By Stu Hackel
The ice has melted, the scruffy beards are gone and now, in the radiating heat of mid-July -- one month after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup -- the official NHL highlights video gets its premier in Boston on Monday and in New York on Tuesday. It's a good, not great video, unless you're a Bruins fan in which case you will forgive its shortcomings -- including omitting some of the B's more rugged play -- due to the happy ending and the inside look at your heroes. For Bruins fans everywhere, this will be a must-have addition to their hockey collection.
Every championship run by any team in any sport is filled with memorable moments both good and bad, and the hope is that the highlights video captures them, puts them in context and packs some of their inherent emotional power. It's an almost impossible task to achieve in just over an hour. So there are some built-in limitations.
Time constraints mean there's a formula for these productions: a bit of historical set-up, a quick look at the season, a breezy trip through the early playoff rounds and a game-by-game look at the finals. Commemorative videos like this must avoid merely being a string of highlights, so on-camera interviews provide needed context within the visual parade of game action. Some of these interviews here look flat, however. They're all shot against a yellow backdrop and don't always capture much emotion. With his blank stare and erect bearing, expressionless coach Claude Julien often looks like someone taking a police mug shot. By contrast, Milan Lucic is animated and engaging.
Highlights videos have a dual purpose, but one priority. While they serve as the NHL's official visual historical document of the championship, they are primarily a happy souvenir for those who cheer for the winning team. That's the target market and a video is decidedly created from that perspective, so you can't judge it based on any larger measure than how well it serves those fans.
The courting starts immediately: Bobby Orr saying how great it is to see the Bruins embraced by the city again and proclaiming that the fans are "part of the family." For the next hour and change, until the Bruins hold the Cup aloft on the ice, in their dressing room, on the plane ride home and in the Duckboat parade through the city streets, the main course of game action is spiced with reflections from players and Boston media with a smattering of behind-the-scenes images. There are also extras such as extended video from the winning dressing room and more parade footage. For B's fan who is still bathing in the waters of the team's first Stanley Cup in 39 years, this all keeps the tub warm.
The narrative oddly begins five years earlier, with the trading of Joe Thornton to San Jose, followed by the signing of Zdeno Chara to be the team's new on-ice leader. If one were to accurately peg the single biggest organizational change made to build a Cup-winner (which this video doesn't quite do), it was probably Harry Sinden stepping away from his role as team president into an advisory capacity and the remaking of the hockey department under GM Peter Chiarelli (who began in 2006) and now-president Cam Neely (who joined the front office in 2007). This is not to slight Sinden, a very deserving Hockey Hall of Famer who, along with his GMs Mike O'Connell and, briefly, Jeff Gorton, drafted, signed, or traded for Chara, Lucic, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. But the B's needed to be assessed with fresh eyes.
The saga of the 2010-11 Cup season starts in Prague and a few Bruins players talk about the important bonding that took place on that trip. Resiliency was a key to the B's success and players need to have both on- and off-ice chemistry in order to face obstacles during the long season. Opening in Europe seemed to provide that from the outset.
The regular schedule is barely reviewed. It's highlighted by the great start of goalie Thomas, the most resilient Bruin of all, and the big season by Lucic. It breezes through Marc Savard's injury, the February brawl against the Canadiens (largely the non-fight between Thomas and Carey Price), but ignores the later hostility between the rivals (like the Chara-Max Pacioretty incident, its omission a concession to the video's length as well as its feel-good vibe). Mention is made of the trade deadline deals that brought Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle to town (Julien speaks about how the much-maligned Kaberle was appreciated more in the room than he was outside it), and then we go right to the playoffs and the first round against the Canadiens.
A nice montage of vintage B's-Habs action accents the meaning of the rivalry, which New England Sports Museum curator Richard Johnson frames well: "Montreal is the great hockey city in the world. Boston is the great hockey city of the United States....the pot's boiling -- all the time." The tense seven-game round gets its due but is also sanitized. Some jagged edges that fueled the series' hostility are scrubbed away (you won't see Andrew Ference's middle-finger salute to the Bell Centre, for example) in favor of warm fuzzies from the B's mid-series trip to Lake Placid, the great comeback after losing the first two games at home, and some heroic performances, like Horton's Game 7 OT series winner. Ference speaks about all the storylines in the series, and you'd need the whole hour just to cover this one adequately.
