- Matt Kalman, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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It won't quite register as a holiday when the Bruins report to practice in Wilmington, Mass., on Monday, but there are plenty of reasons for the club to celebrate Mark Recchi's 42nd birthday.
Boston has a lot to be thankful for when it comes to the ageless wonder, who during a trying season of injuries and inconsistencies for the team has been among the Bruins' top two or three forwards in terms of all-out effort 53 games into the regular season.
The more the Bruins laud Recchi, the better the chances he'll keep benefiting them during his 21st season and beyond. When Recchi decided to re-sign with Boston this past summer on a one-year deal, it was widely believed that this would be his final season in the NHL. But despite the team's struggles and some personal drop-off in production, Recchi has found enough positives in his health and energy to at least consider playing another season.
"I'll think about it at the end of the year," Recchi said before the Bruins' loss to Los Angeles on Saturday, during which he scored a power-play goal to run his season totals to 11-17-28. "I feel great still. I wish I was scoring a little bit more for the team right now, but at the same time I feel like I'm bringing something every night and I feel I can help and I am helping.
"Playing with [center Patrice Bergeron] has been terrific. We've worked hand in hand well together. At the end of the year, I'll sit down -- and hopefully this thing ends a lot better than what it's going right now and we feel better about ourselves -- and then I can start thinking about next year."
The Bruins would like more offensive output from Recchi as much as he wants it from himself. However, any scoring Recchi supplies at this point would be gravy. The Bruins didn't bring him back to be a sniper. The bulk of the goal scoring for this team was supposed to come from the likes of Bergeron, Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder, David Krejci and Blake Wheeler. All have failed to meet their statistical expectations, to varying degrees, and that's why Boston is last in the NHL in offense.
Recchi, on the other hand, has chipped in offensively and been a beacon for his work ethic even while playing more minutes to aid the team during its worst stretch of injury. A mainstay on the power play, Recchi has been asked to kill penalties on occasion. And his willingness to play center during Bergeron's absence was more solid evidence that no Bruins player backs up the talk about doing anything to win more than the guy who has two Stanley Cup rings and 555 goals on his NHL résumé.
"We certainly would like to see a 41-year-old not have to play as much, but at the same time he's just showing what kind of player he really is," Bruins coach Claude Julien said recently. "He's competitive and, more than anything else, that's what you want to see rub off on other players on your team, is that there's a certain amount of pride when you step on the ice and you put the jersey on and you go out there and compete.
"And that's what he's showing that when he goes out there, he doesn't care how old or how young he is, he's going in there and he's competing hard. He wants to win as many battles and wants to win as many games as he can. Those are the kind of examples your young players should be looking at when we're going through times like this."
Recchi says his NHL apprenticeship came under Joe Mullen and Bryan Trottier as a second-year player with Pittsburgh in 1990-91, the Penguins' first Cup-winning season. Coach Bob Johnson forgave Recchi when he'd take the ice late for practice because the bench boss knew Recchi was busy listening to Trottier and soaking it all in.
That knowledge is now getting passed on to budding Bruins stars such as Wheeler and Krejci, who could do the same for youngsters later this decade if they apply Recchi's lessons to their game.
For now, at least we know they're trying.
"I look up to him a lot," Wheeler said. "I've really noticed how good he is in those areas that it's not very fun to be good at. That's what makes him so special in so many different ways.
"You learn that just by applying yourself in different areas that maybe you never had before. You get a lot more reward, a lot more payoff, and those are the areas that if you excel in, you find yourself being rewarded a little bit more than maybe if you just try to stay on the perimeter and set up for these tic-tac-toe plays.
"He plays hard every night, and his track record speaks for itself. And however old he is, he's always emotionally into it, which is very motivating for guys. Maybe if you don't have it one night, you look over at him, that's motivation enough."
Added Krejci, "We look up to him. He's the oldest guy, he's got the most experience, and everything he does is for a reason. And it's just good to have him on our team because he might be one of the hardest-working players on the team.
Recchi's amazing ability to fight off fatigue continued this past week. The native of Kamloops, British Columbia, where Recchi already has a street named after him, left the team to fly across the continent and carry the Olympic torch Wednesday night. After receiving the torch from Olympian ski racer Nancy Greene Raine, Recchi walked about 400 meters and lit the Community Cauldron before a Hillside Stadium crowd estimated at 12,000 people.
"That's right up there -- Stanley Cups, my children, and to get something like that ranks right up there with that. It was incredible. It wasn't very long, but it was incredible," Recchi said.
Even more incredible was that Recchi made his way back east on Thursday and rejoined the Bruins in Buffalo for Friday night's game. He logged 18 minutes, 34 seconds of ice time Friday, then skated for 18:13 more the next night in Boston against the Kings. He hasn't missed a game this season.
Whether this is his last season in the NHL, or in Boston, Recchi has given the black-and-gold something to celebrate during a difficult season.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
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