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Chara Skates in Full Practice for 1st Time Since Injury

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — With just two days remaining until the official beginning of the 2015-16 season, there was a very welcome sight on the Bruins’ practice ice on Tuesday.

Captain Zdeno Chara participated in a full practice with his teammates for the first time since sustaining an undisclosed upper body injury on Sept. 22.

“I felt good,” Chara said afterward. “It was nice to be out there with the team, with the guys, doing drills.”

Following practice, Head Coach Claude Julien said Chara’s presence on Tuesday offers reason to be optimistic.

“It’s a good sign to have him out there today,” Julien said. “I think we continue to do what we call the daily evaluation of him. Let’s see how he feels [Wednesday], after practicing with the team. We’ll continue to do that until we know that he’s really ready to go.

“Right now, I think it’s nice for everybody to see him out there with us and practicing. It’s his first practice in quite a while, so hopefully he gains as much as he can for the time being.”

Chara, for his part, has no intention of getting ahead of himself. He has been taking things one day at a time ever since he sustained the injury, and he will not change his approach as the regular season approaches.

“I’m not looking at Thursday; I’m looking at tomorrow,” Chara said. “So again, like I said, it’s day-to-day, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s practice. And again, my goal is to be better than I was today.”

Given that his marked his first practice in about two weeks, Chara took light contact, and as he moves forward in his recovery, the next step will be gauging how his body feels on Wednesday in light of Tuesday’s practice.

“Obviously, I haven’t been practicing with the team,” he said. “I’ve got to get used to the puck and the drills and the movements [again], so it’s a little bit more than just the physical part.”

It was clear that Chara got a boost from taking the ice with his teammates on Wednesday. They, too, got a boost from seeing their captain skating alongside them.

“It’s great just to have him there,” said forward Brad Marchand. “He’s such a presence in the room and on the ice, whether it’s just in practice, so it’s great to see him improving. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon.”

Though Chara continues to approach his recovery with a measured stoicism, he is just as excited as anyone else in Black & Gold to drop the puck on a new season.

Whether or not he is on the ice on Thursday, he is eager to get started.

“That’s what we’ve been waiting for since the end of the last season,” Chara said. “That’s for sure something that we’ve worked towards the whole summer and the whole preseason, and obviously it’s only a few days away.

“We need everybody. It’s just not one guy. Obviously, I’m going to do whatever I can to be out there and be playing.”

Season Opener Approaching

It has been a long preseason for the 2015-16 Bruins. Now, with Winnipeg set to arrive in Boston anytime for the season opener, the excitement is beginning to set in.

“It’s the best time of year right now, and it’s been a long summer,” Marchand said. “I think we’re really looking forward to getting back in the regular season and having lots of fun.”

For several months, there has been plenty of dialogue surrounding the myriad personnel changes on Causeway Street. Now, finally, it is time to see how those changes impact the immediate future of this team.

“There’s been obviously a lot of new personnel, but the excitement just to be around the rink and be in the room — being part of this group — is great to see,” Marchand said. “Everyone really wants to be here and really wants to have a big year, so that excitement and with how familiar guys are getting with one another — it’s nice. It’s refreshing, and we’re excited to see how it goes.”

That has been a big theme for Marchand and the rest of Boston’s core: wanting to be here. Wanting to be wearing Black & Gold. Wanting to be a Bruin.

This year’s group is confident that that sentiment permeates the dressing room.

“I think we’ve got a good group in here,” said forward Chris Kelly. “So far, we’re all getting along — like a marriage, that’s not always going to be the case, but I think there’s that mutual respect for everyone.

“That’s the important thing, is going out there and wanting to play for one another and wanting to do well for each other. I think the last exhibition game was a great example of that — everyone sticking up for one another, and that’s great to see.”

Boston’s management and staff have had more than three weeks to evaluate 60 players. Over the course of those three weeks, the cast has been trimmed down to 25. In that time, there have obviously been ups and downs. There have been successes and failures, there have been battles, there have been injuries, there have been hardships.

What has impressed Julien is the way this group has responded to some of the curveballs.

“I think now, we’re excited about getting this show on the road, if we can put it this way,” Julien said. “We’ve had some preseason games to evaluate. Now, we’ve made some decisions; some are still lingering right now. But other than that, I think our group is excited, as well you know.

