Over that time, they have taken part in countless off-ice workouts to make sure they are in prime physical condition.
But, perhaps, none of those workouts were as memorable as the one they participated in on Wednesday morning.
The second day of the Bruins trip to Fort Bragg with the USO of North Carolina began with an early-morning training session with the Green Berets of the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne).
For the Bruins triumvirate, it was the highlight of the visit, which was the first of its kind for an NHL team.
“It was great to hang out with them,” said Raycroft, who manned the pipes for the Bruins from 2000-06.
“Today was cool. Just to be able to talk with them and learn and hear some of their stories – [some] being from the Boston area and having some things in common that way – that was probably my favorite part.”
In addition to working out with the Green Berets, the Bruins were also able to accompany them to some actual military training later in the morning.
“To be around some of these Special Ops, the guys at the upper level, the guys that donate their whole life to the Army, to doing this and doing amazing tours through Afghanistan and Africa and Pakistan – the amount that they dedicate themselves…it’s pretty remarkable what they give,” said Gill, a Bruins defenseman from 1997-2006.
The day continued with an adult hockey scrimmage at the Cleland Ice Rink, in which 25 members of the Fort Bragg community suited up alongside Miller, Gill, and Raycroft.
“Being on the ice, it’s [one of two bases with a rink on it] and it’s become part of their culture, their love of hockey…that was pretty awesome,” said Gill.
After the scrimmage, the tour continued at USASOC, the Army Special Operations Command, where the Bruins were shown the memorial wall that was built in memory of all fallen special operations soldiers.
Miller, Gill, and Raycroft were then taken to meet with the aviators and crew chiefs of the 1/82 ARB Wolfpack and take a peak inside an Apache helicopter, before visiting the Iron Mike Statue, the statue of the Airborne Soldier and a symbol of Fort Bragg.
“The size and scale of what’s going on just on this one base, all the decisions that need to be made from the generals we’ve spoken to,” said Raycroft. “The whole thing is such a big outfit. Obviously you know the military, but when you’re down here – we drive around for 15 minutes at a time and we don’t get off the base, it’s a huge place.”
The trip ended with a pizza party at the Warrior Transition Battalion, where the Bruins were able to mingle with a couple dozen soldiers and listen to their stories, sign autographs, and pose for photos. At the event, the Bruins also donated new street hockey gear for the local youth center and presented a special camouflage Bruins jersey to Renee Lane, the USO of NC’s Fort Bragg Director.
“It’s been a great few days,” said Raycroft. “It’s been a lot of fun to have the experience of being down here and seeing all the things that go into the whole base is fascinating. And to hang out with the other guys has been fun as well. It’s been a lot of info and a lot of learning. It’s been a great trip.”
Seeing firsthand how the largest military base in the United States operates on a daily basis and being able to meet with so many of Fort Bragg’s men and women left a lasting impact on the Bruins contingent.
“The last few days have been awesome, meeting not just the great soldiers that we have here, but their families and the young kids and wives and husbands that have sacrificed so that we can occupy their time,” said Gill.
“The families that we met…to get a smile on the face of these young kids and the wives and hopefully keep them distracted and keep them busy. They give a lot to our country and it’s nice to give back a little bit.
“It’s apparent, not just that they sacrifice their day-to-day lives, but also they make the ultimate sacrifice. That’s always touching to me and I can’t be any more grateful.”