Like most NHL teams, the Bruins, minus their Olympic players, returned to their respective practice facilities on Wednesday and Thursday. Appearing refreshed, healthy and eager to start the stretch run, the Bruins went through a spirited practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass., on Thursday.
Following the hour-long session, several members of the black and gold said they felt like going for another hour or two because they were so excited to be back out on the ice. As the two-week break clearly helped to rejuvenate most of the players, it makes sense that they all supported the NHL's continued participation in the Winter Olympics in 2014 and beyond.
As defenseman Derek Morris pointed out, the Olympic break gives many non-Olympic players a time to heal nagging injuries and take a brief step back from the game. On the flip side, many of the players in Vancouver are going at it with a playoff-like intensity, allowing some — like Bruins and Czech Republic forward David Krejci — to rediscover their game and confidence.
"I think [the break] came at the right time because a lot of guys are beat up and need the rest and have come back refreshed," said Morris, who took a family vacation to The Bahamas. "It's nice to take a break from the game and just refresh. I never get to take vacations with my kids and that was great. Now I'm ready for a great stretch run.
"Then you look at the guys playing over at the Olympics and Krejci is a good example," Morris continued. "It just looks like his confidence level went up another notch and he's going to come back playing at another level and that just bodes well for us. You have guys resting here, but at the same time you have guys [in Vancouver] playing playoff-type hockey, and if they do well, they want to continue at that level.
"It brings the game up a few notches and makes for really exciting hockey in the last 22 games here and in the playoffs."
That's why Morris disagrees with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's current plan to pull NHLers out of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Many players, including reigning Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin, have stated that if Bettman follows through with his plans, they will go anyway.
Furthermore, the Olympic hockey ratings have been high, especially in the United States due to their run to the semifinals, and as Morris pointed out, the excitement generated from that and from NHLers playing at such a high level can only help the league and the game as a whole.
"I think it's ridiculous to even ponder not going," Morris said. "You look at the games and they've all been close, really, and so exciting. I mean, who imagined that [Team] USA would do what it's doing? And then to see the skill level of Canada when they're playing the way they're playing now? That's what people pay to see, right? To see hockey at its best sells the game, so when [fans] see [games] like this, they will come to NHL games, too.
"I just don't get the philosophy behind [not sending NHL players]. I think it's been great for the game."
Bruins teammate Blake Wheeler, who spent his time off in St. Thomas and then in Minneapolis visiting friends and family, has enjoyed watching the Olympic games, too.
"The action has been amazing, so I've enjoyed it a lot and I'm sure the fans have, too," he said. "I think when you're watching an event like this, all it can do is showcase our game. The league is definitely thirsty for some spotlight and it's a good thing for our game and league. To cripple that and prevent … average sports fans from seeing the best of what we, as a league, have to offer is definitely a mistake.
"The skill level and the pace of the [Olympic] games are what fans want to watch and you're not going to get that necessarily through the dog days of February [in the NHL]," Wheeler continued. "Guys are beat and tired now and usually hit a wall. So to get this type of hockey on the world stage is crucial to growing the game and the NHL."
Of course, there are also critics of NHL players participating in the Olympics. They believe that having these pros there takes away from the spirit of the Games and that Olympic berths should be reserved for amateurs.
But as Wheeler pointed out, there are other tournaments specifically for amateurs, and the buzz created by having pros play can only be beneficial for the NHL and the sport.
"I understand that some say it takes away from the spirit, not having amateurs. But if you want that, you can watch the World Junior Championships and that's still great hockey," he said. "But having NHLers there is just a no-brainer to me. We need all the good exposure we can get for this league and this grabs everyone's attention."