Boychuk Bruins' boy wonder

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:03 PM ET

WILMINGTON, MASS. - Johnny Boychuk might have the best name of any current Canadian NHLer.

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” laughed the blue-eyed, brush-cut Edmontonian.

But it’s not just a cool-sounding handle that makes the defenceman stand out in this best-of-seven series against the Buffalo Sabres. Solid positionally and a potential wrecking ball when he goes for the big hit, he's already put a few NHLers on the shelf. In this series alone, he’s kayoed Thomas Vanek (a Game 1 ankle injury that began with a two hander to Vanek’s stick that Boychuk swore was meant only to prevent a breakaway) and a cleaner surgical strike, stiff shouldering Matt Ellis in Game 3. Ellis and Vanek were nowhere to be seen on the ice at Sabres’ practice on Tuesday.

As Ellis staggered off Monday night, the in-house camera cut to the TD Garden stands where a kid wildly waved an ‘Old Time Hockey’ placard, a Slap Shot reference that suits the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Boychuk. A peek of the records shows he was a Calgary Hitmen grad and won the Eddie Shore Trophy in the AHL.

And it was down there where Boychuk worried he’d be buried. Chosen 61st overall by Colorado, which envisioned him as a forward, he wasn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar until Boston traded for him and honed his game, both the physical part and exploiting his good skating stride.

Twenty goals in Providence still didn’t convince Boston he was legit, despite giving him a one-way contract this season. Boston coach Claude Julien made him a healthy scratch the first quarter, where locals would hear his name and wonder if the media weren’t confusing him with Bruins’ Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk. But injuries dictated Boychuk get his shot and one of his first signature hits laid out Toronto’s Matt Stajan. Fans began calling him “Boom-Boom” after that and his 24:32 of ice a night this series is second only to captain Zdeno Chara.

“Five years in the minors ... that was a tough grind,” Boychuk said. “It didn’t help my confidence playing forward (where his love of hitting put him out of position a lot). But Boston put me back on D and leaned on me to be a leader. I just want to play as well as possible so I don’t go back down there (though just about anybody in the NHL could have had him until recently).”

The Ellis hit was not reckless, coming after Boychuk took a sideways glance to make made sure two Bruin wingers were back-checking and could cover for him if he missed.

“The hit aside, he played a tremendous game for us," teammate Shawn Thornton said.

“A lot of times (a big playoff performance) makes players,” Julien said. “He’s paid his dues. A lot of players get picked high and go right to the NHL, but they don’t realize about all the bus rides in the minors.

“Are we surprised? When the year started, we didn’t hear a lot about him. He’s not as good as he is now. The more he played, the better he got and now he’s relied upon a lot.”

The Celtics’ playoff series is big news in town of course, but with the Red Sox shaky start and the Bruins putting it together at the end of the schedule, making the playoffs and then taking a 2-1 lead on Buffalo, the B's are a hot ticket again. Boychuk is fast becoming part of the story.

“It was unbelievable before (Game 3),” Boychuk said. “You could hear the fans yelling ‘let’s go Bruins’ from in my stall.”

If opposing coach Lindy Ruff had admiration for Boychuk, he’s keeping it reserved.

“I haven’t watched him,” Ruff said dryly, “except for the slash.”

Boychuk calls the overall game plan classic “Bruins hockey”.

“We’re just trying to box guys out and take away rebounds. That’s the way we have to play if we want to make it far (in playoffs).”

At the Bruins’ team store in North Station, requests have begun for Boychuk’s No. 55 jersey. But since he wasn’t one of the big names at the start of the year, there are few to be found.

“Four to six weeks to order a custom Boychuk,” said the woman behind the counter. “But I think he’s coming back next year.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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