Bruins with Heavy Hearts
WILMINGTON, MA - Tuesday morning was another beautiful morning in Boston, the sun shining amidst a perfectly blue sky, but as Bostonians attempted to routinely return to work - and the Bruins had to return to work on the ice in Wilmington - there was nothing normal about the heavy hearts that accompanied everyone following Monday's tragic events at the Boston Marathon.
And as the B's filed onto the ice in Wilmington, you could see the heaviness in their step, the smiles missing from their usually upbeat faces.
One of the first Bruins to make his way the 20 feet from the locker room door to the ice after Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin were in the midst of goaltending work between the pipes, was Brad Marchand, donning a very Boston-esque green jersey with the spoked-B.
It seemed out of sorts, and unimportant to be covering practice in its usual regard, jotting down practice lines and jersey colors as the B's circled the Ristuccia Arena ice during warm-up laps. But there was also a rhythm and normalcy to it that was comforting. After exiting the ice for a period of time, the B's came out and worked hard non-stop for nearly an hour.
"It was one of those days where you practice with heavy hearts," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien, who softly spoke about his emotional night with his family watching the events unfold. "Our guys in there are proud of the city that they represent, Boston, and as much as it was hard to really go out there today and give your all, I think our guys did a good job."
"Boston, for me personally and my family, is a city we’ve fallen in love with, so when you see something like that happen there’s no doubt it affects you as an individual and for us as a group."
"When we play our next game we have to go out there and do our jobs, and if anything you want to show that you represent this city the right way and with pride, and also with a lot of caring behind it."
Following practice, a usually chipper and joking Bruins' locker room was a very somber sight, with a heavy feeling of helplessness, as the players talked about the tragic events that unfolded and the toughness of not being able to do or say much.
"Still, you can sense around the city, it's still an emotional and sad day for everybody," said Captain Zdeno Chara, his shoulders sitting on his 6-foot-9 frame visibly slumped as he tried to find the words to give reporters.
"We just have to support each other and obviously, sending our support and prayers to friends, family, and everyone who's been affected."
Chara described "shock" as to what he and his fellow teammates felt upon hearing the news yesterday afternoon when they were gathered at TD Garden prior to the game against Ottawa being postponed.
"There's no question that this is going to go on for a few days, weeks, months. We all feel for those affected by this and, obviously, we as a team and people living in the city, we feel for that."
Zee also explained the craziness of the day yesterday, with people trying to recover from the events and get in touch with their family and friends.
When asked if the B's could play a role in helping the city recover, Chara was quick to answer, though very quiet and somber as he spoke.
"Yes - I think we all can play for each other, and at least, through these tough times, make the people cheer - the way we play, we can show support."
The Captain acknowledged that the Bruins had a brief meeting this morning in the locker room, but that there "doesn't have to be much said, we all know what we have to do."
Half a locker room away, alternate captain Patrice Bergeron, was himself finding it hard to grasp for the words to describe his emotions.
"There's not many words that can be said right now; it's tragic. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families involved," said Bergeron. "It's really tragic and there's not much you can say."
"All we can do is offer energy towards their grief."
Bergeron dealt with his own emotions a few weeks ago, when he sustained the fourth concussion of his career. For the past few days, we've been talking about the forward's health being more important than hockey. This situation, by far, is much greater than any emotions ever felt around Boston.
"I know, when events like this happen, hockey should obviously be second," said Bergeron. "And yesterday was a perfect example of that."
Bergeron has only been to the Marathon once, but it was enough to know how important it is to the city. And as he tries to sink in everything that's happened, he reflected on how sports can maybe be an outlet to escape from something like Monday's tragedy.
"That's the sport that we're in right now, is to make sure you bring joy and energy to people's lives. I'm talking about every day," said Bergeron, on the constant nature of hockey to bring that energy and joy to fans. "So I think it's about playing your game, making sure you try to bring smiles to people's faces in tough times like that."
"Especially in this town, I think that sports are obviously woven into the fabric of the city," said Andrew Ference, probably one of the Bruins most affected by the tragedy, having been here since 2007 and having family and many friends close to Boylston at the time (all safe).
"And the fact that it’s at the Marathon and affected so many people in a personal way. It’s not just about it happening in our city. It happened to people that we know. It happened to places that we go. You support in any way you can, and you just try to represent the city as best you can and help whatever you can."
"It’s a bit of a helpless feeling right now. It was a pretty heavy room today, I think with a lot of guys just feeling awful, but in some sense you feel a bit helpless as far as what can you do after the fact as far as action other than do our job and make sure that we’re there when people need us and think of anything possible that we can do to help."
"I think it’s not about forgetting what happened," added Ference, who along with Shawn Thornton and the B's, has woven himself and his family into this town. Thornton also offered that "this definitely will not be forgotten."
A grief-stricken Ference, who has always spoken so highly of this city's resilient culture, calmly spoke about how trivial sports often are, but that the community culture often brings people together.
"It’s about making sure that you have some sense of community where everybody can get together and celebrate what’s good and do those things that are a very important part of this city and part of this region that a lot of people do really gel together."
But today wasn't just a day for speaking their love of Boston; it's something that every 'B' has expressed over the years.
"You’re always proud. I think this is a team that’s woven itself into the neighborhoods that they live in and have really embraced the fact that you’re a resident here. I don’t think anybody feels like you’re just here for a visit, so that’s been a special part about our team."
"So I think that something like this magnified all of the things that you really care about in this city. You’re proud no matter what to be a part of this, not just part of a sports team, but I think part of the community. I think that’s why people love it here so much."
"If we wouldn’t have played last night, it would have been the whole team probably down there. It’s not like we just kind of hole up in our houses. Guys are really part of the city."
As the city tries to find some level of normalcy following the tragic events, Ference was also searching to finding a balance between focusing on what matters, while also realizing that their hockey might be a cathartic release for the city.
"I have two feelings. When you look at it in the big picture of things you have people saving peoples’ lives last night, and we’re just going out to play a game, but for a lot of people that game will be a chance to, not just tomorrow night but the next game after, it will be a chance to get back some normalcy as well."
Wednesday night's game at TD Garden against the Buffalo Sabres will be the first sporting event since, and as of now, according to Bruins President Cam Neely, it is still on as the "city has informed us that there are no issues with playing."
I get the chills just thinking about the atmosphere that we will all encounter Wednesday night, as the sadness and pain might just be lifted away for a few hours of Bruins hockey.
"It’s going to take a while to heal from this, and we don’t expect tomorrow to be the day that everything is going to be okay," said Coach. "But you’ve got to start somewhere, and I think tomorrow is a great time for us to go out there and play our hearts out and for all of the right reasons."
Winger Brad Marchand, still recovering from a mild concussion, doesn't know if he'll be cleared for the next game, but regardless, he knows it will be an important one.
"It's always nice to have something to believe in," said Brad Marchand. "If we can get people's mind off what happened even for a few hours, and basically play for our city -- and that's what we have to do."
"It's really a time when Boston is going to come together and unite, and just make us all stronger."