify for the police exam -- and decided it was the career move he wanted to make.

"I had talked to Cro about it," said Walsh. "He was aware. One of the things about coaching is that it's a nomadic lifestyle. As soon as you get hired, it's a question of when you get fired. It's the nature of that business. I loved it. For me to work at Northeastern, it's an incredible school. Considering what we had done in Maine, when you look at the facilities and the location of the school, and what Northeastern has become and where we were going with recruiting, it's going to be a special place. It was a hard thing for me to step away from that and hand it off. You have connections with the kids and guys you play with."

The coach-to-policeman shift (a reverse Pat Burns) was a natural progression for Walsh, who served as a feisty enforcer, despite his middleweight status. During his freshman year at BU, after a game against Providence College, players from both teams scuffled in the handshake line. Walsh was in the thick of the shoving, prompting ex-Bruin Hal Gill, a Friar at the time, to opine that the forward should be kicked out of Hockey East.

Walsh, who won an NCAA championship with Maine in 1998-99, recalled a game in 2004-05 at the Providence Civic Center when a scuffle broke out underneath the stands between the P-Bruins and the Hershey Bears after a fight between Jay Henderson and Jeff Finger. Meanwhile, Providence goalie Hannu Toivonen and his counterpart, Peter Budaj, the only players remaining on the ice, skated to the middle of the rink and traded punches.

"All of a sudden, the guy who cleans the rink leans over and says, 'Your buddy's getting beat up,' " Walsh said. "So we all ran underneath. Jay had gotten into a fight with two guys in the Hershey tunnel. So I'm peeling everybody off, and the same guy tells me, 'Your goalie's getting beat up outside on the ice.' So I had to run out there."

Once he hung up his skates and whistle, Walsh graduated from the police academy this spring and has been working in District C-6 (South Boston), where his typical day starts with roll call at 11:45 p.m. A lieutenant or shift supervisor will review the day's events and hand out assignments, which require the officers to be as visible as possible in the neighborhood.

"There's such an emphasis on community policing," said Walsh, who racked up a team-high 284 penalty minutes (five more than heavyweight Colton Orr) in only 45 games for Providence in 2004-05. "You have to be out and to be seen. It's about having enough cops on the streets and people giving feedback to the officers. To have that, you need name recognition. You walk down the street and people automatically identify, 'Oh, there's Officer Walsh.' "

Earlier this month, during the Bruins' development camp, Walsh called Scott Gordon, his former Providence coach, to fill, as he termed it, his "hockey fix." Two years ago, Walsh had recruited several of the players, including Tommy Cross, the team's second-round pick in last month's draft.

"We miss him here. He was free entertainment," said Cronin. "Brendan has a colorful personality. People gravitate toward him because of his charisma. You might look at him as a street kid, but he's very bright and has a very cerebral way of looking at life. He saw an opportunity. He was right around the [cutoff] age and it was a window that would close permanently. Being a police officer, if he plays his cards right, can be a lifelong job with great amenities and benefits. It's an opportunity to create some permanence in your life. In hockey, you can have a great year one year and be gone the next. He's a Boston kid through and through."

Toivonen has strong backer

Of all the hockey men who might grasp the challenge facing Hannu Toivonen following his trade from Boston to St. Louis last week, his new boss probably understands the best.

In 1975, a 22-year-old former first-round pick named John Davidson, after going through a rocky second season of goaltending with the Blues, was traded to the New York Rangers.

"I had a rotten second year and deserved to be traded," said Davidson, now the president of the Blues. "It's something that happens. It's up to you to take advantage of it. Talking to Hannu and hearing his attitude, he's very strong. He knows it's the best thing for him to get moved. He leaves with a heavy heart. He has a lot of friends there. But he also knows that for the future of his career, it's the right thing."

Davidson's NHL career was cut short by knee injuries, but the executive hopes it's not the same for the 23-year-old Toivonen, Boston's first-round selection in 2002.

"He does, from our point of view, have the upside of skill," Davidson said. "Now we have to find a way to tap that properly. It may take some time. It may not. We don't know. That's the great unknown with young goaltenders. His upside could be very good. He's one of those ones our people [are] happy that he's now a Blue."

When discussing the deal, Davidson mentioned the same four-letter word uttered by Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli: risk. The Blues might have given up a top-six forward in Carl Soderberg. On the other hand, the Bruins might have let a No. 1 goalie walk for a player coming off a serious eye injury, which would haunt Chiarelli and Bruins fans for years to come.

"The best-case scenario," said Davidson, "is that we have a No. 1 goaltender for the next 10 years. But who knows? We just don't know. But it's something we thought was important to try and find out."

Bruins centering in on the middle

By adding Carl Soderberg, the Bruins have a traffic jam in the middle. Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron are penciled in as the top two centers for 2007-08, while Phil Kessel, who also played left wing last season, looked most comfortable at the pivot toward the end of 2006-07. Mark Mowers and Nate Thompson will most likely compete for the fourth-line center role.

The Bruins also have AHLers David Krejci and Ben Walter as natural centers, and junior prospects Brad Marchand and Zach Hamill on the cusp of becoming pros.

"You can never have too many centers," said Boston GM Peter Chiarelli about Soderberg's acquisition.

While the glut could lead to trades (Walter, who's entering the final season of his three-year contract, is the most likely candidate), the Bruins are considering moving the centers out of position.

Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien have discussed playing Kessel at wing and Bergeron skated at right wing during the team's late-season flameout. Both Krejci and Marchand have played wing as well.