Near-death experiences and million-dollar contracts can turn a person's life 180 degrees.
Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick experienced both in a three-month period over the spring and summer but has managed to stay the same.
Despite entering his second NHL season, he still comes off the ice close to last after practices because he's getting in extra workouts. He still wears a broad smile as his main accessory nearly every second he's in the dressing room. He's still open to talking about how he's doing in his comeback after his April emergency splenectomy that cut short his 2008-09 season weeks before his teammates fell in the postseason. The injury, suffered during Game 1 of the playoff series with Montreal, caused Hunwick's spleen to rupture. He had to leave practice in an ambulance the day of Game 2.
Even his spending habits haven't changed, despite signing a deal in July that will pay him close to $1.5 million this season and next.
"I'm pretty laid back when it comes to that sort of stuff," Hunwick recently told ESPNBoston.com. "I knew a new contract was coming. Whether it was half a million or 10 million, I think I would've been equally as happy. I was in the weight room the next morning, nothing really changed. It was just everything was finalized.
"I wish I had a story that I went out and made some cool purchase. But I still have all the same stuff."
Well Hunwick does possess one thing new (other than the truck he purchased before his contract signing): a full-time NHL job. While the party line is that he arrived at training camp in a battle for the sixth and seventh defense spot, the only thing that really could've kept Hunwick from being part of Boston's top six this season was his physical state after last spring's emergency surgery. But Hunwick recovered well and went through the same offseason routine he normally would to prepare for the following season.
Now with just two games, including tonight's matchup in Ottawa, left on the preseason slate, Hunwick is starting to find his groove. Any early-camp struggles he had were more mental than physical. He's learned his best bet is to not force the issue too much in an attempt to prove he's at full strength and worthy of the riches that have been bestowed upon him.
"I wanted to go out and show that I earned it and deserved it. You always want to be a good player. You want to build on what you did last season. So I think the biggest thing I wanted to go out and show that I wasn't taking it for granted. But before I could do that I had to play simple and do the right thing. So I kind of referred back to that," he said.
That's a plan that could land Hunwick in the Bruins' top four, a major promotion for a guy who was a healthy scratch 23 times last season. Regardless of where he is in the pecking order, Hunwick is unlikely to change his demeanor.
"I was pretty happy with the way things were going (before his injury and contract)," said Hunwick, who posted 6-21-27 totals in 53 NHL games last season. "I'm always happy to come to the rink and call this my job, so nothing's really changed," he said. "I'm really pumped up to come to the rink every day and have the summer, mostly, off."
Sobotka's a hit
For the second straight preseason game, forward Vladimir Sobotka made his presence felt last night in a 2-1 shootout win at Montreal. Sobotka, a candidate for the 12th and 13th spots in the Bruins' forward corps followed up his six-hit performance Tuesday in Columbus by throwing four hits against the Canadiens. After a slow start to camp, Sobotka is finally making a case to stay with Boston when the season opens.
"I thought he competed well," said head coach Claude Julien. "He looked more like the Vladi we saw two years ago."
Goaltender Tim Thomas' second preseason appearance went a lot better than his first, when he surrendered five goals on 19 shots against New York last Saturday. Against the Habs last night he stopped 33 of 34 shots and was perfect in three shootout attempts.
"(It was) much better than last Saturday," said Thomas. "We've just been practicing, as well as we can, trying to do as many game-like drills as possible. And this is a step forward in the right direction."
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. He has been on the Bruins beat since the lockout for numerous publications and has been covering the Boston sports scene for a decade. Send any questions for Matt to his mailbag and he might answer them in his Bruins mailbag.