By Bud Barth WORCESTER TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WILMINGTON— Just because he’s one of the new bodies the Bruins have imported, that doesn’t mean Mark Mowers is a stranger in Boston. He may, in fact, be more at home around here than many of the 13 returning players.
First of all, the 32-year-old center from Whitesboro, N.Y., is close to his alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, and his year-round home in Newton, N.H. He’s also within a slap shot of his wife Jana’s hometown of Peabody. And he is being reunited here with Dave Lewis, his coach with the Detroit Red Wings in 2003-04.
Besides all that, coming to the Bruins may be Mowers’ best shot yet at finally becoming an impact player in the NHL.
“For sure,” said the gritty eight-year veteran, who has logged 183 NHL games since 1998 with the Red Wings and Nashville Predators between stops in the IHL and AHL. “I don’t know where I’m going to fit in, but just being with Dave Lewis, he obviously knows what I bring to the table.”
Mowers is one of those experienced, high-energy, “character” players that Lewis and general manager Peter Chiarelli stocked up in the offseason in an effort to turn the Bruins’ flagging fortunes around.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder had his most productive season last year with Detroit (4-11-15 totals in 46 games), although he played his most games (52) in ’03-04 for Lewis, who obviously loves Mowers’ skating ability, hustle, and versatility.
“He can play all three forward positions, I think he can play spot time on the power play, he can kill penalties, he can win faceoffs, he can go up and down the lineup as far as second line, third line or fourth line,” Lewis said. “I’d like to have other players like that. … He’s a good teammate.”
Mowers doesn’t like to be pigeonholed as a defensive player, although that has been largely his role in the NHL. Yet he scored 51 goals in 47 games as a junior with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, which caught the eye of recruiters at UNH, where he totaled 85 goals in four seasons with the Wildcats.
Mowers also had a 25-goal season for the IHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in 2000-01, when he played in the IHL All-Star Game and won the fastest skater award at the Skills Competition, and he scored a career-high 34 goals for the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins in 2002-03. He led all AHL forwards that season with a plus-26 rating and was an AHL All-Star.
“It’s hard, because once you play pro for so many years, you kind of get a label,” said Mowers, who scored an amazing nine goals in nine playoff games (with eight assists) for his Fribourg team in Switzerland during the NHL lockout season.
“In college, I was more of an offensive guy, but now, yeah, I guess if I was going to describe myself, it would be as an energy kind of player. I like to finish my checks and use my speed to create scoring opportunities, and obviously a big part of it is playing well in the defensive zone. Without that, I don’t think I would be here. Over the years, I’ve been pretty reliable back there.
“And every once in a while,” he added with a laugh, “show a flash of skill.”
Mowers turned in one of the best performances by any of the Bruins during a 5-0 loss to New Jersey in their preseason opener on Sunday in Lowell, which featured a heavy dose of rookies but just enough veterans to make the result disappointing. While his teammates took 11 penalties, leading to four power-play goals by the Devils, Mowers was one of the few to stay out of the box.
“Even though it was a preseason game, there was a little anxiety and a little nervousness, for me anyway,” said Mowers, who centered a line with newcomer Nate DiCasmirro and Providence Bruins alum Jeremy Reich. “As far as the game went, it wasn’t the way we wanted it to go. We probably only had a half-dozen shifts the whole game (between killing penalties), but we did OK. We buzzed around a little bit and we didn’t get in too much trouble in our own end.”
Assimilating all the new faces into the system will be the object of most of the remaining preseason games, though rookies are slated to play a dominant role again in tonight’s visit to the Bell Centre in Montreal to face the Canadiens. The same teams play in the same location tomorrow night.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the next group of preseason games,” Mowers said, “but I think it’s going to be important to get at least two or three games to get to know your linemates because it is an adjustment period.”
On the ice, anyway.