Nearly a century into their existence, the Bruins on Thursday unveiled their new state-of-the-art practice facility, a dazzling 75,000-square-foot rink in Brighton with 660 bright yellow seats and a rink-wide view of traffic zipping east and west on the Mass. Pike.
Built and maintained by New Balance, the new rink will fling open its doors to Bruins rookies next Thursday and serve in perpetuity as the club’s workout and training facility. The Bruins trained for some 25 years at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, and now the spiffy new rink gives them their first true workout facility since entering the NHL in 1924.
According to Bruins president Cam Neely, New Balance paid for the construction of the facility and the Bruins are tenants, their giant spoked-B logo prominently featured on the north-facing side of the building.
“It’s hard not to be impressed,’’ marveled Neely, the Hall of Fame right winger who led a contingent of some 50 media members around the new digs.
“This arena is unbelievable for us,’’ added defenseman Torey Krug. “I’ve never seen anything like this.’’
The facility, known as Warrior Ice Arena, is located just 7 miles west of the club’s TD Garden home rink on Causeway Street. It is adjacent to New Balance’s recently opened world headquarters, the iconic office building shaped like a luxury cruise ship run aground.
The Bruins, though the building’s lead tenant, will not be its sole skating entity. According to Jim Halliday, managing director of New Balance’s Development Group, 75 percent of the arena’s non-Bruins ice time already has been booked, a good portion of it reserved by local high school teams.
There will also be public skating (hours to be determined), with rental skates available and the requisite snack area (ready the hot chocolate machine!).
According to Neely, Bruins practices will remain open to the public, including training camp, as was true for years in Wilmington. Spoked-B newbies will open camp next Thursday, followed by most of the varsity players a week later. Familiar faces such as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and team captain Zdeno Chara will be otherwise engaged in the NHL’s World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
The new arena is heavy on player amenities and training aids, including rich leather couches in their large, richly-appointed lounge at ice level. The expansive training room includes an underwater treadmill, which they can use to immerse themselves in water (depth: 5 feet 6 inches) to help them rehab from injury or improve their cardiovascular conditioning.
The rink is part of the burgeoning Boston Landing area, which, according to Halliday, totals some 15 acres. According to Halliday, the Celtics next month will break ground on their own new training facility, located immediately to the west of the Warrior rink. They’ll be vacating their current workout home along the edge of Route 128 in Waltham.
The Boston Landing section in Brighton abuts Market Street, an area of town that for years was an active slaughterhouse district, dating back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776. It was known as Little Cambridge in those days.
With New Balance, the Bruins, and soon the Celtics aboard, Boston Landing is turning into one more hot area of the city. A high-rise apartment of some 400 rental units (studios up to three bedrooms) soon will break ground. A hotel is also planned.
More than five years ago, New Balance announced plans to build its headquarters on the current site and also construct a large indoor track facility. Plans for the new track facility, with some 10,000 seats, have been finalized, according to Halliday, and it will be constructed directly across from the Big Ship HQ building on Guest Street. The apartment building will be erected adjacent to the track.
The Boston Landing MBTA commuter rail station, also being built by New Balance, is approximately 50 percent complete, said Halliday, and is expected to be operational next March. Its terminus will be South Station.
According to Neely, it’s likely that the Bruins will stage their day-of-game morning workouts at the new practice facility. Those workouts have always been held on Causeway Street, be it the original Garden or the newer version. But with a massive construction project now underway on the site of the old Garden, Neely said, general manager Don Sweeney and coach Claude Julien are of the mind that it could be better for the skating personnel to tune up at Warrior, then report downtown late in the afternoon for game action.
A number of Bruins players have begun to migrate to the western suburbs, reversing a trend of recent years that had many of them buy condos near the Garden or across the bridge in Charlestown. Some, including new Bruin David Backes, have chosen the burbs to be closer to the new rink.
Another inducement to head west, according to one club insider, has been the iPhone camera factor. Some players, especially those with young children, have been annoyed by fans constantly clicking their pictures while at dinner, or while walking the street with their kids or playing with them at parks. The more cloistered burbs will be a bit of a safe haven.
Neely, charged with finding a new practice home, said he scoured the Route 128 belt for a practical site, never expecting he would be able to find a spot so close to the core city. Someone in the Bruins office, he recalled, read a news story about New Balance’s plans to build the track facility, spurring Neely to pick up the phone and call company chairman Jim Davis to see whether he had interest in adding a hockey rink.
“A few years later,’’ mused Neely, standing in the middle of the posh dressing room, “here we are.’’