BostonBruins.com - Bruce Cassidy felt about as much at home as he possible could have on Sunday evening.
As he settled into his room at Hotel X in Toronto - the Bruins' home base inside the NHL's secure zone - Boston's bench boss unpacked one of the items that will, no doubt, help him through what he hopes is a lengthy stay.
"My daughter [Shannon] and son [Cole] both made me little going away painting of encouragement," said Cassidy, the Jack Adams finalist, who hopes to guide the Bruins back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season.
Should they return to the Final, the Black & Gold will spend some 10 weeks between Toronto and Edmonton as the NHL resumes its 2019-20 season in a protected "bubble" after a nearly five-month shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Families will not be permitted to enter the hub cities until the conference finals, meaning the players and coaches will go anywhere from two to five weeks - and possibly longer - without seeing their loved ones in person depending on how deep they advance.
It is a significant - and painful - sacrifice, particularly in the midst of such uncertain times, but one that many of the players and staff understand, knowing how important it is to all of them to compete for a Stanley Cup.
"[I'm] really more excited than anything," said 27-year-old forward Sean Kuraly, who is single. "I got to spend some time with my family and brothers back in Ohio during quarantine. For a younger guy in the league, I'm just really excited to get going. Leaving home is something you have to do and we're all ready for it."
Video: Kuraly talks to media in Toronto on Monday
While it was certainly difficult to leave their families behind in Boston, the Bruins felt a sense of relief when they arrived in Toronto on Sunday evening. After weeks and months of anticipation and speculation, they were finally able to experiences firsthand what life would be like in the secure zone.
"For sure, we're relieved," said Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron. "There's a lot of unknown, like we've said many times, we don't know if this thing is gonna happen, when it's gonna happen. Obviously, the protocol in Phase 2, Phase 3, it was taking a lot of time, it kind of dragged - obviously happy we can get this thing going."
The Bruins had only been in Toronto for some 15 hours when they addressed the media on Monday morning ahead of their first practice north of the border, but the security and health protocols were evident. From health officers asking questions upon departing the plane, to the fences sealing off the hotel and surrounding areas, to the amenities provided for the players and staff, it was already clear how seriously the NHL has taken its Return to Play setting.
"It appears to be a very safe environment," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Obviously, we've only been here a short period of time, but looks like the NHL has done a great job of accommodating the teams that are here in terms of their spacing and what's available to them, the gym.
"Obviously, the meal situation is gonna be excellent, all the restaurants here. There's some entertainment options that will be available to the players that you wouldn't get at a typical hotel. I think that's all gonna work out fine."
The Bruins appeared to be taking advantage of the comforts of the Toronto bubble ahead of Monday's practice, with a large group choosing to relax at a large outdoor eating area as they waited for the team bus. In addition to a number of restaurants and food trucks, the teams will also have the opportunity to use BMO Field - home to Toronto FC of the MLS - and other outdoor spaces for extracurricular activities.
"Took a walk around the hotel and the area we have fenced off here. Plenty of space, plenty of room, seems like we have everything we need," said Kuraly. "I don't see any areas where we're looking for something we don't have…there's plenty of space. It's been a great set up."
Video: McAvoy brings us along on his trip to the bubble
After weeks of having to spend as little time at the rink as possible during Phases 2 (voluntary workouts) and 3 (training camp), the B's can finally get back to some team bonding, whether it be outside, in the team meal room, or the players' lounge, which includes gaming stations, ping pong, and other activities.
"The first two phases you had to kind of stay away from guys and try to stay home as much as possible and respect all the guidelines," said Bergeron. "When you're in the bubble - obviously you still wear masks around - but to be close to the guys, it's just us.
"It's really just us focused on what's at stake, why we're here, basically, is something we're all looking forward to and excited about. Looking forward to getting on the ice and moving things along and being together as a team."
Over the course of the next few weeks, the Bruins will certainly need their share of mental reprieves as they battle through what is sure to be another grueling postseason run - a grind they must go through far from the confines of home and the comforts of family.
Ultimately, though, the Bruins are hungry to cap off some unfinished business. Another shot at the Stanley Cup is on the line, and as the games begin, they're expecting things to eventually feel a bit more normal.
"We just need to get on the ice and get playing and the bubble life will be like being on the road, just on a permanent road trip," said Cassidy. "Sometimes that can be a positive, the guys can be close together, they haven't been much lately…you've got to look at the positives.
"We're here for one reason and that's to win the Stanley Cup. That will be in the back and front of everyone's mind the whole time you're here. You need to decompress at times, and I think the hotel's offered us good opportunities to do that.
"Players will do that in different fashions, and I trust our guys will be ready when it's time to go to work."
Video: Cassidy talks to media on first full day in Toronto