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Bruins’ Brandon Carlo adjusting to mental challenges of NHL bubble

Brandon Carlo has been trying to get outside as much as possible as he and the Bruins prepare to begin their run at the Stanley Cup.
Brandon Carlo has been trying to get outside as much as possible as he and the Bruins prepare to begin their run at the Stanley Cup.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Brandon Carlo is a summertime mountain man. His place in downtown Denver is a short drive from the Eastern foothills of the Rockies, and the Bruins defenseman loves getting out with his girlfriend, the dogs, and their pals, hiking and viewing the scenery and drinking long sips of that elevated air.

A year ago, Carlo was taking the ill feelings over his team’s Stanley Cup Final loss and stashing them a mile high, behind some metaphorical boulder, so the pain of a missed career opportunity wouldn’t trouble him again.

“I love going up to the mountains and doing things like that and just enjoying life in a more relaxed headspace away from hockey,” Carlo said. “Right now, it is a little bit different when you walk outside and you start sweating right away walking to the bus, and there aren’t very many areas we can go to get that fresh air.”

This summer, in so many ways, is different. Carlo is with about 372 of his NHL peers inside a closed-in space in downtown Toronto. They enjoy many of the familiar comforts of the road — plush rooms, catered food, designated training spaces — and the game feels like the game once the puck drops, even if fans aren’t there to witness it.


Once Carlo gets used to the daily nasal swab, he’ll be fully adjusted.

“I think everybody in the world is dealing with some sort of situation, with the unknown of every day,” he said. “For me, I think this testing is the thing that we do every day that has kind of thrown me for a loop. I don’t like that thing going up in my nose.

“That’s probably the biggest difference I don’t like having to deal with every day. But overall, you get through the first day, know what to expect, and from there it’s not too crazy once you know what’s going on.”


Friday morning, after a phone chat with a Globe reporter, Carlo masked up and joined his mates for some “spike ball” at BMO Field, the home of MLS’ Toronto FC and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. It isn’t Rocky Mountain National Park, but it will do.

“We’ve been just getting outside when we can, to sit outside and have a phone call or go upstairs to the rooftop and hang out, just to have a meal with a couple other guys,” Carlo said.

“There’s enough to get outside and get some sunshine and take your mind off of hockey, rather than just being in the bubble and focusing on one thing all the time.”

The mental challenge for the Bruins, and any team that makes a run, will come after the bubble routine sets in. The longer they go, the closer the Stanley Cup, but the appeal of spike ball and lounge time will wane. Stir-craziness is anticipated.

“I think we’ve done a good job leading up to this, to understand what we’re going to be going through,” Carlo said. “Hopefully, going through for a long time. We’ve talked to guys within our organization about the mental aspect of things. It’s going to be difficult after a few weeks, when you start to miss your family more and more, things like that. Everybody obviously knows the sacrifice involved and is willing to make that sacrifice. Recognizing the ultimate goal is the biggest thing you can keep your eyes focused on.”


How did he feel after playing a lighter than usual load — 16 minutes, 50 seconds — the previous night, in the Bruins’ first game action since March 10?

“I would say the body’s a little sore. Not sure if that’s exactly from too much hockey or the hotel bed,” he said. “But overall, I feel pretty fine. It’s fun to be back with everybody and get into the hockey groove again. It was definitely a different experience without fans and the whole situation there. I don’t think it’ll be too hard to get used to. Hopefully those three [round-robin] games, we’ll do our best and work it from there.”

Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.