10 Boston Bruins With a locker room out of Friends, the club looks to a new coach for focus and toughness

October 12, 2003

Lack of team chemistry is the most overused excuse for losing,
but not in Boston. As he sifted through the ashes of the Bruins'
second-half collapse and first-round-playoff flameout, G.M. Mike
O'Connell arrived at this conclusion: "The players may have been
too close. You get into an area where everyone likes each other
so much they're afraid to [criticize one another]."

None of the team leaders openly challenged players to shape up
and break out of a slide in which they won only 17 of their final
55 games. Not coach Robbie Ftorek, who was axed with nine games
left in the regular season, not soft-spoken captain Joe Thornton,
not even O'Connell, who replaced Ftorek the rest of the way.

In the off-season O'Connell promoted 35-year-old coach Mike
Sullivan from the club's AHL affiliate in Providence, where he
coached several of the Bruins who were in camp. The youngest man
behind the bench in the NHL, Sullivan is known as a meticulous
planner, a disciplinarian and an excellent communicator. Says
right wing Martin Lapointe, "When he speaks in the dressing room,
his message is clear."

The on-ice message will be heavy on the trap and the need to
create a rough-and-tumble team identity. So who better to build
around than the 24-year-old Thornton, a 6'4", 220-pound monster
near the net and a Hart Trophy winner in the making. If Thornton,
the league's third-leading scorer last season with 101 points,
and right wing Glen Murray, who's had two consecutive 40-goal
seasons, are matched with mighty mite left wing Sergei Samsonov,
who missed all but eight games last year with a wrist injury,
Boston will have one of the NHL's elite lines. The Bruins also
need free-agent pickup Felix Potvin to rebound from an off year
in goal for the Kings. (His .894 save percentage was the
fifth-worst in the league.)

The Bruins should have plenty of motivation: With the possibility
of a lockout next season, the front office has only four players
signed beyond 2003-04. Almost everyone's playing for a new
contract. --S.C.

COLOR PHOTO COLOR PHOTO: DAVID DUPREY/AP JOE THORNTON

SI RANKING
( 1 Best- 30 Worst )

OFFENSE 6
DEFENSE 18
GOALTENDING 27
POWER PLAY 6
PENALTY KILLING 15
G.M. AND COACH 26

INSIDER

G.M. Mike O'Connell put himself on the hot seat by trading G John
Grahame last January, allowing Jeff Hackett to leave as a free
agent and then signing 32-year-old Felix Potvin, who was shaky
last year.... Expect big seasons from F's Joe Thornton, Glen
Murray and Sergei Samsonov, but after that trio there is a
falloff in scoring.... In contrast to the overly intense nature
of former coach Robbie Ftorek, new coach Mike Sullivan's
easygoing manner has been a big hit with the players.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)