BOSTON - Ask anyone in the Bruins' dressing room to name the biggest reason for the team's success over the past two-plus seasons and you're likely to get a similar answer.
Time and again, the B's have relayed that their camaraderie off the ice, undoubtedly, translates to their triumphs on the ice. And it's moments like the one John Moore experienced this past summer that perfectly illustrate that special bond.
Following shoulder surgery in the aftermath of the Stanley Cup Final last June, Moore was recovering at his home from the first major procedure of his career when he received a special visit from some of his teammates. The blue liner, who managed to suit up for 10 games during Boston's run to the Final despite the dire state of his left shoulder, had his spirits buoyed by an endless line of Black & Gold brothers that included Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Sean Kuraly, Torey Krug, Chris Wagner, assistant equipment manager Matt Falconer, and the now-departed Noel Acciari.
"Wags barged through the door, my kids were going nuts. You can't put it into words. You remember what a journey it was…that meant a lot to me," Moore, pausing as his voice cracked, said of the support he's received from his teammates. It tests you.
"It was a long recovery. You learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about who's in your foxhole. I'm really happy that there's a shining light at the end of the tunnel for me."
It is that kind of support that helped the 29-year-old through what he described as a long and grueling process, which appears now to be nearing a conclusion. Some six months after his surgery, Moore is back practicing with his teammates - he skated alongside Matt Grzelcyk during Wednesday's session at Warrior Ice Arena - and could make his 2019-20 debut as early as Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"[Thursday] morning we'll make those decisions, who's going to go in," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "We want to make sure he got through a good practice today, a little more contact. If he's ready to go [on Thursday], then we'll have to make a decision whether he goes in or not and then a subsequent roster decision will probably have to be made depending on how many we guys we use."
Moore also singled out the support of fellow defenseman Kevan Miller, who has also been grinding through a difficult rehab process following a broken kneecap, which he re-injured while trying to get back for the Final last spring. Neither of them has played a game this season.
"He's someone that had the surgery that I had before. I bounced a lot of ideas off of him and he really looked out for me. I'll forever be grateful for him for that," said Moore. "It's been really hard, but I think it's been said by a lot of guys, it's a really special group in here and they do a good job of pulling you in and making you feel a part of it, even when your contribution is drinking a Gatorade in the weight room."
Video: John Moore Excited & Emotional As Comeback Approaches
On many days throughout the summer, it was something as small as lifting a bottle with his injured left arm that would be considered progress. With so little positivity to grasp at, Moore admitted it was almost as demanding to clear the mental hurdle.
"It's hard every day when your goal is to gain two degrees of raising your stick over your head," said Moore, who had 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 61 games during his first campaign with the Bruins. "To celebrate that takes a special mindset. You figure out how to surround yourself with the right people, the right rehab people.
"We're fortunate here being in Boston and with the Bruins, everything is first-class. I really didn't have to worry about that in terms of the treatment I was getting."
Moore took a major step in his recovery over the weekend when he was loaned to Providence for a conditioning stint. In his first game action since last spring, the former first-round pick picked up an assist and was a plus-2 in the P-Bruins' 4-0 win over Charlotte.
"I was so excited to go to the Bojangles' Coliseum and play in front of 400 people," Moore joked. "But I had no expectations. I wanted to get my feet under me. [Bruins GM Don Sweeney] asked if it was something that would interest me, and I jumped on it.
"I really wanted to play. I'm really happy I did that. [Providence coach Jay Leach] and the guys down there have a great team and they welcomed me with open arms. I had a lot of fun. It was first class from top to bottom. I'm really glad I got a game under my belt."
Now, the next - and final - step is being back on the ice for a National Hockey League game, when pulling the Spoked-B over his chest will, surely, feel as good as ever.
"This team's been really fun to watch. They've had nothing but success. It's been fun to see," Moore said of his teammates league-leading 20-3-5 record. "But when I get in, I want to make sure that I'm contributing to that. It's a good team. I'm gonna do whatever I can. Whatever that role is, I'm gonna work my hardest to try and contribute."
Wait, There's More
- Brett Ritchie has not played since Nov. 23 against Minnesota and has suited up for just four of the Bruins' last 16 contests because of an off-and-on infection in his elbow. The winger practiced with the team each of the last two days and said following Wednesday's session that he is feeling healthier. "I feel good now," said Ritchie. "Been skating pretty hard the last five days, so I feel back in game shape and ready to go…it was a little bit of bad luck I guess, a recurring injury. A pain in the butt, but we're over it now and I feel good."
- Patrice Bergeron had a maintenance day on Wednesday as he begins to ramp up in his recovery from a lower-body injury that has forced him to miss the last five games. He hit the ice on his own before Tuesday's morning skate and Cassidy said that the center should travel with the team next week. Bergeron will not play on Thursday against the Blackhawks, but will skate in the morning and is "getting closer," according to Cassidy.
- The Bruins, sitting at 20-3-5, have won eight games in a row and are riding a 12-game point streak. The eight-game win streak is the team's longest since a 12-gamer in March 2014.
- At 12-0-4 on Causeway Street, the B's are the only team in the NHL without a regulation loss on home ice.
- Boston reached the 20-win plateau in 28 games or fewer for the fifth time in franchise history. The other instances: 23 games in 1929-30; 27 in 1973-74; and 28 in 1938-39 and 1971-72.
Video: Cassidy Speaks to Media After Wednesday's Practice
Wednesday's Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand - Charlie Coyle - Danton Heinen
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - David Pastrnak
Anders Bjork - Sean Kuraly - Chris Wagner
Joakim Nordstrom - Par Lindholm - David Backes/Brett Ritchie
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
John Moore - Matt Grzelcyk
Steven Kampfer - Connor Clifton