BostonBruins.com - Mid-August for a hockey fan is the biggest teaser. You start counting down the days, but the end date still seems so far away. You may check off the days until the season opener, the first preseason game when the new-look roster first steps into action, or the date of a game you'll see in-person. The numbers float around on social media and various websites.
For me, there's one date I zero in on the most. All of the above are important dates, no doubt, and there are others that will emerge - the start of informal captain's practices which get the B's back together, the team's annual golf tournament, etc.
But the beginning of Training Camp on September 11 marks the first official date where the players have to report for the 2013-14 season. It's an important time, for several obvious reasons. New teammates get acclimated into the locker room, different linemates begin to develop chemistry, coaches try various line and defensive pairing combinations to find a player's best fit, and healthy competition breaks out among those vying for a spot on the opening night roster.
The team's identity is reinforced, while systems, special teams and distinct plays are all reviewed. A coach gets to know his new players, and gets his team in line and "on the same page" before the season begins. Camp then stretches into preseason games before the new season kicks off -- a time to put the focus of the first week together into action.
Below are a couple of reasons (not that you really need any reasons) to get excited for Training Camp. The next segment of "Counting Down the Days" will take a look at the positional battles heading into camp and what I'll be keeping an eye on as the preseason progresses.
The No-Lockout Effect
I stress the significance of the time Training Camp affords this year mostly because, last season, following the lockout, coaches and teams simply didn't have that luxury. And while players were training and playing overseas, they had no set time frame of when camp would begin and when they would need to be in optimum shape.
"I know big talk was that I was a little out of shape last year with the lockout. It was kind of harder to get ready not knowing when the season was going to start," Milan Lucic said following one of his intense, power-building workouts when BostonBruins.com went to visit him in his offseason home near Vancouver this summer.
"Just getting that conditioning and strength and, as always, getting that quickness and that speed up to 100 percent is what I focus on every summer and that’s the same this summer going into next year."
He wasn't the only one that felt out of sync heading into the season - the effect was felt by other Bruins, and around the league.
Before last season, the Bruins only had six days fully together in an official capacity, once the NHL's new Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified, before kicking off the compact season on January 19 against the New York Rangers. Amidst those half dozen days, there was one scrimmage against the Providence Bruins.
The 2013 B's did have a clear advantage over other NHL squads - aside from the open spot on the third line, the insertion of rookie Dougie Hamilton (and the absence of Tim Thomas), the team was virtually the same heading into the season. That comfort factor caused them to jump out to the best 10-game start in franchise history at 8-1-1.
But familiarity only takes a team so far; the valuable time on the ice and in game action before the season begins cannot be replicated.
Bruins' Clear Focus Heading into Camp
Before the 2013-14 campaign kicks off on October 3 at TD Garden against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Black & Gold will have 22 days of practices, meetings and seven preseason games, the first of which takes place in Montreal on September 16. And when you factor in their time spent together during informal captain's practices, the number of days only goes up.
It may be a shorter offseason than usual leading up to that point, but at least each 'B' has an exact date to shoot for this time around, and has a clear-cut idea of what specific training he needs to do before September 11. We should expect to see a well-conditioned and highly motivated - given the result suffered in late June - group of B's, which will only ramp up the compete level throughout camp.
This year, part of staying in shape didn't involve playing overseas. Their offseason training routines will be more in line with what they're used to, whether it's Shawn Thornton sticking with his boxing and lifting regimen around Boston; Tuukaa Rask keeping fit with golf, tennis and workouts in his native Finland; or David Krejci and Daniel Paille focusing on quick feet to enhance their skating strides.
"It is a lot easier. Last year was different for everybody; you had to be in shape, but then obviously nothing happened, and you just kept on working out," Rask told BostonBruins.com when he first arrived back to Boston in August.
"So now it’s good that you have a set date when you start and you know that you have to be in shape a certain day and it helps your workout plans. You can planning your skating a little bit earlier too, so it’s good for everybody."
Paille reiterated his teammate's thoughts during one of his workouts in Boston with David Krejci in early August. The pair have been training together, something that could not have happened prior to last season, with Krejci playing abroad up until camp.
"It's important for all of us to be ready," stressed Paille. "When we go into camp, even though it is a shorter training summer, I think we know what to expect given the fact of a couple of years ago that we had [a short offseason after the Cup]. We realize what our bodies can take in a short period of time."
"We want to try to come back with a strong start and make sure we’re capable and ready every game."