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... Vesey understands that snubbing his hometown -- especially for Broadway, heaven help us -- is hardly a casual matter; certainly not for one with deep roots in such intense jock hotbeds as Charlestown, North Reading, and Cambridge.

Clark
Booth

Mind you, I've no idea how good a puck chaser Harvard boy Jimmy Vesey is or how much he'll impact the NHL. Happily, I retired about 40 years ago from the sorry business of predicting how great the hugely publicized but untested phenoms of sport may become. But I do know that losing Vesey to the bloody NY Rangers was a heavy blow to the Boston Bruins at a time these Bruins least needed it.

Clearly, Vesey has a strong chance of fulfilling the rich expectations of his privileged rearing. American college hockey has reached the level of substance and maturity once enjoyed only by top Canadian junior leagues. To be adjudged best collegian commands greater respect than ever. At 23, he has the speed, size, and presumably savvy (given his Ivy pedigree). Ah, but does he have the stomach? 'Tis ever the question in the NHL. I'll await that revelation.

The kid lost points here when -- in a rather halting explanation offered the media for his jarring choice of the Rangers -- he prattled unconvincingly about it all having to do with being ''wanted''. "It seemed they really needed to have me.... Seemed they believe in me," Vesey told the Globe. One wonders how he concluded his many other suitors -- Wings, Devils, Leafs, Hawks, Sabers, Isles, Bruins, etc. -- wanted him less. He had the entire league holding its collective breath over him the entire summer. What more should he have expected? Silly! If the Bruins didn't slobber over him quite enough we should not hold that against them. This is not the Dating Game.

Quite as clearly too, Vesey understands that snubbing his hometown -- especially for Broadway, heaven help us -- is hardly a casual matter; certainly not for one with deep roots in such intense jock hotbeds as Charlestown, North Reading, and Cambridge. He'd best disguise himself when returning to old haunts. Already there's been local-media snickering retrospectively questioning his value. No surprise there. That our town deplores such defectors is well documented, and that includes those who've contributed a helluva lot more to the local culture than Master Vesey has, or ever will. Just ask Johnny Damon.

One assumes (he's not confided in me) the kid has opted for Gotham's usual allure; brighter lights, faster track, more pizzazz, plus lower expectations and less pressure than would have come from hometown yahoos, and above all the chance to play with a couple buddies. Hey, he's still a kid. Plus, maybe he wants to become a bond salesman on Wall Street once he ends up rattling around the NHL and needs to put that Harvard degree to a more conventional test.

What clearly did not enter into his thinking, surprisingly or otherwise given that aforementioned pedigree, were his chances of attaining the ultimate satisfactions of his now chosen field -- that would be ice-hockey and its revered cup -- as an even casual reading of Rangers' history quickly affirms. The Broadway Blueshirts, who for all their bluster generally end up playing like Broadway dandies, average a championship about every half century or so. You could look it up. If history remains on my side I can say with great confidence this smart young fellow is going to end up regretting his curious decision.

On the other hand, it sure can't be argued with a straight face that for him to have chosen the Bruins might have been a more viable option where all that good stuff is concerned. Once upon a time -- up to quite recently, actually -- that would have been a no-brainer. But no longer! And Vesey's choice, in the fullness of irony, only rams home that painful point the more brutally.

Nothing is going right for the Bruins these days. Which is why signing the Harvard hotshot was so critical to them. Not because of his potential. Theoretically sufficient to sustain until proven otherwise, that issue, at least momentarily, is essentially irrelevant. It was the public relations value of signing Vesey that was monumental to them. They needed to make a statement. The perception was vital, the need desperate, with the ballyhoo, alleged home-town advantage, and incidental folderol adding hugely to that urgency. And they didn't get it! Rebuffs, like everything else, are relative. This one was off the charts.

If unstated, Vesey's implicit statement is quite clear. He reads the Bruins future and deigns to look elsewhere. Being from Harvard, he's smart enough to keep that to himself; at least for now.

This fiasco closes the off-season book on the Bruins. The drift into mediocrity quickens. Aside from trimming around the edges, they've changed little. Their pool of interesting prospects has expanded, but if the experts are to be believed none are close to setting the old train station ablaze with promise this coming winter. They let Loui Ericksson escape compensating by adding David Backes. The resulting deficit is considerable. Like Vesey, Ericksson is a smart fellow. He too can read the hockey tea leaves.

Is it too early in August to get chagrined about what might happen in December? Signing Vesey would have at least changed the subject. If not much, that would have been welcome.

Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Bostonís WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.

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