‘Man on a mission’: Bruins’ DeBrusk jumps from trade bait to Winter Classic hero

BOSTON — The Boston Bruins’ dramatic Winter Classic comeback was sparked by a pair of players who, at various points, must have questioned whether they’d still be dressing for the home team by the time 2023 rolled around.

A resurgent Nick Foligno — waived by his club in October and deemed overpaid by the rest of the league — approached Jim Montgomery in the Red Sox clubhouse following the second period, the Bruins trailing 1-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins

The fourth-liner asked his head coach if he could address the room.

Foligno’s closed-door message to his teammates, as relayed by Jake DeBrusk: “This is an event. It’s a dream come true. And we don’t want to waste it. You don’t want to come after a game like tonight and think that you could’ve done more.

“We know what we can do together as a group. We’re the best third-period team in the league — and let’s go prove it.”

Prove it, they did. Storming out for a gritty and inspired 20 minutes in front of the 39,243 black-and-gold-clad fans who sold out Fenway Park for a hockey game.

On the strength of DeBrusk’s two-goal, crease-crashing effort in the final frame, and an Evgeni Malkin buzzer-beating attempt that did not beat the buzzer, Boston pulled out a 2-1 victory over the slumping Pittsburgh Penguins and kept its incredible hometown point streak (19-0-3) intact. 

(While the NHL’s official home and road streak record books exclude neutral-site games, one would be hard pressed to describe the “Sweet Caroline”-singing, “Let’s! Go! Bruins!”–chanting throng as neutral.)

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Remember, the 2023 Classic’s first star, DeBrusk, had asked for a trade out of Boston last season. Lucky for him, a deal never materialized. He rescinded that request over the off-season and rededicated himself to the storied franchise that drafted him in 2015.

“It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least,” DeBrusk allowed, reflecting momentarily on his status in this market. “I feel blessed, honestly, to be in this position.”

The winger is now on pace for 35 goals and 66 points, numbers that would destroy previous career highs. 

DeBrusk didn’t skip a beat in the third period Monday, when Montgomery dropped him off Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand’s top line and deployed him instead with David Krejci and Taylor Hall.

Nor did he retreat to the bench after taking a teammate’s point blast off his leg before his tying goal. Instead DeBrusk winced his way back to the blue paint, and ultimately got rewarded in fireworks.

“That’s good karma. You want that,” Foligno smiled.

“Jake has just become a man on a mission this year. I think he’s really excited about the opportunity he’s got. I think he loves this group. And I think he’s really cherishing the opportunity he has with the players he’s playing with. 

“He’s a guy that’s really grown up, even from last year, going through some of the things we went through as a group. And he’s hit the ground running here and just battled and fought his way and has been a big-time player for us.”

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Adds Montgomery, while wearing a Peaky Blinders–style cap: “He’s a lot tougher than people think. And he’s more committed than people are aware of. And because of those things, his game is growing. He’s matured, and you can see it.”

As frothy fans funnelled out of Fenway, huddled under toques and dressed in those funky Winter Classic throwback sweaters seemingly inspired by Cocaine Bear, they kept breaking out into spontaneous pro-Bruins chants between sips from tins of domestic beer.

The town is buzzing, and its hockey team — a dominant 29-4-4 — is looking every bit the juggernaut of the NHL. 

The Bruins’ big, bad comeback on the league’s grandest stage, sparked by Foligno’s words and DeBrusk’s deeds, only added another page to the long history of happy spills onto Yawkey Way.

“You only remember the ones you win. So… we’ve got to find a way to win this one,” Foligno recalls thinking when the Bruins got down.

“Now I’ll look back on this as one of the best memories of my career.”

Fox’s Fast 5

• Outdoor games have become unofficial costume parties for the players, which make sense considering the NHL’s obsession with Halloween.

Paying homage to their cities’ respective baseball teams, the Bruins and Penguins arrived at Fenway decked out in splendid retro Red Sox and Pirates uniforms… and proceeded to play a little catch.

Boston coach Jim Montgomery said the outfits — a long-brewing idea from Patrice Bergeron — reminded him of a combination of Field of Dreams and Eight Men Out.

Ullmark even threw on a catcher’s mask and tracked down a legitimate pair of cleats from the 1950s.

“(Bergeron) was adamant,” Foligno said of the getups. “I’m glad we went old school.

“This is a storied building, and we wanted to make sure that as much fun as we were having, we also paid respect to the guys that came before us in this place and made it what it is.”

Love it.

• Excellent musical choices this year.

The Black Keys, accompanied by the Boston Pops, rocked their mini concert during the first intermission, sticking with crowd pleasers such as Arizona Coyotes goal song “Howlin’ for You” and Nashville Predators goal song “Gold on the Ceiling.”

And Boston’s own Bell Biv DeVoe crushed the national anthem.

Would we have rather BBD rock “Poison” instead of “The Star-Spangled Banner”?


But this marked one of the NHL’s better musical executions.

• Evgeni Malkin conducted his clubhouse interview sitting beside his six-year-old son.

Nikita Malkin showed off a little on-ice chemistry with 10-year-old Alex Letang during the Penguins’ family skate.

“It’s different life for him. When we were growing up, we’d always play outside. Almost every day after school, I’d go outside,” Nikita’s dad says. “This generation, these kids, it’s a great life. They have everything.

“It’s first time for him.”

• Kris Letang did not play in the Winter Classic. His father, Claude Fouquet, passed away, so he returned home to Montreal.

Pittsburgh’s No. 1 defenceman is dealing with a lower-body injury and was already questionable to play. He skipped Sunday’s practice but did attend the family skate at Fenway.

“We want to express our sincere and deepest sympathy for him during this time,” Sullivan said.

• Starter Tristan Jarry left injured in the first period, forcing Mike Sullivan to go to his bullpen and bring out Casey DeSmith in relief.

Many wondered: Who is the Winter Classic EBUG?

That would be Mike Chiasson — from Cole Harbour, N.S., of all places. He was spotted in the Penguins dugout. The 36-year-old’s most recent stat line is from Acadia University, where he posted an .887 save percentage in 2010-11.