Thoughts from a fairweather hockey fan


Thoughts from a fairweather hockey fan

By Rich Levine

I don't know much about hockey.

I didn't grow up playing it. The Bruins were awful for most of my childhood, so I was never inspired to follow it. My high school didn't even have a team, so there was never a reason to care.

That apathys extended into adulthood, and will probably stick around until I die.

Ahh, thats uplifting stuff.

I dont have anything against the sport itself. And not counting people from Montreal, I have nothing against those who love it. Its just that personally, hockey doesnt affect me like basketball, football and baseball do. And it never will.

But Im from Boston, so every year around this time, I hop on the bandwagon, watch most of the games and root like hell for the Bruins. Maybe that makes me a fair-weather fan. Okay, fine. It definitely makes me a fair-weather fan. But whatever, Ill never claim to be anything else.

Watching hockey is a humbling experience, though.

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode The Parking Space"? Its the one where George pulls into a spot at the same time as that character Mike (in another episode, hes the guy who wont pay Jerry for winning the Reggie Miller bet), and they spend the show arguing over who should get it. Anyway, theres a scene at the beginning where Elaine accuses George of being a bad driver, and he goes off:

Nobody drives like me! he says. Nobody! I'm doing things in this car, you have no idea they're going on!

Thats what I feel like watching hockey. I know that there are things going on that I have no idea about. That there are strategies, techniques and side stories unfolding that are completely over my head. When I watch the Bruins, I feel like Im my mom at a Patriots game. I cheer when they score but have no idea how they did. The only difference is that afterward I dont yell at myself for not wearing a jacket. Honey, its freezing! Did you ever even get that flu shot?!

Okay, sorry. But its a strange feeling. Its just not an easy follow. When theres a big hit or a flashy goal (or any goal), Im right there screaming along with Jack Edwards, but otherwise Im lost. My mind wanders, and I spend most of the game wondering about things like how badly it would hurt to take a slap shot to the face, or how many saves Id be able to make in a shootout or how funny it would be if the Bruins traded for that guy with the last name Semin. It's definitely different.

So, just to tie a bow around the message Ive beaten into the ground these last few hundred words: When it comes to the Bruins, Im clueless.

But heading into Thursday nights game in Montreal, there was one thing that even a hockey-atric fan like myself could understand:

Michael Ryder was a bum.

He was useless. He had no business being on the ice, and if the Bruins lost, his presence would be a major factor. I got this from the experts. From everyone on the web, TV and radio. Basically, since the start of this series, anyone who had anything to say about the Bruins, believed that Ryder was either a problem or THE problem.

Everyone was calling for his head.

Obviously, everyone was wrong.

Thats not a personal attack on the anti-Ryder camp, because it was a belief that was held across the board. Still, everyone was wrong. His performance last night was proof that he did serve a purpose. It was validation for Claude Julien stubbornly leaving Ryder in the line-up.

It was also, in a way, a metaphor for the entire Bruins franchise.

It was indicative of everything Boston goes through every year with this team.

Succeeding when everyones counted you out? Failing when they believe the most?

Its called Bruins.

If its the playoffs, you never know what youre going to get. Actually, you do. Its going to be the exact opposite of what you think you know. They do it every year, finding different ways to surprise and disappoint you along the way.

Is anyone entirely sure what theyll do next? Can you ever be completely confident in what you believe? No way. All you can do is sit back, think about slap shots, shootouts and guys named Semin, and expect the unexpected. Because thats always whats on the way.

Ryder showed it on Thursday night, coming back from the dead and helping the Bruins officially do the same.

For now.

But then again, what do I know?

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season


Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are no different than the rest of us. They have a lot to be thankful for.
There’s the usual good health, family and friends. But they have a few more things to be thankful for, as well.
So as you take a brief time-out today from the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, here’s a look at five things the Celtics are thankful for this season.

The Celtics have had some solid players in recent years, but the addition of Kyrie Irving was a game-changer. He provides Boston with an unmistakable superstar who has a proven track record of success on all levels -- he's won an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal, and is also a four-time All-Star. Did I mention he’s just 25 years old?

His numbers will never adequately measure the impact Horford has had on the Celtics. The big plus with Horford was him simply agreeing to be a Celtic. For years this franchise has been built on the success of developing draft picks or trading for talented players. But rarely have they had the financial flexibility or, to be frank, the kind of appeal to free agents to go out and acquire a proven All-Star like Al Horford. His arrival has enhanced an already-established winning culture, one that has become a player on the free agency market ever since.

Other than Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, it’s hard to imagine another front office executive having as good an offseason as Ainge. He rolled the dice to go down two spots in last June’s NBA draft, and wound up with arguably the most NBA-ready player (Jayson Tatum) among those selected in last June’s NBA draft. (Remember, the likely rookie-of-the-year Ben Simmons did not play last year after Philadelphia drafted him with the top overall pick in 2016.) The free-agent pickups of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin have all had moments where they carried the team to victory. Even second-round picks like Semi Ojeleye and two-way players like Jabari Bird have contributed to wins this season. Fans may not like some of Ainge’s decisions in the moment but he deserves a lot of credit for the team we see today, one that has played at a level few envisioned they'd reach this quickly.

