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Bruins hopeful gets up to speed

Bartkowski showing he is a fast learner

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / September 25, 2010

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Matt Bartkowski didn’t take long to discover the immense learning curve that comes with the transition from college hockey to the pros.

The 22-year-old defenseman, a native of Pittsburgh, spent two years playing for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL before two seasons at Ohio State. In 2008-09, he earned a spot on the CCHA all-rookie team, marking the first such honor for a Buckeyes blue liner in 10 years.

He said each level has presented challenges, but none has come close to what he’s experienced in Bruins training camp.

“It’s going well,’’ said Bartkowski, who skated in the early group yesterday at TD Garden. “I was a little nervous at first, coming into my first camp, but I’ve settled down pretty well and I feel like it’s going well right now. The two biggest differences are the pace of play and positioning. Everybody is always in position and they don’t make mistakes. That’s probably the biggest difference.’’

Bartkowski, who is 6 feet 1 inch and weighs 196 pounds, has a big shot from the point, brings a lot of grit, and is a terrific open-ice hitter. He looked strong in Wednesday’s exhibition win over Montreal, contributing two assists, but hasn’t yet had an opportunity to showcase his physical presence.

“I really haven’t taken any chances yet on a big hit in open ice or anything like that,’’ he said. “I’m just trying to stay in position and stay sound right now. There is a smaller window of time at this level for you to throw those hits. You definitely have to make sure in those situations you have support back from your wingers. Even if you do make the hit, most of the other forwards are going to be able to make a play off the puck.’’

Bartkowski doesn’t want to take chances that might take him out of the play.

“Speed-wise, this is a lot faster,’’ he said. “Everybody is a lot bigger and stronger. You can’t get away with as much, if anything at all. Even in rookie camp, I was able to figure out that it was time to turn it up and step it up, and then coming into main camp it was even a bigger jump. It was a quick awakening, so I’m glad I got it out of the way early.’’

Bartkowski has made a positive impression on coach Claude Julien.

“He’s one of those guys who I think has figured [out] not just the game for the sake of the game, but what’s going on here, pretty quickly,’’ said Julien. “I think he’s sensing there’s an opportunity for him and he’s going to make the best out of it.

“He moves the puck very well. We’ve talked about losing Dennis Wideman, one of our good puck-moving defensemen, and we’re putting the responsibility on all our [defensemen] for the moment to compensate for that. We feel as a group we can do that. Does he have a lack of experience? Obviously, and at times it may show a little bit, but giving him some preseason games and see how quickly he catches on and how well he does will certainly determine whether he’s got a real legit chance of staying with us.’’

If there was a knock on Bartkowski in scouting reports, it was that he needed to work on his skating.

“I did three or four times a week in the summer,’’ he said. “I spent a lot of time this summer working on it. I definitely noticed a difference. Every day, you’re just trying to get a little better and get a little quicker with your feet.’’

Bartkowski said he hasn’t had a specific mentor, but has picked up many tips from the experienced blue liners.

“They’ve been really great, showing us little things that we don’t know yet, what to do,’’ he said. “Just stuff the pros know that we don’t know yet. They’ve all been great about that.’’

Where Bartkowski lands remains to be seen. He wants to make that decision as hard for the coaching staff as possible.

“My goal has always been to make the team [in Boston], whether it was realistic or not,’’ he said. “That was always my goal and it still is.’’

Julien said goalie Tim Thomas will not play in tonight’s exhibition game against Florida at the Garden. He hopes Thomas will be ready to face the Capitals Tuesday or Wednesday . . . General manager Peter Chiarelli announced that Andrew Bodnarchuk, Ryan Button, Craig Cunningham, Jordan Knackstedt, Jared Knight, Lane MacDermid, Kirk MacDonald, Jeff Penner and Joe Rullier were released from camp. Button (Prince Albert Raiders), Cunningham (Vancouver Giants), and Knight (London Knights) will return to their junior teams. MacDonald will report to the Providence camp and Rullier and MacDonald were released from their tryout agreements. Bodnarchuk, Knackstedt, MacDermid, and Penner have been assigned to Providence. That reduces the number of players in Boston’s camp to 40.

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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