It can be intimidating to walk into a training camp for the first time and see the established stars and try to find a place among them.
Don Sweeney remembers that feeling from back in the 1980s.
That was why he organized the Bruins first development camp seven years ago.
“That’s the whole thing, that when they walk through the door for the first time as a pro in training camp or if they’ve left school and they’re coming in, I want them to put their best foot forward,” said Sweeney, Boston’s assistant general manager.
“Because when I walked through the door for the first time — it was a long time ago — you don’t want them staring at their toes. You want them recognizing faces and the staff and the people around them so that it just becomes about what can I do on the ice and [how can I] get better as a pro to be able to play at the National Hockey League level.”
To that end, the Bruins will gather 23 of their prospects, draft picks, and free agent invitees at Ristuccia Arena starting Wednesday morning for five days of on-ice work, team building, and off-ice community events.
“It might be a small window of opportunity to make that impression [on the organization], being in a real competitive environment for the first time,” Sweeney said of the participants. “This is not a competitive environment. You do not make a team during this week, but what you do is you make an impression and you get feedback for yourself — where you are in your own personal development based on some kids around you, but also based on the larger scale of things.”
The 23 players will spend their time doing everything from social media and media training — including taped interviews that will be played back for them — to taking batting practice at Fenway Park to on-ice drills.
The camp has changed slightly over the years, with Sweeney having talked to players who participated in past camps, such as Milan Lucic, to get feedback.
As Sweeney said, “They thought it was probably a little too hard and over-the-top and we backed off in areas on the ice.”
Still, some of that on-ice teaching can be crucial, with the team getting a chance to see what the players are comfortable or uncomfortable with, where they can improve, and getting a chance to, say, see them out of position. It’s not about learning a system, though, it’s about each individual player.
Said Sweeney, “At times we’ve brought in skill guys, power skating guys to kind of strip guys down to what they might need to work on, identify some things that they need to work on, that they’re uncomfortable doing.
“So some guys might play out of position during the course of the week and that might be something for us to be taking a peek at for that particular player and where they may fit within our own schematic and as well for them.”
Off the ice, it’s more about letting the players get to know each other, letting them enjoy themselves, letting them see themselves in Boston with the Bruins, whether that will happen eventually or not.
Ultimately, Sweeney and the organization want the players comfortable. They want to see them walking into their first training camps ready and with confidence. And this week, they hope, will push the players to get there.
“I always say to them each year, in a perfect world they all wear a B right down the road,” Sweeney said. “It’s unrealistic, but, hey, that would be the goal. But their goal should be to wear a National Hockey League sweater, and we’re all trying to pull in the same direction.
“Nobody’s handing you a job down the road here. You have to come in and take somebody’s job. Again, in a perfect world that’s for the Bruins . . . It’s not easy. These guys have a [heck] of a lifestyle, they don’t want to give it up. The onus is on you to do everything you can to try and get better and be ready, be prepared when you do get that opportunity.”