BOSTON — The championship hangover. It’s a term that gets applied to every defending champion any time they struggle. For some, it’s nothing more than a built-in, unsatisfactory excuse for those struggles. For others, it’s a very real problem — one that can single-handedly derail the quest for a repeat. After all, it’s not hard to imagine a team looking back at last season’s triumphs a little too much, thus detracting from its ability to focus on the season at hand as much as it needs to.
The Bruins aren’t sure how, where or when the championship hangover will strike, but they acknowledge that there’s a good chance it’s going to.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people — whether they’re managers, coaches or players — and the common denominator is that it shows itself in some shape or form,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli at Tuesday’s media day. “So we’ve done a number of things, and we will do a number of things, to try and address those things when we see them and we identify them.
“But it’s unavoidable is what I’m told. I hate harping on it because sometimes I think it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, but all the people I’ve talked to, to a man, have said that it does show itself in some shape or form. We’ve had discussions amongst the group, and we’re just going to have to be on top of it.”
The Bruins want to be as proactive as possible in battling the hangover. That process started right at the beginning of training camp, when the hangover was talked about openly. Like drinking a lot of water before bed helps prevent hangovers in the morning, the Bruins figure that if they begin combatting it now, it won’t be as bad when it does show up.
“The worst thing you can do is not talk about things, not put things out there,” said defenseman Andrew Ference. “It is a real thing for some teams. I think issues like that are only worse if you try to pretend that they’re not a possibility. There’s obviously things that the coaches do, even through camp, to make sure there’s the right amount of backing off, the right amount of pressure, the right amount of fun, the right amount of serious time. All those things, it’s just a balance.”
Then when the hangover does rear its ugly head, they’ll do everything they can to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Lying in bed and hoping it goes away on its own isn’t an option for the Bruins.
“I’m sure as we go through the year, there will obviously be winning streaks and losing streaks that will have to be dealt with, but we have a very open team,” Ference said. “I think the coaching staff and GM feel very comfortable talking to the players, and the players feel comfortable talking to each other. So when things do come up and there’s struggles through the year, there’s solutions. We’re always looking for solutions. We’re not trying to pretend anything doesn’t exist. If it happens, it happens. It’ll be talked about and dealt with, and that’s a good thing.”
When reading or talking about this year’s Bruins (or any championship squad for that matter), you frequently hear phrases like “Last year is last year” and “You have to put that in the past.” Although those are true, Ference said it doesn’t mean you completely ignore last year; you just have to make sure you don’t get too caught up in reflections.
“There’s a fine line,” he explained. “You don’t wanna pretend last year didn’t happen. It happened, and we learned a lot about ourselves and about our team. Lessons come from winning and losing. Even the Philly series [two years ago], we weren’t afraid to talk about it. It sucked when we lost, but we didn’t pretend it didn’t happen. We learned a lot about ourselves. It’s a similar thing with this. We don’t dwell on it and talk about it all the time, but you definitely take positives from it. As different as those two things are, I think you treat them in a similar way.”
Ference said that one of the most important things the Bruins can take from looking back at last year is a reminder of what it takes to win it all.
“That’s something I like that’s been talked about and discussed already — that we have to remember how hard it was last year,” Ference said. “It’s a serious grind. I think as long as guys realize that, we can be just as good as last year.”
Of course, playing a crucial roll in any battle against the hangover will be coach Claude Julien. Julien said he will give guys more rest than usual because one part of the hangover is the fatigue caused by playing so many games last season and having just two months of offseason. Aside from that, he said any other effects will be dealt with when he sees them.
Ference said he thinks Julien’s honesty and openness will go a long way in helping them overcome any struggles, just like it did last year.
“Our team has been through enough, not just last year but also the years before, that he’s able to be very honest and fairly blunt when things need to be said,” Ference said. “And it goes over in the locker room the right way, because he’s supported by us. So I think that’s calming in itself, that we can discuss things and things aren’t left to simmer in the corner before they finally explode one day.
“They’re put out in the open, and if there’s issues that need to be discussed, they’re discussed. I think that just keeps an even keel through the whole year. That’s just the way he operates. Some coaches work well with certain groups of guys. With a different group of guys, that approach might not work so well, but it’s just a good fit right now. Everybody’s on the same page.”
The Bruins are saying all the right things, both to themselves and to the media. Now it’s just a matter of whether their open, proactive approach will be able to cure them of the dreaded, oft-discussed championship hangover.