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NHL coaching camp is a time for goals — simply ask the Bruins’ 1997 rookie class

Most children, although, can be designated elsewhere, be it the minor professionals, a junior staff, a return to Prague or Stockholm or Berlin. It will not be their time. It could by no means be their time. However they will nonetheless have an opportunity, and that is much better than those that’ll go away right here solely with a handshake, a sort slap on the again, and phrases of hail fellow nicely met.

Coaching camps, particularly for rookies, weren’t as structured or outlined 25 years in the past, September 1997, when Boston’s stick-carrying, ruby-cheeked aspirants filed into Ristuccia Area in Wilmington.

Very similar to the sensible facility itself, issues had been easy in these days. Throughout every exercise, basic supervisor Harry Sinden and his small coterie of assistants and scouts would huddle on the highest row of the bleachers, jackets zippered to their chins, keeping off that enviornment chill that carries a crueler chew within the ultimate throes of summer season than the coldest days of winter.

All the eye for a membership that had completed useless final in what was a 26-team league was on No. 1 draft choose Joe Thornton and new coach Pat Burns. Thornton was the headliner, the present stolen months earlier than the Bruins referred to as his identify on the draft ground that June.

Sergei Samsonov, the No. 8 choose in the identical draft, was additionally excessive on the ones-to-watch listing. Not 6-foot-4-inch, savior-of-the-franchise Jumbo Joe Thornton excessive, however up there nonetheless. Quick, intelligent, and rapidly tabbed the Magical Moscovite, the 5-8 Samsonov slipped deep into the highest 10 due to his lack of measurement — a priority all however vanished in NHL 2022 now that 5-9 firefly Johnny Gaudreau is making $9.75 million a 12 months with Columbus.

Sergei Samsonov (left) and Joe Thornton (proper) — pictured right here with a younger Ryan Donato — had been the massive stars of the 1997 Bruins draft class.Courtesy of the Donato household

“Dimension was a little bit of a difficulty with Samsonov earlier than we interviewed him,” Sinden mentioned the day of the ’97 draft. “The man is large — he is solely brief. He is a person. Once we had him in and interviewed him, the blokes had been actually impressed with him.”

At season’s finish, left winger Sergei Viktorovich Samsonov was the Calder Trophy winner because the NHL rookie of the 12 months, posting a line of 22-25–47. Spectacular, particularly in a league that allowed opposing defensemen, some practically a foot taller and 50-60 kilos heavier, to beat the borscht out of Samsonov any time he ventured close to the online. He was simply too quick, too difficult, too sensible, simply too magical.

In the meantime, the training curve for the ballyhooed Thornton proved longer. His ability from him was evident from that first day of camp, nevertheless it was equally evident that the ability rattled round in his outsized suitcase of a physique. Like Samsonov, Thornton was solely 18, however he wanted time for body and sport to come back into synch, and he wanted to sharpen his focus — one thing that did not actually occur till the Bruins abruptly shipped him to San Jose in November 2005.

“I’ve had a few talks with Joe already,” the blustery Burns mentioned lower than every week into Thornton’s first camp. “And I mentioned to him, ‘Do you perceive what it takes? Are you aware what that is all about?’ ”

He acquired it, in time, and to his credit score, for a really very long time.

Thornton, who went into the weekend with out a contract for the primary time since September 1997, in the end formed himself right into a Corridor of Fame-caliber producer. If we certainly have seen the final of him (hand up right here amongst those that doubt it) he’ll retire with 430 objectives and 1,539 factors. He ranks No. 6 all time for video games (1,714), needing to seem in however 66 extra to surpass ex-San Jose teammate Patrick Marleau for the league document (1,779).

The vast majority of Black-and-Gold dreamers right here together with Lake Erie this weekend may draw better inspiration from a pair of different camp invitees in 1997: PJ Axelsson and Hal Gill.

Few knew how good a profession PJ Axelsson would have again in 1997.The Boston Globe – Getty Photos/Boston Globe

Axelsson and Gill entered camp as also-rans and established NHL careers out of the gate, though Gill did play 4 video games in AHL Windfall that first season. The opposite three went immediately into the NHL.

Axelsson arrived at age 22, having been chosen No. 177 within the 1995 draft. The towering Gill, additionally 22, was chosen No. 207 in 1993, a throwaway choose, simply weeks earlier than starting his freshman 12 months at Windfall Faculty.

In the event you’re into betting lengthy pictures, Ryan Mast, chosen No. 181 in 2021, is the closest choose to Axelsson on this camp. The 6-5 blue liner simply tidied up his second season at OHL Sarnia. Gill’s closest comp is Jackson Edward, the OHL London defenseman chosen No. 200 this 12 months.

Axelsson turned a wise, ultra-competitive left winger and logged simply shy of 800 video games — the one one of many 4 1997 campers to play his total profession with Boston. He additionally received an Olympic gold medal with Sweden whereas nonetheless a Bostonian.

Gill, credited by the good Jaromir Jagr because the hardest defender to steer round, logged 1,108 video games — second to Thornton for longevity in that ’97 group.

Gill, as soon as the pleasure of Nashoba Regional Excessive Faculty, additionally was on the ice for the Penguins in Recreation 7 of the 2009 Cup Remaining vs Detroit, and stays the one a type of ’97 WannaB’s to have performed for a Cup winner. Hal Gill, choose No. 207.

Thornton, again residing within the Bay Space, has but formally to name it quits. Samsonov lives close to Raleigh, NC, and is an govt with the Hurricanes. Axelsson lives in Sweden and retains a watch out as a Bruins scout for an additional Axelsson (if solely) in Europe. Gill is one more New Englander residing in Nashville, the place he’s a member of the Predators broadcast crew.

These 4 youngsters, rookie campers all, starting from choose No. 1 to No. forgetabout it, to this point have posted an combination 4,507 NHL video games and 428 within the playoffs. There is no such thing as a straight path to the prize.


Kevin Paul Dupont will be reached at [email protected]

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