Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Bruins?

Joe Tasca
Nov 23, 2000

I know what you're thinking. Nobody's afraid of the Bruins. Hell, who could be? They've gotten off to a horrid 6-10-2-2 start and there's no end in sight. I can honestly say, however, that there is a large group of long-suffering individuals that cringe every time a puck is dropped to start a Bruins game: their fans.

Let me say that I am not a Bruins fan. However, as a Rhode Islander, I have followed the Boston sports scene for years. I remember the days when the Bruins were a force to be reckoned with. You don't even have to go as far back as the 1970's when Bobby Orr, Phil Espositio and Derek Sanderson terrorized opponents at will. As recent as the early 1990's, the Bruins had formidable squads. Adam Oates and Cam Neely used to put up points like they were going out of style. Ray Bourque and Don Sweeney anchored the blue line corps. Andy Moog was one of the best money goaltenders in the game at the time. Bruin fans were spoiled with contending teams year after year.

Now who do Bruin fans have to be proud of? Jason Allison? Joe Thornton? Byron Dafoe?

Are you frightened yet? If so, you now know how Bruin fans feel. Now don't get me wrong. I am not saying that guys like Allison and Thornton do not have the potential to be solid players. What I am saying is that I have not been impressed with the effort of these two players this season.

Hey, I look at the stats. I see Jason Allison's name up there near the top of the list of leading scorers. That may be good enough for all you fantasy hockey geeks out there, but that is simply not good enough for me. And looking at the Bruins record, it doesn't seem to be producing many wins either. The time has come for Allison to step up to the forefront and become a leader. Allison has been with the Bruins for years now. He's supposed to be a guy that the younger players can look up to in the locker room. He's supposed to be a guy that the organization and the fans can count on to put forth his best effort each night. He's supposed to be a guy that plays every shift like it's his last. That's what a leader does.

Sure, Allison does have his moments. One night he'll score a goal and add two assists and the next three nights he'll take off. A leader doesn't take nights off. And hell, by no means does Allison have to score each night to prove his worth to the team. A big guy like Allison should be out there banging, hitting, fore-checking, and if he has to, fighting. He needs to lead by example. He needs to give the younger players a work ethic to emulate.

The same goes for Joe Thornton. For years now, everyone has been beaten to death with the hype surrounding this alleged 21-year old phenom. The Bruins have been waiting for Thornton to develop into a John LeClair-like power forward, and he certainly has the ability. He is strong and has surprisingly quick feet and stick-handling skills for a big man. But his inconsistent play over the past few seasons is making me question his desire. I'm wondering if Thornton understands what it takes to play in the NHL night in and night out.

The Bruins recent firing of Pat Burns and Harry Sinden is not the answer to their problems. Acquiring defenseman Patrick Traverse and forwards Billy Guerin and Andrei Nazarov is not going to help either. I am not saying that Mike Keenan is a bad coach and I am not claiming that Traverse, Guerin and Nazarov are bad players. But there has got to come a time when the organization starts to realize that maybe the general managers, coaches and the role players aren't the people to blame. To some degree, a very large degree in my opinion, the so-called leaders of a hockey team have to shoulder the responsibility of a club's demise.

Granted, some teams simply do not have the capable players required to produce consistent, winning hockey. The Montreal Canadiens just cleaned their managerial house earlier this week, thinking a minor-league coach and some former players are going to be the magic potion that turns their abominable season around. Unfortunately, it is not going to happen. The Canadiens don't have the talent on their roster to win hockey games. Tell me, how can a team who's leading goal scorer is Dainus Zubrus make the playoffs? I don't give a damn if Scotty Bowman comes back to Montreal, because he's not going to win with a team that didn't have a 50-point scorer last season.

After a sluggish start to the 1999-2000 year, the Canadiens came on strong and nearly shocked the NHL by popping into the playoff bracket. The Canadiens made a run at the playoffs last season for one reason. They played their hearts out. Veteran Shayne Corson, who had been battling injuries and a physical illness all season long, led his team both on and off the ice. Known for his scoring in past years, Corson was called upon to play a defensive role for the Canadiens, and he did so admirably. After every game he dealt with the tough Montreal press, refusing to blame the team's struggles on injuries and lack of talent. At one point in March, Corson forever gained my admiration when he said, "Excuses are for losers."

Are you listening in Boston? The die-hard Bruins fans know the game. They know their team is not a Stanley Cup contender. They can accept that. Nevertheless, what they won't and shouldn't accept is a team led by overpaid stiffs. No matter how talented a player is, he can't be successful if he doesn't put forth the effort required of a professional athlete. There is a reason that players wear the "C" and the "A" on their shirts. Unfortunately, Jason Allison and Joe Thornton don't seem to understand the concept of those letters.

A hockey team is defined by it's leaders. The character of a team is symbolized by it's captain. How would you define the Boston Bruins right now? For me, any word ranging from dull to disgusting works. Anyone that has seen a recent Bruins showing will agree. Where's the emotion? Where's the passion? I've seen more passion in concession stand attendants.

I have a hard time understanding how the Bruin players can accept the current state of the team. It's not so much the fact the team is losing that hurts, it's the way they're losing. I saw the Bruins get massacred by Minnesota 6-1 this past weekend and couldn't believe what I was watching. They refused to hit the Wild players, allowing them to walk in alone on Byron Dafoe on numerous occasions. At the other end, rarely did the Bruins muster any kind of sustained pressure on Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez. It was uninspired hockey at its finest.

And what are the so-called leaders of the team doing to reverse this lackluster play? You tell me. I'd love to know.

Ray Bourque is gone. Don Sweeney and Paul Coffey are past their prime. If the Bruins are to salvage what is turning out to be another lost season, guys like Jason Allison and Joe Thornton have to break out of their shells and emerge as true leaders. They need to call team meetings. Talk to the media. Get to the rink early. Give each shift 100 percent. And when necessary, they need to drop the gloves and show opponents the Bruins refuse to be pushed around. It is high time for this team to give its fans something to cheer for.

I have always thought winning hockey games is a privilege. It's something that you have to earn. To earn something, you have to work for it. That same principle applies to hockey. The Bruins have shown little life this season, and until the veteran players that have been with the team for a few years learn to take the bull by the horns and play with some heart, grit, and determination, the downward spiral of the Boston Bruins will continue.

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