Bruins

Current, former Bruins praise Zdeno Chara ahead of 1,500th NHL game

Current, former Bruins praise Zdeno Chara ahead of 1,500th NHL game

Zdeno Chara is set to reach a milestone when he takes the ice Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. 

The B's captain will be skating in his 1,500th NHL game, something that's only been accomplished by five other defensemen in NHL history. And while some of his younger teammates such as Charlie McAvoy, 21, only have a few seasons under their belt, they understand what an accomplishment it is to reach the 1,500-game mark.

"What an unbelievable accomplishment," McAvoy said, according to BostonBruins.com's Eric Russo. "I couldn't be happier for him. I will make sure to give him a big hug tonight. What an accomplishment. You really can't overstate it. He puts himself into some special, special company."

B's assistant captain Patrice Bergeron, a teammate of Chara's since the 6-foot-9 defenseman signed with Boston in 2006, knows what the 42-year-old brings to the table. 

"The backbone of our defense for the last I don't know how many years," Bergeron said. "He's redefined the position by the way that he defends but also put up offense, his shot…he's well respected around the league, but even more so in this organization by the players and also the city, the fans, and everyone. True competitor and an amazing accomplishment."

While Bergeron stressed that Chara's leadership is something that sets him apart, former B's captain (1983-85) Terry O'Reilly echoed that when discussing the big man's career. 

"He's been probably one of the best captains in the history of the Boston Bruins," O'Reilly said, according to NHL.com's Dave Stubbs. "He's played any kind of hockey you want to play. He's been used since he arrived here to shut down the best offensive players in the NHL. He's taken it upon himself to see that none of his teammates are abused, but he does it with almost a Don Quixote attitude. He doesn't go after anybody. But if they come at him and hit him hard, he plays that kind of game."

Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, who captained the Bruins from 1988-2000, put Chara on a pedestal when discussing his astounding career. 

"I've always said your best players should be your best people," Bourque said. "Chara is a gift. In Boston we have him and [New England Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady, doing remarkable things in their 40s. The longevity and the success they've both had is incredible."

As Chara continues to age, he's been able to adjust his game. Another Bruins legend, Rick Middleton, is very surprised with Chara's adaptation to the fast-paced style that young forwards have brought to the NHL. 

"Today, when someone chips the puck in around Zee, he's got to turn and figure out the angle because he may not be as quick as that forward," Middleton said. "He's got to adjust his game to the speed. His instincts take over. It's been amazing to me that he's not been exposed that way. [Hall of Fame defenseman] Brad Park was the same. When he had bad knees and lost a lot of his speed, he adjusted by learning the angles better, maybe when to turn a little earlier or not go as deep in the zone. Zee has done that."

But while Chara has had to conform his game, Wayne Cashman thinks the big man can play past the 2019-20 season. 

"You hear stories about him being in the gym every day … he's conditioned to play the game and he's adjusted to the game," Cashman said. "He's playing slightly fewer minutes now, but I don't see any reason why he couldn't play two or three more years. You can see that he's very dedicated and he's adjusted [to new rules] extremely well. You can see how he positions himself on the ice."

Chara's gym routine is something that's kept him well-conditioned for years, and Johnny Bucyk emphasized that when discussing Chara's longevity. 

"Zdeno works out every day even when he's injured," Bucyk said "He'll battle for his teammates. If somebody goes after a player for no reason at all, he'll step right in. His biggest problem, if you want to call it that, is that he's so strong, he doesn't want to hurt anybody. He's very dedicated. I appreciate watching him. He's had a great career and it's not over yet."

While Chara's career isn't over yet, he'll have a huge decision to make following the end of the season -- retire, or continue playing into his age 43 season. 

The Black & Gold's captain isn't the only one reaching a milestone on Tuesday night. Former Bruins, and current Canadiens head coach Claude Julien will be coaching his 1,200th NHL game. In 10 seasons in Boston, he led the B's to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and became the franchise's all-time leader in coaching victories with 419. 

There will be no shortage of history made Tuesday. The B's and Habs will faceoff at 7:30 p.m. ET. 

