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Development Camp Starts Today

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
Boston, MA -- Monday morning, with young players flying into Boston from all over the world to attend the second annual Boston Bruins Development Camp, Director of Hockey Operations and Player Development, Don Sweeney, and the rest of Boston’s NHL organization were rolling up the shirtsleeves for what is sure to be a pivotal week in the development of the next generation to wear the Black & Gold.

Some B’s personnel were arranging logistics, others were heading to Logan to pick up prospects and still others were on the phone making sure that arrangements were checked and double-checked in an effort to properly welcome the next set of players to don the spoked-B.

“I think the primary focus is familiarity,” said Sweeney when asked about the ultimate goal of the week. “That’s from a player’s perspective, from our coaches and management team’s (perspective) as well as everybody in our organization.

“It’s about getting to know our players at a bunch of different levels outside a game context.

“There was a belief that we could accelerate the learning process a little bit by bringing these kids into a non-competitive - vying for jobs - type atmosphere,” he said.

Last season’s camp did just that and provided an opportunity for players like Milan Lucic, Vladimir Sobotka, David Krejci, Matt Lashoff and Matt Hunwick to show their colors en route to a very successful training camp and season.

“Those players deserve all the credit for that,” said Sweeney. “However, I believe that their comfort level was improved, and they benefited, by going through (camp) and having the face recognition when they walked through the door the first time…in training camp.

“Rather than staring at their toes, they were able to walk through the door and say, ‘You know what? I am part of the Bruins organization and I’m here to compete for a job and put my best foot forward.’”

Looking back at his own career, Sweeney said that as a young player he was able to feel like a part of the organization fairly quickly, thanks in part to local camps staffed by Bruins personnel.

“I was pretty fortunate because Bruins scouts Joe Lyons and Jean Ratelle, former Bruin Mike Milbury and other guys that run camps in the summertime…gave you kind of a primer for what you would see,” he explained. “Bob Sweeney and (other pro-level players) from around the area were participating, so I had started that process outside of the Bruins fold.

“But those guys all worked for the Bruins, so it was a good indoctrination for me.”

A run in the playoffs with the AHL B’s – then called the Maine Mariners – also helped Sweeney learn how to be a professional.

“The key for me was that I left Harvard (after) my senior (season) to go play in Maine,” said Sweeney. “It was a lot like some of our guys did this current season and the season before.

“I think that was the impetus for me to get into the (professional) fold, so to speak.”

Today, the Boston Bruins Development Camp allows those players who were not lucky enough to join a pro team after a college or junior season, or receive intensive instruction from professional personnel, to have an experience that indoctrinates them into pro hockey without the worry about making a cut.

“The idea of development camp was bred out of that,” said Sweeney, who explained that, thankfully, when he went to B’s training camp “nobody was asking, ‘Who the heck is this guy walking through the camp to compete for a job on the first go around?’

“I had already played alongside these guys.

“They got to know me a little bit and I got to know them and it felt more comfortable and that were (the idea of camp) is coming from,” he said.

As such, development camp is an organizational effort towards team building from the grass roots level and allows a level of comfort afforded previously to only a select few players.

“Obviously (General Manager) Peter (Chiarelli) is supporting it,” explained Sweeney. “(Assistant GM) Jim Benning has been through it and run it in Buffalo.

“We had a whole group of guys who had their own ideas and were helping this to take shape and the Bruins organization, first and foremost, was fully behind us.

“There is the on-ice stuff, and (P-Bruins head coach) Scott Gordon and those guys do a fabulous job and I know their practices and I know what the guys are going to be put through. Then there’s Paul Vincent doing power skating stuff.

“Of course, we also do the stuff outside of the rink. That’s also important.”
Sweeney is not just talking about the all-important fitness testing and workouts with Strength and Conditioning Coach John Whitesides, either.

Last year, miles away from Ristuccia Arena, through a Red Sox game, a Duck Tour and trips to the mall, the Bruins youngest generation became a team. Within that team, bonds were forged and leaders emerged as each attendee learned what it was to pull on a Bruins sweater.

“What the expectations are going to be, from our coaching staff and our management team and everybody – the pride factor of pulling on that jersey – it needs to be laid out from day one,” said Sweeney. “And these guys have to understand it and embrace it.”

Beyond simply embracing the tradition and the dedication it takes to be a Boston Bruin, sometimes leaders emerge. Milan Lucic’s willingness to take the wheel of a Duck Boat on the Charles River comes to mind, as does Zach Hamill taking the mound to throw out the first pitch at a sold out Fenway Park.

“Outsiders evaluating those situations would recognize that certain guys, whether they are born or bred, have leadership skills and are more willing to do those kind of things,” said Sweeney. “Other guys would not have been able to go out the pitchers mound and throw out the first pitch.

“There are guys that embrace that center stage and other players learn from that as well.”

Again, familiarity, seems to be the watchword for the 2008 version of camp.

“They are all young guys,” explained Sweeney. “They are all within a certain age group and that allows guys to be themselves.

“There are…relationships that need to be formed in order to have a good team. And I think it builds a really strong foundation moving forward. These guy are all aspiring to (the same thing) and they are going to be competing against each other for jobs and understanding that is part of the process.

“But this is a chance, from a development standpoint, to push each other and move along the path together,” he said.
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