WILMINGTON, Mass. — Marco Sturm returned to the ice on Tuesday morning, skating briefly on his own before the Bruins' practice at Ristuccia Arena.

But as pleased as Sturm was with taking such a significant step in his recovery from right knee surgery, he wasn't as excited about the workout as longtime friend and teammate Zdeno Chara.

The Bruins captain is an intimidating presence on the ice and usually maintains a serious, businesslike demeanor in most of his off-ice activities as well. But he showed off the less frequently seen jovial side to his personality as he joked around with Sturm after practice, then gushed about how happy he was to see Sturm progressing in his rehab.

"It's always nice to see guys coming back from injuries, especially a guy like Marco who unfortunately has been hit by the same injury twice in a row," said Chara. "It's been a long process for him to come back, but he's handled it very well. He's worked extremely hard.

"You don't see that very often, guys being as mentally strong as he is after they've been going through basically the same rehab," added Chara. "It's awesome to see him back and hopefully he's going to recover 100 percent. We all can't wait to see him back in the lineup."

Sturm suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee in the first game of the Bruins' second-round playoff series with Philadelphia last spring. That followed missing most of the 2008-09 season with a similar injury to his left knee. Despite the lengthy rehabs, Sturm has remained an upbeat and positive influence in the Bruins' locker room.

"[He's been] absolutely tremendous and supportive,” said Chara. "You don't even notice that a guy like that is being affected by injuries. He's always in a good mood, always helpful to the young players, to all of us. It’s just a huge boost for us to see a guy like that always [having] a positive attitude and bringing that energy in the room."

On many teams, injured players can often feel alienated from the rest of the squad when they can't contribute on the ice. But the Bruins have remained a tight-knit group and made sure to include injured players like Sturm and Marc Savard in all their activities.

"We don't have to do much," said Chara. "Those guys are always a big part of our team, no matter what's going on with them as far as injuries. They're always included. They're always a part of the things we do and the programs that we all have to go through on a daily basis."

Sturm still has a long way to go in his recovery, with a return before December unlikely. But the Bruins are happy that it won't be too much longer before the activities they share with him will include playing together in games again.

"To have a guy like that coming back and see him skating, it's awesome," said Chara. "It's been a long road for him, and eventually it's getting shorter and shorter for him. It's nice."