The toughest part of Thursday night’s return to Boston for Johnny Boychuk came during the national anthem.
“Just feeling the atmosphere and being back on the ice,” Boychuk said. “I tried not to look anywhere but just concentrate, and be prepared for the game. That was the most difficult part, but after the first couple shifts, then it’s time to get going.”
Boychuk was a plus-1 in 23 minutes and 25 shifts in the Islanders’ 3-2 win over the his former team at TD Garden. Only one of his “Johnny Rockets” found its way on net and it was stopped. He had two blocked shots and two giveaways. Boychuk did not figure in the scoring but was just happy to be apart of a night of appreciation from the Bruins fans who had watched him grow up in Boston.
“It was an interesting night,” Boychuk said. “You’re playing against that team, and you grew up with them, playing, for the last six years, you see them and you’re the opposition now. Looch [Milan Lucic] steamrolled me, so I’ll get a nice chuckle out of that when I see him. They’re a good team. We came in here, we were determined, and we held them off in the last five minutes. They had some good chances, but the other ex-Bruin [Chad Johnson] made some great saves for us, and kept us in the game when we needed it.”
How long was it before he really knew he was back in Boston as the opposition?
Until Looch [Milan Lucic] hit me. That’s when I realized I was playing against them,” Boychuk said. “It was a good hit by him, I was just trying to hold him up, but with his strength and speed, he just steamrolled me.”
As is usually the case for any player that returns to Boston for the first time since leaving, it was an emotionally draining experience.
“It was a tough game, just seeing across the ice, you’re playing against your friends,” he said. “But when you’re on the ice, it’s obviously business. I’m just happy we got the two points, and I look forward to the next game.”
During player introductions, Bruins public address announcer Jim Martin quickly moved onto the next name after the crowd cheered him. But fans would have more time to cheer Boychuk just over 15 minutes later. During the first TV timeout, the Bruins ran a video highlight on the scoreboard of his accomplishments in Boston with the Bruins, just like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce received from the Celtics last season and countless Red Sox players have received in years past at Fenway.
“It’s just classy,” Boychuk said of the tribute. “The fans, I heard them the whole time, except for when I got my stick whacked by Kells [Chris Kelly] and they almost scored, they were chanting my name.
Then there was the matter of the win itself, a victory that improved the upstart Islanders to 5-2-0 on the season.
“That’s such a good team to play against,” Boychuk said. “For us to come in here and for us to come in here and win, it shows what kind of team we have. We just have to keep doing that, keep doing the simple things, and look forward to the next game.”