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A Glimpse of the Pro Game Leaves McIntyre Wanting Much More

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins — There is one overarching philosophy Zane McIntyre has lived by throughout the course of his hockey career.

It is the same philosophy at all times time, whether he’s facing the best player in the NHL or the kid who lives down the street. It was the same philosophy in college at North Dakota, and it is the same philosophy he is abiding by now as he embarks on his first year of pro hockey with the Bruins.

“I remember [North Dakota Goaltending Coach] Karl Goehring back at school said, ‘Simplify. Simplify everything,’” McIntyre said during Boston’s rookie camp in Buffalo, N.Y. “Whether it’s in life, whether it’s in hockey, whether it’s in school — just simplify everything. So [each night], there’s one objective: Just go out and play a game, put your best foot forward.

“Tomorrow might be different. Tomorrow might be getting some rest, recovering and going from there. So you never really know. You just kind of roll with the punches, and adapt, and overcome, and be ready for the next challenge or the next day’s adventures coming at you.”

It is a philosophy that comes in handy now, with at least five goaltenders vying for one spot on Boston’s 2015-16 roster. There’s pressure. There are expectations. But McIntyre learned long ago that worrying about someone else’s expectations doesn’t get you very far.

“It’s hard not to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, “but you’ve just got to kind of stay steady and stay with the program every single day, I guess.”

McIntyre has learned that at the end of the day, pressure doesn’t matter. Every single day, the game is the same. It hasn’t changed. The competition has changed, sure, but the game hasn’t changed. And this particular goalie is smart enough to know that if he sticks with what is working — if he sticks with what has gotten him to this point, where he is vying for a spot on an NHL roster — he’ll be just fine.

“I’m trying not to think right now; that’s how you get in trouble, to be honest,” he said. “Just go out there and play hockey. I’ve talked to people close around me and they say the same thing — just have fun, just enjoy it.

“Obviously, the game hasn’t changed, by any means. Hockey’s still hockey, I guess. You’ve just got to go out and enjoy it, and that’s when I think you play the best.”

There was a time when keeping it simple wasn’t so easy for McIntyre. But something clicked for him during his sophomore campaign at North Dakota, when he trimmed his goals-against average down to 1.99, put his college team on his back and carried it right into an unexpected berth in the Frozen Four semifinals — his first of two consecutive trips.

McIntyre’s NCAA career culminated with a Mike Richter Award, given to the best goaltender in college hockey, and a Hobey Baker nomination. Now, it is on to the next adventure.

It is on to the big leagues.

During Boston’s rookie camp in Buffalo, McIntyre didn’t get the ending he wanted. In his first and only start against Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres’ rookies, he posted a shutout through nearly 40 minutes of play, only to see it snapped at the end of the second period.

A late surge led by none other than Eichel left McIntyre with a loss, and postgame, it was obvious that he was battling some disappointment. No, the rookie tournament isn’t about wins and losses, but McIntyre wanted that win. He wanted to return to Boston for main camp knowing everything transpired precisely the way it should have.

In this game, though, rarely does everything go to plan. McIntyre is quite familiar with that lesson, too, so he is the last player to get discouraged by one tough loss.

“Our guys were doing their job, letting me see the puck and kind of going from there,” McIntyre said afterward. “Just hats off to those guys and our D-men. We had a lot of good communication [Monday] night, whether it was exchanges and stuff through [the game], and definitely, it was a move forward. Some good things going in the right way, I guess.”

Now, as main camp looms, the pressure is really on. Tuukka Rask does not yet have a backup for 2015-16. The job is open, and McIntyre is one of five players in serious contention for it. Jonas Gustavsson, who will attend Boston’s main camp on a PTO, is the only one of those contenders with any substantial professional experience.

The job is up for grabs, and given the numbers he posted over the last two seasons in the NCAA, McIntyre knows he has as good a shot as anyone to grab it.

Still, though, this is no time to reinvent the wheel. Therefore, he isn’t worried about the other guys he is competing against. He is worried about one thing: Himself, and his own performance.

“I think you understand the beast you’re going to deal with, signing a pro contract and going from there,” he said. “You understand that there is competition on a daily basis, and I think that’s where a lot of people will really shine. If you get pushed, you get pushed to the next level.

“You can show really your true colors and everything, and I think this will be obviously a good test for everybody [at camp]. You look at any position — goaltending, defensive, and even the forwards — we have a bunch of guys pushing for spots and competing for spots, which will be pretty special.”

It becomes clear to anyone who has ever spoken to McIntyre that his attitude is a substantial part of the reason why he has made it to where he is. He has had his fair share of heartbreaking — even soul-crushing, down-to-the-wire, last-second — losses, and he bounces back. He sees the big picture. He takes the losses in stride, and his confidence always seems to remain intact. He has a unique ability to see the positives, even in the most unfortunate situations.

Obviously, to make it in the NHL, you need skill. But you also need thick skin and ice in your veins, and McIntyre has proven time and time again that he has that.

You can teach skill, but you can’t teach drive, or desire, or confidence.

“I go back to some of the lessons I’ve learned back at school, especially with previous coaches I’ve had as well,” McIntyre said. “I think your body of work will really speak for itself. I think right now, I just have to go in and stop pucks, and just keep my nose to the grindstone and just keep going from there.

“[I] can’t really get too caught up in what’s going on and this and that, and [I have to] just really enjoy the process, too.”

Lately, McIntyre often finds himself reflecting back on his draft day. It was just over five years ago, but it feels like yesterday that he took a call from Boston’s management and found out he was a part of the Bruins family.

Sometimes, it is hard to believe that now, officially, he is a Bruin — really, truly. Back when he took that phone call, he dreamed of someday wearing the Spoked-B out on the ice in game action.

Now, he has done it. It might have been an exhibition game, but he has done it.

And now that he knows what that feels like, he is never turning back.

“[It’s a] hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck-stand-up type of thing,” McIntyre said. “It’s just pretty special, knowing that you get to wear the Spoked-B. It’s really cool. There’s no other words to really describe it, and it’s obviously going to be pretty special to throw it on and play for the Bruins.

“I just remember that [draft] day, thinking, ‘Hey, this is going to be pretty special when this happens, and [I’ve] got to do everything in my power to make it happen. So from that point on, it’s been a long work in progress, but now, it’s going to happen, and it’s going to be really exciting, really cool.”

It is cool. It is so cool that it is oftentimes overwhelming. But that’s when he comes back to the heart of the matter: It’s just hockey, the same as it has always been. Simple as that.

“Right now, [I’m] just trying to control what I can control,” McIntyre said. “Go out there and have a good time and really just play hockey.”

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