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10-26-2003, 05:55 AM
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Location: Toronto.
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The Bruins' best rookie

In my view, it's not Jillson, Zino, Bergeron or even Raycroft (which reminds me -- is Razor technically a rookie or not?). The best rookie so far is Mike Sullivan!

I was not so sure about this hiring, but I'm becoming more convinced by the day that he knows what he's doing.

The only downside from my vantage point: he has been pretty slow to recognize misfits on lines/pairings: witness Travis Green with Samsonov and the McGillis/Moran combination which keeps getting burned. But aside from that, some of the positives:

(1) His handling of the goaltending. He was smart to start with Potvin, and bring Raycroft in after a couple of games. He did the classy thing by giving Potvin the LA game. (Remember how PO'd Shields was last year when he didn't get to play against Anaheim -- or was it San Jose?). He made a point of giving Raycroft the second home game...and then coming back with him against NJ. I'm sure it was in part because the Devils had already seen Potvin once this season. Just comes across like he's thinking all the time.

(2) His handling of Bergeron. He found the right mix for him with Rolston and PJ. On this line, there's not much pressure on the kid to be an offensive wizard. But as he's displayed so much poise...Bergeron has earned bonuses from the coach, like PP time with Samsonov, and ice time in the last minutes of periods & games. And has anyone noticed that he's starting to use Bergeron on more face-offs the past couple of games? Not long, I suspect, before we all get our wish to see Rolston as a full-time winger.

(3) His line matching. He's usually managed to get the match-ups he wants -- even on the road. And I think he's used the 4th line players very effectively. Enough ice time to keep them from grumbling. Occasionally spotting McCarthy on a higher line. And using Donato to kill penalties.

(4) Understanding game situations. It's struck me several times in this early part of the season that Sullivan has a good understanding of who should be out in certain situations. The right guy in the face-off circle for key faceoffs (and that's not always Thornton)...the right line on the ice for the circumstance.

(5) Motivation I don't really know whether this is going to be a strong point in the long run. But just the way he handled the two California games was impressive.

(6) His system. I imagine the following scene from some unspecified point in training camp:

Sullivan writes a word on a blackboard. A group of Bruins forwards stare at it endlessly...scratching their heads. "What is that word?" mutter several players. "Seems like a lot of syllables," whispers Joe Thornton to Glenn Murray.

Frustrated, Sullivan resorts to charades. He holds up two fingers. "Two words!" shouts Lapointe..Sully smiles... "first word"...and Sullivan turns his back on the players, pointing at his spine. "BACK!" yells Grosek. Sullivan claps his hands to indicate that Grosek is right.

Then the coach holds up fingers to indicate he'll do the second word. He brings out MOC who proceeds to open up JJ's checkbook. Several of the players faint...they've never seen this book before.

Finally...PJ Axelsson figures it out, and shouts out "CHECK"....Sullivan encourages with his hands...and Brian Rolston says "CHECKING". Then Thornton elbows Sandy McCarthy out of the way to get to the front of the line: BACKCHECKING, Coach. I've put it together, and it's BACKCHECKING".

"Very good," says Sullivan. "Now that we are familiar with the word, let's try to DO it." And...just like that...the Bruins became an effective hockey team.

Bravo, Coach!


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