Familiar sights have been hard to come by at Warrior Ice Arena for the past nine months.
Other than the brief, two-week stretch in July in which the Bruins returned to the ice for team practices in preparation for a month-long stay in the Toronto bubble, the frozen sheet at Warrior has not hosted any full-squad scrimmage or wide-ranging team activities — not since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered hockey as knew it back in March.
Of course, hope remains that the Warrior ice will soon be etched and scuffed by the skate blades of 20-plus NHLers in due time — with a Jan. 13 start date for a shortened 2021 season currently circled on the calendar (along with it a Jan. 3 start to an abbreviated training camp).
But even when NHL hockey (in some shape or form) does return after the new year, the ongoing effects of a society turned upside down from a still raging pandemic will be evident to the limited few allowed inside Boston's training facility.
As players return from across North America and Europe in anticipation of a new year of hockey, the protocols around Warrior will be far different from what was the norm just last winter. Back in July, Bruce Cassidy and his entire coaching staff opted for safety over functionally during any on-ice exercise, with the B's bench boss shouting orders and organizing drills behind a mask while conducting his team's practices. Other safety measures — such as mandated testing, required masks during all off-ice activities, capacity limits in workout facilities, individual water bottles and plenty more — are all expected to remain, if not be expanded upon, in the coming weeks as the league looks to avoid any season-altering (or ending) outbreaks.
Much like what awaits them at TD Garden later this winter, the Bruins' practices at Warrior will feature no fans in the stands, with only the sounds of the game itself, commentary from the coaching staff and the occasional chirp or two serving as the daily soundtrack as Boston looks to shake the rust off during the preseason slate.
And yet, amid all this chaos, some things still remain the same. Cassidy and his staff might have to don masks for the foreseeable future, but some of the hallmarks of Cassidy's practices since taking the helm of the Original Six club back in 2017 will endure once the Bruins reunite at Warrior Ice Arena in as little as a few weeks.
While speaking to over 200 coaches as part of a USA Hockey virtual symposium earlier this week, Cassidy shed some light on how he structures his practices — offering some insight into just how the Bruins manage to draw so much out of 30-40 minutes out on the ice. It's a collaborative process, for sure, and one that will be relied upon more than ever during a season unlike any other in 2021.
Here are some of the foundations of a Bruins' practice, as told by Cassidy: