Hockey Still Alive in Boston

by abournenesn

May 27, 2009

I get it now.

I understand why on the Bruins’ wrap-up day, Mark Stuart
said that he wouldn’t watch the rest of the playoffs. At the time, I
responded skeptically — “for real?” — because I couldn’t believe that
if hockey was your life, you wouldn’t watch the most important part of
the season.

“No, can’t watch,” he reiterated.

A couple of weeks removed from that dreadful overtime elimination
day, it’s easy to hear the what-ifs still echoing inside your head as
you see the Penguins steamroll past the Hurricanes, and easier just to
switch the channel, to say, the Red Sox game. There’s a big part of
everyone, even the Boston media, that wanted to see the Bruins’ run go
even just a little bit longer.

But here we are, hockey-less for the time being in Beantown. Well, not quite.

Joining the Sox coverage, we took a trip up to Manchester, N.H., for John Smoltz’s rehab start for Double-A Portland against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Fisher Cats manager Gary Cathcart, who played with Smoltz in the minors, was giving an animated interview with WMUR-TV’s Jamie Staton on his young players facing the veteran pitcher and the significance of the moment for many of them.

But when he finished the interview, he turned to me only to say, “What a season! What a tough loss. I was so disappointed.”

Cathcart grew up in New Bedford playing hockey as a kid, and has
been a huge fan of the Bruins for years. Like many diehard hockey fans,
he talked about how amazing it was to see the team exceed expectations,
and yet how devastating that overtime goal felt, bringing an abrupt end
to the hockey season. Even in his pregame, pre-Smoltz mode, the memory
of the Bruins’ season was still fresh.

Scanning the record crowd of 8,903 at Merchantsauto.com Stadium who
had come to see Smoltz, I found a fan wearing a Bruins sweatshirt. Not
a Red Sox sweatshirt, but a Bruins sweatshirt. Boston hockey is still
present.

Smoltz took the mound and received a standing ovation. He pitched
exactly 60 pitches — three innings, and then one pitch in the fourth
inning — threw 36 for strikes and logged in the 89-91 mph range. But
something occurred to me here. Smoltz took his first rehab start on May
21, nearly a year after his shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum —
similar to Phil Kessel.

Now of course, the shoulder is used significantly differently in
baseball than in hockey, and Kessel is two decades younger than Smoltz.
And who knows how truly different the two injuries and subsequent
surgeries were, but it was still a bit startling to hear that it could
take so long to rehabilitate.

For the baseball fans reading this, here’s Smoltz on his rehab start in Manchester. For hockey fans, Kessel is expected to be out for six months.

Call it a reach, but I’m still “seeing” hockey as we transition our
season to the other sports in play. But really, as evidenced by the
props-to-the-Bruins here and there around New England, the season
hasn’t truly ended.

“Hockey is different,” Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said. ”It’s infectious.”

Maybe this year’s Bruins made more of an impact on the sports scene in a way we’ll only begin to see next season.

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