BostonBruins.com - As I stood on a platform 60 feet in the air on the final day of Development Camp, atop an alpine tower full of climbing logs, ropes, twists and turns, I watched a stream of Bruins' prospects make their way through the tough course and up to the top, with the nearly 100-degree heat steaming down.
With the Bruins' seventh annual Dev Camp nearly in the books, the prospects had been through five days of tough running tests, off-ice fitness testing, on-ice workouts and scrimmages. They had learned about nutrition, strength and conditioning, and how to represent the organization off the ice. They had embraced every moment and left Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney impressed with their collective enthusiasm and effort.
So, when day No. 6 rolled around, the group of prospects also embraced a team-building day on Thompson Island in the Boston Harbor, about a 20-minute boat ride from downtown Boston.
"They sort of gave us the perfect setting, environment to close camp off. Nice, challenging day," said Sweeney of Thompson Island Outward Bound Professional, the non-profit organization that operates the island and its customized leadership, team-building programs for all ages.
It's built to present a series of problem-solving activities that breed trial and error, encouragement, respect for different ideas, and teamwork, among other things. The prospects could then make a connection to working as a team on the ice.
"It’s different outside the rink and a beautiful environment with the city in the backdrop to bring these kids closer together."
Atop the tower, still feeling the burn in my arms after the ascent, and looking out at Boston's skyline, I saw 2013 draft pick Ryan Fitzgerald power his way up the toughest route to the top. I heard him communicating with his teammates on the ground, and them coaching him through the climb, shouting encouragement, and ultimately holding his life in their hands with a rope and a harness.
Chris Casto, who the Bruins signed as a college free agent this past March, used his upper-body strength and shouts from those 60 feet below, to muscle onto the platform.
Next, came camp invite Casey Bailey emerged over the side - blindfolded. "Coach" Zane Gothberg and belayer Colton Hargrove were keeping him safe on the way up, though he would have been fearless, regardless.
"When it comes to the belaying, you have your partner's life in your hands," said goaltender Adam Morrison. "But it comes down to trust. Just taking a little bit of that leap of faith and knowing that that guy’s got your back as well as the guy behind him has his back."
Turns out, the day's toughest physical challenge had combined all of the mentally-challenging activities from previously in the day. Those included "strange," new activities like 12 prospects trying swing themselves all onto a tiny wooden platform with a rope, while not spilling a bucket of water and not ever touching the ground. Or like 23 players needing to get themselves over a 14-foot wall.
The last man standing - 2012 draft pick and Cornell power forward Brian Ferlin - had no one to hoist him up. He's one of the strongest, but it wasn't easy. Still, they all found a way. And Malcolm Subban found it in him to hoist Ferlin up by his wrists.
"The guys cheering on the ground, was the biggest part for sure," said Subban of how they are able to complete the task.
"We had kids that weren’t as willing to climb when they first got the alpine tower - then they realized that they had support of a teammate belaying, that they were safe," said Sweeney. "Communication was good and they found themselves being stretched. Nobody pushing them, just encouragement."
By the time the alpine tower was on the agenda, they had already gone through half the day having realized things they didn't know they had in them, whether it was stepping up to be a leader, feeling compelled to say something, or most importantly, having complete trust in a teammate.
Matt Lindblad, signed by the Bruins as a free agent out of college this past spring, emerged as a leader this week at camp, and saw the biggest takeaway from the team-building day come as a result of the climbing.
"Trust is huge and that’s what it’s about when you’re working together as a team. Whether it’s on the ice or off the ice, you have to trust one another and hold each other accountable," he said.
"We learned that when we were doing the climbing, you have the the belayer, and you have another guy backing up him - a team leader and a coach that looks out for you. So whether it’s one person climbing or four people working together, you have to trust the other three people helping you out."
Sometimes the toughest part isn't even the climbing to the top - it's when it comes time to jump off the ledge and trust your belayer is going to not let you go, falling to the ground.
"Absolutely, it’s the trust factor and 'I have your life in my hands literally because I’m holding your rope and I’m trying to help you move to the next level'," said Ellen Harris, the Director of Outward Bound Professional.
Harris sees countless groups go through the team-building programs, but not as many as athletic and close to professional sports as the Bruins' prospects.
"They like challenge," she said, on what she immediately noticed about the group.
"With the help of their teammates, they really could break past an impasse and go further than they expected - and they did it."
As the final day of Development Camp wrapped up, a beach volleyball game broke out, and a barbecue was enjoyed, there wasn't a prospect without a smile on his face.
"I said at the beginning of the week to have fun," General Manager Peter Chiarelli told the newfound "team" in his wrap-up speech. "And you definitely look like you've had a lot of fun."
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