Bruins

Appreciating legendary hockey writer Russ Conway at his passing

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Appreciating legendary hockey writer Russ Conway at his passing

The phrase “larger than life” is thrown around a lot these days.

Sometimes it’s warranted and sometimes it’s simply hyperbole thrown around when more accurate words might do just as well.

In the case of Lawrence Eagle-Tribune Bruins scribe Russ Conway, it was legit in every way possible. Conway passed away earlier this week at 70 years old after a number of health issues related to his heart over the last few years. While the health issues certainly had their impact, it didn’t stop Conway from continuing to live the bon vivant lifestyle he was known for while covering the Bruins and then enjoying semi-retirement after essentially leaving the Bruins beat following the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out an entire hockey season.

The nuts and bolts of Conway’s life were impressive simply on his accomplishments alone.

Conway was awarded the prestigious Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award in 1999 for journalists inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

In 2006, a year after his retirement from The Eagle-Tribune as sports editor after nearly 40 years with the paper, Conway was inducted into the New England Racing Hall of Fame after serving as a longtime promoter and racetrack owner dedicated to the sport.

In 1992, he was nominated as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting for a number of stories that exposed corruption with then-PHWA Executive Director Alan Eagleson. Because of that, Conway had a close relationship with Bruins legend Bobby Orr and was among the most respected of hockey journalists by the players themselves.

His book, "Game Misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the Corruption of Hockey”, is still required reading for aspiring journalists looking to get into the hockey beat reporting game.

But Conway was so much more colorful than his greatest accomplishments. He was a man who lived life to its fullest and was a welcomed storyteller on so many hockey occasions, including one of his last times at TD Garden this past season when he showed up for Rick Middleton’s number retirement ceremony.

He could hang with even the heartiest of hockey players when it came to knocking back beers and storytelling, and that’s not easy to do.

In my role as PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) Chapter Chair in Boston, I had more than a few phone conversations with Conway over the years. Of course, there would be stories that went along with those conversations. I still remember a few months ago hearing about the time that Don Cherry had an issue with his neighbors in the suburbs of Boston when his dog Blue either bit a person or another dog in the neighborhood.

I can’t remember the exact details, but I do remember that it was Conway who acted as mediator between Grapes and the aggrieved neighbors, and showed his penchant for helping out the players and coaches he covered without compromising his journalistic integrity in any way.  It was a delicate line he managed to walk throughout a career that saw him break the biggest of stories in the world of hockey.

My first year covering the Bruins in 2003-04 was also Patrice Bergeron’s rookie season with the B’s (Russ was a massive fan of Bergeron the person and player, by the way), and it was also Conway’s last year covering the B’s on a regular basis. It was amazing to watch him take his customary position with one foot raised up on the dressing stalls while engaging in long, animated conversations with the players postgame and post-practice.

What were they talking about? How did Conway manage to capture the attention of these players when this young hockey writer was simply in awe of being let through the doors in the first place?

It felt like they were having this great conversation rather than the typical interview patter we see so many times in locker rooms everywhere.  

Certainly that feeling of surreal awe isn’t there for me like it once was after covering Boston pro sports for nearly 20 years, but I’m still in awe of the way Conway turned beat reporting into such a personal, joie de vivre-filled endeavor. What I realized watching him was that it’s always about the relationships that you build covering a team when it comes to the big stories, and being the right guy in the right place at the right time as Conway was while breaking the Eagleson stories.

Russ never felt like he was grinding it out on the beat.

It felt like he was the show, and everybody else was happy to be along for the story-filled ride. The ride is over now sadly, but Conway’s legacy is going to live on in my memory and so many of the hockey people that he touched over the last five decades covering the sport.

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Haggerty's Talking Points: Torey Krug's offense shines, David Pastrnak enduring first rough patch

Haggerty's Talking Points: Torey Krug's offense shines, David Pastrnak enduring first rough patch

GOLD STAR: Jonathan Toews hasn’t had a great season as evidenced by just five goals on his ledger for the year, but he had a nice little throwback performance against the Bruins on Thursday night. Toews stripped David Pastrnak of the puck in overtime and then scored on a breakaway at the other end of the ice for the game-winner in a neat little dispatching of the B’s in the extra session.

