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Rask Recharged

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON, Mass. - While it has been an offseason of change for the Black and Gold, some things never change - like Tuukka Rask pulling out stops on the ice and his teammates jokingly erupting into cheers during practice when they are able put pucks past him.

Such has been the case at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass., where a small group of Bruins have started gathering for informal practices led by Captain Zdeno Chara. The first skate took place on Monday, Aug. 31.

The tone is relaxed, though there is no shortage of competition.

There’s an air of optimism around this time of year. Players start returning and new teammates meet. There are no losses yet, just wins yet to come.

Rask was especially upbeat and smiling after Tuesday’s informal skate, when he spoke with local reporters in the locker room.

Nearly five months have passed since the team’s disappointing end to the season. This Rask was much different than the frustrated one who spoke back in April.

“After the season, I spent about three, four weeks here, so there was plenty of time to think about what happened,” said Rask. “You know, you talk with different people about different things and then when I go home [to Finland], it’s July and you don’t really think about hockey.”

“It’s just reload and recharge the batteries.”

That recharging could have taken longer than usual for the Bruins netminder, who played a career-high 70 games in 2014-15, the most by a Bruins goaltender in more than 50 years.

“I don’t take notes and see how I feel after the season every day, but I didn’t think that it took any longer than usually,” said Rask. “I mean, I’m sure it did, but I just didn’t pay attention to it, because I was just focused on getting my mind rested and hanging out with the family.”

While the mind rested, so did his body, but not for too long.

“I just had my back a little sore at the end of the season, that was about the only thing I had physically,” he said. “I mean, other than that, I felt good and recovering didn’t take too long. I take maybe a week or two off, not doing any working out or anything like that, but right after that, I start doing all kinds of stuff - running, tennis, lift and what not, so it didn’t take too long.”

The netminder has now been back in Boston for about a month, working out and skating. He started hitting the ice a bit earlier than usual, with the Bruins lengthy break stretching all the way back to mid-April.

“I think you always want to play, but then again, you enjoy your family and your friends and your time off the ice, that’s always good, too,” said Rask.

With informal practices starting and the opening of training camp now about two weeks away, the mindset has started shifting back to hockey for those in the Spoked-B.

A rested and recharged Rask isn’t thinking about playing 70 games this season, but as is usually the case with the elite goaltender, he’ll never say he’s not up for the challenge if called upon.

If it needs to happen, he’ll at least know how to handle it mentally.

“Obviously, you know, last year I had a lot of games in a row and you always try to stay fresh, even though you play a lot of games so I think that wears you down more,” said Rask. “But if it’s going to be 70 games again, that’s what it’s going to be and you just have to manage the rest.”

Other than the possibility of a lesser workload for 2015-16, there won’t be much changing about Rask. The changes will be happening around him.

Who will his backup goaltender be? What will the defense look like? With new faces coming in up front, how will the lines shake out? Will they be more aggressive and better in transition?

The 2015-16 Bruins will be much different than those who suited up in Black and Gold even two years ago.

“We were so lucky that things really didn’t change for us, and we got used to it,” said Rask. “And when they change, it’s kind of a big deal just because we’re not used to it.”

The likes of Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton, Reilly Smith, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Matt Bartkowski, Carl Soderberg and Rask’s former backup Niklas Svedberg will no longer be in the locker room.

"Obviously it’s going to be different because you’ve got new faces and you kind of have to recreate that team chemistry, and I think sometimes it’s good to kind of get the fresh start and new guys and kind of start from scratch," said Rask. "So we’ll see what’s going to play out."

Forwards Jimmy Hayes, Matt Beleskey and Zac Rinaldo have entered the fold.

The latter two - Beleskey and Rinaldo - have both settled in Boston and are taking part in practices. That friendly goalie-shooter banter has already begun between Rask and the newcomers.

“You know what, I wasn’t really - I mean, obviously we were expecting changes - but nobody was expecting more or less, and I think you knew something was going to happen, but at least we were just prepared for the worst,” Rask said, of expecting majors offseason changes.

“We lost a few guys, a good few friends and front office staff, so it’s the nature of the business and it doesn’t really affect us - we just have to focus on our game and the stuff we do here.”

Right now, that focus consists of getting ready for the season and getting to know his new teammates.

Judging by the interactions on the ice, that seems to be off to a good start.

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