BOSTON - The 23 players headed to China to play in the O.R.G. China Games against Calgary reported to Warrior Ice Arena bright and early on Tuesday, September 11, which officially marked the beginning of the 2018-19 season for the Boston Bruins.
Due to the China trip, the Bruins' preseason schedule is more disjointed than in year's past. The group overseas, which includes head coach Bruce Cassidy, will play two preseason games against the Flames before returning to Boston on September 20. The contingent remaining stateside, including General Manager Don Sweeney, will have two preseason games against the Washington Capitals in that time period. Despite the seperation, the Bruins staff has been working to make camp as seamless as possible.
"They'll have two complete days off when they do come back," said Sweeney. "…There's no question that you feel a bit divided in that you're trying to run parallel camps in separate parts of the world. The coaches have done a great job in trying to simulate what's going to happen there versus what's going to happen here. We will be in lockstep in that regard."
One situation that will take some navigating is evaluating players in this time frame to fill the few open roster spots.
"I can't see half the players," said Cassidy. "We tried to break it up so that some of the competitive spots, those kids would be going to China, but that's not the case with every player. Some of them that are left behind. We'll have to rely on Joe [Sacco]."
Video: McQuaid Traded, Team Departs for China
While the trip will be a tremndous cultural opportunity, Cassidy's top priority remains putting together as competive a team as possible.
"We have our allotted amount of ice time, and we've got to make sure we take advantage of that, the proper teaching and the proper work," said Cassidy. "And then the evaluation comes for the players. Some of the guys going over there are established hockey players, so they're going over there to get themselves ready for October 3rd. There's another group of guys that want to be here October 3rd, so they have to understand that for them the focus has to be a little bit more on hockey probably less on visiting a foreign country."
When the China group returns, there will be one week of camp remaining before the regular season, which will be a perfect opportunity for the groups to come together.
"Sometimes what happens during training camp is that last week drags because guys are tired and want to get started," said Cassidy. "For us, it might be the opposite. They're going to be together as a team probably for the first time, so we should be able to get a good week of work in that last week of training camp."
Video: B's pack up for NHL China Games
The team will travel approximately 16,007 in the nine days they're gone. While the 12-hour time difference will take some adjusting, the emphasis amongst the team is more on the new experiences and memories they'll make together.
"It's halfway across the world, literally," said forward David Backes. "I'm looking at it as a great opportunity to A, see that side of the world and B, spend some great time with my teammates and bond through those experiences and, not to be lost in the fold, get geared into training camp, play some exhibition games against Calgary."
The Bruins and partner O.R.G. Packaging have scheduled activities and excursions for the players on off days, including a trip to the Great Wall of China
"The good is that they get to see another culture, another part of the world," said Cassidy. "There'll be organized activities, other days they'll have some free time… I think that the travel part will wear on guys, there's no doubt, but once you've been there and done it I think most guys will be happy they went, to visit, the opportunity."
And at the end of the day, the players will simply be doing what they do best: play hockey.
"Once we get adjusted it doesn't matter if we're playing in Canada, China, the U.S.," said Tuukka Rask. "The ice surface is the same. We're just trying to grow the game and bring it to people who normally don't get to see us live. It's definitely unique. We're trying to go out there and have fun and get ready for our upcoming season. It's a fun country."
Krejci Out, Cave In
Sweeney announced Monday, September 10, that David Krejci would not be joining the team in China, as previously planned, due to a visa issue, and 26-year-old Colby Cave joins the team overseas in his absence. Without Krejci, the group is without a veteran center, which will provide the three players competing for the vacant third-line spot - Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Jack Studnicka - more of an opportunity to separate themselves.
Despite the last-minute announcement, Cassidy is hoping to make the most of the change.
"Well, the good news is that the young centermen are going to get plenty of opportunity to play against good players," said Cassidy, "And that's also the bad news because we're going to find out if they're going to be ready for it. It would've been nice to maybe have one veteran guy, but that's part of preseason."