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Khristich An Unheralded Key In Bruin Turnaround

[by Dave Reichert - 31 March, 1998]

What a difference one season has made in Beantown. At this time last year, the Boston Bruins were looking toward securing a high draft pick in the 1997 Entry Draft. One year later Boston is working to gain home ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

There are many factors to consider in evaluating the startling turnaround of the Boston Bruins this season. In the off-season, general manager Harry Sinden hired one of the most successful coaches available in Pat Burns, drafted promising rookies Sergei Samsonov and Joe Thornton, and brought in a few new veterans to add spice to a rather dull mix.

No move has proven bigger, however, than the deal that brought forward Dimitri Khristich and netminder Byron Dafoe east from Los Angeles. While Dafoe has been nothing short of a shockingly steady performer in net, the versatile Khristich -- he excels both in the middle and at either wing -- has done exactly what the Bruins hoped he would do and more: provide scoring punch and veteran leadership to a club desperately in need of both.

That Khristich is thriving on a team with few stars is interesting, as word out of Los Angeles after last August's trade that sent him and Dafoe to Boston for Jozef Stumpel, Sandy Moger,and a draft pick was that Khristich was not a team guy, and that subsequently created problems in the dressing room. Based on his time in Boston, nothing could be further from the truth.

"I really enjoy being on this club," Khristich told the EuroReport during a recent stop in Buffalo. "Guys are really sticking together on and off the ice. It's really nice to play on this team."

The 27-year-old Khristich's enthusiasm has translated nicely into production. Through Monday night's 4-1 thrashing of Colorado, the Samsonov-Allison-Khristich line had combined for 73 goals and 169 points, with Khristich supplying 27 and 55, respectively.

Even more important than Khristich's on-ice production, however, is his off-ice influence. Once considered a loner who did not seek out teammates to hang out with let alone tutor, the eight-year NHL veteran has taken on a very important mentor role with his new team.

"I'm a roommate of Sergei Samsonov on the road," explains the Ukrainian-born Khristich. "We both speak Russian and English. I guess I take care of him a little bit when we're on the road."

While the two have bonded away from the rink, Khristich has enjoyed playing with the young (he doesn't turn 20 until October) and talented Samsonov even more. Despite watching the rookie struggle early on, Khristich never doubted that the kid skating on his opposite wing would be a big part of the Bruins' future.

" At the beginning he had a little trouble putting the puck in the net," says Khristich of Samsonov (16+23=39 in 71 games). "But right away, when I first saw him in training camp, he showed he can skate, handle the puck and score goals. As the season has gone on, he's really adapted well. I think as time goes on he'll find the net even more."

Unlike his rookie linemate, Khristich hasn't struggled in that area. He long ago surpassed his total of 19 goals from the 1996-97 season and is closing in on the 56-point total that led the Kings in scoring last season. Despite this, however, he still feels there is room for improvement in all facets of his game.

"I'm getting more shots," says Khristich, rationalizing the jump in production. "More of those shots are going into the net. I'm scoring more goals this season but my totals are far from excellent. I just have to keep doing my best."

His best has suited Boston well this season, as Burns has implemented a system that emphasizes hard work and strong two-way play, no matter if you're a grinder or a finesse-type guy. Khristich has demonstrated all season long that, despite what some may think, he can be both.

"I like to play at both ends," says Khristich, who has backed that up with a plus/minus of plus-20 to go with his impressive offensive numbers. "I like all elements of hockey. I know it involves playing in the defensive zone as well as the offensive zone.

"Since the winter break, I've been able to play on a set line. It's been nice to play with the same partners game after game. Not only have I been able to play quite a bit on the power play, but I've also been able to kill quite a few penalties. In fact, I've scored two shorthanded goals this season, and prior to this year I only had one other shorthanded goal in my entire career."

Two shorthanded goals, a team-best 12 more on the power play, and 27 in all. Plus, he's been a model citizen off the ice and an integral part of a prized rookie's development.

"It's been a great year for us," says Khristich. "Everyone has worked hard as a team and we've surprised a lot of people this year."

With the playoffs just around the bend, Khristich and the Bruins hope the surprises are just beginning.

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