Bruins benefit from trip
In the days of yore, long before the NHL thought big season-opening thoughts — Prague, Helsinki, London, Stockholm kinds of worldly dreams — the Bruins typically began each season with a game or two on Causeway Street and then hit the highway.
“We would go out West for a couple of weeks, and as a player I liked that,’’ recalled Bruins president Cam Neely, meandering along a hallway in Prague’s O2 arena over the weekend. “I liked it a lot, because the guys got to know one another, we came together as a team. Overall, I think it helped us.’’
Those were the days, of course, when Ringling Bros., with their self-proclaimed Greatest Show on Earth, brought their elephants, tigers, trapeze artists, sword swallowers, and snake charmers to North Station and set up their three rings for a fortnight. The smell of the animals would linger in the old Garden for months, well beyond New Years. The heavy, stale aroma would not dissipate until the first brilliant tulips were spotted in the Public Garden or the first ransacking Canadien came to town in search of yet another Stanley Cup.
The Bruins have returned home from their 12-day European excursion, touching down at Hanscom/Bedford in the wee hours yesterday morning after a short stop in Iceland (more fuel, chocolaty treats at the duty free shop) en route from Prague. Prior to boarding their charter jet for the eight-hour sojourn, they rubbed out the Phoenix Coyotes, 3-0, Sunday, only a day after looking thoroughly discombobulated in a 5-2 loss to the same Desert Dogs in the season opener.
The trip, which also included a stop in Dublin, Northern Ireland, and a quick side trip to Liberec to play the White Tigers while in the Czech Republic, was vastly different in culture and currency from one of those Los Angeles-Edmonton-Calgary-Winnipeg-Vancouver Octoberfest swings Neely recalled from the days when he sported a No. 8 sweater instead of a Joseph Abboud suit. But it was similar in that it sequestered a couple of dozen teammates on the road for nearly two weeks, kept their focus on work and play (one in the same, of course), and in the end left them espousing that they were a better, tighter team for the time, the travel, and the camaraderie.
“The ultimate team-building experiencing,’’ said third-year forward Blake Wheeler, “to be forced to be together for  days, and hang out. You get the feeling that there are no cliques here. It feels like we have a really good unit right now.’’
“The last two weeks have been very good for our hockey club,’’ added veteran winger Mark Recchi, quick to fish the puck out of the net Sunday, moments after flashy rookie Tyler Seguin potted his first career goal. “We’ll be through some ups and downs during the season and the time we’ve spent together will help us ride those out. I thought this was much more enjoyable [in the preseason] than last year.’’
Prior to his club landing at Hanscom, coach Claude Julien told his charges to take two days off skates. They won’t be back at work until tomorrow morning’s workout in Wilmington and they won’t play again until they face the Devils in Newark Saturday night. All of it is part of a master re-entry plan Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli put together in hopes of mitigating a potential drop in emotion, energy, and enthusiasm following the club’s first trip to Europe since 1959.
In ’59, the Bruins hit the Continent after the regular season and playoffs, barnstorming through 10 cities, including London and Paris, in a 23-game slate against the Rangers that opened in Geneva and closed in Vienna. The Broadway Blueshirts beefed up their roster with Bobby Hull, who ended the tour with 14 goals, tying New York’s Eddie Shack for scoring honors.
Let the record show that the trip to Prague actually was the third European tour for the Bruins. They visited France in the late ’20s, soon after their inaugural NHL season of 1924-25.
Some picked up pieces, hockey and otherwise, from 12 days of Black ‘n’ Gold barnstorming:
■The endless and lush green pastures of Northern Ireland are breathtaking, no doubt even more so for any Boston suburbanite who saw the hot, rainless summer of 2010 turn lawns throughout the Hub of Hockey into brown, grub-ravaged junkyards. For all its beauty, however, there lingers the unrest of what Northern Islanders still refer to as “The Troubles.’’
“What they go through every day in Northern Ireland,’’ mused Recchi. “I mean, my God, every day it can erupt. That’s a scary way to live. But still, they go on enjoying their lives . . . they are very nice people . . . and they don’t let it affect them.’’
