If you like me, you’ll like this story.
If you hate me, you’ll love it.
It’s kind of a famous story in my family, and it’s probably the first thing I can remember. I was like three years old, and my dad had bought me this sick electric four-wheeler truck for my birthday. I’d always ride it around the cul-de-sac outside our house in Halifax like a maniac. It was yellow with blue seats, and it even had a horn and everything. It was unreal.
So one day I was hanging out with one of my little neighbor buddies, and I guess I got distracted or something, because the next thing I know, I turn around, and he’s in the truck, honking the horn, just lovin’ it.
So, of course, I go nuts.
I’m like, “No! That’s mine!”
And he’s like, “No! My turn!”
He takes off. He’s driving around our garage, laughing. I’m fuming, man. This little rat is driving around my truck, in my driveway, honking my horn, you know? After about 30 seconds, I couldn’t take it anymore. I jumped right in front of the truck and put my hand out, like, “You’ll have to run me over.”
He stopped, and I shoved the kid right out of the front seat. Yoink.
He was on the ground crying, being a real baby about it, like, “Whyyyyyy.”
I went riding off into the cul-de-sac, honking the horn. My mom says I had this little smirk on my face, too.
What can I say? I was a little animal. But it wasn’t just me. It was my brother and all my cousins, too. There was like eight of us who all lived on the same street, and we’d be tearing up the neighborhood every day.
Eventually, I think the neighborhood kind of had enough of the craziness, and our families ended up moving to another town with a little more space, where we could do our thing in peace.
Actually, moving was probably the most important thing that ever happened in my life, because we moved to a house on a lake, and I met three kids who were just as obsessed with hockey as me — Andy, Ryan and Justin — and they became my best friends for life.
We’d be out there skating every day in the winter. If we weren’t at school, we were at hockey practice. If we weren’t at hockey practice, we were on the lake. If the lake wasn’t frozen, we were playing ball hockey in the driveway. If it was raining, we were inside beating up my little brother, Jeff.
I say little, but he was only a year younger than me, and he was such an unbelievable pest. He was the original pest. He was my inspiration. We’d be out on the lake, shoveling snow for like two hours, and he’d claim that he had to do his science homework or something ridiculous like that. But of course he’d be inside on the computer typing away on AIM to some girl he liked. “Hey, hehe, lol. O.K. babe, BRB.”
Then, miraculously, just as we were done shoveling off the last bit of snow, I’d see his little head pop up in the back window. He’d come out with his stick, like, “Hey, you guys done? Let’s play.”
What a little runt. He was incredible. I respected his craft, honestly.
Jeff played up a year with us on our house hockey team, and we used to have practice at 5 a.m., right when the rink was opening. I remember my dad played this little game with the owner of the rink where we’d race to see if we could be waiting in the parking lot before he pulled in. So we’d wake up at 4 a.m., my dad would toss some logs in the fireplace, and we’d put on our gear in front of the fire. Everything but the skates. Then we’d pile into the car and race to the rink in the dark.
My mom likes to say that I came out of the womb “mischievous.”
We had to get ourselves pumped up, so we’d always play that song by Sir Mix-a-Lot and sing along. You remember the one. Picture four little kids in full hockey gear and one grown man, all alone on the road at 4:15 in the morning, screaming out, “I LIKE BIG BUTTS AND I CANNOT LIE. YOU OTHER BROTHERS CAN’T DENY.”
If we got there right as the owner was opening up, we’d have a good 30 minutes all alone on the ice before the coaches and the other kids got there. That was the absolute best time, because we could just goof around and have fun. Sometimes we’d make it onto the ice before the owner even turned the lights on.
We just loved it.
I was never the best kid on my team — anyone will tell you that. My buddies were better players. As we got older, they were getting all the attention from the junior teams. My plan was to use hockey to get to prep school, then maybe college. I’ll never forget, when we were 12 years old our coach gave this speech in the locker room before a game, and he said, “There’s thousands of kids like you in Canada. There’s thousands more all over the world. You know what the statistics say? The statistics say that only 0.01% of you will make it to the NHL.”