Moving to the Flyers series, the B's redeeming sweep after last season's collapse, the pivotal game was the second, in which Boston came back to win in overtime. Thomas stopped what seemed like a thousand shots that night after giving up a pair of goals early, and his thoughts, among the best by anyone, provided a glimpse into his great character: "I just decided that the rest of this game, even if we don't win, I'm gonna make Philly work as hard as they can to get any more," he says. "And the shots just started to add up and I started feeling better and more confident about myself. It switched from just making them work at it to being convinced in my mind that I just wasn't going to let them score."
Off to the third round and the ebb and flow against Tampa Bay (with, mysteriously, some play-by-play by the Lightning's' screaming radio voice Dave Mishkin). Much is made of Patrice Bergeron's injury at the end of the Philly series and Tyler Seguin's phenomenal two games, but Bergeron's return to the lineup in Game 3 is bypassed, his name just comes up in the highlights of Game 4 where he scored twice. When Game 7 arrives, the interviewees remark that this was one of the best games they'd ever seen, the best Boston played in the entire playoffs. There's some good dramatic production here about Horton's lone goal breaking the scoreless tie and the Tampa Bay defense, with the talking heads interspersed among footage of the series-winning play. It's so well done you almost overlook the fact that you never see the entire play flow from start to finish, and the supposed analysis of how the Lightning 1-3-1 was defeated is pretty skimpy.
But these are quibbles and this video really comes to life in the Cup final. With players mic'ed and some exclusive footage, things start jumping early in Game 1 with beautiful scene-setting in Vancouver before we get into the action as Ference confronts Maxim Lapierre. You hear them jaw at each other, Ference telling the longtime-Boston antagonist, "I know what you're all about. You're not that tough. You're not kidding anybody."
The story of the final wouldn't be complete without Alex Burrows' bite of Bergeron's gloved finger, and that's here, but the carry-over into the games that followed is absent. Dan Hamhuis'' spectacular hit on Lucic is shown, but the consequences -- Hamhuis suffering an injury on the play and missing the rest of the series, which started the Canucks unraveling on defense -- are not mentioned. The storylines center instead on the Bruins not getting the bounces in the first two games, which is accurate, but limited. Similarly, Burrows' Game 2 OT goal isn't dissected in any detail, including the irony that he probably should have been suspended for that game.
Aaron Rome's late hit on Horton forms the theme of Game 3, and there's some great sound of ref Steven Walkom talking with Henrik Sedin after the hit and telling the Canuck's captain, "It was late, really late, you know what I mean? I've gotta give him five and a game." Sedin answers, "For sure." But the real signature moment in the game -- and the series -- is missed: Marchand's remarkable shorthanded goal that breaks Vancouver's back. The play is not shown in its entirely, or put in context. It's just part of Boston's goal avalanche that night and it's one of the few major omissions here.
But things are somewhat redeemed at the top of the Game 4 segment: It's hard not to feel something when Bobby Orr is shown standing among the Boston crowd, wearing his Number 4 sweater and waving a Nathan Horton flag as the fans go nuts. The Game 4 collage of Boston's physical play, especially Thomas's hit on Sedin, certainly captured the spirit of the game. Lots of goals, lots of hits. As The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy says, "That was a very emotional night at the Boston Garden. It felt like the '70s."
The B's physical play, especially against the Sedins, is a highlight of the Game 4 segment, along with the parade of goals by the home team. But, beside Thomas and Chara, the one guy who personified the Bruins was Marchand and his aggressive play, both with and without the puck. Marchand scored another big goal in Game 4 and later clotheslined Christian Ehrhoff and lowbridged Daniel Sedin on the same play (don't expect to see that in the video). He'd make big plays throughout the final and was probably Boston's best player apart from Thomas, but he takes a back seat to others in the production and perhaps shouldn't.
By this time, the contours of both the series and the video are clear. The team that scores first wins. The goaltending is a major theme. The producers do a good job of mixing the on-ice story with off-ice developments, especially Roberto Luongo's comments after Game 5 about Thomas' style of play that set another fire in this highly flammable final. You won't see Marchand use Daniel Sedin's head like a speed bag, but you will see Horton pouring water from the Boston Garden ice onto the sheet in Vancouver to break the home ice hex of the first six games. There are lots of great saves and great goals and even if this wasn't the best Cup final ever played, it makes a good case for how determined the Bruins were all season and how that determination helped win it all.
As Shawn Thornton says near the end. "We're a better team when we're pushed to the brink." That's something this video captures well.