For the Ducks, there was no mystery Saturday afternoon against Ottawa: it was the story of the “Bs.”
The first B, Matt Beleskey. He was hurt the other night against Phoenix when he was hit by a shot. His in jury is to his right hand, which is badly swollen. So that put him out of the lineup against the Senators, and the team needed to call up someone to replace him.
This takes us to the second B, Mark Bell. He was called up late in the week to stand in for the injured Beleskey and also with the possibility of Jason Blake (B number three) possibly being sidelined.
In fact, Blake played, and his coach said after, “He was fine. When you start playing in the game and the adrenaline gets going, you really don’t feel your injuries anywhere what you think like when you’re sitting around and everything hurts. Once you get your blood going, you don’t think of it that much.”
Blake himself said, “You win a couple of games and you start feeling good about yourself. You get some confidence in the locker room, uh, and you know, you just try to keep it going. We have a good feeling in here.” Anaheim ended up beating Ottawa 2-1.
His line, Blake said, had the goal of “getting the puck in the zone, use our speed, and create havoc.” He played with with Andrew Cogliano and Nick Bonino.
But that still left Bell in the lineup, and for him, it was a much-deserved promotion and a validation of a life turned around. Bell was signed in the summertime. Five years ago, he crashed his car into an innocent other person’s while driving drunk. You listening? That’s stupid and wrong, so put that beer down or don’t get behind the wheel. Bell probably “didn’t think it would happen to me” either (an opinion, not a direct quote).
So there’s another B. Butthead, for anyone who dares take a sip of the juice and get behind the wheel.
But back to hockey. Bell had played on after his 2006 conviction, albeit spending 2008-09 in the AHL with two different teams. From there, he went to the Swiss A league for a pair of seasons. Then the Ducks called in the summer. But that led only to a return trip to the AHL with their Syracuse team, until this week.
The team decided to call him up for one simple reason: he was their best player at the moment in that league. It wasn’t any kind of an attempt to help him fulfill the dream, though playing certainly did that.
“It felt great,” he said, “It’s been a long time coming, but after four years, it feels pretty good.” He elaborated that his emotions were under control, “Just be ready, just be ready, and if they give you the nod, go out and do what you can. You’re always hoping it becomes a reality when you have a dream like that to come back and play, being out for for years. You just try and keep your eye on the prize, and it became reality and it’s pretty sweet to get the win for sure.”
Note that at the end there, he takes the typical left turn away from self and toward team, and that was the message he stuck with in his further comments. But imagine that later in the day, he probably was fielding phone calls and looking in the mirror in his hotel room and saying to himself, “You can do this. You’re in the NHL again.”
His coach said, “I didn’t know what it meant personally. I was probably more focused on the team and everything else, [than] going to look at his history. [But] after four years of being away from the NHL, when he sits down tonight, it will probably be with a deep sense of satisfaction. He only played five minutes because of match-ups… he’ll probably play more tomorrow.”
He was brought up, to reiterate the earlier point, because, as Boudreau said, “We phoned down there and we said, ‘Who’s the best player you’ve got?’ and they said, ‘Mark Bell.’ That was the simplest for me. If this was a team that had 25 points, at this stage, we would have said, ‘Let’s try Peter Holland, let’s try this, let’s try that.’” In other words, let’s experiment with our youngsters. But for the Ducks, who are now on a streak of seven wins and one OT loss in their last eight games, the need is for a guy who can perform now, not show potential for later.
One final B to close out the story. Francois Beauchemin was extended by three years and 10.5 million bucks this week, but he didn’t let it go to his head. Again Boudreau: “Boy, he blocked so many shots [nine, to lead the team by a mile]. You look at him, and, sometimes guys have a tendency they sign a new deal and they are happy, and take it easy. You can tell why Bob signed him, is the character. That man, he comes in and he signs a new deal, and he goes out and lays his life on the line, played big minutes, and carried us. He was a complete rock out there.”
You can follow my very few tweets @growinguphockey (they’ll be good ones).
Please come to hear me read from My Country Is Hockey on Feb. 9th at Vroman’s in Pasadena.