McCabe defends Bouwmeester

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

If anyone knows what Jay Bouwmeester went through last season, it’s Bryan McCabe.

And given the culture shock involved with going from hockey’s backwaters to hockey central, McCabe is only too happy to point out something that’s become less and less apparent to local fans.

“Jay Bouwmeester, bar none, is probably the best defensive defenceman I’ve ever played with,” said the veteran of more than 1,000 games, who played one year alongside Bouwmeester in Florida.

“People don’t see that. He shuts down the top guys on every team every night. Don’t worry about his offensive numbers. Other than last year, he always scores 15 goals and 40 or 50 points (italics)and(close italics) stops the top players. He’s always in position — he never gets beat.”

And since he arrived in Calgary, he never gets any credit, either. Not from the fans, the media or even Mike Peca.

Plenty of that has to do with the expectations that came with the five-year, $33-million price tag that suggests his three goals and 29 points last year fell short of the hype.

Is that fair? Well, McCabe may be the last player in the league to ask about fairness considering how he was run out of Toronto by fans and the media at the tail end of a seven-year stint in which he finished as high as third in scoring for defencemen.

“Life’s not fair — you’re always going to be judged,” said the Panthers captain, whose status in Toronto started declining, not coincidentally, ight after signing a five-year, $28.75 million deal.

“I had 68 points one year and they said I had a horrible year so what do you want? Can’t make everyone happy.

‘Two steps backwards,’ they said — it was like, alright, whatever.”

Helping Bouwmeester’s cause is the fact he’s one of the league’s smoothest skaters and has not had the misfortune of scoring an overtime winner in his own net as McCabe did in 2007. (Trivia time — the goal was credited to injured Flame Ales Kotalik).

“I loved my time in Toronto. I wouldn’t trade it for the world but, obviously, when things go bad there it wears on you after awhile,” said McCabe, who has also played in Chicago, Vancouver and Long Island.

“When the team’s not going well and you don’t make the playoffs, you want to get away from it for a little bit at some point. At this point in my career, going to Florida was a great move for me. I played seven years in the hockey Mecca of the world so for me, it was a nice change to go down to Florida, play hockey have fun again and not worry about anything else.”

Bouwmeester, an Edmonton native who liked the idea of returning home to hockey’s fishbowl, doesn’t have that luxury.

“Obviously, there’s a huge microscope on him. It’s a big change for him — you can’t just do it overnight,” said McCabe, 35, buying his pal time.

“Down in Florida there’s no buzz around the game, no one talks hockey. You’re pretty unrecognizable down there.

Here, people eat, sleep, breathe hockey and you can’t get away from it. I’m sure he’s got lots of family and friends at the games. It’s gotta be different getting ready for games with all your people and taking care of tickets for them. Bo is a great player — one of the best players I’ve ever played with, so I’m sure he’ll be fine this year.”

Bouwmeester, who scored 15 goals each of his last two seasons in Florida (a feat fellow Medicine Hat Tiger McCabe did four times in Toronto), said the mental approach to hockey here is the same, the chatter isn’t.

“It goes both ways — when you’re winning, things are great but when you’re losing, it sucks,” he said.

“But what you take to heart is entirely up to you.”

Admittedly, the criticism in Toronto became too much for McCabe, prompting him to wave his no-trade clause in 2008.

Bouwmeester is far from being at that point.

And as far as McCabe is concerned it’ll never digress to those depths.

“He’s just too good.”

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis


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