Longtime Boston Bruins center David Krejci announced he will be returning home to the Czech Republic for the next hockey season. Krejci, now 35, was part of the exciting emerging young core when the B’s became a team worth caring about again during my senior year of high school, which may have been the best year in Boston sports (Bostons 2007-08 definitely warrants further exploration at another date).
Krejci was the player the Bruins chose to keep in 2009 when he and Phil Kessel were both restricted free agents (and this season we finally got a great, if brief, taste of what might have been had Taylor Hall been available with the pick the Bruins received from Toronto in the Kessel Trade, with Hall of course being great on Krejci’s wing), and it was Krejci’s injury in the 2010 that was too much to overcome resulting in the second round collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers. But the fall before the triumph made that era of Bruins hockey all the more sweet.
The goal-starved 2009-10 Bruins remedied that problem in the summer of 2010 by trading for Nathan Horton. While they also got significant contributions from rookies Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin (who both saw turns with the line with Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron), Horton’s completion of the top line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci gave them a dynamic they did not previously have.
Horton scored overtime goals in the first round against Montreal, including Game 7, and that line was the one to finally solve Dwayne Roloson in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was the most thrilling scoreless game I have ever seen. There were no called penalties and plenty of scoring chances on both sides, but the two aging goalies, Tim Thomas and Roloson, both refusing to lose. Late in the 3rd period, a possession that began with the puck on the stick of defenseman Andrew Ference, and David Krejci deep in Tampa territory approaching the Lightning net. He waits long enough to get Roloson to bite, fires a perfect pass to the perfectly placed Horton, and before Roloson could say “WHAT?!” like Darth Vader after Han Solo’s dramatic return to the Death Star trench, the puck is already in the back if the net. Here is the sequence I spent the last paragraph describing. Even after reading it, watching it will still be better because that’s hockey. You just have to see it to know how great it is.
It was 1-0 Bruins. Seven games later, they were raising the Stanley Cup on the road in Vancouver while opposing fans tried to burn down their own city in outrage. That was the apex for that Bruins squad. While they would reach the Cup Final in 2013 and again in 2019, Krejci did not get a linemate as good as Horton again (Horton signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the summer of 2013) until Hall in 2021 and sometime in the middle of the decade Bergeron’s line leapfrogged Krejci’s as the top line in Boston as NBC always annoyingly insisted on calling Bergeron/Marchand/David Pastrnak “The Perfection Line.”
Krejci, along with goalie Tuukka Rask, never got the respect they deserved after that, with media members and sports radio callers pitching them in fake trades constantly. I personally am glad to see him only play for one NHL team, and getting to return to his home country like P.J. Axelsson did before him.
Krejci leaving the Bruins, as well as the recent departure of Zdeno Chara and the retirement of Dustin Pedroia, leaves Patrice Bergeron and Matthew Slater (I am counting the 2008 NFL Draft class in a futile attempt to delay my own old age) as the last remaining Boston athletes from my high school years. Pedroia retiring hit me hard because I saw him play for the AA Portland Sea Dogs while in high school, but I was equally shocked a couple months ago when David Krejci, who I still thought of as one of the young players, had turned 35. We’ll always have 2011!