Bruins forward Shawn Thornton looked up at the huddled media around him Monday morning at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass.
"Don't you guys know it's still summer?" he asked jokingly. "What are you doing here? Go have some fun while its still summer!"
It may have been the end of August, and it may have been only Thornton, forwards Marco Sturm and David Krejci and goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Kevin Regan on the ice, but it was a sign that hockey is right around the corner. Training camp officially starts Sept. 12, but in today's NHL, these informal skates have become a right of passage into the new NHL season.
"It happens everywhere," Thornton said. "It seems like every team has guys coming in early now. The summer's pretty short, and when everyone gets in, your mindset starts to turn toward the season, so I think it helps. Everyone's happy to see each other. Everyone's giving high-fives and shaking hands. It's good to see everyone again, and it'll be a little more exciting as the week goes on and we get some more guys on the ice as everybody else comes in."
Rask, who is expected to assume the backup role behind Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas this season and finally get a full NHL season under his belt, is raring to go and can't wait until camp begins in earnest.
"It's great to be out there and skate with the guys, but I can't wait for the real thing!" Rask said excitedly. "I'm not really seeing solid shots and action, so I want that part to start soon."
Rask did admit, however, that he still needs to get his legs going a bit more.
"I started skating a bit last week, then I stopped for a bit, so I felt it today," he said with a grin. "It will come back, though, and I'm just really happy to be here and excited for the season."
Krejci, who signed a new three-year deal this summer and is rehabbing from offseason hip surgery, resumed some light skating drills last week and can't wait until the rest of his team returns over the coming days.
"This is great and it's been fun skating with some of the guys," said Krejci, who has also been working out under the watchful eye of Bruins strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides and trainer Scott Waugh. "This is going to be a big season for us, and we just want to get going here."
Krejci also hinted that he may be ready earlier than expected and suggested that playing in the season opener isn't out of the question.
"Who knows? I might be ready," Krejci said. "Who knows? But I just started skating and if I'm ready to play [in the] first game, then I'll play. But I don't want to rush it. I'd rather miss a few games than be out for half of the year. There's no point to rushing it."
Another rehabbing Bruin, Sturm will definitely be in the lineup when the Bruins open the season Oct. 1 against the Capitals. Sturm has been skating in Wilmington for two weeks and is excited to once again be playing the game he loves.
"I've started skating the last two weeks with my old team, and the first week was just OK," Sturm said. "Last week was much better and much more comfortable, and we'll go from there, I guess. Practice the last two weeks has been full out with one-on-ones and everything. It's just timing, and that's all.
"I'm really excited to be back and glad to be skating with the guys again. It was good. Guys are coming in the next few days, and I'm looking forward to having some fun. Being around the guys and playing hockey were the things you really miss watching on TV."
Sturm, Thomas, Rask, and Regan are the only players expected to be on the ice at Ristuccia on Tuesday. They are scheduled to skate at 11:30 a.m. More Bruins will be flowing in as the week goes on. Newly acquired defenseman Derek Morris is expected to arrive in Boston on Tuesday
Defenseman Dennis Wideman and forward Byron Bitz will be in town this week to participate in the Pro-Am at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Tuesday at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., along with teammates Krejci and Thornton. The Bruins will present a check for $18,000 to the MGA's First Tee program, which introduces children to the game of golf.