Somehow, though, it was a happy day in Boston’s room on Thursday.
“It was a good day,” said Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask following the conclusion of fitness testing on the opening day of this year’s training camp. “Everybody was buzzing at the run test. Great times out there, and it looked like everybody was kind of enjoying themselves — at least before that run test; not so much during it.
“But it was a great day. Kind of a long day, with all the medicals and stuff, but ready to play some hockey now.”
Part of the elation was due to the fact that every player on the roster passed his tests — not something that is a given every year, according to Rask. Part of the elation stemmed from the friendly competition that inevitably arises from the fitness tests, particularly at the pull-up station.
On Thursday, Zach Trotman dethroned captain Zdeno Chara as pull-up champion, but there was no disappointment whatsoever for Chara. Instead, he was excited. In fact, he was inspired.
“That’s what you want to see,” said a visibly enthused Chara. “You may think that guys will be maybe satisfied with some of the results from previous years, but the opposite is true. They came in this time in really, really great shape. This is the most fit team and group of guys that I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here, and that’s great to see.
“That’s what you want to see every year — guys improving, and pushing themselves, to better results, to better times. That just shows the commitment of the group we have right now.”
There is clearly a renewed commitment to winning circulating through Boston’s room. It has seemingly been there since the day the disappointing 2014-15 campaign came to an end, but now, it has reached its peak.
And now, finally, the new iteration of this team will have an opportunity to rectify last year’s shortcomings.
That is the heart of the matter, and the heart of the widespread enthusiasm in Boston’s room: The day of fitness testing marks the unofficial beginning of the 2015-16 season. Last season is officially, 100 percent in the past, and for that, many of the players in Boston’s room are grateful.
They have been ready to move on for a while. Now, the past is behind them.
“[I’m] happy it’s officially the start of a new season, and we can actually move forward and stop talking about last year,” said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s definitely exciting, and happy to have all of the guys here today, and looking forward to getting to know everyone, even though we had a chance to skate together last week and the week before [at captains’ practices].
“But still, now, it’s officially [beginning], with the coaches and everyone and getting to know the system and whatnot. So looking forward to all of that.”
It has been repeated ad nausea: This year’s Bruins will be different from last year’s, in more ways than one. There is obviously new personnel expected to play prominent roles in the lineup. There is a new general manager at the helm. And there are expected to be changes to the tried and true Bruins system, which will be implemented over the course of the next 20 days.
In this case, change is good. Change means this team is not only moving on from last year’s disappointment, but it also has a plan in place to make sure history does not repeat itself.
The fact that every single player — whether he has two games of NHL experience to his name or 200 — showed up to camp in peak physical condition is an indication that across the board, everyone is willing to work together to invoke that change.
“To see how fit the guys are here, and how good of shape the guys are in, it definitely shows how committed the guys are to coming here and having a good start,” said forward Brett Connolly. “So again, that’s the focus — we’re going to try to get better here every day and have a good start to not only exhibition, but the regular season.”
In the eyes of first-year General Manager Don Sweeney, main camp will revolve around the same message as rookie camp. It is about opportunity.
No player on Boston’s roster is guaranteed a spot for the upcoming season. The training camp roster is stacked with talent — veterans and rookies alike — and all of those players are prepared to push one another in order to stake their claim.
There are opportunities heading into camp. There are presumed to be some open spots. That creates competition, and as many of these players have stated time and time again, competition brings out the best in everyone.
“The expectations are there for guys to step forward and grab hold of something,” Sweeney said. “You’re not going to be given anything. I’ve said this time and time again: You’re going to have a hard time pushing a veteran and an established player in the National Hockey League. Look at the number of players that are accepting tryout agreements across the league; those guys want that job. As a young player, you have to recognize that. You have to prepare accordingly and go put your best foot forward.
“We have spots, and players will step forward to take them if they’re ready to help our team.”
That competition will not only bring out the best of these players on the ice. Off the ice, it is already working its magic. It is creating excitement in the dressing room. It is creating optimism.
Each player is eager to see where the chips fall, and what he can do to impact the ultimate outcome.
“Once the testing is over, obviously, now everyone’s excited to see what’s going to be happening on the ice, and it starts [Friday],” Chara said. “That’s what you want to have — the excitement, the energy, the smiles to look forward to the work on the ice. [It’s a] new season, and we just want to look forward to this season instead of looking back.
“Things happen, and we can’t change them, and now it’s time to look ahead and get ready for the season.”
Bergeron had a message of his own for his teammates — those who spent last year in Providence, those who spent last year in a different league, those who spent last year on a different NHL team and those who suited up alongside him.
That message? Bring it.
“Bring your style, bring whatever got you here,” he said. “Healthy competition is always important on any team, and we’re no different. Obviously, everybody’s watching, and you’ve got a leave a good impression.
“Everyone’s pushing for a spot, and that’s what we want on our team. That actually pushes everyone and makes everyone better.”
Boston will carry 22 of its 24 rookies on to main camp. On-ice sessions begin on Friday. Given the larger-than-usual group, there will be three separate on-ice sessions, and the rookies and veterans alike will be integrated.
One big lesson the Bruins have learned over the years is that in order for a team to have success, it needs to be that: a team. There needs to be unity. There needs to be a common goal and a 100 percent commitment to fulfilling that goal.
“That’s the most important part of a hockey team, I think,” Bergeron said. “If you can bring that friendship and chemistry you have off the ice — if you can bring that on the ice and use that to your advantage, you’re definitely in a good position to overcome a lot of obstacles and bumps along the way.”
The NHL season is a grind. The teams that come through the other side are the ones that work together.
The Bruins are determined to be one of those teams in 2015-16.
“If you want to win, you have to be one group, and that’s something we’re trying to put emphasis on,” Rask said. “It either happens or not. You have to be playing good hockey, and trusting each other, and having fun, on and off the ice. It’s just letting everybody be themselves, and I think a big part of it is that trust.
“The first step was today. Everybody showed up in great shape and looking committed, and that’s a good stepping stone for us. Now, we hit the ice tomorrow, and we start building.”