BostonBruins.com - Matt Grzelcyk is more than pleased to introduce a bit of normalcy back into his life.
With the start of voluntary workouts last week, the Bruins blue liner has been back on the ice at Warrior Ice Arena for the first time in over three months. He has been able to interact with some of his teammates in person - albeit in a limited fashion - while ramping up his skating in the hopes that hockey resumes this summer.
These are all, of course, positive developments. But none of them mean that Grzelcyk and his teammates have forgotten about the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken an unprecedented toll across the globe and stopped the NHL season in its tracks on March 12.
"As we're going to the rink, we realize that it's maybe a little bit more freedom than at first," Grzelcyk said during a media conference call on Tuesday. "But [we] still have in mind that people are losing their lives over this situation and you want to make sure that you're doing more good than harm - wearing a mask at all times, washing your hands, and following those precautions so you don't spread it on to other people.
"I think it's a very serious matter. As much as we do want to play, we realize that there are more important things in life, and you have to make sure that other things fall into place first.
"You watch the news and see how serious this whole situation is. You just want to be a part of the solution and making sure that you're following all the guidelines that the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has put in place and hopefully we get the opportunity to be back soon."
Video: Grzelcyk Talks To Media On ZOOM
Grzelcyk, who resumed skating on June 15, noted that the testing and health protocols that have been required during Phase 2 of the NHL's Return-to-Play protocol have been "pretty tedious," but quickly added that the precautions are necessary to ensure the safety of the teams' players and staff during these uncertain times.
"I think the league and the team are taking all the right measures to have the players stay as healthy as possible, and staff coming to the rink, keeping them in mind," said Grzelcyk, who posted 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists) in 68 games during the 2019-20 regular season.
"It's been tough on everyone, but I think that we're trying to do the best we can to make it a safe environment and really learn some things in this phase here and hopefully it will make us better moving forward."
The Charlestown native has been part of a skating group that includes Torey Krug, Sean Kuraly, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand. Grzelcyk said they have been taking things slowly but that he's been encouraged by how well he has felt thus far, despite being off the ice for such an extended period of time, which he estimated could be the longest such stretch of his career outside of a knee injury prior to his senior year at Boston University.
"I was a little nervous, to be honest, hopping on after not getting a chance to go on for three months, really," said Grzelcyk. "I was kind of pleasantly surprised at the first couple times. That was nice - probably due to the fact that we were into the full swing of things in the season and still had that mentality with that date [July 10] thrown out there for when training camp might start.
"That's given me at least some more clarity in things when you need to be ready by. It's been good. It's been a joy to get back out there and see some of the guys again. Just go have fun and break a sweat. It's been great mentally even more so than physically. Hopefully things keep going well in that expect."
Grzelcyk added that the Bruins' veteran core has taken the lead in organizing the skates which are limited in their length and scope given the Phase 2 restrictions that require strict time constraints to fit in each group and prevent coaches from being on the ice.
"You expect to have a little rust and you know it's gonna be a challenge coming back," he said. "Some of the older guys have drawn up their own drills or maybe consulted with [skating and skills consultant Kim Brandvold] going into days. But we've had a good pace to it.
"We realized that you don't have a ton of time at the rink and you want to be respectful and leaving enough time to have the next group come in and everything be a safe environment for everyone to step back into. It's been fun to do different drills and twirl around for sure."
Tuukka Time is Near
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said on Monday that he was awaiting the results of his COVID-19 test, but that if it came back clean, he would begin skating on Wednesday as voluntary workouts continue at Warrior Ice Arena. Boston's ace netminder has been keeping busy during the NHL's pause as he and wife, Jasmiina, welcomed their third daughter earlier in April.
"I guess I should probably start skating a little bit if we're gonna start playing hockey," Rask quipped during a Town Hall with Bruins Kids Club members. "It's been kind of busy, a different kind of busy than I'm used to. But it's been good. Everyone's been staying healthy and trying to make the days go by as quickly as possible."
Should the season resume at some point this summer, Rask acknowledged that the Bruins' advantage - they were atop the NHL with 100 points at the time of the shutdown - may not be as defined.
"It's fun to be back playing, if that happens, but the layoff has been so long that I think everybody starts from zero at this point," said Rask. "I think our advantage that we might have had three months ago is gone. I think it will be exciting to have some closure for the season and crown a champion.
"We're definitely going to do whatever we can to be that team. It will be exciting to see the fans watching sports again and hopefully we can create that entertainment that they've been missing."
Video: Rask Answers Young Bruins Fans Questions on Zoom
A Growing Group
So far, the Bruins have had eight players take part in voluntary workouts at Warrior, including Grzelcyk, Bergeron, Marchand, Krug, Kuraly, Zdeno Chara, John Moore, and Par Lindholm. And it appears that, in addition to Rask, a few of their teammates could be joining them soon as Connor Clifton (New Jersey/New York) and Anders Bjork (Wisconsin) said during season ticket holder events in recent days that they will be returning to Boston this week.
"Been taking advantage of this rare family time," said Bjork, who has been training with his brother, Brady, and brother-in-law, Mark Van Guilder. "I'm in good spirits and excited to get back to Boston soon."
Video: Anders Bjork Plays Bingo With Kids Club Members