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Back to the future

Posted by Gabe Kahn February 5, 2009 05:58 AM


The last time the Boston Bruins had an honest-to-goodness personality, they had a nickname. It was the 1970s and they were the Big, Bad Bruins. They won two Stanley Cups (1969-70 and 1971-72) and challenged for others.

Today, almost 40 years later, the Bruins have a personality, too. They just don’t have a nickname.

“There’s nothing more I’d like to see than see this team do well,” said Harry Sinden, coach of the 1969-70 Cup champions, later the Bruins’ general manager and president, and, since August 2006, senior advisor to owner Jeremy Jacobs.

“They’ve put it together really well, they train really well, they’ve got good coaching, and the team has a personality. It’s important to have a personality as a team.

“I think throughout the 30 teams in the National Hockey League, the Bruins have established their personality this year. Other teams know that we’re difficult to beat, that we have excellent goalkeeping, and that no one — but no one — is going to push them around. That goes a long way toward victory every night.”

This is one of the best Bruins teams in years. They’re young, they can skate, pass, and shoot, they frequently score in bunches, they’ve shown they can stop their opponents from scoring much at all — and they’re tough hombres.

“I would say that their record cannot be denied. The record [37-8-6, tops in the league] is absolutely remarkable,” said the 76-year-old Sinden. “They’ve done it through an abundance of injuries to their top players. Patrice Bergeron is one of the best players they have, and they haven’t had him for much of the season. And they lost [for the season] one of their top scorers in Marco Sturm.

“But what’s clear to me is they have shown, through a little better than half the season, that they’re one of the three best teams in the league. It’s only [51] games, but no doubt they’re going to last. They might even get better. These players are not going to stand still.

“I haven’t seen enough of San Jose, and you can’t deny Detroit — they’re a special team [and the defending Stanley Cup champion]. But, at the moment, maybe [the Bruins are] the best team.”

Sinden gives the Bruins high marks up and down the ice.

“They have the best goalie in the league [Tim Thomas], maybe the best two goalies combined [with Manny Fernandez],” he said. “Thomas is an absolute star. Then they have all kinds of very, very good players, budding stars like Marc Savard, Milan Lucic, David Krejci. Michael Ryder has come back to the form he showed with Montreal.

“And they have the best defenseman in the league in Zdeno Chara, who may very well be the best player in the league.”

Perhaps the Bruins should be nicknamed Chara and Chums. Could the 6-foot-9 Bruins captain be the choice for this season’s Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman?

“I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind,” said Sinden, an Ontario native who was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1983. “Chara cannot be forechecked. It’s very unlikely, if you go back for a puck when they shoot it in, that you can take it off him. Once he gets back there, it’s basically, ‘He’s got it and you’re not going to get it.’

“He doesn’t rush it up the ice like [Bobby] Orr or [Ray] Bourque or [Brad] Park — making his beautiful passes — but he does what he has to do once he gets it. Once he gets in their end, he’s dynamite as well from the blue line.

“So, I think he’s perhaps the best player in the league. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Ottawa has suffered since he left them and came to us [as a free agent July 1, 2006]. And we’ve moved ahead.”

Sinden gives a lot of credit to Claude Julien for Boston’s turnaround since he took over as coach before the start of last season.

“Since this coach has been aboard, the entire team has been better,” Sinden said. “There’s a couple of things about coaching that you must have. Obviously you can be smart and understand the game. You can teach all the techniques and all the tactics and the so-called systems.

“But if you don’t know how to train your team properly so that they’re in better shape, or at least every bit as good shape as the best-conditioned teams in the league, if you don’t know how to prepare them for each game, and if you don’t talk to the individual players properly so that they keep their mindset the way it should be, then you’re probably not going to be a real successful coach no matter how much you know.

“To me, Claude Julien handles those areas of coaching as well as anybody in recent years. If you watch the Bruins play in the third period, they’re strong, they skate well, you never see them sag. When things drop a little bit, he knows what to say to them. They lose a couple of games by a goal, they turn around and win the next three or four. This guy knows what he’s doing.”

Maybe the nickname should be, with license for pronunciation, the Claude Squad.

“I really look forward to the games,” Sinden said. “The town has turned back to the Bruins. It was latent energy sitting there, waiting to happen. There’s no doubt about the love of hockey that this community has for this sport. All you have to do is show it to them and they’ll support you.

“I’ve often told whoever wanted to listen, including our owner, ‘Don’t you ever worry about Boston. Have a team that performs well, plays the way the fans expect hockey to be played — which is in a good, tough, workmanlike manner — and you’ll be the talk of the town.’ That’s what they are right now.”

OK, they’re good, but can they win the Stanley Cup this year?

“[Even] with all the problems winning four series brings with it, I’d have to say they can,” said Sinden. “But it’s a very precarious road. A bad weekend, unbelievable goaltending by the other team, off-color goaltending by our team, and all of a sudden you’re out. I mean, four series is a tough thing to survive. They’d have to maintain what they’ve had through these first [51] games. If they do that, they certainly can win it.”

If they do, they won’t need a nickname. You could just call them Stanley Cup champions. That would work.

OT contributor Dick Trust can be reached at otfeedback@globe.com

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