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Viewed through the mist-covered glass that surrounds the Danvers (Mass.) Town Line Twin Rinks, the swiftly moving Boston Bruins were grotesquely distorted as they skated through a practice last Friday morning. The players looked like black and gold apparitions.
In a corner of the building, general manager Harry Sinden climbed the stairs to get a better look at his men, who, at that particularly low moment, were 3-4, in last place in the Adams Division and, as Sinden put it, had been "playing horse-bleep." Fair enough as a description of the normally spirited Bruins' tentative, listless play in consecutive road losses—7-2 to Edmonton, 8-2 to Calgary and 3-2 to Winnipeg—before their workmanlike, though hardly dazzling, 4-1 win in St. Louis two nights earlier.
When he got a better view, Sinden must have found it just as scary as it had been through the mist. There, by the bench, on crutches, was the No. 1 overall draft choice for 1982, defenseman Gord Kluzak, lost for the season with an injured left knee. On the ice, last season's leading Bruin scorer, center Barry Pederson, was skating without a stick; he's out until mid-November because he broke his right hand in a preseason fight with Quebec's Mario Marois. And there was All-Star goalie Pete Peeters, skating gingerly, still favoring an ankle he had sprained in Canada Cup play in September. Another man with a sprained ankle, team captain and spiritual leader Terry O'Reilly, was nowhere to be seen. He's out for a week.
Injuries aside, the Bruins were patently not the Bruins who finished 49-25-6 last season, good for a second consecutive Adams Division title and a second-place tie with the Islanders in the 21-team NHL's overall standings. Instead, what Sinden saw—what he had inexplicably created—was a conglomeration of six rookies ( Boston opened the season with an NHL-high eight of them), four seasoned players who had come via trades since Feb. 3 and 12 veterans, not counting Kluzak, O'Reilly and Pederson. To all appearances, Sinden had violated a tenet of sound management: If it isn't broken, don't fix it.
As recently as a week ago, the seemingly heavy-handed rebuilding of the Bruins appeared to have disrupted a team generally regarded as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Yet on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, the Bruins battled out of the divisional cellar by routing the New York Islanders 8-3. The Islanders hadn't allowed that many goals since an 8-8 tie with Minnesota on Dec. 23, 1982. Three of the Boston goals and eight assists—more than one-third of the team's production—came from new players. And two of those goals were scored by Charlie Simmer, the former L.A. Kings All-Star left wing who had been acquired by Boston on Tuesday in exchange for a 1985 first-round draft pick. The way Simmer worked the corners and camped around the net, he looked like the hard-nosed, high-scoring leftwinger Boston has needed ever since John Bucyk retired in 1978. In essence, Simmer and the Bruins played the way Bruins have played historically. And how is that? Stay tuned.
"We knew we had to spread the scoring around," said Sinden, whose Bruins last season depended mainly on linemates Pederson (38 goals, 116 points) and right wing Rick Middleton (47, 105) for their scoring; the pair accounted for 25% of the goals. In a move toward better balance, Sinden last summer traded forward Mike Krushelnyski to Edmonton for swift center Ken (The Rat) Linseman, who was a Bruin even when he was an Oiler.
Linseman is a skilled and willing forechecker who, according to Bruin defenseman Mike O'Connell, "will take a hit to make a play." Forechecking is the Bruins' forte. Of course, Linseman will also make a hit to make a point, as he did at Edmonton Oct. 16, when he fought with ex-teammate Lee Fogolin and bit—yes, that's bit, not hit—the Oiler on the cheek. "Yeah, I bit him," Linseman told Dick Trust of the Quincy (Mass.) Patriot Ledger. "The idea of a fight is to try to hurt your opponent. And make sure you don't get hurt. I fight back any way I can." (Linseman was suspended for four games in 1982 for gouging Russ Adam, then with Toronto.) Meanwhile, Fogolin got a tetanus shot, the league is investigating the incident and all Linseman is doing, as of week's end, is leading Boston scorers with six goals and five assists. Linseman is indeed a Bruin, though perhaps an excessively feisty one.
Then there's the defense. Maybe he would have made the team anyway, but when Kluzak went down Oct. 7, it virtually assured Mats Thelin, a seventh-round pick in 1981, of his place on the Bruin roster. Thelin, 23, is a good skater and passer. He is also a Swede, and Boston doesn't like to open its arms, or its bankroll, to Europeans. "I was in G�teborg to scout another player," says Sinden, "when I noticed Thelin. He got hurt, cut inside his mouth. As he came off the ice, I noticed he had this look about him as if he was proud of it. He got stitched up, came back and played pretty well." Sinden liked that. Thelin is a Bruin. Always has been.
But what about Simmer? Can a guy who played six years in laid-back Southern California and is perhaps best known for his marriage to Playboy's 1981 Playmate of the Year, Terri Welles, really be a Bruin? "He's no Joe Hollywood," says Sinden. "He reminds me of Phil Esposito, not a great skater but good around the net." Simmer can joke about his mediocre skating—Phil and I are just deceptive. Of course, I'm a little more deceptive than he was"—but he resents allegations that he's a garbage man. "People call them garbage goals, but you've got to fight your way in front of the net to get them," he says. Or, as Espo once said, "Scoring is easy. You stand in the slot. Take your beating. Shoot the puck in the net."
On Saturday night Simmer proved a disturber of the first order, constantly perching on the edge of the crease, screening goalies Kelly Hrudey and Roland Melanson, and scoring his goals by backhanding a Middleton feed past Hrudey in the second period and then popping a six-footer under Melanson's right armpit in the third. He also assisted on a Middleton goal in the second.