They arrived as hockey nomads, some from faraway lands: a Swedish seaport, a Czech steel city, a Central Asian factory town.
The rest came from across Canada and Europe and from a handful of American towns to wear black and gold for the Bruins.
No one said they had to become Bostonians. Or that they had to care about Bostonians. And because they were hockey players for hire — they come and go like the seasons — no one expected this band of itinerant skaters with missing teeth and crooked noses to comfort the city in its darkest hour.
But after Boston was plunged into crisis when three young spectators and an MIT police officer were killed, dozens permanently disabled, and hundreds wounded by the Marathon bombings, the hockey guys on Causeway Street became part of the city’s communal family.
They became Boston brothers.
“The one thing I sense from our team,’’ Bruins coach Claude Julien said amid the fear and mourning of Boston’s agonizing April, “is that we have the ability to maybe help people heal and find some reason to smile again.’’
They did exactly that. By summer, Boston’s boys of winter offered a suffering city an even deeper sense of community, an unlikely sense of purpose, and perhaps just a distraction, with an exhilarating quest for hockey supremacy.
‘We can all play for each other and in this tough time make people cheer.’ -- Zdeno Chara
In a vivid example of the restorative powers of professional sports, the 2013 Bruins made time amid their winning to foster the healing.
You saw it on the faces of Bill and Patty Campbell, whose daughter, Krystle, a 29-year-old Bruins fan, died in the bombings. Wearing Bruins sweaters emblazoned with their names, the Campbells waved a Boston Strong flag on the Garden ice before the Bruins completed their stunning sweep of the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals.
“The Bruins made my wife smile for the first time,’’ Bill Campbell said. “They found a way to fill her heart with laughter again.’’
Julien’s benevolent bruisers stumbled two victories shy of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the second time in three years, but they played deep enough into the postseason to reward their core constituents — from season tickets-holders to neighborhood pizza twirlers — and lift the spirits of many of the city’s grieving and wounded.
You saw it on the faces of Bill and Denise Richard, whose 8-year-old son, Martin, died in the bombings. The Richards, who have avoided public attention to try to maintain a sense of normalcy for their surviving children, quietly attended Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final as guests of the Bruins.
“Martin Richard absolutely loved the Boston Bruins, and his parents enjoyed the team’s success because they could imagine how Martin might have felt, how excited he would have been,’’ the family’s spokesman, Larry Marchese, said. “The Bruins have been a source of comfort for them.’’
When the Bruins played the first major sports event in Boston after the bombings, they lit up the Garden ice with images of blue and yellow ribbons — the official Boston Marathon colors — and began wearing blue and yellow Boston Strong decals on their helmets. The rendition of the national anthem that night, with the singer yielding to the voices of the crowd, became emblematic of the city’s resilience.
“We can all play for each other and in this tough time make people cheer,’’ said captain Zdeno Chara, a Slovakian who has found a sense of place in Boston.
After the cheers returned, you saw flashes of joy on the faces of the family of Sean Collier, the 27-year-old MIT police officer who was killed by the alleged bombers on their final night of terror.
Collier was a Bruins fan and a Patriots season ticket-holder, and his siblings were among many survivors, victims, and first responders who received free tickets to Bruins games from the team, its sponsors, staff, and players.
“The Bruins have been overwhelmingly good to us,’’ said Collier’s sister, Jennifer Rogers. “They have been there for us from the first week.’’
Boston’s other sports teams have contributed to the healing as well, particularly the Red Sox, with a striking ceremony at Fenway Park on a Saturday afternoon when the city seemed to fill with relief.
But the Bruins stood alone in recognizing those affected by the tragedy. Before every playoff game, they invited victims, survivors, and first responders onto the ice as captains.
Three of Collier’s siblings — Jennifer, Rob Rogers, and Jennifer Lemmerman — served as honorary captains before the Bruins played the Chicago Blackhawks in their first home game of the Stanley Cup Final. The siblings wore Bruins sweaters adorned with their names and the figure 179, their brother’s badge number.
“It was very bittersweet for us because we wouldn’t have been there had we not lost our brother,’’ Jennifer Rogers said. “But it was uplifting for us to honor him in a way that we think he would have appreciated.’’
In a prominent corner of the Bruins dressing room, Andrew Ference hung a golden runner’s singlet bearing the team’s Spoked-B logo that Army Ranger Lucas Carr wore when he finished the Marathon two minutes before the first bomb detonated.
Carr, a staff sergeant from Norwood, had run the Marathon to raise money for the Bruins charitable foundation. After the bombs exploded, he dashed back through the smoke on Boylston Street to aid victims.
Carr, who has befriended many of the Bruins, described their brotherhood as similar to Ranger units he has commanded. The 2013 Bruins, he said, pursued a mission greater than winning hockey games.
“I know they came up two wins short of the Stanley Cup,’’ Carr said, “but I see them as victorious for the way they came together as a team and with the city of Boston, and said, ‘Let’s all do this together.’ ”
They had some practice. Two months before the bombings, the Bruins helped another community heal. Deep into the 119-day lockout that nearly scuttled the NHL season, a gunman in December killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Julien led a group of players to Newtown in February during one of the team’s rare days off. The Bruins donned Newtown jerseys, played street hockey with kids, and posed with a placard that said, “We Are Sandy Hook. We Choose Love.’’
After the bombings, they again chose love. They also chose commitment and sacrifice, perhaps best exemplified by Gregory Campbell competing briefly with a broken leg and Patrice Bergeron playing with a broken rib, a separated shoulder, torn cartilage, and a punctured lung.
When it was over, one of Bergeron’s youngest teammates, Tyler Seguin, shed tears while Julien expressed regret that the Bruins, for all their effort and desire, had fallen short of returning the silver chalice to Causeway Street.
But many survivors of Boston’s excruciating April said they will remember these Bruins not for breaking hearts, but for warming them.
“The way they embraced us,’’ Carr said, “made us all feel like champions.’’Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.