Thursday morning marked the beginning of the annual Boston Bruins Rookie Camp. This is that week devoted to the rookies before training camp for all players gets underway. After off-ice workouts and a quick meet with the media, the 28-man roster hopped a bus to begin their journey to Buffalo, where they will again participate in the Prospects Challenge for their third straight year.
Throughout the next four days, the Bruins rookies will play three games, taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday (9/8; 3:30pm); Buffalo Sabres on Saturday (9/9; 7pm); and the New Jersey Devils on Monday (9/11; 12pm). On game days they will still have a morning skate, and then on Sunday they will have a full practice.
Before their getting involved in the Prospects Challenge, the week of rookie camp looked a lot more like traditional camp, with emphasis on drills and the occasional scrimmage. And while drills are essential to things like muscle memory, knowing where teammates will be, the perfecting of puck handling and skating, it is after all the game itself that the players enjoy the most. During scrimmages, although the rookies are striving to convince management that they have improved and deserve a look and perhaps even a roster spot with the big club, there is a need to not hurt your teammates.
“You don’t want to hurt any of your guys, so it’s playing with that game intensity, but you’re not going to hit someone in a questionable position, or something like that,” said second-year rookie camp defenseman Rob O’Gara. “It’s looking out for your teammates, but making sure that you are at the level you need to be when it comes to a game.”
During their morning skates and their practice on Sunday, concentration is still on the skills that got these players to the camp and to the Bruins attention in the first place. Game action cannot be simulated during practice, even a scrimmage. So the games these rookies will play during the Prospect Challenge introduce them to the next level of hockey, but with peers on other teams in the same position regarding level of experience. The addition of some “veterans” who are on their second rookie camp and may have seen AHL games or even an NHL game ensures that the pace of the games is definitely faster and more intense than the level these players were at before. And of course there is always the feelings that are experienced when seeing an opposing team.
“At least for me when you see another jersey, the compete level rises. In my life as a hockey player it was always like practice was one thing, and then I kind of have to flip the switch for the game. It’s a different animal,” O’Gara shared. “But still I think that’s in the back of everyone’s mind, like okay now we’re going against New Jersey or Pittsburgh, Buffalo, so now it’s a real game. Now it’s obviously different from a practice. But it’s that next level that really gets everyone going I think. And it’s more fun. It’s more fun to play.”
Of the roster of rookies gearing up for Friday’s afternoon game against the Penguins, there are ten players who were involved in the 2016 Prospects Challenge, in which the Bruins won both of their games. For the first-timers, this gives them a level of comfort.
“We have six players that have actually played in NHL games that will be playing in rookie games. So, I think that we’re tilted more towards what I would call a veteran group going in with some experience” stated Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney. “And we’re excited about the group and the competition. I think Bruce [Cassidy] laid it out pretty succinctly [Wednesday] night with this group, that the competition and evaluation for opportunity begins today and throughout the next four or five days before we get to main camp and the auditions take place to how many games they get to play in in preseason. It’s an important time for the organization. I think the players recognize the opportunity and are excited about it, as are we, to start our evaluation process.”
For those who are interested in watching these games, at least two of them are going to be streamed. Friday’s 3:30 pm game against Pittsburgh will be streamed on penguins.nhl.com. And the Monday noon game against the Devils
will be streamed on NewJerseyDevils.com.