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#BearTracks Day 1: Connolly Ready to Earn the Part

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

TORONTO — When Brett Connolly arrived in Boston at the March 2 trade deadline this past season, he was the very newest member of the team.

Now, just a few months later, he’s nearly one of the Bruins’ veterans. Nearly.

During an offseason that has seen a plethora of roster changes, Connolly — who was acquired from Tampa Bay at the 2015 trade deadline — remains one of the constants. And this year, he is excited to see how he can make an impact.

“It’s going to be different, obviously,” Connolly said on Thursday, as he gave the 2015 #BearTracks crew a tour of scenic Bloor Avenue in downtown Toronto, close to where he makes his offseason home. “When you lose two pieces like [Milan Lucic] and Dougie [Hamilton], and [Gregory Campbell] and [Daniel Paille], and guys that have won — it’ll be a lot different.

“So it’s a good opportunity for guys like me and some of the younger guys to step up and fill a void and be a part of it for a long time, and that’s what everyone’s planning to do. So it’s exciting, and I can’t wait to get down to Boston.”

Of course, there are still a few more weeks of summer left before Connolly will make the trek back to his new home. For now, he spends his days training for the upcoming season while enjoying Toronto, where he has spent the past four summers.

Connolly has afforded special attention to his offseason training this year, given the fractured right index finger that derailed his abbreviated first campaign with the Bruins. On his second day of practice with his new team, he took a Dennis Seidenberg shot off the finger, and it knocked him out of the lineup until early April, when he finally made his Bruins debut.

In five total games with the Bruins last season, Connolly registered two points in about 14 1/2 minutes of ice time per game. He saw top-six time and power play time. He is a weapon the Bruins were eager to utilize when he was first acquired, and now, that eagerness has amplified.

In a sense, the 2015-16 campaign represents Connolly’s first chance to prove to the Bruins what he can do. He has had ample time to learn the system. He is healthy again. And he is ready to fight for his rightful place on this team.

“It’s a fresh start for me,” he said. “It’s a different organization, different coaches, different teammates, so it’s a big year. It’s a big year for the team, a big year for myself, so I’m excited to prove to a lot of people that I belong kind of up in the lineup, and just want to do anything I can to help the team win.

“It’s obviously a big year for us going forward, here.”

The Bruins, like Connolly, have plenty to prove this season. They are moving into a new era of sorts, without some of last year’s stars and, instead, with some new players seizing more prominent roles.

Connolly hopes to be among those new(-ish) players. But he believes that no matter who is in the lineup this season, the Black & Gold identity will remain the same as it always has been.

“I don’t think it will ever change,” he said. “Obviously, I think just moving to the city and seeing how the city is itself… It’s a very blue-collar town, and people love their hockey, and so again, we’ll be the same: Obviously a very in-your-face team. We’ll be hard, we’ll be good defensively, and we’ll always be hard to play against.

“Obviously, we would like to score a few more goals, and I think we will do that this year, and the guys are very optimistic. It’s a fresh start, and a very different team, but it’s exciting for a lot of people.”

Connolly hasn’t wasted much of his summer thinking about where he might fit into the lineup. That will play out in training camp, and as far as he is concerned, if he wants a top-six role in 2015-16, it is up to him to earn the part.

“[I’ve] got to have a good start, have a good training camp, but again, I’m excited to hopefully play a top-six role for the whole season and do what I can to help the team win — provide offense and create energy and stick up for your teammates and little things like that,” he said. “That will go a long way, I think, moving forward for our team — collecting wins and getting to the playoffs again, for sure.”

With training camp set to kick off in September, Connolly will spend the waning weeks of summer doing more of the same things he’s been doing since he arrived in Toronto in May: Training hard and seeing a whole lot of games down the street at the Rogers Centre.

“I’ve been here for four summers, so I’ve watched a lot of Blue Jays games,” Connolly said. “They haven’t gone to the playoffs while I’ve been here; they won a World Series a long time ago — I think kind of when I was born — so to see the buzz around the city about the team [is nice]. They’ve won 11 in a row now, and they’ve brought in some good pieces, so it’s exciting to go to the games.

“There’s a good energy in the building, and it’s close for me, too — I’ve just got to drive five minutes down, sort of toward the CN Tower. It’s right beside there. So it’s good to go to the games. It’s a good outing.”

But have no fear, Red Sox fans: Connolly is still loyal to the hometown team. He visited Fenway Park during a visit to Boston earlier in the summer, and even on a day the Blue Jays were gunning for their 11th consecutive victory, he proudly trekked around downtown Toronto wearing a Red Sox hat.

He may not have spent a lot of time in Boston last season, but he definitely learned quickly.

“I’ve actually worn it a couple of times to the game,” he said with a smile. “I’ll be wearing this hat moving forward.”

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