The following feature is running as part of BostonBruins.com’s #ProspectTBT series, highlighting current Bruins and their paths to the NHL, including key markers like the NHL Entry Draft and the Boston Bruins Development Camp.
BOSTON – When Tuukka Rask
arrived in Boston as a gangly 19-year-old, he was being billed as one of the hottest goaltending prospects in the world.
He was coming off of two stellar seasons for Ilves of the Finnish Elite League and many believed an extremely bright future was ahead of him.
But Rask had never before played in North America. He was not used to the different style of play – and culture – that defines hockey in the United States and Canada.
So when the native of Savonlinna, Finland, arrived for his first Bruins Development Camp in July of 2007, a major wake-up call was in store.
“As a European player it was the first real experience of North American hockey and the style of working out, and hockey on and off the ice,” Rask recalled earlier this month.
“I never really experienced anything like it. It was in the middle of the summer, I was not in my best shape – you can ask [Strength and Conditioning] Coach [John] Whitesides.
“It was an eye-opening experience, for sure, to see a lot of guys competing for the jobs. Everybody was in top shape and you know how much work you have to put into it in order to stand a chance.”
Rask quickly realized what he had to do if he someday wanted to don the Black & Gold. And just four months later, he made his NHL debut for the Bruins against the Toronto Maple Leafs – the team that drafted him – in a 4-2 victory.
Nine years have passed since then, and during that time Rask has developed into one of the NHL’s top goaltenders.
He has won the Vezina Trophy. He has been an All-Star. He has led his team to a Stanley Cup Final. He was an important role player on the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup championship team.
And it all began with his work at that 2007 Development Camp.
After being traded to Boston from Toronto for fellow goalie Andrew Raycroft in June of 2006, Rask spent another year in Finland before coming to North America. Shortly after wrapping up his season with Ilves, Rask arrived in Boston for the inaugural Development Camp.
“It seems like a while ago, for sure,” said Rask. “We often talk about it with Whitesides and a couple other guys who have been here for as along as I have – Adam [McQuaid] and Brad [Marchand] and David Krejci.
“Fun memories, for sure. Those development camps – I think we were the first group to have it – it was very hard for us because there was barely any rest, but it was a good time. It’s fun to remember the old days.”
It was where the current core of Bruins first came together and began to mesh.
“I think we’ve had a luxury,” said Rask. “Look at Bergy [Patrice Bergeron], he’s been around since he was 18 – 10 or 11 years now. He’s seen a lot. But then you’ve got myself, Krejci, Marchy, Quaider. We’ve kind of been together ever since the start and have that core group.
“It’s important to have that because we’re trying to be the players to show the up-and-coming guys how things are done here and keep the bar high.”
Over his first two professional seasons, Rask played just five games with Boston, while dressing as the backup netminder for another 21. He spent the majority of his time in Providence, where he posted a 50-33-6 record.
“We had a great group of guys [in Providence] both years,” said Rask. “The first year we had a lot of veteran guys. We had a lot of fun. The good thing about the minors is you really come together as a group. You spend a lot of time with the guys outside the hockey rink because all the boys are younger and don’t have families like in the NHL. It was great.”
During the 2009-10 season, Rask made the transition to a permanent spot with Boston. He appeared in 45 games for the Bruins, with a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage – which both led the NHL – and finished seventh in the Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in the Calder Trophy balloting.
That success led to Rask signing his first one-way contract for the 2010-11 season. It was then that Rask truly felt like he had made it.
Winning the Stanley Cup that season probably helped a bit, too.
“It was kind of like you knew you had a solid chance to start with the big club,” said Rask, who played in 29 games as Tim Thomas’ backup, posting an 11-14-2 record with a 2.67 GAA.
“The first few years prior to that I had had good camps and played some good games, but never really stuck around for a full season, I was bouncing up and down.”
Rask has not looked back since. The native of Savonlinna, Finland, became the Bruins starting goaltender in 2012-13 and that season led Boston to the Stanley Cup Final against Chicago.
The following year, he was named an All-Star and won the Vezina Trophy, after posting a 2.04 GAA and .930 save percentage, with a league-leading seven shutouts. This past season, Rask went 31-22-8 with a 2.56 GAA and a .915 save percentage in 64 games.
“As you grow older, you learn things in life and from the game too,” said Rask. “I think as a hockey player I’ve had a luxury of playing with some veteran guys, as well as many other young guys in the organization.
“If you just keep your eyes and ears open you’re going to suck a lot of information in. That’s been a great part of my progress.”
Just ask Coach Whitesides.
The 2016 Boston Bruins Development Camp, presented by AT&T, will take place from July 12-15, at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass. All on-ice sessions are open to the public, with the camp’s roster to be announced at a later date. For the latest information on current Bruins prospects, bookmark BostonBruins.com/prospects.