Toews finished with three shots on net, six shot attempts, three hits, a couple of takeaways and a couple blocked shots to go along with 17-of-28 face-off wins in 19:37 of ice time for the Blackhawks. It was a vintage Toews performance for Chicago in a win for the Blackhawks and it’s something that hasn’t happened nearly enough for him this season.

BLACK EYE: David Pastrnak is going through his first tough stretch of the season. He finished with more giveaways (three) than shots on net (two) and also took a pair of minor penalties while pretty clearly getting frustrated with the rough treatment he’s getting from opponents.

It was Pastrnak that went down in overtime with the puck – either by a trip from Jonathan Toews or a flop looking for a call depending on who you are talking to – and created the game-winning goal for Toews at the other end of the ice. Pastrnak has now gone two games without a goal for just the third time all season and is now falling off his 70-goal pace for the season while seemingly getting frustrated by being targeted by the other teams.

TURNING POINT: For the Bruins it was the ends and beginnings of periods where they lost their focus and lost the game. The Bruins allowed two goals in 37 seconds in the closing minutes of the first period to dig themselves a considerable hole against the Blackhawks, and then they coughed up another goal to Chicago in the first 17 seconds of the third period to go down by a 3-0 score.

People will want to talk about the play in overtime that lost it for the Bruins, but it was their wandering focus at points in regulation that ended up saddling them with the loss when it was all said and done. The Bruins eventually lost in OT, and they really deserved to lose based on the way they played for the first 45 or so minutes of the game.

HONORABLE MENTION: Torey Krug scored the game-tying goal for the Bruins in the closing minutes of the third period and deserves the credit for stepping up offensively when the team needed a big play.

Krug finished with the goal along with a team-high seven shots on net and nine shot attempts in 21:28 of ice time. Krug also threw a hit and had a couple of takeaways while generating secondary offense for the Bruins, given that both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have slowed down a little bit in recent days.

It’s going to be interesting to see where Krug is at offensively by the end of the season based on a pretty decent start compared to the very, very slow ones he’s had in recent seasons while coming back from injuries.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12-0-5 – the Bruins continue to have gone without a regulation loss on the home ice at TD Garden after dropping another overtime decision, this time to the Blackhawks after crawling back from a 3-0 hole in the third period.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level. Is that because of where we are [in the Atlantic Division standings], is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it. Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were.” –Bruce Cassidy, when asked if he needs to guard against complacency setting in with the Bruins based on their huge lead in the Atlantic Division.

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NHL Highlights: Torey Krug ties it to finish comeback but Bruins fall in OT

NHL Highlights: Torey Krug ties it to finish comeback but Bruins fall in OT

FINAL SCORE: Blackhawks 4, Bruins 3

IN BRIEF: The Bruins mounted a furious three-goal comeback in the third period to take the Blackhawks to overtime. Torey Krug notched the game-tying goal shortly after Chris Wagner cut the Blackhawks lead to one. The Blackhawks would win shortly into overtime, but the Bruins salvaged a point from the game and ensured their home point streak would stay alive.

BOX SCORE

BRUINS RECORD: 20-3-6 (46 points)

HIGHLIGHTS

RYAN CARPENTER STRIKES FIRST SHORTHANDED

DYLAN STROME MAKE IT 2-0 ON A CHICAGO POWER-PLAY

ALEX DEBRINCAT EXTENDS THE LEAD TO THREE

JOAKIM NORDSTROM TIPS HOME BRUINS FIRST GOAL

CHRIS WAGNER CUTS THE LEAD IN HALF

TOREY KRUG WITH THE IMPROBABLE GAME-TYING GOAL

JONATHAN TOEWS ENDS IT IN OVERTIME

UP NEXT:
Vs. Colorado Avalanche, Saturday, 7 p.m., NESN

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