Wilmington, Mass. --
The Boston Bruins
are holding their annual development camp for prospects here this week as the organization and its fans get a sneak peek at the future. But this summer, those in attendance are also getting a glimpse of not only the future, but a present they weren’t able to see often this past season.
Forward Patrice Bergeron
, who missed 72 games with a concussion, and veteran goaltender Manny Fernandez
, who had knee surgery and missed 78 games during the 2007-08 season, have been training hard to come back and decided it would be wise to participate in the prospects program.
"I think it spoke volumes of both Manny and Patrice asking to take the step to want to come here," said Bruins Director of Hockey Operations and Player Development Don Sweeney
, who is running the camp. "They're eager. They're chomping at the bit."
Bergeron suffered a Grade 3 concussion Oct. 27 when he went head-first into the boards after a hit by Flyers defenseman Randy Jones
. The symptoms and effects of the concussion were so severe that, in the first month after the injury, some medical experts questioned whether the bright young star would ever be the same player. His weight dropped dramatically, his speech and response were slower and just getting up for a walk around the block was a mission.
But after months of rest, Bergeron was given clearance to resume workouts late in the season and eventually practiced in full-contact drills with his teammates during their first-round playoff series loss to Montreal.
But he would never receive full clearance to play in the series and had to watch from the sideline as his teammates fell just short of completing a comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit. For Bergeron, the experience was extremely frustrating and made him appreciate his hockey career even more.
“Even though you’re pulling for your teammates, it was really hard watching them and not being out there to play,” Bergeron said. “(The injury) took away my passion for six months. I’ve missed it so much. Now that I have the chance to get back at it and skate, I could stay out there forever.”
Bergeron has been working out and skating in his native Quebec City this week and will be playing with his friends and fellow NHLers Antoine Vermette
and Simon Gagne
in a pick-up hockey league when he returns. But the idea of coming to Boston -- skating with the likes of Sweeney, Providence coach Scott Gordon
and assistant Rob Murray
, people he’s trained with throughout his Boston career and couldn’t for most of last season -- was just too enticing.
“I want to make sure I’m ready,” said Bergeron who turns 23 on July 24. “That’s why I came down here this week, to skate and work out and make sure I’m in the best shape I can be.”
Fernandez, who is in the last year of his contract, is looking at the upcoming season almost as a make-or-break season for him. He wants to do whatever he can to get back to game shape and show he can still be one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL.
“It’s been awhile,” Fernandez said. “They say it’s like riding a bicycle. I don’t know if that’s true. Hopefully it is. I hope I can play a lot of games in camp and go from there."
Fernandez acknowledged that he probably pushed his body to recover a bit too fast last season and that for his game to be completely back to where it can be, he needs to be patient this time around.
“Being healthy is going to be the first step," Fernandez said. “If you don't feel 100 percent, it's that much harder to do your job. I think being healthy in camp is going to help a whole lot. From there, I can just quiet down and play my game, hopefully.”
For the young Bruins prospects, seeing Bergeron and Fernandez out there on the ice this week was more than enough motivation to work hard and continue toward their dreams of playing in the NHL.
“You see Patrice and Manny out there and you realize how lucky you are and because of that how hard you have to work to keep your chance of playing here alive,” said forward Zach Hamill
, the Bruins' first-round pick (No. 8) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
“Those guys are working so hard to get back and to see that is really motivating.”