WILMINGTON, Mass. — The Bruins have gone to great lengths over the past two offseasons to retain the bulk of their Stanley Cup winning roster from 2011, believing the experience gained in that championship run is invaluable to knowing what it takes to reach that level again.
But those 2011 Cup winners aren't the only players with championship experience in the Bruins system. This week's development camp at Ristuccia Arena features a host of youngsters with extensive resumes of postseason success at lower levels. That's not a coincidence, as the Bruins have stressed the importance of developing their prospects in a winning environment.
"I think any time you have an opportunity to play that long in a season it means you've had a very successful year," Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney said. "Being in that environment of playoff hockey, you really can't trade that experience you go through at any level when you're trying to win and you know how hard it is and the guy across from you wants to win just as badly. Those are things that separate players. Our business is about winning, and we want those kids that want to be in that environment with that competitive nature."
There are plenty of those in Wilmington this week. Defenseman Tommy Cross has won two NCAA titles at Boston College, the second coming this past spring when the Eagles were led by camp invitee Parker Milner in goal. Forwards Wayne Simpson and Daniel Carr also competed in this year's Frozen Four with Union College, while goalie Niklas Svedberg helped Brynas win the Swedish Elite League title this year and forwards Jared Knight and Seth Griffith were key contributors in London's run to an Ontario Hockey League championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup.
Knight is participating in his third development camp since being taken in the second round in 2010. He played three games with the Bruins' America Hockey League affiliate in Providence at the end of the 2010-11 season, but it was this spring's run to the Memorial Cup final that he felt really prepared him for the challenges that lie ahead in pro hockey.
"Going into the Mem Cup, that really readied me, gave me experience and helped me out for any camp coming up," Knight said.
Milner took a similar lesson from the Eagles' NCAA title run.
"I think being part of a winning program makes you get used to winning," Milner said, "and playing on the big stage, that's something you're going to need moving forward more and more every year. I think that's kind of an advantage Tommy [Cross] and I have. We've played on a lot of big stages."
Cross, who also got a taste of pro hockey life with two games in Providence last year after the Frozen Four, also highlighted the benefits of the experience, though he also cautioned that winning at the next level will be a far greater challenge.
"To get the experience of winning, first of all it makes you want to do it more," Cross said. "And you need to learn how to win. But at the end of the day that was winning at the college level. When you get to the next level, whether it be the AHL or the NHL, some things are consistent, but it's a different ballgame and I'll be looking to learn from the older guys. I'll take my experiences and use those to help me, but it will be a step up, a new environment and new challenges that will be that much harder."
It has been a challenge for the Bruins to maintain that winning environment at the AHL level. Providence has helped develop players like Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci and Jordan Caron in recent years, but has not qualified for the AHL playoffs in the last three seasons.
"You develop a lot better in a winning environment," Providence coach Bruce Cassidy said. "That's what we're trying to do, develop players for the Boston Bruins in a winning environment. Last year we won more than we lost, but not enough to make the playoffs and I think playoffs are important for young kids to feel the atmosphere of that."
Cassidy could get some help in that regard this season with Knight and Cross among the prospects likely ticketed to join the Bruins' AHL affiliate, and they will bring their extensive track record of playoff success in the junior and college ranks to Providence in their first full pro seasons.
"I would think the more winners you have in your locker room, the more winning you'll do at the end of the day if they have the talent to match," Cassidy said. "It just becomes a culture of what you're going to accept. … That culture that, you know, we're going to expect to win when we go out there."
The Bruins have stockpiled prospects who bring that attitude and have achieved success at lower levels. Now the organization hopes that experience will help build a foundation for more championships at the game's highest level.