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.