Haggerty: Bruins get it right with new Warrior Ice Arena

Haggerty: Bruins get it right with new Warrior Ice Arena

BRIGHTON – Here’s one of the dirty little secrets with the Bruins when it came to their recruiting efforts for players over the last three decades: they said very little about their practice and training facilities when putting on the hard sell.

That’s because the Bruins called Ristuccia Arena their practice home for the better part of three decades, and simply made things work with an arena that was perfectly suitable for Wilmington High School or the North Shore Shamrocks. When it came to the training, nutritional and medical needs of an NHL team, it was a lot less suitable than the Kettler Ice Complex (Washington Capitals), Bell Sports Complex (Montreal Canadiens) or the MasterCard Centre (Toronto Maple Leafs).

So surely more than once a new Bruins player walked into the Black and Gold’s former practice home in Wilmington, and perhaps wondered why an Original Six team was lagging so far behind in terms of their facilities.

“We wouldn’t take [prospective free agents] up there,” said a candid Neely of the Bruins former practice home. “Listen, it served its purpose. We had a great relationship with Wilmington and Ristuccia Arena. But it was overdue. I think now, with this facility, the guys are very excited about it.

“The players that have been in here already are very excited about being in this space. . . and being there a lot more. Just the space alone [makes a big difference]. Probably the most important room is the medical/PT area. If you saw it in Wilmington it was just a shoebox, so it was very difficult to treat the players the way you’d like to treat them just with the space alone. The updated equipment and what we’re able to do with this space is going to make a big difference.”

So Thursday’s official opening of the Warrior Ice Arena at the New Balance property in Brighton was a welcome one for the Bruins. They are moving into a picturesque, state-of-the-art practice facility complete with a 660-seat rink with beautiful building length window views of the Mass Pike and big blue skies pouring through on a sunny day. It’s a big step up from the other options at Boston’s disposal: adding on to another suburban rink like the Stoneham Arena, or footing the bill to build their own practice rink on Causeway Street adjacent to the Garden.

Instead the brand new Warrior Ice Arena has all of the aesthetic beauty one might expect from a new building . . . 

- Training room with all of the latest workout equipment along with a four lane turf sprinting track

- Dressing room with an ornate “Spoked B” logo hanging suspended from the ceiling

- Lounge area with leather couches

- Ping-Pong table,

- Kitchen area

- Stadium seating video room where Claude Julien and his coaching staff can go over strategy or hold media sessions.

In other words, it’s got just about everything Bruins management, coaches and players could have requested along with nice touches like replica Stanley Cup trophies to represent each of their six championships, and a wall dedicated to all of the players that have had their numbers retired.

“A lot of the guys in the offseason when they work out or they’re getting treatments, they’re taking care of their bodies as best as they think they can. We want to do that for them during the season, so it was very important for us to give them the best equipment and the best care that we can,” said Neely. “The whole look and feel of what we were trying to accomplish, and the amenities that we’re offering [stand out]. With the player’s lounge, I think you’ll see the guys hanging around a little bit more.

“The PT/medical room is one where guys will be taking their time in their rather than trying to get out. It’s a more comfortable, relaxing environment. They may hang around a little bit more than in the past.”

There are also motivational quotes along the walls including this gem from the legendary Bobby Orr in the workout room: “Forget about style, worry about results.”

Ristuccia Arena did the best it could, but it simply didn’t have the space or amenities to match what the Bruins started utilizing last week with the start of captain’s practice. Torey Krug, and many others coming into the NHL, are used to something more in line with the top-of-the-line facilities at Boston University. Now the Bruins have something very comparable to what a Division I team like the Terriers have been using to woo recruits for years.

Krug said Warrior Ice Arena will bring a different kind of energy than their old place, and expects that players would want to spend more time getting treatment, grabbing a meal or simply hanging around their teammates than was the routine in Wilmington.

“Now the guys want to be here,” said Krug, on the advantages the new practice facility brings. “Not to take away anything from any past facilities, but guys would get in there, get on the ice, do your work in the weight room, and then just get out of there.

“Now we have this beautiful facility where there’s just a really good energy. People want to be here and spend time here. To be honest, you might go that extra mile to do things you wouldn’t have done in the past to make sure your body’s ready for the next practice or next game.”

Neely assured the Brighton facility will be open just as often as the doors were in Wilmington the public looking to catch off-day practices, and New Balance will be renting out the frozen sheet to junior teams, community skating and any other groups. The Bruins are even toying with the idea of hosting game day morning skates at Warrior Ice Arena beginning this season, and it seems that is something both Claude Julien and Don Sweeney are interested in pursuing.

Clearly, a beautiful practice facility like Warrior Ice Arena isn’t going to solve all of the Bruins problems. Jimmy Vesey and his agents were given a tour of the new place prior to making their much-vaunted decision, and all the bells and whistles of a new practice building couldn’t dissuade the Harvard grad from choosing the New York Rangers in the end.

But in a league where competitive advantages can tip the balance for a hockey team’s fortune, the Bruins could no longer afford to annually feature one of the worst professional practice rinks in the league. This humble hockey writer has never actually been there, but others have assured me that only Carolina’s practice rink, Raleigh Center Ice, definitively had fewer NHL virtues than Ristuccia after 30 years of hard labor housing the Black and Gold.

It’s been a challenging couple of years on the ice for Neely’s stewardship of the Bruins with the playoffs out of reach, but the Black and Gold notched a mammoth, undeniable win on Thursday with the new Warrior arena that’s going to be a strength, and an asset, for many years to come. 

