Pastrnak's love of game shines through

BOSTON -- There’s more to David Pastrnak than his ability to score goals.

The 18-year-old rookie for the Boston Bruins continues to impress on the ice, and he proved he could play at this level again Tuesday when he provided his second two-goal performance in as many games to help extend the Bruins’ winning streak to four games with a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden.

With Pastrnak set to play his ninth NHL game on Thursday, a decision on whether to keep him in Boston or send him back to Providence of the AHL looms. But it’s a safe bet that he will remain with the Bruins. He adds more than just his goal-scoring ability. His personality and genuine love of the game are infectious.

Once Pastrnak plays 10 NHL games, his entry-level contract will be locked in. But more important, if he reaches 40 games this season, he will be credited with a year of service and be that much closer to free agency.

Pastrnak says none of that stuff matters to him. And it’s probably true, because there’s nothing disingenuous about him.

Even after scoring two huge goals for the Bruins on Tuesday night, Pastrnak recalled what it was like to grow up playing hockey in the Czech Republic.

Pastrnak’s father, Milan, coached his son’s junior team when he was 12. Pastrnak’s best friend, who was two years older, also was on the team. After their practices, his friend’s father, who coached the under-18 team, would take the two boys to the older team’s practice. Pastrnak remembers being on the ice, battling in the corners with the older kids.

“We were on the ice for five hours per day,” Pastrnak said. “We just loved it. It was fun with my buddy. My dad and his dad always drove us.”

After hours of being on the ice, the boys and their fathers would do what most kids do with their dads after practice or a game.

“We would take off our skates, still dressed [in our equipment] and go to the shop next door and eat some food -- not good food, just bad food, but that’s what I did when I was young.”

When Pastrnak was 15, he left his parents to play in Sweden. When he wasn’t playing hockey and honing his skills on the ice, he learned English because his goal was to play professional hockey in North America, hoping one day to play in the NHL.

Pastrnak returned for a second season in Sweden and later that year, only four days before his 17th birthday, Pastrnak’s father passed away after a long illness on May 21, 2013.

More than a year later, the Bruins drafted Pastrnak in the first round (No. 25 overall) on June 27, 2014. As he walked up to the stage at Wells Fargo Center that night, he kissed his hand and pointed to the sky.

On Tuesday, with his mother in attendance, he scored his third NHL goal at 15:24 of the second period to tie the game at 2-2. As his teammates began to swarm him in the corner, Pastrnak kissed his hand and pointed to the sky.

He celebrated the same way after his second goal of the night.

“He’s a good kid,” said Bruins veteran and fellow Czech native David Krejci, who was Pastrnak’s childhood idol. “He’s come a long way. He went through something really tough and he overcame that, and now he’s just having fun playing hockey.

“The veterans, we’re trying to help him out as much as we can. It’s not easy to come in as an 18-year-old and play with people you look up to when you were a kid. Playing against very strong players twice his age is not easy. He’s handling it pretty well.”

The Bruins players don’t want to be role models for Pastrnak. They don’t want to be father figures, either. They treat him as they would any other person in the locker room. He’s a teammate and a friend.

“We’re just players trying to have fun,” Krejci said. “We know he’s only 18, but we’re thinking of him as a normal guy. We really don’t say the word ‘rookie’ in this dressing room because there’s no point; we’re all on the same page, trying to achieve the same goal.

“On the other side, there are some veteran guys who feel like it will be good if we reach out to him and help him out a little bit, so that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

Pastrnak will be here to stay. At some point, his adrenaline will run dry and his game will level off for a while. But once his transition is complete, no matter how many goals he scores for the Bruins, there’s no denying the personality and the person behind the electricity on the ice.

“He’s a nice person, and it’s easy to respect him,” Julien said. “It’s easy to like him. He’s always got a smile on his face. He loves the game. It’s pretty obvious, and he comes to the rink every day happy to be doing what he’s doing.”

It’s obvious Pastrnak truly loves what he’s doing. On Monday, he said two goals won’t make his career, so Bruins fans should get used to seeing Pastrnak honor his father in celebration many more times.