Looking back at David Krejci’s legacy, a lifetime Boston Bruin

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      When I woke up Monday morning and found out David Krejci – the longtime Bruins centerman and 2011 Stanley Cup Champion – had retired, I wasn’t surprised. But I did find myself inquisitive: it dawned on me that I hardly knew anything about the former Olympian from Czechia.

      Krejci’s play on the ice spoke for itself. In 1,032 regular season games, he found the back of the net 231 times and tacked on 555 assists. And Krejci was even better during 160 Stanley Cup Playoff contests. He scored 43 times during the postseason, 12 of which during Boston’s 2011 run to the Stanley Cup.

      Krejci could bury the puck, but I think his playmaking ability and hockey IQ will ultimately be what I remember most. He was sneaky good. Krejci was as dangerous from below the goal line as he was on the half-wall. And he was grittier than a lot of people realize.

      I only played against Krejci twice in the NHL. We first clashed in 2009, then once again in 2018. And my team lost both times. Unsurprisingly, Krejci assisted on the game-winning goal of each contest. He also tacked on an additional helper for good measure.

      Players like Krejci can be tough to read. He’d put up 60-70 points in a season like clockwork. But so much of it was under the radar because Krejci was overshadowed in Boston by the recently-retired Patrice Bergeron.

      Sometimes playing second fiddle at center can be a blessing. Krejci didn’t have the same pressure on him as a true top-line forward.

      Since I never shared a locker room with Krejci, I didn’t know much about his personality and habits. But thanks to his former Bruins teammate David Backes, I now have some insight.

      “What I think surprised me – going from (Krejci’s) opponent to his teammate – was his grit, toughness, and competitiveness,” Backes explained. “He would battle hard and work hard and play through injuries that most never saw.”

      Given who that quote is coming from – someone who played as hard as Backes – it’s a strong endorsement of Krejci’s character and will to succeed. At 6-feet tall, Krejci’s size wasn’t intimidating. But his compete level was impressive. And it wasn’t the only noticeable attribute.

      “Another thing was his humor and ability to keep things fun in the room,” Backes said. “He was normally smirking and ready to keep things light.”

      See, this is what I wanted to know. I had no idea who David Krejci was off the ice. And you know what? Maybe he liked it that way. He even hinted at it in his farewell letter posted Monday on Bruins social media.

      “I want to thank the media,” Krejci wrote. “I really appreciate all of you even if I don’t like speaking too much … I will miss you.”

      It made me smile to know Krejci had a fun-loving side that the public didn’t get to see as often as his teammates. And it probably helped him to have a teammate like Brad Marchand soaking up so much attention.

      But I also think it’s important to note how tight the core of the Bruins locker room was. And it dates back to when Krejci and his teammates first broke into professional hockey with the AHL’s Providence Bruins.

      “We had a really good group – Tuukka Rask, Vladimir Sobotka, Kris Versteeg, Mark Stuart, Nate Thompson – in Providence,” said former NHL defenseman Matt Lashoff. “(Krejci) was quiet and went about his business. He worked his ass off on extra stuff early (before practice).”

      The team was tight off the ice. Most lived in the same apartment complex. They watched NHL games and ate together often. Lashoff likened it to a college dorm.

      No doubt that the feeling of community was good for Krejci. He came to North America at 18 years old, unable to speak English, but ready to chase his dream of playing in the NHL. Landing in the Bruins organization – with such a strong group of prospects in Providence – was a best-case scenario for the Bruins second round draft pick in 2004.

      Lashoff believes the bonds forged at the AHL level followed Krejci to Boston, where the core expanded to include Bergeron and Marchand. The chemistry of the Bruins’ young talent eventually played an integral role in delivering the franchise’s 2011 Stanley Cup championship.

      Krejci retires as one of the Bruins’ all-time greats. But his career in Black and Gold wasn’t without a weird blip on the radar: the entire 2021-22 season in which Krejci elected to play in Czechia for Olomouc HC.

      Truthfully, when Krejci went back to Europe, I didn’t expect to see him play another game in the NHL. But I had such a strong respect for his decision. Playing closer to home – especially late in his career – made so much sense. Giving family and friends the opportunity to see games in person is a big draw for older players. And it was something Krejci had yet to experience in his homeland.

      I was shocked when he came back to Boston for the 2022-23 season. And I wasn’t sure what to expect on the ice. Would he be the same David Krejci that had consistently produced for well over a decade in the NHL?

      The answer was a resounding yes. Krejci didn’t miss a beat in his return to North America, posting 56 points in 70 games. He helped the Bruins collect the highest regular season point total in NHL history. But unfortunately for Krejci, the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs didn’t go as planned for Boston. The Bruins were defeated in the first round by the Florida Panthers.

      Turns out, the 2022-23 season truly was the last dance for Krejci. And his longtime teammate Bergeron. One final attempt to win a second Stanley Cup for the city of Boston. And while the team fell short, Krejci finished on a high note. He didn’t leave anything on the table.

      I always appreciate it when an athlete calls ‘time’ on their own career, rather than waiting for table scraps to come along contractually. And to me, that’s what Krejci has done. He’s still good enough to be a difference-maker in the NHL. And I’m sure the Bruins would have loved to have him back.

      But it was Bruins or bust for Krejci, a lifer in the Black and Gold. A private person away from the rink, but a bear to play against. Boston will miss David Krejci. And I know the feeling is mutual.

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