Competition is nothing new to professional hockey players. You could, in fact, say that their life is based on competition.
But what if you are directly competing with a teammate?
Looking around the Ristuccia room on Monday following a "captain's practice" led by Bruins veterans, several members of the Boston organization chatted in their stalls and got reacquainted with their teammates.
Playful, verbal jabs were thrown by Mark Mowers. Zdeno Chara
worked out. Marc Savard
laughed. Tim Thomas
worked on his goalie equipment. And for a few moments the world was as it should be in the Hub of Hockey. But the boisterous mood in the locker room covered, for some, a very real sense of expectation and anticipation.
You see, to a man, almost every Boston Bruins player is in competition with the other players around them. While some might not be facing do-or-die situations, it's certain that ice time, line assignments and future paychecks are at stake during each and every on-ice minute -- no matter whether that minute happens in practice or during a game.
As a result, intensity gets taken up a notch when you are fighting for a place on an NHL roster, and it's no secret that several B's will fall into this category as training camp begins on September 13th. Although Boston plays several exhibition games this September, many players realize that their greatest competition during preseason might come from the skater sitting next to them in the locker room.
Mark Stuart, fully healed from an injury that cut his personal AHL playoff run short last season, knows he is in a dogfight and the hard working, square jawed, muscular defenseman surely seems ready for whatever comes his way.
"We're all buddies off of the ice," said Stuart. "Once you get on the ice, though, you are in competition.
"Each of us is competing with the other."
Talented fellow blue liner Matt Lashoff, a teammate of Stuart last season in Providence, and as laid back a person as you would ever meet, agreed with Mark, who is often called a "monster" in deference to his on-ice intensity.
"I think that's the toughest part," said a suddenly serious Lashoff of the intra squad fight for roster spots. "But at the end of the day that's the job.
"Hockey's a business and you have to put (friendship) aside on the ice and work hard.
"You are out there for a purpose," he said.
This year's edition of the Black & Gold, particularly those who played with the big club during the last campaign, know that they have a lot to prove to their patient and faithful fans. But before they get that privilege, they have to prove some things to the new coaching staff, too.
That is a tough enough task on its own, without putting the added pressure of "anxiety" into the mix. The players on the Boston bubble know that playing with a purpose means that you must know yourself very well and do the things you know how to do best, in order to succeed.
"I just come in here with a positive attitude," said forward Nate Thompson. "I want to play my game and do the things that make me effective as a hockey player.
"All the rest, I really can't control."
That is the one thing that all players strive for, but only a few ever actually gain it.
D-man Bobby Allen came out of Boston College having been drafted in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft and having been on a very, very successful team on the Heights. Six cities and several jerseys later, Allen knows that you can't focus on anything but working hard, a trait that earned him plenty of NHL ice at the end of the 2006-07 campaign and seemed to have stopped his hockey driven trek around North America in Boston.
"Nothing is guaranteed," cautioned Allen. "No matter how I did last year or what I did last year, I have to go out and prove myself again.
"The 30 or so games that I played, it really doesn't make a career, and I have to go out every year and prove to the Bruins and to other teams that I can still play."
Allen does not seem worried. He can't be, he just needs to focus.
"I knew it was going to be a battle," said Bobby. "Certainly, we have some great young defensemen in the system…but that just shows the depth of what Peter (Chiarelli) has going here.
"I am just going to work hard and see what happens."
Whatever happens, Allen, Lashoff, Stuart and Thompson know that they have support in the B's locker room.
"It's awesome just to be around the guys again," said Lashoff. "It's a good thing to be back and get in that mindset and prepare and have some fun."
And the competition?
"Off ice, everybody is the best of friends," he said, succinctly.
Stuart echoed his teammate.
"Exactly…you turn it off," said Mark. "Once you get off the ice, you are friends."
"We're playing hockey as a job," added Thompson. "It doesn't get much better than that.
"You have to have fun with it.
"You have to look at it as a challenge, not as a stressful thing," he said.
Allen took it a step further and intimated that perhaps everyone's biggest competition is actually staring back at him in the mirror.
"I can only control how I play," he said, "and that's what I worry about -- going out and having a solid camp.
"I wish the best for everybody -- especially the guys you are competing for jobs against, because in reality we are all really in this together…everybody is going to be called upon this year to help the team out and help the Bruins organization win.
"We're all one big family here," he said.
And what's a little competition between siblings, right?