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Out of Their Comfort Zones

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON, MA – The second day of Development Camp at Ristuccia Arena may have started in a similar fashion as Day 1 physically – with a team huddle at center ice and end-to-end shooting drills (not to mention forward Justin Courtnall being the first to hit the ice for the second day in a row) – but mentally, the B’s prospects were called upon to find a different gear.

The Program
The Program was first introduced at the B's 2010 Development Camp.

Even following Thursday night’s rigorous team-building with “The Program” at the beach (which John Bishop talks about in-depth here), the intensity set on Day 1 remained. In the first on-ice session, campers were led through drills that included puck battles, quick transitions up ice and crashing the net, before an hour of power skating took place.

“Well, physically they actually looked like they moved fine today and they worked equally hard in both sessions,” said Bruins Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney.

“You know, mentally you could see right away when they got on the ice, it took a little bit. The first couple drills, Butch [Cassidy] was kind of scratching his head saying , ‘Uh-oh, how much did we leave on the beaches yesterday?’”

The Bruins staff planned the start time for practice half an hour later, hoping the players would realize that they could take a moment to recharge after Thursday night’s test of mental toughness.

“But after they got going, they realized there’s more in the tank and I think that was part of the exercise yesterday,” Sweeney added. “A lot of times it becomes the mental part of it. It’s not necessarily the physical part. At 18-19 years-old, it shouldn’t be.”

By taking the prospects out of their comfort zones both on and off the ice, physically and mentally, they learn to adapt and, in turn, become more comfortable with their development as future Bruins.

One of the prospects that Sweeney has seen improve by being thrust into different situations is 2011 fifth-round draft pick, defenseman Robbie O’Gara.

“Yesterday’s team-building exercises, he jumped out to lead one of them, which you never would of seen last year,” said the B’s assistant GM. “So that, to me, speaks volumes as to how comfortable he’s getting in terms of what he knows are the expectations in front of him. So that’s good.”

Sweeney commented on the progression of another 2011 draft pick, forward Brian Ferlin, saying that though the B’s brass often compares prospects with NHL players internally, the Development Camp setting helps players like Ferlin stand out in their own regard.

“In this environment, we want Brian to be who Brian’s going to be and be comfortable with what he’s bringing to the table.”

By pushing their bodies and minds to the limits throughout camp, the rookies build individual confidence while learning to work as a team - which often translates to the camaraderie engrained in the current Bruins' locker room.

That teamwork can be showcased in numerous ways during the week, whether through strenuously completing “The Program” together, supporting each other with cheers and stick taps during power skating – like when Ryan Spooner got a roar from his teammates for making his way through a tough edge-work drill – or staying on the ice after practice to feed each other one-timers, as did Tommy Cross, Seth Griffith and Alexander Khokhlachev.

For the Bruins staff, the evaluation process is as much about character as the players’ talents.

“I think the intent is to bring these kids in and really get to know them,” said Sweeney.

“That’s the ideal situation, kind of knowing, ‘How do they feel with the group dynamic off the ice as well as on the ice?’ And seeing if the skill set that they have blends with that.”

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