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

In an ideal world the Bruins could have signed highly regarded prospect Ryan Donato to a two-year entry level contract, watched him develop his game deliberately at the AHL level and received two full years of service before the forward hit restricted free agency. 

But that doesn’t take into account the current injury situation for the Boston Bruins with a few weeks to go in the regular season, and it didn’t factor in Donato’s leverage as an NCAA player that could have chosen free agency, or going back to Harvard for his senior year, if he didn’t get what he was looking for in negotiations with the Black and Gold. Clearly it never got to anything approaching a hard ball level between the Bruins and a young player with plenty of B’s background in Donato, and now he’ll get to suit up for Boston and most likely make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

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Once he plays for the Bruins that will burn the first year on his two-year entry level contract, and it will also prohibit him from heading to Providence and playing for the P-Bruins through the rest of the hockey season. It’s the exact same situation Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson found himself in last spring when it was pretty clear after one game in Boston that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL level. 

After Donato makes his debut it will be up to him and how NHL-ready he looks when he jumps into the Boston lineup, but it’s pretty clear they need some more dynamic top-6 bodies with Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk all out of the lineup, and Anders Bjork done for the season as well as what could have been a good reserve option at the AHL level. 

None of those players are expected to return in the next couple of games or even in the next week most likely, so there may be an opening for Donato to dazzle if he's prepared to seize the opportunity. 

“Once [Harvard’s season] was over with I had an opportunity to speak with his family advisor and with the family and with Ryan himself. We just worked through what looked like the opportunity he was looking for and we were happy to provide that,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “We have some injuries and we’re at the point in the season where every game has a lot on the line. I think his being able to go over and have success at the Olympics this year really started to jumpstart his thought process that he was ready for the next challenge.

“I think Ryan might have looked at [the injuries on the NHL roster] as an even bigger opportunity for him to go in and possibly play as early as [Monday night]. From our standpoint, we had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school. I think the two things just kind of lined up accordingly. We definitely are cognizant that the injuries are there, and they’ve mounted a little bit here coming down the stretch. It’s a testament to the group of players that we have [that led to the Tampa] win after losing [David] Backes early in the game and guys really playing well.”

Clearly Donato was ready for the next level after dominating college hockey to the tune of 26 goals in 29 games for the Crimson this season, and serving as one of Team USA’s best players in last month’s Olympic hockey tournament. Donato has a high hockey IQ that usually comes along with being the son of an NHL player, has a nose for the net for a young player that isn’t the biggest or strongest guy on the ice and has become a dangerous sniper with his NHL-level shot and release. The question now is whether all of those skills are “plug and play” at the NHL level, or if he’s more in the mold of similar NCAA players like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that needed some development time at the minor league level. 

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details that he’s going to have to work on. All young players do, more importantly the inexperience part of it, but he’s a kid that has hard skill,” said Sweeney. “So we’re looking forward to having him join our team, get immersed, and get a taste, and then it’s up to him. He’ll take it with however far he can run with it, but he is welcomed to the opportunity.

“We’re not going to put any pressure on him to say ‘You have to produce.’ It’s like every player; he’s going to be another player that the coach will have an opportunity to play in situations, and the player himself will dictate how much time and circumstances they play in. We feel that, if we get healthy, we’re going to have a deep group. He’s going to add to that group. Then it’s up to him.”

It would be unfair to expect Donato to have an impact on this Bruins team like Craig Janney did coming out of college thirty years ago, but that’s what many are going to equate it to based on the circumstances. Instead it should be looked at as another talented young player that the Bruins are going to add to their embarrassment of young hockey talent riches, and a player that could possibly help them get through a current tough stretch of injuries and attrition. If Donato does anything more than that then it’s another great story in a Boston Bruins season that’s been chock full of them from beginning to end.


Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

File Photo

Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

The late season attrition continues for the Boston Bruins as David Backes will miss some time with the laceration on his right leg caused by an errant skate blade in Saturday night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

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It took roughly 18 stitches to close a wound that was gushing blood as Backes quickly exited the ice in the first period, and now it looks like it’s going to force him to miss a handful of games here late in the season. Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that Backes isn’t “day-to-day” as they wait for nature to take its and heal a significant gash that could have been much worse for the 33-year-old power forward. 

“David Backes returned late [Saturday] night with the team. He did meet with our doctors, and they reevaluated the cut. They did some work on it. Obviously, you’ve got great medical care down in Tampa; we’re thankful for that, but our guys wanted their own hands and eyes on it,” said Sweeney. “A timetable hasn’t been set for him. 

“You can imagine it was a pretty significant cut, and now that it’s been, sort of, re-cleaned and addressed accordingly, we’ll just let nature take its course, let it heal. I don’t have a definitive timetable on that one, certainly not day to day. I would suspect he’ll be out for a couple games, and then we’ll reevaluate.”

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The biggest concern for the Bruins with a cut of that nature is the chance of infection, so that’s something the Bruins medical staff will be monitoring closely as Backes heals over the next week or two. It’s too bad for both the B’s and Backes as the Bruins forward was knocked out in the first period against both Florida and Tampa after serving a three-game suspension, and has had his share of freak injuries and illness this season with first diverticulitis that ended with colon surgery, and now the skate blade incident. 

The good news is that it doesn’t sound like Backes is in any danger of being ready for the playoffs, and that’s truly matters as the Bruins continue to win games with so many good players injured and removed from the lineup. Sweeney also gave updates on Patrice Bergeron, who may join the Bruins on their next extended road trip following Monday night’s game vs. Columbus, and Jake DeBrusk, who it doesn’t sound like is all that close to returning to the lineup with his upper body injury.