WILMINGTON, Mass. -- It's hard not to notice that the Boston Red Sox have been playing with a Bruins mentality this season. At least that's how their cross-town brethren would describe it.
It's an extremely close-knit group -- more so than any others in recent history, according to Sox patriarch David Ortiz. It's a group of character, hard-working players who simply love to play the game and want to win. And if it takes growing a beard to help the cause, so be it.
Of course, the reason the 2013 team, which earned a postseason berth for the first time since 2009, is so tight has nothing to do with the beards. Sure, the season-long whiskers have come to symbolize something special in Boston this summer. But even before newcomer Jonny Gomes decided to keep his offseason beard growing, and others followed, the men themselves and their character had transformed the Red Sox clubhouse and had them looking more like the Bruins.
"You can see the way they interact with each other. I'm not part of the team at all, but I've been around them a lot for seven years, and I'm around all summer so I see a lot of it. You can really see that there's something special in that locker room," said Bruins veteran Shawn Thornton. "It feels like they want to win for each other and not themselves, and that's what you need to have a successful team -- you want to do it for the guy next to you."
The Bruins have become a perennial winner for that very reason. Their grit and physical play torments opponents, but their closeness in the locker room were key factors in the Bruins reaching the Stanley Cup finals twice in three years, including a championship in 2011.
Like the Bruins, the Red Sox core has been complemented with the right types of role players. GM Ben Cherington brought in guys like Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Mike Carp and Ryan Dempster. Suddenly, the clubhouse was united.
"You need good-character guys that will keep each other in check," Thornton said. "Most hockey dressing rooms have it and you have it at a young age.
"When you're around 20 guys in a small room every day, if you're a guy who gets a bit of a big head, you can be sure 19 guys are going to bring you down to earth," he added. "It's a good thing and sometimes it's not easy to hear when you're the one being humbled. We've all been there once or twice in our lives. From what I'm told, that room over there is like that now, too."
It's common to see many of the current Bruins players wearing Red Sox hats in and outside the rink. During the summer, it's also not unusual to see the hockey guys hanging out at Fenway Park. Players on both teams also support each other's charity foundations and attend many events together.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is admittedly a casual Red Sox fan, but he understands baseball.
"Some, I'm not going to be lying," Chara said. "I know they had a real outstanding regular season and surprised a lot of people. They've been playing really well as a team and they're continuing to do that in the playoffs."
It didn't take long until the stories of the newly formed chemistry in the Red Sox clubhouse made their way into the Bruins locker room. The Bruins have learned firsthand how important that chemistry is and how it translates into success.
"That's what the team is all about," Chara said. "If you're a close and tight group inside the locker room, then everything translates onto the field or the ice. That camaraderie and relationships are so much beyond just playing; you're willing to do so much more for your teammates. It's a really great feeling to have that mentality and identity that you're a really close team, not just on the ice or field but off of it, too."
Gomes, who is playing his first year in Boston, said the team's closeness is genuine and came easily, and that has helped fuel success.
"It's been like this since Day 1 of spring training for the Red Sox. Nothing has been forced," he said. "There's been no need for useless meetings. Everyone gets along and it's evident on the field."
"It's better when it comes natural, for sure," Chara said. "But a lot of times you discover that guys have different personalities and sometimes they need to be invited into that bonding stuff, and then all of a sudden they feel much more welcome and included. If you have players with shy personalities, that's when the team leaders need to step in and make them feel more comfortable. And then when you have guys who are maybe a little too talkative, you tone them down and make sure everyone is on the same page."
For the first time in a long time, that's exactly how it is in the Red Sox clubhouse. No one is making excuses. No one is pointing fingers.
"This way you know you're all in it no matter if you win or lose," Chara said.