WILMINGTON — The big boys long since had left the rink.
Forty-five minutes into Sunday’s informal practice at Ristuccia Arena, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask were the first to head off, even before the five-on-five scrimmage began. The exits of Chara and Rask soon were trailed by the departures of just about every Bruin projected to break training camp on the varsity roster.
Save for one.
The scrimmage lasted approximately 30 minutes. By its conclusion, players who had declined to say uncle included youngsters such as Carter Camper, Craig Cunningham, and Bobby Robins — and the Bruins’ alternate captain, Patrice Bergeron.
Considering the car-crash type of injuries he suffered during the Stanley Cup Final, Bergeron is happy to accept any ice time he gets.
“It’s good to be on the ice and staying out even longer, just to work on things — feeling good and touching the ice,” Bergeron said. “So far, it’s been good.”
Sunday marked the first time Bergeron participated in an informal practice. He was the last of the veterans to make his debut at the rink. Bergeron had been skating on his own and among his usual offseason training partners in Quebec City before his arrival in Boston.
Of the ailments that struck Bergeron against Chicago (punctured lung, separated shoulder, broken rib, torn rib cartilage), the center still feels some tenderness around his ribs on his left side. The discomfort comes when Bergeron performs some core exercises or occasionally when he reaches for the puck.
“I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about,” Bergeron said. “I think it’s going to go away with time.”
It is undetermined whether Bergeron will be on the ice when camp begins. Camp opens Wednesday with off-ice fitness testing. The Bruins most likely will hit the TD Garden ice Thursday for the first time. Bergeron will meet with team doctors prior to the start of camp.
Once doctors give Bergeron the green light, it should not take the center long to acclimate to NHL pace. He skated at full speed Sunday. Bergeron jammed in the corners and in front of the net. The punishment he absorbed from the Blackhawks will not affect the way he approaches the game.
“The legs were good,” Bergeron said. “The touch, obviously that’s going to come as we go along. It’s getting there. I felt pretty good.”
When the regular season begins Oct. 3 against Tampa Bay, the Bruins will expect Bergeron to carry out his usual chores — namely, everything. Bergeron will kill penalties. He will see time on the power play.
In even-strength situations, Bergeron will center the second line. Brad Marchand, his usual running mate, will be his left wing. Tyler Seguin, Bergeron’s former right wing, is in Dallas. Bergeron’s new right-hand man most likely will be Loui Eriksson. Both of the forwards play compatible two-way games.
“There’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment to get to know these guys,” said Bergeron, referring to Eriksson and Jarome Iginla. “That being said, most of the guys are back. It’s good sometimes to have fresh blood and guys that are excited to be here with the great mix we have already.”
Bergeron is coming off another strong season. He scored 10 goals and had 22 assists in 42 regular-season games. Bergeron averaged 19 minutes 17 seconds of ice time per game, most among team forwards. He won 62.1 percent of his faceoffs to lead the NHL. Bergeron finished second to Jonathan Toews in voting for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward.
They are among the skills that earned Bergeron an August invitation to Calgary. He participated in Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp alongside teammates Marchand and Milan Lucic. Bergeron, a 2010 gold-medal winner in Vancouver, is likely to claim another invitation from Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman and coach Mike Babcock. It will help Bergeron’s cause that Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien are also part of Canada’s management and coaching groups. Bergeron’s versatility — he can be an offensive-minded as well as shutdown center, and he can play on the wing — will serve him well when the Canadians make their final cuts.
But Bergeron’s priority will be to lead the Bruins to a good start. The 28-year-old, in concert with Rask and Chara, is one of the team’s three most important players. Of all the figurative suffering the Bruins experienced with their Cup exit against the Blackhawks, Bergeron suffered the most literal pain. He has no intentions of starting this season as darkly as he ended the last.