BRIGHTON, Mass. – Brandon Carlo and John-Michael Liles have been paired together throughout Bruins training camp and it’s been a well-conceived match that’s brought out the best in both players during the preseason.
Carlo has been poised, strong, responsible and impactful in his handful of preseason appearances. Liles has been solid, productive and smooth in the puck-moving department. Each of the two D-men count different strengths to their game and have complimented each other well.
The 35-year-old Liles is also almost old enough to be a father to the 19-year-old Carlo, who grew up in Colorado right at the time when the veteran Bruins defenseman was enjoying his best seasons with the Avalanche. Liles played with Carlo’s favorite player growing up, Rob Blake, and now finds himself playing with a young player who hopes to bring some of the same qualities to the table as the towering Blake did in his Hall of Fame career.
“It’s pretty crazy. Rob Blake was my favorite player back in the day, and I remember watching Liles a little bit,” said Carlo. “He focuses on every game with me. Everybody is a different style of player. He’s been in the league for a while and the communication aspect is something he pushes on me every single game.
“I feel like we’ve been good with that, and we get back to the bench after a shift he’s been very helpful and resourceful. We talk about every single shift.
Liles has enjoyed a seemingly endless array of defensemen partners over his 10-plus years in the NHL and he’s been impressed with a player who was just a hopeful second-round pick little more than a year ago. Carlo was also somebody that, not too long ago, was playing himself as Blake or Liles in NHL video games as a diehard Colorado fan growing up.
Now, Carlo is somebody that’s pushing established veteran D-men and perhaps forcing Bruins management to think about moves to eventually clear space for him on the NHL roster as a good-skating, massive defenseman with a lot of upside in the puck-moving department.
“Young guys are playing with older players on their line, and I’ve been playing with Carlo. So, we’ve been trying to talk every situation out during practice and the games,” said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Liles. “[Carlo] has been good. He’s obviously a big guy and he skates well, and he’s been easy to play. That’s a good compliment for a young kid. Easy to play with is always a good thing.
“He’s got good poise. One of those things that he has a lot is that not only is he a good skater, but he’s got the size where if he gets himself into a situation, he can use his body to protect the puck or shield a guy off. For a lot of guys, that’s not even an option being able to give yourself that extra half-second.”
While it’s been a fun experience for the 6-foot-5 Carlo getting matched with the savvy, experienced Liles, it’s also about continuing to push for a roster spot when the season opens next week in Columbus. It might be a numbers game where Carlo starts in Providence, despite making an overwhelmingly positive impression in camp, but he knows that he’s on the right track to be in Boston much sooner rather than later.
“I feel like I’ve been able to play simple and move the puck well, but overall it’s about building in camp to get to that overall goal,” said Carlo. “Throughout camp last year, I noticed that each and every game got hardest and faster. I’m prepared for that. I’m ready for the speed. I’m ready for the physicality. I’m ready for everything.”