BostonBruins.com - Nick Ritchie spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with the Anaheim Ducks. The 2014 first-round pick was used to a certain level of familiarity and routine.
All of that changed in an instant at the end of February when the Ontario native was shipped across the country to Boston in exchange for Bruins winger Danton Heinen. Suddenly, Ritchie was leaving the only professional organization he'd known for the best team in the National Hockey League.
"It got me really excited, got to go to a first-place team. We were just starting to get going and get close to playoffs and this hit. It has been really weird, but I guess that's life," Ritchie said during a video conference on Wednesday afternoon.
The 'this' Ritchie was referring to is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put the NHL on pause since March 12, halting the winger's transition after just seven games in Black & Gold. It goes without saying that the tumult of the last two-plus months has been far from anything the 24-year-old could have envisioned.
"It has been strange," said Ritchie. "The season was rolling along fine, got traded - wasn't expecting it…[now I'm] back home at this time and not playing hockey."
There has been an increased optimism in recent days that the 2019-20 could resume at some point this summer, but for now Ritchie is enjoying his time away from the rink. He has been at his family's farm in Ontario, joining his parents and brother, Brett - who was with the Providence Bruins at the time of the pause - in caring for their horses.
"I've been quarantined here, doing stuff around the farm, working out most days," Ritchie said of his daily routine. "Just running, and I have some weights here…it's a horse farm so I've been helping with the horses a little bit.
"[Our parents] are happy to have us home and helping out a little bit…it's nice to have people around during this time that you can spend time with. We've spent a lot of time together for sure."
Video: Nick Ritchie And His Horse Check In During Quarantine
Ritchie did not have the luxury of spending much time with his new teammates upon his arrival. He had been in Boston for just over two weeks when play was suspended, throwing a wrench into his ability to fully integrate himself.
"It's been tough," said Ritchie. "I was there for just a little time, didn't get to know everybody like everyone else knows each other. That kind of [stunk] that the pause happened. But we've been having talks once a week on Zoom…just feels like you're back in the locker room for an hour. That's all we can do right now. It's been pretty good."
Trying to build chemistry virtually is certainly not ideal, but Ritchie hopes that when and if the season continues, he'll be able to pick up where he left off without many obstacles.
"I think it's gonna be a challenge for everybody, maybe a little more in my case," said Ritchie, who has also leaned on his brother for tips on playing in Boston. "I was there long enough where I got to at least meet everybody and talk to everybody. A lot of the systems in the NHL are very similar from team to team. I don't think it's as big of an adjustment as people think.
"Just an adjustment playing with new players. Everyone's a good hockey player so it's pretty easy to adapt. There will be an adjustment, but I think everyone will have an adjustment once we come back."
The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder played with both Charlie Coyle and David Krejci during his seven-game stint, picking up a goal and an assist, while adding a bit more strength and physicality on the left side, two assets that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney had in mind when he made the deal on Feb. 24.
"Had a good opportunity to play with both of those guys a few games each," said Ritchie. "Obviously different players, but both smart centermen that like to have the puck and make plays. Wasn't too hard of an adjustment playing with them. Some small sample sizes, but I think there's been some good things and obviously more chemistry to develop when we start playing here."
Video: Nick Ritchie Addresses Media During NHL Pause
Ritchie also saw some extended time with Ondrej Kase - who came to Boston from Anaheim via trade just three days earlier - as Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy tried to capitalize on their familiarity. The former Ducks leaned on each other during their transition and have continued to stay in touch throughout the pause.
"We've been talking. I actually talked him [on Tuesday] a little," said Ritchie. "I've talked to him a few times since this started and we went our separate ways. Back to when we first came over, we were talking for a couple weeks about the difference and got each other through it. I think it was really nice having someone who came from the same team and you're kind of going through the same kind of process with a new team and a first-place team.
"It's really helped that way. We've learned a lot even in those couple weeks and we're still learning even though we're not there."
As such, Ritchie believes that this downtime could actually benefit him if the team does reconvene.
"Maybe this time off will help me as well, the long traveling, coming from Anaheim, the time change, all that stuff in the middle of the season," said Ritchie. "A rude awakening, all that kind of stuff. Maybe that will help when we come back knowing that I'm a Boston Bruin and just leave it out there."