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How pre-training camp workouts have become so important for the Bruins and other NHL teams

Jim Montgomery's Bruins will host the Rangers in their first exhibition game Sunday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

It was a parade of pros.

In the run-up to the opening of training camp, a bunch of Bruins — and a batch of other locals who wear different NHL sweaters — would make the trek to Walter Brown Arena to go through the paces under the direction of John McLean.

As summer heat enveloped the Boston University campus, players — including a litter of ex-Terriers — cooled off in the cozy confines to lay the foundation for the rigors of the season.

“I enjoy the summer skates because I find if you can keep your pace up throughout the summertime, it just makes the transition from the summer to the season that much easier,” Brad Marchand told the Globe prior to a late-August skate.


The precamp workouts, combined with the captains’ practices, have become increasingly invaluable to success in the NHL.

Whereas NFL camps feature the dreaded conditioning tests and lots of time dedicated to getting into playing shape, NHLers are expected to be in game shape on Day 1. In the NFL, it’s nearly a month before an opponent gets hit in anger. In the NHL, the first exhibition games are 3-4 days after camps open. To wit, the Bruins host the Rangers on Sunday.

“We’ve just become accustomed that guys come into camp in great shape, and that’s why camps have gone from six weeks to five weeks to four weeks to three weeks now before we play,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said Wednesday. “It’s amazing.

“As coaches, we go through the days of training camp and what we’re trying to accomplish, and every year it seems like, ‘Oh geez, we don’t have enough time.’ We don’t have enough time. Really, by the end of 12 days, you’re ready as to who your team is and where you’re going.”


“We’ve just become accustomed that guys come into camp in great shape, and that’s why camps have gone from six weeks to five weeks to four weeks to three weeks now before we play,” [a regular-season game],” Jim Montgomery said Wednesday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

For Marchand, who was named Bruins captain Wednesday, the sessions are time to bond with teammates — both new and old — and plant seeds for not only success in the short term but also for long-range thinking.

“If a team can get out to a good start, you’re setting yourself up for a good opportunity to make the playoffs,” he said. “And typically, we always look at it come Thanksgiving, you want to be in a playoff spot. I think it’s, like, 80 or 85 percent of those teams end up earning a playoff spot.

“So you want to make sure that you’re not rusty coming out of the gate and giving up points that you should be able to get and only trying to claw your way in. So I think they’re really important just to make sure that you come in tip-top shape and on top of your game.”

While NFL teams often differ in practice structure, Marchand noted that many NHL teams stick to the same script, making it easier to integrate new players, whether they’re fresh-faced rookies or wily veterans.

“I don’t know a ton about football, but I’m sure with just the way that those systems work, the amount of systems in place they need to run, they need that time to kind of get in synch,” said Marchand. “Where for us, we have the same systems, a lot of the things are pretty well used across the league and everyone does similar things, so it’s a little bit easier to get used to having new guys on the team now.


“We’re going to be in a different position this year where we have more new guys than normal, so you might have to do a little bit more of that early on. Learning and learning through mistakes. But when you’re in good shape and you’re on the top of your game, it makes it easier to adapt.”

Brad Marchand, now captain of the Bruins, said precamp workouts can help a young team build a foundation before ramping up to training camp and the NHL season. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

McLean, who was named an assistant coach by the Bruins this week, specializes in skills and skating development. While McLean, the ex-Malden Catholic coach, will continue to concentrate in those areas, his duties will expand. He’s expected to be an eye in the sky for Montgomery and bench assistants Joe Sacco and Chris Kelly.

“Well, one, he’s a former defenseman. Two, the skill development portion of it, working on developing players within the season with their individual skills specifically that translate to Bruins hockey systematically,” said Montgomery. “So he’s going to be working on not only your skating, your shooting, your passing, but puck protection and pivoting for defensemen.

“But he’s going to be combining that with how it plays out in game situations for our team, which I think is going to get players reps of improving their skill development within our team game, which hopefully makes them better and makes a team better.”

Jim McBride can be reached at Follow him @globejimmcbride.