Bruce Cassidy isn't calling it training camp. When the Bruins coach met with his team Monday morning before their first full-team practice since March, he made it clear that this is going to require a different mindset. Training camp is what you hold to get ready for the long haul of an 82-game regular season. That's not what the B's are doing right now.
"My message is that I’m not looking at this as training camp," Cassidy said. "I’m going to call it return to play camp or return to play practices, because to me training camp is a different mentality. It’s longer, it’s a grind, it’s the beginning of a long marathon. This isn’t the case. This is the beginning of a quick return to what, I guess comparably, would be a sprint. That’s the way I want to look at it. The timing and execution of our practice, we need to get it up there as quickly as possible."
So with that in mind, how did Day 1 go? Pretty well, according to Cassidy.
"Really good to be honest with you," he said. "I thought our guys had excellent pace. Execution was pretty good for a first practice. I know a lot of guys have been working, skating, but still, as a group, a lot of bodies out there. I thought the willingness to work was excellent. Guys were in a good mood."
Cassidy added that things didn't even look all that different than how they did pre-lockdown. That could be a good sign that the Bruins may in fact be able to get to the level they need to get to during this sprint and not need a marathon.
"It reminded me a lot of our practices during the year where guys are working hard, taking care of business, but enjoying themselves, having fun and chirping each other," Cassidy said. "It was like kind of where we left off in terms of the mood. I thought the overall, I guess rating of it, I really liked it. I think guys are happy to be back together. They enjoy each other and are obviously looking forward to getting back to work."
The practice was also structured much like a normal practice during the season, once again with the thinking being that would be the best way to get back to where they were as quickly as possible. There were of course also conditioning concerns to take into account given the long layoff, but Cassidy said having more players on the ice and making some drills a little shorter should help combat that.
"We don’t want to stray too far from what we do during the year," Cassidy said. "We stuck with a lot of those drills, but we’re fortunate enough that we have extra bodies, so there’s a little more recovery time. That’s what you’re worried about, is the recovery between drills where guys aren’t pushing themselves so much that all of a sudden those vulnerable areas early on, the lower backs, the groins, etc. are exposed. I haven’t heard anything yet. We’ll see tomorrow. Knock on wood that guys came out of it OK.
"We still want to practice at a high pace, high tempo. That’s what our guys are used to, but without risking injuries. There is a delicate balance, so that’s how we’ve tried to do it. Cut down the drills, the length, maybe 15-20 percent. Like I said, with the extra players, that also allows them a little more recovery time."
There were other adjustments as well. Cassidy and the rest of the Bruins coaches wore masks during the practice, which he said they'll continue to do as long as that's what the team's health coordinators recommend. Group workouts in the weight room were limited to 12 players at a time, so there was a stricter schedule for those than there would normally be. Torey Krug also noted that not being able to wander the facility freely and pop into different rooms as you please will take some getting used to.
On the ice, the Bruins were forced to adjust to a couple absences as well, as right wings David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase remain in international quarantine protocol and haven't yet been cleared. They are expected to cleared and on the ice in the next couple days, possibly as soon as Tuesday.
Karson Kuhlman stepped into Pastrnak's usual spot on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Kase hasn't really been around long enough to have a "usual spot," but it's expected that he'll at least start off with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line.
On Monday that spot was instead occupied by Anders Bjork, who Cassidy said looked like "maybe the best player out there," which is certainly an encouraging sign for a player who isn't guaranteed a regular spot in the lineup. The third-line right wing spot also looked a bit different, as Cassidy had Sean Kuraly moving up from his usual fourth-line center spot to skate with Charlie Coyle and Nick Ritchie.
Cassidy noted that they have a little bit of time to tinker with lines, but not a ton. Going forward, it's those right wing spots that will remain the most interesting -- where Kase slots in, whether Bjork holds onto a regular spot, and whether Kuraly sticks as a wing or moves back to fourth-line center.
It will also be interesting to see if the Bruins can keep stringing good practices together. As Krug noted, players might be knocking the rust off, but consecutive days of practices and workouts is when we'll learn more about conditioning.
"I think at our level with the way that guys can compete and play, it’s not too hard to get through one practice," Krug said. "Most guys can kind of muscle out the energy and blend in and not stick out. I think what will be the telling signs will be tomorrow and the next day after that as we pile up the workload over two or three days. That’s when you see where your team’s at.
"That said, I think the energy level was great," Krug added. "It was good to be back out there and guys were excited. I was very interested to see what the response would be with guys getting back and trying to get into the swing of things with all the protocols we had to go through off the ice, but once we were on the ice it was like a normal day. It was like we didn’t miss a beat. I was very pleased."