Manny Fernandez, cellphone by his ear and attention fixed on something other than the big black swinging door, followed his tour guide down the third-floor hallway yesterday morning at TD Banknorth Garden.
"Is this it?" said the new Bruins goalie, joined by Matt Chmura, the club's director of media relations, as he cautiously nudged open the door and peeked inside before entering. "We're here?"
And in he walked, Fernandez's first steps inside his new home, the Bruins' dressing room. For the record, the time was 9:57, unofficially the start of yet another new era in the ever-changing eras and landscape of all things Bruins (especially the roster).
The first Causeway Street game of the NHL's 2007-08 regular season won't be until Oct. 18 (against Tampa Bay), but Fernandez is already penciled in as the likely stopper for the 7 p.m. start. If the season goes to his liking, the 32-year-old backstop will be penciled in for 60 or more games this season, which would also be to the liking of general manager Peter Chiarelli, who on July 1 shipped prospect Petr Kalus and a fourth-round draft pick to the Minnesota Wild to acquire Fernandez.
"Yeah, that doesn't scare me . . . doesn't wear me down," said Fernandez, pondering the idea of such a heavy workload. "I'm ready for that."
Fernandez arrived in town Monday and checked into a nearby hotel with wife Karine and their two children, son Mathys (2) and daughter Leanne (10 months). He met with the team's medical staff, underwent an MRI, and received clearance to begin workouts -- the ligament tear in his left knee, which ultimately led to his trade here, now healed.
"It's good -- very good," said Fernandez, gently tapping the knee. "I saw some other doctors this summer, and I knew it was going to be OK. It eased my mind."
The Fernandezes spent a couple of days here looking for a house, weighed the pros and cons of city and suburban living, and should be back home in Montreal today to finalize their "living" decision. He soon will begin skating and stopping shots with a bunch of Montreal-based NHLers, including Marty Lapointe, Patrice Brisebois, Ian Laperriere, Vincent Lecavalier, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and others.
If invited (a fait accompli), Fernandez will join the rest of the Boston netminding corps for a week of goaltending camp early next month in Calgary, under the tutelage of Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa.
"I'm always open to that," Fernandez said. "You can never get enough ice during the summer."
What remains to be seen, of course, is how new coach Claude Julien distributes his goalies' ice time in the upcoming season. If Fernandez indeed holds office for three-quarters of the schedule, that certainly will be an abrupt change for incumbent No. 1 workhorse Tim Thomas, he of 104 games the last 1 1/2 seasons. Hannu Toivonen and Tuukka Rask also will be challenging for seats in the Boston dressing room, but right now they're both pegged for Providence.
Unless Chiarelli moves a body or two, it stands to be the most competitive netminding situation the Bruins have had perhaps since Andy Moog and Rejean Lemelin were going head-to-head for jobs 1 and 1-A. That was one century and many postseason DNQs ago.
Fernandez, meanwhile, plans to incorporate some of the Moog look in his game. The day after the deal was made, he called his equipment supplier and ordered a new mask.
"I'm bringing back the bear, I think. You know, with the open mouth," he said, describing the intended paint job. "Just like Moog's."
How perfectly retro, and how perfectly problem solving, if Fernandez-Thomas morphed into the club's new-age Lemelin-Moog tandem. Fernandez, raised in Quebec (first in Sherbrooke and then Kirkland, closer to Montreal), stands to be Boston's first regular French-Canadian goaltender since Lemelin (with apologies to short-timers "Cousin" Vinny Riendeau and Felix Potvin).
"Of course I remember Lemelin -- don't worry, I was watching," said Fernandez, who later posed for pictures in a corner of the empty dressing room, sitting directly below a plaque of legendary stopper Terry Sawchuk.
Fernandez recalled not only that Lemelin was among the first NHL goalies to wear lightweight leg pads, but also the exact shape, design, and color of his French forefather's equipment. "The pads were square," Fernandez said. "Odd-looking. Different. They were his trademark." Lemelin, these days the Flyers' netminding coach, is 20 years older than Fernandez, but his revolutionary look two decades ago had Fernandez playing in pads just like Lemelin's.
"But Pelle Lindbergh was the guy for me," said Fernandez, recalling the sensational Flyers netminder who died behind the wheel of his supercharged sportscar in November 1985 at age 26. "Back home, where I'm from, you took names and played in the streets -- I was Lindbergh. I don't know why, really, but he had a great year, obviously, and slowly he became my guy, and when he [died], it hit everyone hard. He just stuck in my mind, I guess."
The Bruins have a new goalie. Along with a new coach (Julien) and a new assistant GM (Jim Benning). On Tuesday, they added a new left winger (Peter Schaefer). Who knows what will happen today?
If no news is good news, then lots of news is . . . ?
"Fans know more than everyone thinks," said Fernandez, asked if he understood the Boston hockey culture, and how much lost ground the Bruins have to repair and regain. "They have a passion, I am sure. They don't want . . . well, when you have a bad season, it's disappointing for everyone -- for fans and players. But if you turn it around, they'll come back and jump on the wagon again."
A few saves here and there could help. That's probably not all up to Manny Fernandez, but then again, it might be.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.