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Veterans Eager to Take Charge as Development Camp Kicks Off

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — It’s not your typical summer camp, but when all your friends arrive on the first night and you’re gearing up for another few days’ worth of fun, it sure feels like it — even though it’s Development Camp, and even though it only lasts a mere five days.

You wouldn’t know it, though, by the friendships that have formed among some of the Bruins’ longtime campers.

“I mean, really, I’ve only spent four weeks with Zane [McIntyre] my whole life, and I feel like he’s one of my good friends,” said five-time participant and Yale defenseman Rob O’Gara. “It’s fun to see those guys.”

On Monday, as they filtered into the city of Boston to prepare for the first on-ice session of development camp, each and every veteran mentioned the fellow Bruins prospects they couldn’t wait to see. Friendships in the hockey world form fast, and they’re long-lasting.

There’s no better evidence than this group of campers.

“It’s kind of a little family reunion — basically every year, you come back in the summers,” McIntyre said. “Hockey’s a small world, as we’ve talked about with all of our buddies. You make so many connections, [and] a bunch of the college guys, you play with and against throughout the whole career, too.

“That will be fun to kind of throw little jabs here and there, I guess,” he added with a grin. “That’ll be fun.”

Development camp isn’t all about friendships formed and memories made. It’s about being a sponge, taking in everything you can over the course of five short days, getting to know an NHL team’s coaches and staff, learning what it takes to be a professional.

But that being said, part of camp is about those friendships and those relationships. A big part.

“I know my first year, I was really nervous and it was just very overwhelming,” said four-time camper Matt Benning, a Northeastern defenseman who spent his 2014-15 season playing against fellow prospects such as Ryan Fitzgerald and Matt Grzelcyk. “I kind of leaned on the older guys at that time to kind of give me some advice and kind of tell me what goes on and stuff like that.

“A couple [younger] guys have come up to me and kind of asked me how it goes, and I know that when I was a young guy, I appreciated that, and I’m just trying to help everyone out.”

This year’s camp features 37 prospects and a disparate mix of wily veterans and wide-eyed newcomers. All are equally excited about the opportunity awaiting them in Boston in the next few days.

And those wily veterans are particularly excited because though they were once those wide-eyed newbies, they have learned, over the course of several summers, to be the leaders. They have learned to take the reigns and show the new prospects what it takes to impress, and what it takes to succeed.

Sure, they look forward to the on-ice portion of development camp. But just as much, they look forward to the opportunity it presents to mentor their younger counterparts.

“It’s a great experience, especially for the younger guys,” O’Gara said. “I think as you go to more camps, your role is getting those guys through the week and making them more comfortable, and showing them what a week in the shoes of a prospect really is. My first year, seeing guys like Tommy Cross and those guys really guiding us through the week and sort of being wide-eyed and like, ‘Wow, these guys are great’ — and then finally being in their shoes — it’s a whole different experience.

“But for the younger guys, I think there’s a lot to take from this week.”

As O’Gara said, camp can be overwhelming for some of those 17 and 18-year-old kids who are participating for the first time. There is lots to do, lots to keep up with. There are daily on-ice sessions, there are seminars with nutritionists and strength coaches, there are daily activities — rowing on the Charles River and bowling at Kings among them — that leave the players exhilarated yet exhausted by day’s end.

That’s where the vets come in. That’s where they set the example, and the tone.

“My first year, I was like a deer in the headlights — like, ‘What’s going on? I’ve got to be here, I’ve got to be there…’” O’Gara said. “But now, I wouldn’t say [I’m] more relaxed, but you’re more comfortable. You know what’s going on, and you can take that leadership role. And whether it’s blowing up a raft on a beach or running around [Thompson Island] last year, you can take that leadership role and really embrace the opportunities, and you’re not hesitant.

“I think that’s the biggest difference, and something I look forward to this year again.”

He looks forward to that — and another activity on the agenda. A trip to a certain concert is planned for one night later in the week.

“[Fellow prospect] Frank DiChiara — he didn’t know who U2 was,” O’Gara said with a laugh. “I’m really looking forward to that. That’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Of course, the on-ice sessions will still carry more weight than anything else. The on-ice sessions are where the prospects — particularly the veterans — have the opportunity to demonstrate their growth, their potential.

For a goaltender like McIntyre — a record six-time development camp participant who agreed to terms on an entry-level contract with Boston last month — those sessions present an enormous opportunity before he enters his first rookie camp this fall.

“Obviously, [the Bruins] are very familiar with myself over the past six years — it’s been a while,” he said. “But I think the biggest thing is now that we’re ready to take that step, and take that big leap, and really go just full speed ahead, I think there’s obviously different things in my game — whether it be certain situations like deflections, tips, screens — numerous things that I certainly need to work on going up and going throughout the season.

“I think that’s going to be the next step where you do use the resources here at camp throughout the year, whether it’s sustaining contact through email or texting maybe with [Strength and Conditioning Coach] John Whitesides, for example. Just using all those resources to be bigger, faster, stronger, and to be coming into the season prepared and ready to go.”