As Recchi noted, soon after the Bruins left Belfast for Prague, there was a bombing only a couple of hours away from their center-city hotel. “I can’t imagine what that must be like,’’ said Recchi.
■It looks like Nathan Horton, never with more than 31 goals in six seasons, just might be capable of connecting for 40 or more, just as scouts believed back when Florida picked him No. 3 overall in the 2003 draft. He scored both of Boston’s goals Saturday and then knocked home another Sunday. Three observations: 1. He’s not timid about getting to the greasy areas near the net; 2. When he heads to those high grime neighborhoods, he does it with speed; 3. A very quick release. Getting rid of it is often more critical than getting a lot on it.
■A Boston reporter on the trip, upon learning that Bruins goalie prospect Nolan Schaefer grew up in Saskatchewan, figured the 30-year-old puckstopper would immediately understand the reporter’s reference to Climax, Saskatchewan, during a casual conversation in the lobby of the club’s hotel in Prague.
Reporter: “You know why I bring up Climax, right?’’
Schaefer (with blank stare): “No, not really . . . ’’
Reporter: “Well, Gordie Kluzak grew up in Climax.’’
Schaefer (stare still blank). “Is that right? Who’s that?’’
Reporter, who was there the day the Bruins selected Kluzak first overall in the 1982 draft, figured it was time maybe to talk about Lady Gaga, Coldplay, or maybe ask where to find a slice of pizza before hopping the bus to Liberec.
Kluzak, by the way, will be 47 in March.
■After Tim Thomas turned back 29 shots Sunday for a 3-0 win and his 18th career shutout, Julien gave him due credit for his performance. Julien also noted that Tuukka Rask, the 5-2 loser in net Saturday, probably wished he had the same team in front of him in Game 1 that Thomas had in Game 2. No doubt the Bruins were better, front to back, but Thomas was also the better of the two performers. Rask, impressive in bricking the net in two of three breakaways, also overcompensated on two or three shots. He was spotty. Thomas, by comparison, was exceptional. This Rask-Thomas thing is going to be a fun tete-a-tete, folks.
■Zdenek Chara, Big Z’s big daddy, ventured to Prague from Trencin, Slovakia, to see his son play two weekend games. An Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler, the senior Chara still has a handshake that could pry the carburetor off of a rusted-out ’57 V8 caddy abandoned for decades in a Limerick, Maine, barn.
Sitting in the stands for practice one morning at the 02 arena, and speaking through an interpreter, Chara’s dad detailed some of the training tools and tips he helped develop for his son some 15 years earlier. One of them was a basket, topped off with cement, with a hockey stick inserted, blade-first.
Where did Chara get those powerful wrists and warp-factor slapper? Countless hours of stickhandling a basketful of cement in a backyard in Trencin is one of the clues.
“Make your dream,’’ said Zdenek Chara, repeating advice he gave his son over and over again. “And keep your dream.’’
Yep, Zdenek Chara still has the basket with the stick stuck in it.
■ Rookie Jordan Caron made his NHL debut Sunday, working left wing on a line with fellow Quebecer Patrice Bergeron in the slot and Blake Wheeler shifted to the right side. Caron has a build reminiscent of ex-Bruin winger Glen Murray, but he looks far more willing to assert his girth along the wall. In his later years, Murray shied away from that kind of banging, his absence there almost comical at times. Caron didn’t pick up a point, but he had to make points with the coaching staff for his wall work. Guess here: he finds his way as a second- or third-liner in the NHL, tops out in the 45-55-point range. Julien used Bergeron and Caron as a penalty-killing tandem.
■Name the player who said this of the Bruins trip to Europe: “It’s a great thrill for me. If I were to make a trip like this on my own, it would cost me a great deal. I’m going with all expenses paid and I’m getting something extra besides.’’
Answer: Bruins left winger Vic Stasiuk, upon wrapping up that ’59 trip. And the extra? A total $1,000 that each player grossed for the 23 games, a little less than $50 per night.
While in Prague, Chara and Bergeron each wrapped up contract extensions that will pay them a combined $60.5 million.