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NHL players need to follow Patrice Bergeron's advice: 'Be smart and use common sense'

NHL players need to follow Patrice Bergeron's advice: 'Be smart and use common sense'

BRIGHTON, Mass. — Now that the Bruins are back practicing together as a group after the first day of Phase 3 training camp, the biggest challenge still waits patiently in front of them.

Quite frankly, it sits in front of the entire NHL as the league attempts to get 24 teams through a two-week training camp, a week of practices in a hub city and then several months of playoff games without enduring any back-breaking COVID-19 outbreaks along the way.

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It’s certainly not going to be easy, as we saw on Monday as more than a handful of Penguins players were kept off the ice in Pittsburgh due to secondary exposure with somebody who ended up testing positive for COVID-19.

We’ve also seen in Major League Baseball where the demand for testing has already overwhelmed the private labs that MLB hired out to provide them with an essential element of returning to play.

Over the weekend Don Sweeney said that he fully expects the Bruins to be forced into navigating through positive cases in the future, even if the internal belief among the Black and Gold is that the one and only COVID-19 positive Bruins player to this point was a false positive result rather than the real thing.

“Individual positive tests are going to happen and we have to act accordingly,” said Sweeney. “It’s going to be a real test for our group, but I think our group is really strong in that regard. We can lean on resources and tap into people that they do during the year, and really go through these things as a group. Team structure is going to be really important.”

If any pro sports league in North America has a shot at getting through it over the next six months it’s got to be the NHL, which has a thorough set of safety protocols, a group of 700-plus players who are fully on board after voting by an 80-20 margin to return to play, and a plan to take the game up to Toronto and Edmonton, where the COVID-19 outbreaks have been contained. All of these add up to the essential things that are needed for a successful return to play.  

Still, it’s going to take a full buy-in from NHL players and personnel to persevere all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in October. The NHL released numbers on Monday that 30 out of 600 players had tested positive in Phase 2 (5 percent) and 43 of the roughly 720 players worldwide tested positive over the last few months.

It's fairly encouraging considering there were no restrictions on off-ice activity for players during Phase 2 and that there was zero growth in positive cases when the NHL upped the allowed player participation numbers from six to 12 players a couple of weeks ago. But it still means there is going to need to be buy-in across the NHL where each team will only be as strong as their weakest links in terms of players.

The bottom line: The NHL's Return to Play means getting all players on-board in terms of behavior and being both safe and smart away from the rink no matter what their personality, maturity level or beliefs about the very real dangers posed by COVID-19.

It seems like just a few years ago that the Bruins reportedly needed a security guard outside Tyler Seguin’s hotel room during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs to make sure the youngster wasn’t sneaking out at night. That kind of thing absolutely can’t happen over the next few months and the players all seem to understand the gravity of the situation.   

The Bruins, in particular, are uniquely poised as example-setters given their strong veteran leadership group headed by Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, so it’s no surprise the message sent to the rest of the team was a strong, resonant one.

“Professionalism is going to be huge. We need to rely on everyone for this thing to happen and for this to work. We're not going to babysit [guys] on their whereabouts and whatnot, so it's about trusting one another to do the right thing and being committed to this thing to work and to go forward,” said Bergeron. “I think that’s the most important thing is to be professionals about it. Be smart and use common sense.”

Honestly, every NHL team would probably feel a lot better about their chances of keeping things together from start to finish this hockey postseason if they had somebody like No. 37 doling out the wisdom inside the dressing room. It will be particularly difficult once the Bruins settle into the Toronto hub city without their families for most of August and September. The challenge there will be to steer clear of any risky behavior once boredom sets in, when a few positive cases could end up shutting the entire operation down.

Using good judgment was part of the message passed down from Bruce Cassidy to the players on Monday prior to getting on the ice. The Bruins coaches practiced what they preached by donning masks for the entirety of practice and the B’s players did the same by wearing masks inside the dressing room before getting out on the ice.

Let’s hope every other NHL team does the same thing across the league.