“We seem to be feeling good about ourselves as a team. I think their intentions are really good. but like we always say, those things are great coming out of training camp. It’s how you handle adversities is what’s going to tell what this team’s all about, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in these guys, to be honest with you, from what I’ve seen in the last three-plus weeks.

“They seem to be a really good group that I think will handle [adversity] well.”

Talbot, Smith Clear Waivers

On Monday afternoon, the Bruins placed forward Max Talbot and goaltender Jeremy Smith on waivers, and on Tuesday at noon, they cleared.

Still, the future remains a bit uncertain for both players.

Julien emphasized that in Talbot’s case, the move was made in order to afford the team some flexibility as it builds its opening night roster, which must be finalized by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

“There’s times you have to make some moves there to, I guess, keep certain things intact,” Julien said. “Max being on waivers doesn’t mean he’s going down [to the AHL]. We haven’t made any decisions on Max yet, as far as what’s going on.

“He’s just on waivers for purposes of keeping the numbers where they should be at this time.”

Talbot said that although being waived is certainly not ideal, he is keeping it all in perspective.

“It’s something, I guess, that’s part of the game,” Talbot said. “It’s part of the business, part of the job. I’m just going to come back here to work every day. I came here to camp with the idea of helping my teammates. I’m not sure yet of what’s going to happen to me — if they’re going to send me down or if they’re keeping me here — but I have to have a good attitude and do what they ask me to do.

“It’s not something positive in life right now, getting waived, but at the same time, as people [who] know me [know], I always have a glass-half-full type of mentality, and it’s not going to change today. Still got a beautiful wife, a healthy kid at home and expecting a second one, and playing hockey here for a living, so got that going for me, and that’s pretty important in life.

“As for the situation I’m in here, it’s about having a good attitude, coming in here and being a good teammate. That’s what I’m planning on doing.”

Though Talbot has only been with the Bruins for a short time — he arrived at the trade deadline last year — he has made a significant impact, and not only on the ice.

“He’s a good leader; he’s a good team player,” Julien said. “He’s very vocal in the room. He goes out on the ice and he backs his words because he works extremely hard.

“So he’s definitely a real good energy guy that we like. But there’s a lot of people in this camp that have been battling for spots that have brought different things that have made those decision hard. And even though they’ve made it hard, it doesn’t mean that we made a final decision yet. So what we’ve done is bought ourselves some time, here, to make some decisions down the road.”

Julien also indicated that Smith would be assigned to Providence once he cleared waivers. Whether or not the P-Bruins will retain three goaltenders — Smith, in addition to Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre — remains to be seen.

Before they waived Smith, the Bruins awarded Jonas Gustavsson a one-year contract, officially dubbing him the backup to Tuukka Rask.

The battle to be the backup goaltender was perhaps the most contentious battle at this year’s training camp, and Gustavsson — who was limited to seven games last year due to injuries — was glad to come out on top.

“Obviously, I’m happy I’m here,” Gustavsson said. “I saw [the competition as], ‘OK, I’m going to go out there and prove [to] myself, for myself and everyone else, that I can play.’ I’m not trying to think so much about the other guys; I know they’re good goalies, so in the end, you just go to yourself.

“I felt last year, too — even though I didn’t play at the end of the season — [in] practice, my body felt fine and all that. So I felt like I still had it in me, and I had a good summer, so I felt like I was prepared for the season. But obviously, I’m happy to be here now.”

Gustavsson had a simple mindset coming into this camp: Don’t think. Just focus. He has stated time and time again that he didn’t feel as though this goalie competition was any different than any other scenario he has faced throughout his NHL career. The league is so competitive now that a player constantly has to fight to keep his job.

In a sense, he didn’t afford this particular battle any extra attention. He just came to the rink every day and did his job, and in the end, it paid off.

“Even though it sounds boring, you’re just trying to focus on whatever you can do, and that’s on the ice,” he said. “When you’re not doing that, you’re trying to not think about hockey. So that’s how I saw it: I didn’t know if it was going to take a day or a week to find out, and I didn’t want to think about it either. So like I said, I just tried to not think about it, and play hockey.”

Tuesday’s Practice Lineup

Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson

White Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, David Krejci, David Pastrnak

Gray Jerseys: Jimmy Hayes, Ryan Spooner, Brett Connolly, Tyler Randell

Burgundy Jerseys: Zac Rinaldo, Chris Kelly, Joonas Kemppainen, Max Talbot

Defensemen:
Zdeno Chara, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug, Zach Trotman, Kevan Miller, Matt Irwin

Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson

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