The task at hand remains at the forefront for a motivated Bruins club, but Saturday's final practice at Warrior Ice Arena — signifying the end of Phase 3 work stateside — was met with much more than the usual palpable excitement that courses through a dressing room in the days ahead of another Cup run.
Yes, the 2019-20 Bruins are heading up to Toronto Sunday evening fixated on a chance to rewrite last year's narrative, but Saturday's skate and subsequent departure from their Brighton facility also signaled the start of the new, bittersweet reality players must accept once Phase 4 gets underway — with every player, coach, executive, trainer, etc. set to spend what could be months north of the border without their families.
"I think that's the toughest thing with today — knowing that it's our last day with our families for potentially 10 weeks," Brad Marchand said Saturday morning. "I think guys are more looking at that part of it than the excitement of leaving. ... Nobody wants to be away from their families for that long and it's gonna be really daunting at times and we're gonna get home sick and lonesome.
"But it's part of the job. Maybe it's not what we expected, but you have to go through some adversity sometimes. At the end of the day, that's sometimes where you find the biggest reward and the team that wins this is going to feel that and every other team's gonna wish they didn't come. But at the same time, it's worth the reward at the end of the day and that's why we're going."
The circumstances and concessions might be far from ideal, but based on the most recent information released by the league, the NHL has left no stone unturned when it comes to keeping its hundreds of players entertained — and safe — upon their arrival in Toronto and Edmonton on Sunday evening.
In a virtual presentation released Thursday, the NHL offered a deluge of information about what all 24 playoff teams can expect once up in the "bubble" over in Toronto and Edmonton — with the 12 Eastern Conference clubs set to spend their days primarily at either Hotel X or the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
Toronto's "Phase 4 Secure Zone" will have plenty to keep players entertained during the many hours not spent on the ice, with the neighboring BMO Field — home to both the CFL's Toronto Argonauts and MLS' Toronto FC — set to be repurposed for "outdoor recreational activities". Add in 14 "on-site diverse restaurants, bars, pubs and coffee shops" and eight "tennis courts, golf suites, movie theaters and fitness studios" and it doesn't seem as though players are going to be spending most of their nights stuck in their rooms without much to do.
Well, I suppose it could depend on who else might taking part in said activities. The Bruins — already one of the closest-knit crews in the NHL — will likely take advantage of whatever common rooms or team-centric spaces are reserved in their new residence, Hotel X, for the next couple of weeks, at the minimum.
But what happens when they stroll through the lobby or walk by the tennis courts and spot a player from another Eastern Conference contender?
Don't expect much in terms of pleasantries.