When Torey Krug returns the Boston Bruins lineup Saturday night after missing the last five games with an upper-body injury, the Bruins will not just be getting their best offensive defenseman and powerplay quarterback back, they will be regaining a student of the game that takes pride in trying to always be one step ahead.
When forced to watch the game from the press box due to injury or as a healthy scratch, a good portion of today’s NHLers will spend the game on their smartphones or chatting up a fellow teammate sitting next to them, but not Krug. Instead, the Bruins’ top-scoring defenseman this season (2g, 11a) and since 2013, uses that time to learn how he and his teammates can improve their game and then applies those lessons on the ice.
“Always,” Krug replied when asked if he spends his time up top taking mental notes. “I enjoy watching from up top. I take a lot of pride in knowing where every single player is on the ice. Not just our five guys but also their five guys. You realize where the blind plays are available and the more and more you watch, the more you learn, and the more that you realize that you can make those plays during certain situations. So, I think as long as you’re up there and you’re focused and you’re trying to learn, you can take a lot of things out of it.”
That’s music to the ears of any head coach and when appraised of Krug’s comments, Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy wasn’t surprised. As Cassidy pointed out, the diminutive, 5’9, 186-pound blueliner whom the Bruins signed as a college free agent out of Michigan State back in March 2012, has always had to overcome his size with hard work and skill, and for Krug that starts with preparation and knowledge.
“Student of the game,” Cassidy said. “Guys typically that invest in themselves in different ways, whether it’s through nutritionists, weight rooms in the summer, different avenues to get better; now we provide a lot of that, but here’s an example of a guy that’s doing it on his own. They kind of take control of their own career and areas of that and then they’re going to have more success.
Now maybe that started at a young age for him, he had to overcome a lot of things, so he probably learned that he had to be ahead, smarter, and be thinking one play ahead to have success. That could be just kind of a byproduct of how he got his foot in the door, and now he wants to continue to see what’s out there.”
In fact, while Cassidy and Claude Julien before him, never had to pound the message home to Krug, they’re constantly urging rookies and young players trying to crack the lineup to stay engaged when they’re watching from up top.
“You can watch the video after, but you already played the game so I think you’re already biased of what’s happening,” Cassidy said. “You get up there, things happen fast – although it’s slow up there – but I mean you haven’t played it yet, so you probably think ‘What would I do there? That’s interesting.’ So you are engaged in the game. That’s actually a little trick we try to get young guys who don’t play as much, missing shifts – say a [Trent] Frederic or [Anders] Bjork, you should play the game through Marchand’s eyes, who’s out there every shift maybe if you’re not out there playing as much. It keeps you engaged in the game, but not all the players buy in.”
So what did Krug see in the Bruins’ transition game during the last five games when he watched from above with an upper-body injury?
“It’s been OK,” Krug said. “At times it’s been really good and other times it’s been kind of poor. So, when you do get a chance to watch from up top, and you really focus, and you’re actually trying to learn from watching, instead of just taking in the game and not really paying attention, it shows you what your options are. All of a sudden when you see something from up top and you get on the ice, it’s a different vantage point, but you know that it’s open. You might not see it right away but all of a sudden you’re learning the spots where players are and what plays are available.
So, it’s been, like I said, good at times, and I think the guys are starting to feel a little bit more comfortable with the puck and comfortable jumping up in the play and some D has scored some great goals as of late.”
Against the Wild Saturday night and going forward, he will do his best to convey that to his teammates and apply all he learned from the bird’s eye view he had since November 12.