BOSTON - For the first time in three months, the Boston Bruins found themselves back together in the locker room as the team gathered for the first day of training camp on Wednesday afternoon at Warrior Ice Arena.
"It's always been something I look forward to every year," said Patrice Bergeron. "You're excited after the summer, whether it's long or short. You always kind of regroup, refocus, and you're ready to go. Yeah, I've been here a long time, but it's still just as meaningful."
The first day kicked off with a welcome meeting, where coach Bruce Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney addressed the players with their expectations for the season, as did Bergeron and captain Zdeno Chara.
As is customary, the first day also featured photo and video sessions and strength testing. Players will hit the ice on Friday for scheduled practices and warm-up sessions.
A variety of new faces appeared on Wednesday, but one seemed to stand above the rest.
Brett Ritchie, a 6-foot-4 right winger who recently signed with the B's, arrived in Boston from Dallas, where he spent the past six seasons with the Stars organization. He has 54 points in 241 NHL career games, with 33 goals and 21 assists.
The winger said he has appreciated the Bruins' style of play and its versatility, with both fast and heavy players in the ranks. When asked how he'd categorize himself, he'd pick the latter, making note of how the league has seen an influx of players who might do the same.
"Every year, the teams try and mold themselves around the team that won the year before, so I think maybe there will be a little bit of a trend like that," said Ritchie. "St. Louis was a heavy team; I was in that Central Division for a while. That was sort of the identity of the Central Division, there was always a lot of big teams, even if you looked at Winnipeg or even with Dallas, we were pretty big, and Nashville. So, I think playing those types of teams is the style that I like and that I'm used to."
Ritchie has only ever played at the pro level in Texas with the Stars, but he's originally from Toronto. Still, he's excited to come to Boston and experience the fan base for himself.
"I know this city loves their sports, and they're passionate," said Ritchie. "I grew up near Toronto, so I'm sort of used to the media and stuff - obviously I wasn't playing, but how crazy it gets at times, and they ride the highs and they ride the lows. It's a lot different than Dallas, but I think I'll adjust well. I know what to expect, it's an A-market and they love their sports.
"It's really cool coming to the rink, so much history. And you know, maybe even a little bit of snow now, which I wasn't used to the last couple years."
Video: New forward Ritchie talks about joining the Bruins
Along side all of the new faces at Warrior on Wednesday were plenty of familiar ones.
Chara and Bergeron set the expectations for veterans and rookies alike. Torey Krug, David Backes, and Brad Marchand also addressed the media for the first time this season after strength testing in the morning.
"It's nice to get back here," said Marchand. "No matter how much time you spend away, it's always fun to get back and be with the guys. It means the season's that much closer to starting and have another crack at it. I'm looking forward to it."
Camp will be structured a little differently this year, according to Cassidy, as a way to accommodate injuries and a short summer for the veterans.
"I think with this year, honestly, we've had some injuries, so we've chopped it up a little bit with our veteran guys," said Cassidy. "We don't want to put on a lot of stress. We went through that a little bit last year too, going to China. We had different groups, we had to start early, so that's two years in a row we've gotten away from it a bit.
"We're pretty comfortable with our level, just because of the culture that's been created by those older guys, and they've passed that on. So, the young guys still are in here, we've probably pushed them harder than maybe the older guys to make sure they get to the standing."
Video: Marchand speaks at Training Camp
On Friday, both veterans and rookies will hit the ice for the first time this season, with warmup sessions and practices scheduled for each group. And with the first day of training camp in the books, all eyes are focused on the future.
"I mean it's the first day of training camp. I think we're looking forward," said Bergeron. "I think that's the positive, I think you can write the future and kind of look forward to that. I've always said I've been really proud of what the guys have accomplished, especially when you look from afar and take your time to think about everything.
"It's a different challenge, but it's another challenge in front of us, which is about going all of the way back down - we're all in the same position, every team - and have to climb that mountain all of the way back up all over again."
"It's a lot of work, it's a great challenge and I think I'm just happy to be back with the guys and that's what hockey's all about. It's about the friendship you're creating and competing and all of that. It's still there in front of us, we should be happy and looking forward to that."
The only Bruins missing from the opening of camp were restricted free agent defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Sweeney said on Wednesday during a press conference announcing Cassidy's contract extension that negotiations with both players continue in earnest.
"Still works in progress," said Sweeney. "We continue to communicate every day and hopeful that we can find the right landing spot for both players. Obviously, they are important to our hockey club and we're going to keep working at it."
Video: Sweeney Updates on Carlo, McAvoy, Bergeron, Cassidy
Banged Up Bodies
Sweeney also added that Cameron Hughes will not participate in the beginning of camp because of a facial injury suffered at the Prospects Challenge. Hughes had significant damage after taking a skate to the face.
"He has some damage that he needs to follow up on," said Sweeney. "He won't be on the ice to start camp as well. We have a significant injury there so we have to make sure that he's healthy and beyond that."
Sweeney added that Trent Frederic and Matt Grzelcyk were battling through minor ailments, but that they should be ready for Friday's first on-ice session.
"We've talked about monitoring all of our guys…obviously we had a hell of a run," said Sweeney. "We need to be cognizant of that. Again, it's a great opportunity for other players that those are minutes that are going to get spread out accordingly and to step forward. The competition internally, it should be really good."
Bergeron will also be monitored closely as he continues to nurse a lingering groin injury.
"It's lingered," said Sweeney. We have to manage that effectively and communicate effectively as to where he's at and how he physically feels…he's working through it. We're doing it in a smart manner and obviously he wouldn't be out on the ice [Wednesday] if we didn't feel he was heading in the right direction.
"It'll be a workload issue, how we do those things through camp so he gets the proper time to make sure he's where he needs to be. I don't think we're overly concerned about it at this point but it's a bit of a thing that's lingered."
Video: Cassidy speaks at Training Camp