“I addressed the guys. My message is that I’m not looking at this as training camp. I’m looking at this as ‘Return to Play camp’ or ‘Return to Play’ practices. To me training camp is a different mentality where it’s the beginning of a long marathon,” said Bruce Cassidy. “This isn’t that case. This is the beginning of a quick return comparable to a sprint and that’s the way we want to look at it. The timing and execution of our practices needs to get up there as quickly as possible. That needs to be our focus every day.

"We have a group of hard-working guys. The conditioning part is something you normally monitor during camp and make sure guys are where they need to be. We need to find our game in a hurry. That was my message. Our health coordinator, our medical staff and Donnie [Sweeney] talked to our guys a bit in terms of the procedure. I think they’re getting used to it a bit. They’ve seen it now recently.

And the last message was about being responsible away from the rink. It’s not just you that you could [impact]. In essence, you could affect up to 40 or 50 guys, so let’s do our best to social distance and wear our masks when we need to be out. Try to limit contact. That was it and let’s get back to work.

Those are the kinds of messages that should have been passed around in each of the 24 dressing rooms on Monday morning ahead of “Return to Play” camp.

The Bruins had a feel-good moment on Monday while finally getting back out on the ice together for the first time in four months. They hope to experience a few more of those along the way, obviously. The really good news is that the Bruins sound like they are ready to do everything humanly possible to see this NHL season through to the very end as safely as possible.

Doing that will be almost as satisfying as winning the Cup. Right, Bruins fans?   

First Bruins practice a step toward 'normalcy' for Patrice Bergeron

First Bruins practice a step toward 'normalcy' for Patrice Bergeron

BRIGHTON, Mass. — The first Bruins practice session in four months lasted for about 45 minutes and left everyone involved feeling pretty hopeful about the future for both the team and the NHL as the league embarks on a return to play plan over the next few months.

It’s going to take many things going right for the NHL to pull off the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs amidst a global pandemic. That much is obvious.

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But the Bruins went through a high-paced practice on Monday morning that felt, well, like old times as they ramp up for the next few weeks. Both David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase were missing as they finish off the self-quarantine protocol after traveling back to Boston, but, aside from the coaches wearing masks and an empty building aside from a handful of media, things felt almost normal at Warrior Ice Arena in Monday’s first Phase 3 training camp practice.

“Really good [to be honest with you]. I thought our guys had excellent pace. The execution was pretty good for a first practice. I know a lot of guys have been working and skating, but as a group with a lot of bodies out there I thought the willingness to work was excellent,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The guys were in a good mood. It reminded me a lot of our practices during the year. Guys were working hard and taking care of business, but they are also having fun and chirping each other.

“So it was kind of like where we left off in terms of the mood. I thought the overall rating of it, I really liked it. And the guys in the other sense of it were really happy to be back together. They enjoy each other and obviously were looking forward to getting back to work.”

The players also mentioned “normalcy” as a key word once they get on the ice on Monday after spending the last month skating in smaller groups at voluntary practices. Now they are on the clock with their full team and they’ll be headed to Toronto in a couple of weeks to begin playing games once again.

Patrice Bergeron had a perma-smile on his face that never went away during a Zoom call with reporters, and the joy was obvious at getting back to what they love to do for even a single day.

“100 percent. It was great to be back out there. Mask, no mask in the locker room, it doesn’t matter. It was nice driving to the rink knowing that it’s going to be more than 12 guys at the rink and that the whole group is coming,” said Bergeron. “We have dates set now so it’s a lot easier when you know you're leaving on the 26th.

Normalcy is something we’re all seeking through this pandemic and it was hard for everyone. I’m talking about just life in general. It was hard for a lot of people and it affected a lot of people in different ways. It’s one step toward a little bit more normalcy, I guess.

It wasn't exactly the same for Bergeron as he skated with normal linemate Brad Marchand and Karson Kuhlman with Pastrnak missing from the proceedings for now.

But let’s all hope that normalcy continues as the Bruins keep practicing as they add the rest of their roster players while building toward playing games in just a couple of weeks.