For the first time in close to three months, the ice at Warrior Ice Arena will be once again be sheared and etched by the skate blades of the Bruins — a small first step toward the team's ultimate goal of seeing the 2019-20 season through, and rewriting last year's disheartening result.
Although Boston and every other NHL club is still weeks away from full training-camp sessions, Monday marks the official start of Phase 2 of the NHL's "Return To Play" plan — allowing small groups to take part in informal, non-contact practices on the ice and resume off-ice workouts at the team's facilities.
For many NHLers, the transition to Phase 2 represents the end of the longest drought of on-ice work in their pro careers. Even during the offseason, many players often are only away from the ice for a month or two before slowing ramping up their conditioning once again.
Put 43-year-old Zdeno Chara in that boat, with the B's captain noting last week that he's usually back on the ice by July or August during the regular offseason slate. But even with this week signaling the resumption of on-ice activities, Chara was quick to note that the anticipation and excitement is certainly not going to take precedent over what is expected to be a slow, but steady, ramp up back to game action.
"If you are a runner and you haven't been running for two months, I don't think you're going to go for your first run and it's going to be a 20K run," Chara said. "It's going to be slowly getting into it."
The Bruins are no different from any other team in that regard, with the 24 clubs taking part in this expanded playoff format expected to shake off the rust by way of a camp that will run for weeks before game action commences. At this point, it's hard to identify potential benefits from this extended break. While many players have been able to recoup from the bumps, bruises and nagging ailments that come with a grueling NHL season, a three-month layoff likely does more harm than good in terms of keeping teams fresh — especially a veteran club like the Bruins.
Such was the sentiment that Brad Marchand shared last month, noting that returning from the pause might put older clubs behind the eight ball when it comes to gearing up for another extended playoff push.