Even for the most seasoned veterans in Boston’s prospect pool, saying goodbye at the conclusion of a week well spent was bittersweet.
“It was a blast — it went fast,” said defenseman Rob O’Gara. “It was a shorter week [than normal], but a bigger group of guys. I guess you almost have less time to get to know everyone. Once you get your first couple of camps under your belt, it’s more about enjoying it and embracing it and getting to know these guys, and I guess you have less time to do that in a short week like this, but it was great.”
This year’s camp certainly was different from those in years past, partly because it was commandeered, for the first time, by second-year Bruins Development Coach Jay Pandolfo as incoming General Manager Don Sweeney settled into his new role.
Sweeney, the customary development camp leader, said Pandolfo didn’t miss a single beat.
“I was really excited about turning the page and looking forward to this week, and I don’t think Jay and his staff and his direction for the camp disappointed, in any regard,” he said. “I think [Friday’s] scrimmage and stuff really highlighted a lot of things during the course of the week that we were hoping to see come out, and guys had fun.
“I think the week was a big success.”
This year’s camp featured a 37-man roster, an unusually large number of players, but that didn’t stop Pandolfo from planning a successful and informative week, on and off the ice.
“He had an idea of the direction he wanted to take some of the things, and you have to give a person like that latitude to go out and see how he wants to see his own vision of how a camp will continually evolve,” Sweeney said.
While much of the focus during the course of development camp is on the on-ice sessions, plenty of the lessons these players remember from these camps stems from what they learn off the ice. They learn what it takes to be a professional hockey player. They learn how to build relationships with team personnel and with each other.
That being said, though, there were still several players proved especially impressive throughout the camp’s four on-ice sessions. Sweeney mentioned 2015 first-rounder Zach Senyshyn, NCAA free agent acquisition Colby Cave and recently-signed 2013 pick Anton Blidh among those who stood out.
But by week’s end, each and every player in attendance took something away from the camp because each and every one of them learned something, and that, of course, is the goal of development camp. The goal is to teach, and to help these young players grow.
“There’s a lot of teaching; it was a real teaching environment, which is what Jay wanted to be consistent with, as to what our approach has been in the past,” Sweeney said. “He wanted to carry that forward. I think he did a good job.”
O’Gara, who wrapped up his fifth camp this summer and will head back to Yale for his senior season this fall, took special notice of many of the same players as Sweeney, particularly after the on-ice portion of camp ended with a 4-on-4 open format scrimmage.
“Zach Senyshyn today — he had a heck of a day,” O’Gara said. “These guys are all talented. … You see it on 4-on-4 — it’s tough, especially when you’re playing one D, three forwards. It’s a fast-paced game, a lot of ice, but you see guys are able to slow it down, and it’s impressive, and you see where you have to be and where you can be.
“It’s exciting and a lot of fun.”
Goaltender Zane McIntyre has seen plenty of talent filter through these camps — this year’s was his sixth, a record for a Bruins prospect. But still, even five years after being selected by the Bruins in the sixth round of the 2010 Draft, McIntyre finds himself impressed by the wealth of talent on the ice alongside him.
“You look at all these guys here, from the guys drafted first round through sixth round, seventh round, and even the free agents as well — there’s tons of great talent here,” McIntyre said. “I think it just goes to show how much time and effort the brass in this organization really puts in every year to bring in new talent and to push for spots with their talent they bring in.”
One of those people expected to push for a spot on the NHL roster this fall is McIntyre himself. Following his third season at North Dakota and a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Frozen Four, McIntyre signed an entry-level deal with Boston and will attend training camp. As it stands, the backup goaltending spot is wide open. Last year’s AHL goaltending tandem, Malcolm Subban and Jeremy Smith, are also expected to contend for the role.
But it could be McIntyre’s for the taking.
“Somebody has to step up and grab that role, and Zane’s confident that he wants to,” Sweeney said. “I’m sure Malcolm is, and I’m sure Jeremy is as well. That’s healthy.
“It’s a bit of an unknown for us, so that’s an area that I’m going to continue to look at — whether it’s a little more experience, or whether or not you do allow a person to emerge in that regard. But I think Zane’s confident in his abilities. It’s a big leap; I think he’d be the first to tell you it’s a big leap. But bottom line is, when you stop pucks, people notice. So we’ll see where that goes.”
Last season — during which he was named one of three finalists for the 2015 Hobey Baker Award and received the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s top goaltender — McIntyre continued to evolve as a netminder. He kept working at it during this year’s camp, spending substantial on-ice time under the tutelage of Bruins Goaltending Coach Bob Essensa, and he is hoping that it pays off once camp opens.
“I think [I’m] mostly working on my post play — post integration and stuff like that — where I can maybe use different techniques at different times, and in specific situations,” McIntyre said. “And just being able to get comfortable with that, kind of set a foundation as we move forward into the pro ranks.”
From here, McIntyre will head back to North Dakota, where he’ll continue to work out at school. He will also spend some time working with a goaltending specialist in the St. Paul area, until it is time to return to Boston at the end of the summer for his first pro season.
O’Gara is still at least a year away from being in McIntyre’s shoes, but he intends on savoring every last moment of his college hockey career. He talks often about the experience of winning the NCAA national title as a freshman at Yale, and now, he has his sights set on another one to bookend his time as a Bulldog.
In that respect, he said, he is grateful that he was able to spend a week at development camp, to remind himself of what he must do to continue improving, continue evolving and continue achieving.
“That’s what you get every year when you’re here — you see where you have to be, and these guys are going to tell it to you how it is,” he said. “It’s an eye-opener, even [in] the fifth year — you can’t plateau. I was talking to [Strength & Conditioning] Coach [John] Whitesides — you can’t become stagnant. You’ve got to always keep going.
“Going back home, [it’s] just really [about] pounding the gym and moving the weights and staying on the ice, staying conditioned, staying flexible, and managing any injuries. Just being smart and being ready for next year because hopefully, we’re going to make a long run.
“That’s the plan. You’ve got to be ready for that.”