BOSTON — The first time Jake DeBrusk played in an NHL outdoor game, the 2019 NHL Winter Classic, he thought about what he would do if he scored, pictured it in his mind. When he didn’t come close to scoring in that game or when he again played outside at the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe on Feb. 21, 2021, he gave up on the idea.
He might have abandoned his plans a bit too soon.
Because Monday, at the 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park, DeBrusk had not one but two goals for the Boston Bruins, a game-tying score at 7:46 of the third period, and the game-winner with 2:24 remaining that sent the capacity crowd at Fenway Park into raptures, with the Bruins winning 2-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least,” the forward said. “It’s obviously something that’s special to this entire group and myself. This is Fenway Park, the Winter Classic, something that you dream of doing. You dream of scoring in a Winter Classic. I’ve played in three (outdoor games). Just lucky enough to get some good bounces tonight.”
Though, to be fair, DeBrusk didn’t really get to celebrate that first one, the wraparound off a pass from Brad Marchand punctuated by a tumble into the crease before his teammates erupted into a group huddle-hug. It was six seconds after a Bruins power play had elapsed, and tied the score 1-1.
DeBrusk was hobbled even before the goal, having taken a heavy shot off his body before getting that chance.
“That’s the nature of the business at the front of the net,” DeBrusk quipped.
His teammates gave him even more credit.
“That’s good karma, you know?” forward Nick Foligno said. “That’s what you want. You want that. Where you go to pay the price and score goals, it’s nice to see him get rewarded. He’s a guy that’s not afraid to get in there. He’s a pretty skilled guy. He’s not afraid to get his nose dirty.”
Foligno, though, said that the play came down not only to the skill and tenacity shown by DeBrusk but to the play that got the puck there in the first place.
“I think it’s a lot to do with the guy passing you the puck,” Foligno said. “Like ‘Marchy’ fakes that shot, so it gets him to sell. Now that goalie’s out of place and it’s just more of a scramble mode and Jake is so good at getting around the stick, and once you get around the stick, everything is open, either a rebound for something else or a chance for it to go five-hole.”
It happened again in the waning minutes, as DeBrusk put home the rebound of a shot by Taylor Hall from just outside the crease into the wide-open net.
That afforded him slightly more of a celebration, as he went to the glass and made his excitement known before being swarmed by his teammates.
DeBrusk has 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 35 games, and it’s been even better of late for him. He has seven points (five goals, two assists) in his past six games.
“Jake has just become a man on a mission this year,” Foligno said. “I think he’s really excited about the opportunity he’s got. I think he loves this group and I think he’s really cherishing the opportunity he has with the players he’s playing with.
“His work ethic and his dedication — first of all, he’s just a great teammate and a guy that’s really grown up, you can see even from last year.”
It’s a big jump for a player who has had a mixed tenure in Boston, requesting a trade under previous coach Bruce Cassidy before settling in this season under new coach Jim Montgomery.
“He’s a lot tougher than people think,” Montgomery said of what he’s learned about DeBrusk while coaching him. “And he’s more committed than people are aware. And because of those things, his game is growing. He’s matured and you can see it. He’s on pace to get 30 goals, over 30 goals (an NHL career-high 32), and it doesn’t matter where I use him, he seems to spark the people he plays with.”
DeBrusk scored 27 goals in 68 games during his second NHL season in 2018-19, but then dipped for the next two seasons, bottoming out in 2020-21 with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 41 games. He 42 points (25 goals, 17 assists) in 77 games last season and is on the upswing again.
Which has been huge for a team that’s on a mission, a team that is relying on DeBrusk as a top-line wing who gets to spend most of his time on a line with NHL royalty in Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
“He’s a great guy that wants to get better,” said Bergeron, the Boston captain. “I think it’s been rocky at times the few years before that but, that being said, he stuck with it and showed some character. We all believe in him. He took it on himself to work on things in areas that he had to work on and he keeps getting better. Happy to have him on our side.”