I don’t even remember what the point of his speech was. I just always remembered that stat, and I would think to myself, “Man, if I’m not even the best kid on my pee-wee team … there’s no chance. How could I ever get noticed?”
My mom likes to say that I came out of the womb “mischievous.” I just liked the feeling of messing with other kids. I liked getting under their skin and making them react. But then that same pee-wee season, something else happened that took my mindset a step further. We were playing against our rivals, Cole Harbor, in some important game, and they had this monster forward on their team who always killed us.
During the game, the kid took a run at my brother, and he smoked him. For as much as we’d mess with one another at home, if you ever hurt my brother, it was like a red light went off inside me. I’d fight you.
My dad was one of our coaches, and he tapped me and my three buddies on the shoulder and said, “Next shift, I want every one of you to take a run at that kid every time he touches the puck.”
So we went out, and every time the kid touched the puck, one of us took a run. He got so pissed off that he took a slashing penalty right at the end of his shift, and we got a power play. We ended up scoring the game-winning goal with him in the box, and I kind of had this realization like, “OK … if I have a 0.01% chance, this might be one way of getting people to notice me.”
I know there’s a lot of people who don’t like it, and I will be the first to tell you that it’s a fine line. I have done things that have stepped over that line, and I’ve paid the price for it. But you know what? There’s a lot of people out there in the hockey world who love to say, “Winning is everything. It’s the only thing.”
But do they really mean it? How far are they willing to go? Maybe it was my size, or just the way I was born, but I’ve always felt like you have to be willing to do anything — literally anything — in order to win. Even if that means being hated. Even if it means carrying around some baggage.
If I played the game any other way, you absolutely would not know my name. You wouldn’t care enough to hate me, because I wouldn’t be in the NHL. The way I played the game got me noticed by junior teams, and it got me drafted by the Boston Bruins at 5’9”.
I was meant to play for this city. I believe that.
After two seasons in the AHL, I got called up to the Bruins for the entire 2010–2011 season, and my whole life changed. The way the city embraced me that year was incredible. To come in as a fourth-line guy who was expected to draw penalties and kill penalties, and basically do whatever I could do to make guys want to punch me in the face — and then to win the Seventh Player Award that was voted on by the fans, and to feel all the love I felt from everybody, it made me want to run through a wall for Boston.
There’ve been several guys along the way who really helped me grow from a 20-year-old kid with a ton of question marks into the player I am today.
My first couple years in the league, I really learned a lot from Gregory Campbell on and off the ice – how to train, how to push myself harder, how to do more than the bare minimum. He taught me how to compete and work long after practice was over so I could improve different areas of my game.
Off the ice, Chris Kelly made a huge impact on me in teaching me how to be a professional. Becoming a successful player in the NHL is about so much more than what you can do on the ice. If you want to stick around the league, you need to learn how to be a good teammate in the locker room and an even better friend outside of it. And no one was a better mentor for me in that area than Kells.
I’m still learning a lot from our captain, Zdeno Chara – Big Zee – about how to maintain my body as I get older. If you’ve seen him in ESPN’s Body Issue, or on his own Instagram lately, the guy is an absolute machine. At 40-years-old, he’s still one of the most physically fit guys in all of sports. What you may not know is how mentally tough Zee is as well. He’s given me such good advice from his experiences in dealing with outside pressure and making sure you don’t get too high or too low. Whatever problems may arise in the future, I know I can count on Zee.
Of course, there are two people I can’t leave out – Patrice Bergeron and Claude Julien.
Claude basically said, “I want you to look at Patrice and do everything exactly like he does it. You’re not going to be the best player on the ice every single night, because Patrice is going to be the best player on the ice every single night. So I want you to be the second best.”
So I watched Patrice from day one, and I saw the ultimate professional. I don’t have many rules I live by, but one of my rules is: If you say anything bad about my brother, or about Patrice Bergeron, I’ll fight you. The guy is simply unbelievable. I’ve watched him play with broken bones, a punctured lung… a freaking punctured lung.
