FOXBOROUGH - Summer in New England brings with it plenty of temptations.
From strolls along the coast of Maine, to soothing days on the beaches of Cape Cod, to cruises out on Boston Harbor, and hikes through the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, there is no shortage of relaxing activities to partake in.
But for the local NHL community - and many of the region's pro and college players - the area's most popular summertime destination may just be the Foxboro Sports Center.
Over 30 current NHL players convene at the facility every Wednesday during the summer to compete in the Foxboro Pro League, a six-team association that provides them the opportunity to stay fresh during the offseason.
Bruins forward and Scituate native Ryan Donato has played in the league for the last five or six years, dating back to his time suiting up for Dexter School and the South Shore Kings, who play out of the Foxboro Sports Center.
"I think it's great because you can do all the off-ice conditioning you want and on-ice conditioning, but there's nothing like playing a game," Donato said following his game on Wednesday night. "Obviously it's not game speed like the NHL, but it is something…I've had a blast doing it and it's worked for me so I'm going to continue to do it."
Donato is one of several Bruins taking part, along with fellow Massachusetts natives Ryan Fitzgerald, Matt Grzelcyk, and Chris Wagner, as well as Charlie McAvoy, Wiley Sherman, and Jeremy Swayman. Local NHLers Brian Boyle, Noah Hanifin, and Kevin Hayes are also among the frequent participants.
"It's a good league, probably going on 10 years now," said Wagner, a Walpole native, who also played for the South Shore Kings. "Got a lot of guys who have trained here for the majority of their careers that I know pretty well. It's just fun playing against those guys that you see in the gym every day having a nice competitive game to get the juices flowing a little bit.
"You don't want to play as many games as you do during the year, but once a week is nice to have a high tempo game."
That high tempo is exactly what stood out most to Donato when he skated in the league as a junior and senior at Dexter. While not quite at the level of an NHL game, the intensity helped him develop an idea of what to expect as he continued to move his career forward.
"When I was younger the league was fast," said Donato. "It wasn't really anything that I was used to. Even though it was summer hockey, the talent level and skill was very high - and obviously the higher you get in levels, there's an increase in talent level as well. Being able to be open to the top NHL guys and college hockey guys, it was great for my development."
Donato also benefited from being around the likes of Boyle, Charlie Coyle, and Chris Kreider, taking in as much as he could from how they trained and conducted themselves during the offseason.
"When I was in high school, playing alongside guys like Coyle and Kreider and Boyle, they're NHL guys you kind of look up to and idolize," said Donato. "And now that I'm in position to be an NHL guy, I want to do the same thing, where I show up and do the right things to help the next generation do the right things as well."
In addition to providing current NHLers with a way to stay up to speed, the skates also allow players at the college and minor league levels to measure themselves against the best.
"I think it's just good to be playing during the summer," said Sherman, who will be entering his first full professional season in Providence this fall. "I'm living in Cambridge for the summer, training and skating over at Warrior [Ice Arena] four days a week and skating here once a week. Obviously it's once a week, so I come here and stay in shape and get ready for September."
Video: Sherman talks at Foxboro Summer League
Wagner Comes Home
Wagner is clearly excited to be back in his hometown to don the Black & Gold.
"Like I said before, it's a dream come true," said Wagner. "I actually never really thought I'd ever have the chance. But fortunately it worked out and just can't wait for September."
The 27-year-old forward was third in the NHL in hits last season and will bring plenty of energy to Boston's bottom six.
"Hard-working, physical," Wagner said of his style of play. "Hopefully chip in offensively when I can and try to be responsible all over the ice. Try to make the fans and coaches real happy."
Video: Wagner talks at Foxboro Summer League
Sherman Ready for Next Step
Sherman played two games for Providence last spring after wrapping up his college career at Harvard and is expected to suit up for the P-Bruins this fall for his first taste at a full pro campaign.
"I was commuting to and from school to Providence for six or seven weeks," said the 23-year-old Greenwich, Conn., native. "The biggest thing for me was learning from all that I could, whether that be the coaches or the older guys on the team. Just trying to take away what I could from those guys and bring it into the summer and into the fall."
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound blue liner will be competing for playing time with fellow left-shot prospects Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jakub Zboril.
"There's definitely a lot of high energy there. Obviously we're all pretty good buddies at this point, at least the guys in Providence," said Sherman. "They're all very welcoming when I came in there. You're great friends, but at the same time you're definitely competing."