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'Somebody Has to Step Up'

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — Last year, Boston’s defensive corps had to learn quickly how to deal with adversity.

This year, they will have to put it into practice again.

On Wednesday morning, Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced that Dennis Seidenberg will undergo surgery on Thursday to repair a lumber spine disc herniation.

At the start of training camp almost one week ago, Sweeney termed Seidenberg day-to-day with an injury, but on Wednesday, he said Seidenberg felt it was best to move forward with the surgery now and get a jump on his recovery prior to the start of the regular season.

“It’s definitely a setback, first and foremost, from Dennis’s standpoint,” Sweeney said. “He’s worked hard. He came back from a [torn] ACL last year and has a setback, which we hope being identified fairly early in camp, trying to get some rest to let it calm down — wasn’t able to do that. [We’ve] got a couple weeks ahead of the season to have the surgery done and get the healing well underway.

“So it’s definitely a setback. It’s obviously an opportunity for the other guys we were evaluating anyway amongst our D core, and we’ll go from there.”

Though Seidenberg has not been able to participate in any formal preseason practices or games, he did skate in several captains’ practices leading up to the Sept. 17 opening of training camp. Sweeney reiterated on Wednesday that the veteran defenseman sustained the injury during his own offseason training and first reported it to the training staff on Monday, Sept. 21.

“You know what? He apologized,” Sweeney said. “Again, it’s not something he had hoped would happen to himself, first and foremost. And he’s a proud guy and a team member, and he takes that to heart. So he was apologetic, and said he’ll do what he can to get back, and that’s what you appreciate in a guy who cares.”

Ever since being named GM in May, Sweeney has been hard at work trying to produce the best lineup he possibly can. This turn of events doesn’t change that. The approach is still the same: Ice the best possible team.

“Based on what [Seidenberg’s] surgery results will be this week, we’ll go from there,” Sweeney said. “The process already started; it hasn’t stopped, to tell you the truth, about talking to players that may be a good fit for us relative to, as I said, the ongoing assessment of the players we have and whether or not they can fill the gap, be it however many games that’s going to be.”

The injury marks another unfortunate break for Seidenberg, whose 2013-14 season was cut short by a torn ACL.

“He’s had a tough go there for a couple of years with some injuries, and missed a lot of time, and now, before he even can start it, he hurts his back like that,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask. “So hopefully, he comes back stronger and it doesn’t take him too long to recover. He’s a big piece in our D core.”

More than anything, Seidenberg provided stability to a blueline that is expected to be very young entering the 2015-16 season.

“We all know that he’s a big, strong, steady, physical guy, and he brings that stability to the back end that you can always count on,” said captain Zdeno Chara. “You know what you can expect from him. He just brings that steadiness, and he’s just a guy that can contribute on the power play, PK, obviously even strength in the crucial situations of the game.”

The Bruins entered training camp with a number of young defensemen — among them, trade acquisition Colin Miller and Providence mainstay Joe Morrow — gunning for a spot on the opening day roster. Given Seidenberg’s injury, there is even more of an opportunity for those players to step up.

“It’s got to be the same approach: You try and come in and just compete night in and night out, just like Seids would, and nothing changes — somebody’s going to have to step up,” said defenseman Zach Trotman. “All of us are going to have to step up. But our goal is still the same.”

In addition to the greener players hoping to break into the lineup, there is a renewed opportunity on the table for candidates like Matt Irwin, a veteran who entered this camp with the intention of carving out a role for himself.

“As a group, we’ve got to find a way to fill that void,” Irwin said. “[There’s] more opportunity for individuals to step up and play a little bit more of a role.

“We’ve got a lot of D that are capable of playing. Every one of us can play at this level, and it’s good to push each other in practice and in games to be the best you can be, leave the impression on the coach, do your best and see where it falls. A lot of us bring different intangibles to the game, and when you’re out there and you’re getting the opportunity, you’ve just got to take advantage of it.”

Since the day training camp opened, every player gunning for a spot has said that he welcomes competition. Every one of them has said that competition brings out the best in all of them. It forces them to bring everything they have not only in game action, but every day in practice as well.

Now that another spot has opened up on this blueline, the competition just got far more intense.

“The internal competition is huge,” Irwin said. “Everyone’s competing for spots, for roles on the team, doing what they do that makes them successful, but at the same time, you just go out and play your game, worry about yourself, help the team win, and let the chips fall where they may.”

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