And when the week is over, they will have plenty to take back with them — to school, to juniors, to the AHL, or wherever they are headed.

The pace of play at camp, for example, can be more challenging to contend with than it is in the NCAA, but it is a challenge O’Gara welcomes.

“Everyone’s giving it their all out there,” he said. “Every drill, every shift — whatever you’re doing, you’re getting everyone’s 100 percent. And that’s what it takes at the next level, and you bring that back to school and you make everyone around you better. It makes your team better.

“It’s something you need to do, especially at our level — college level, junior level — and I think that’s the biggest takeaway. Being in a group of guys you don’t know and really getting to know them and bond — at every level you go up, that’s what you have to do, so this is a good taste of something like that.”

And next summer, perhaps when some of the veterans have graduated from camp, it will be up to the soon-to-be seasoned veterans to pass those lessons along to the new guys.

“Just both on ice and off ice, there’s a lot that goes into being a pro hockey player,” McIntyre said. “I think with the management here and everybody here at camp, they give you all of the resources necessary to be successful.

“Whether you’re going back to your association — college, major, junior, wherever — or if you’re taking the step and playing pro hockey, they’ll give you a lot of tools and a lot of resources here that really help out.”

McIntyre, Kemppainen Attend

McIntyre and 27-year-old Joonas Kemppainen are among a group of veteran players who are participating in development camp despite having been signed by the Bruins.

For McIntyre, the good news came last month.

“[I’ve] been very fortunate to be in a position to sign a pro contract and to go into a good situation here with heavy competition in the goaltender position,” he said. “It’s going to be awesome. I’ve been looking forward to it after our season ended [at North Dakota], and it kind of felt like the right step to take in my career and in my life, to start that new chapter of my life.”

McIntyre is well aware of the situation he is entering in Boston. He knows that Tuukka Rask owns the net, and behind him, there could be an opportunity for whoever is up to the challenge of grabbing it during training camp.

But it is not in his nature to focus on that. He will just play his game and let the Bruins make those decisions.

“I think the biggest thing with myself, personally, is — I’ve kind of learned it throughout my young career so far — is just controlling what you can control,” he said. “So just going into camp — training camp, starting in September — and just playing hockey. Controlling what I can control, and making sure I’m putting my best foot forward, whether it’s on the ice or off the ice, and just setting the tone that hey, I’m a pro hockey player now, and I’m going to act like it and do whatever I can to be successful and to help the team win.”

Kemppainen, on the other hand, signed his first professional contract with Boston in May after nine seasons in the Finnish Elite League. Yes, he is older than most of the other development camp participants, but that doesn’t faze him. He is here to put on a Spoked-B for the first time and show Boston’s staff what he can do.

“It’s my first season over here, so for me, it’s a really good chance, and I think for the younger players, it’s also a really good chance to see how things work out here,” he said. “I’m really excited because I think it’s a really big challenge for me, so I’m really excited, and I’ve been training hard for this chance.”

Kemppainen describes himself as a defensive forward who excels on the penalty kill, and over the next four days, he looks forward to showcasing those aspects of his game.

But he also is looking forward to this camp as a primer of sorts before he returns to Boston for training camp in the fall.

“I think I need to work really hard for training camp,” he said. “I have to be ready there, and I think I have a good chance to make the NHL team, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Fortunately, when training camp rolls around, there will be at least one familiar face there: fellow Finn Tuukka Rask.

“It’s, of course, a really good thing to have another guy from the same country,” Kempainnen said. “I know him from a couple of junior and national team tournaments. He was a really nice guy.”

First-Time Camper

Though Jake DeBrusk has only been a Bruin for a few weeks, he is just as excited to be in Boston as anybody else at development camp.

The Edmonton native and 2015 first-round draft pick noticed one thing in particular about the city as soon as he stepped off the plane to begin his first visit on Monday afternoon.

“The first thing that I noticed in the city is just the amount of sports fans here, and the amount of different jerseys, hats, that they wear around,” he said with a big smile. “But I’m really excited to see the city some more, and get out on the ice, and wears the Bruin colors. I can’t wait.”

Life has been a whirlwind of sorts for DeBrusk ever since the Bruins selected him with the 14th overall pick on June 26. Suddenly, there are a lot more people who know his name — back home, and all over the world.

“It’s been pretty crazy — just going back home and all over social media, I’ve gotten lots of attention, and lots of things have come up, but it’s been pretty cool,” he said. “I’ve been enjoying it, and really embracing it, and it’s been fun. Just trying to keep the, I guess, the crazy world going with this camp, and just see how it goes.”

Like most first-year participants, DeBrusk doesn’t know exactly what to expect from the next five days in Boston. He does know that he plans to soak up as much as he can before he heads back to the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos in the fall.

“I’m expecting lots out of it — just [to] learn as much as I can,” he said. “They have a really good coaching staff here, so just be a sponge out there and just really work hard.

“I’m just really looking forward to putting on the colors. I think that will be really cool. I’ve wanted to ever since I got drafted, so I can’t wait.”

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