Think about that. Have you ever seen an NHL game at ice level?
A punctured lung?
Nobody is willing to give more of himself for his teammates. I’ll never forget the first time I was training with him in the summer, and of course, I’m like, “I’m an animal. I’m good. Let’s go.” We were doing some crazy thing — running up hills until we dropped or something. And one of the younger guys was on the ground, just dying. We were all dying. And the young guy said, “All right, I’m done. I can’t.”
And Patrice immediately got up and said, “I’m doing more.”
He started walking back down the hill to do another round, and we all followed him. And the young guy couldn’t help it. He had to get up and do more. If Patrice was doing more, we were doing more. When a guy is willing to play with a punctured lung for his team, you’re willing to do anything for him.
This team has embraced me and helped me grow from a player who was looked at as an instigator, to a player who can put up 30+ goals and 80+ points a season (and still drive you up a wall, if needed). They’ve trusted me to play on Bergy’s wing, and that’s something I take really seriously. I’ll never be the best guy on the ice every night. That’s impossible while number 37 is out there. I just hold myself accountable to be second-best.
You know, sometimes people ask me what it’s like to be hated by so many other fans. It would be easy to say that it doesn’t bother me at all. But it’s complicated. Obviously, you want people to be able to separate who you are on the ice versus the real person off it.
But you know what? All the heat I feel from fans in Vancouver and Toronto and Montreal means nothing compared to the love I feel from Boston.
I’ll never forget after we beat Vancouver in Game 7 to win the Cup, we flew back to Boston with the Cup, and as we stepped off the plane all the fans were lined up waiting for us, going crazy. One of the police officers came up to us and said, “The city is yours. Enjoy it.”
Now, I know you’ve seen the pictures. In most of them, I am shirtless. But in my defense, I was 23 years old and I had just won the Stanley Cup. The whole week was a blur. The stories are pretty legendary. Most of them can’t be shared. But the backstory to that week is that right after we won, one of my buddies told me that the Blackhawks had partied for 16 days straight when they won the Cup.
So, me being competitive, it was my mission to top them.
It’s really a lesson for life, honestly. You gotta pace yourself.
We got to day seven or eight when we got a phone call from someone who shall remain nameless. Every player who was still in town got the same message: “All right, boys, time to go back home. It’s over. Leave the city.”
We didn’t make it to 16 days, but I’m proud of that evacuation order. We earned it. I don’t think people understand just how difficult it is to win in this league, especially now. Even in the seven years since we won that Cup, the competition has gotten more intense, night in and night out.
You saw it with our team at the beginning of this season. We got off to a slow start, and then the injuries piled up. And we were really feeling the heat for a while. I think two things changed the season. The first thing was the emergence of Danton Heinen and Matt Grzelcyk. They’re probably not the first names you’d think of if you’re outside of Boston, but Bruins fans know just how important these guys have been this season. Charlie McAvoy gets all the attention — because he’s going to be an unreal superstar in this league —but Grizzy is extremely underrated on the blue line. And I can’t say enough about Heino and how his two-way game has added so much depth to our roster. You need guys like Grizzy and Heino to win a Cup.
The second thing is a little bit harder to explain. There are so many young guys coming in and out of the league now — and so much roster turnover — that every year is a little bit different. When we were off to a slow start, we had a road trip out West where all the guys hung out every night, and it really brought us together.
The thing about hockey is that the cliché is actually real. It’s really a game where a split second changes everything. The difference between winning and losing is so razor thin. If you don’t have a good room, and you’re not all 100% locked-in and willing to do literally anything to win, you are not gonna win.
I don’t care how fast your guys are or how good your system is. Everybody’s guys are fast. Everybody’s system is good. What you need is a room full of guys who are willing to do anything. We had it in 2011. I think we have it again in 2018.
But, look, if we bring the Cup back to Boston, just know that I’m washed up — for real. I’m 29 now, and I have an infant daughter at home who gets up at seven every single morning. I need my sleep.
The 16 nights in a row thing … that’s up to a whole new generation.