And to think, the Big Three (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford) Boston was planning to build around this season has played less than five minutes together. Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons, putting guys in unexpected positions to succeed with a cast that’s long on talent and well, well short on experience. Boston’s first win of the season came at Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics played six different rookies. It’s not unusual for teams to use first-year players frequently, but for a team that was built to contend for a championship? That’s highly unusual. The biggest thing is despite the lack of experience on the floor, Stevens hasn’t allowed them to use that as a reason to fail. Instead, Stevens has had them lean heavily on film study and the wisdom of veterans, as well as empowered them to have a “next-man-up” mindset with one goal regardless of what they are tasked with doing: Get it done. No excuses.

Boston has spent most of this season atop the NBA standings, fueled in large part by a 15-game winning streak -- the longest of the Brad Stevens era and the fifth-longest ever by a Celtics team. But within that winning streak, there have been some noticeable areas of concern (i.e., bench scoring) that have made games more challenging. And that's what makes these Celtics so scary to the rest of the league. If they’re beating teams consistently now, how much better will they be when the offense catches up or, at a minimum, gains some ground on what has been an impressive stretch of play defensively? That’s why as good as this first full month of the season has been, there's reason to believe they’ll only get better. The Celtiheircs have seen  share of adversity. They've played without their All-Stars. They have fought back from double-digit deficits to emerge victorious. This is a young squad, but battle-tested already. Because of all that, they have a certain level of confidence that regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, they feel they will find a pathway to success. And that, Celtics Nation, is something to be thankful for.



Blakely's takeaways: Moving on without the streak

Blakely's takeaways: Moving on without the streak

The streak is over! The streak is over!

We now return the Boston Celtics to their regularly scheduled pursuit of success without the growing pressure that comes with a historically relevant winning streak.

The 104-98 loss at Miami on Wednesday night brought an end to what had been one of the more unlikely winning streaks we’ve seen in the NBA for quite some time.

Boston reeled off 16 straight wins, many of which were the come-from-a-double-digit-deficit variety. In the end, the Celtics’ winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in this storied franchise’s history.

“I told you, we’re not as good as the 16-game win streak,” Stevens said following the loss. “But we do have a lot of resolve.”

That resolve will surely be challenged with the Celtics taking Thanksgiving off, only to return and play three games in the next four nights beginning with Orlando on Friday, followed by a road game at Indiana on Saturday and a home date against the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

Here are five takeaways from the Boston Celtics’ 16-game winning streak.


When the Boston Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving during the offseason, there was a sense that his presence would be a plus in some capacity, at some point. But few envisioned Irving would not only have a relatively seamless fit with the Celtics, but deliver in such a way that would catapult them to the top of the NBA standings and in doing so, establish him as one of the early front-runners for the league’s MVP award. This season, Irving is averaging a team-best 22.5 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field but most important, the Celtics (16-3) have the best record in the NBA.


If you are a fan of good defenders, you probably love the Boston Celtics’ second unit. Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart are both ball-hawking defenders who can make some miserable times for opponents when they are on top of their game. Daniel Theis provides great energy on the glass and defensively. But the second unit needs a jolt offensively. Because as good as they can defend collectively, the Celtics have to have at least one starter on the floor most of the time because the bench doesn’t have an adequate collector of buckets that they can rely on consistently. Marcus Morris looks like an ideal choice for that role, but the left knee soreness that kept him out for eight games seems to be flaring up from time to time. Whether they address this with a trade or possibly with a player bought out, the lack of a second-unit scorer is very much an issue for this team.


The plan was for Jaylen Brown to be an elite, shut-down defender this season. He has shown himself to be a good defender this season, but what has really made him stand out is the growth in his game offensively. The second-year wing has scored 20-plus points in three of Boston’s last four games. Doing that along with continuing to play good defense has him looking like one of the NBA’s promising young two-way talents.


You never want to see the Boston Celtics or any team for that matter, lose a player for the season let alone one who meant as much as Gordon Hayward to the Celtics. But if there is a silver lining in his ankle injury which is expected to keep him out all season, it is the opportunity it created for Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old has been arguably the best player from last June’s draft class, playing major minutes with a major role for the team with the best record in the NBA. The opportunity to play around 30 minutes a game would not have been there for Tatum if Hayward didn’t get hurt. The challenge for Tatum going forward is to stay consistent, because now that teams have seen him for almost a quarter of the season, you can expect they will make some adjustments in how they defend him as well as try to attack him when he’s defending.


During Boston’s 16 game winning streak, the Celtics played the last eight games in 16 nights. That’s a game every other night for more than two weeks. In that time, there’s little to no time for practice which has been a factor in Boston not being quite as sharp in the last few games, as they were at the start of the streak. After Thanksgiving, Boston plays three games in four nights with a pair of days off to follow before they return to action. There’s a very good chance that the Celtics will use one of those two days to practice, something this team desperately needs to clean up some of the minor mistakes that were big problems in their loss to the Heat on Wednesday.