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Chiarelli: Character matters
Posted: Tuesday August 15, 2006 2:40PM;
Updated: Thursday August 17, 2006 1:06AM

BOSTON (AP) -- Peter Chiarelli's first big step toward success with the Boston Bruins has less to do with adding scorers and defenders than with building the team's character.

The new general manager of the worst team in the Northeast Division had that philosophy on May 31 in his first public remarks in his new job when he said, "I want a real true combination of speed and character." And he's pursued that since he began to work full-time for the Bruins on July 8.

He emphasized that again Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.

"I'm really stressing character and I just want it to come out, and I know it will," he said. "But fans will connect with that and it makes you proud of your team."

The Bruins have been in the Boston sports shadows while the Red Sox and New England Patriots hogged the spotlight in recent years. The fact the Bruins haven't gotten past the first round of the playoffs since 1999 is one reason. The trade of Joe Thornton last November didn't help, and his selection as league MVP elicited more grumbles from sports fans.

Since Chiarelli got a four-year contract on May 26, the Bruins have signed three free agents: Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard and Shean Donovan.

Chiarelli said they all bring excellent character and solid skills to the club.

When they signed, Chiarelli was still working as assistant general manager of the Ottawa Senators as part of the agreement that brought him to Boston, but told the Bruins about some players he was interested in so the team could pursue them before he joined full-time.

"We have to get a team on the ice that succeeds," said Chiarelli, who succeeded the fired Mike O'Connell. "I'm trying to do it methodically where I was talking about attitude and philosophy, and from that, you breed character. And from that, you want to compete and play. And from that, you win. So it's not as simple as a four-step process, but I'm trying to bring a fresher attitude in."

He also may bring in more players before training camp begins Sept. 14.

Center Phil Kessel, the fifth pick in this year's NHL draft, could play for the Bruins this year or return for his sophomore year at Minnesota. The Bruins retain his rights through his senior year.

Chiarelli was impressed with the way Kessel, 18, and Tuukka Rask, a 19-year-old goalie obtained in a trade with Toronto, performed at the National Junior Evaluation Camp held by USA Hockey in Lake Placid, N.Y., this month. The earliest Rask could sign would be after his Finnish season ends next April. Chiarelli doesn't anticipate trouble with that.

Kessel has retained an adviser, rather than an agent, a move that allows him to keep his college eligibility.

"I think he's going to make a decision and it'll be pretty soon. He's a good kid and he loves to play," Chiarelli said. "Let's just say I've been persuasive."

Kessel has excellent speed, "can be a game breaker" and could play a role on the Bruins as a rookie, Chiarelli said, although "we're not sure if that's the role that we'd want him to start at."

Last season, goalie Andrew Raycroft and defenseman Nick Boynton held out of training camp and had subpar seasons. Both were traded after the season. Chiarelli doesn't expect any holdouts this year.

The Bruins won only 29 games and missed the playoffs after a year in which a labor dispute led to cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season.

There were several reasons for their problems.

"One of them that rarely gets mentioned is that very few (Bruins) players played hockey during the work stoppage" in Europe or for the team's AHL club in Providence. "That was a big factor," he said.

Ottawa led the Northeast Division with 113 points, second most in the league, and Chiarelli remembers that just one member of that team did not play while the NHL was out of action.

"They wanted to play, so that tells you something there, too," he said. "If the fans see the change in attitude, the change in the level of competition, the willingness to compete ... I think they'll appreciate that."
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