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Busy Month Ahead for Bruins as Cup Defense Begins

Stanley Cup Champs (Art by Dave Olsen)

What a tough summer it has been for the Boston Bruins. “What victory party do I have to go to tonight?” “Where do I have to tote this heavy Stanley Cup to today?” “How many thousands of adoring fans am I going to have to shmooze with this time?” The trials and tribulations of a Cup-winning Boston Bruin… I don’t know how they do it.

Even though it seems like just yesterday that the B’s raised the Cup in front of the vicious Vancouver fans north of the border, the title defense begins in less than a month’s time, when the Black and Gold take to the Garden ice to open the 2011-12 season on October 6th against Philadelphia. Preparations for the season began this week, as the B’s take to the Ristuccia Arena ice in Wilmington to kick off training camp.

Practices

Thursday, twenty Bruins got together on their own at Ristuccia, led by captain Zdeno Chara. That batch of B’s also included unsigned restricted free agent Brad Marchand, who said he hopes to have a deal struck with Boston very soon. Newly acquired defenseman Joe Corvo was also in attendance Thursday morning, joining his new teammates after signing here in the off-season.

Boston’s official training camp opens on Friday, when the rookies are required to report to Wilmington. They will go through workouts Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Ristuccia Arena, all which are open to the general public. Monday and Tuesday evenings, the Bruins’ crop of youngsters will face off with the rookies from the New York Islanders squad, down on Long Island at Nassau Coliseum. The rookies will head back to Boston for practices on their own Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, before the veterans join them on the ice next Saturday at TD Garden.

Meanwhile, many of the seasoned Bruins vets will hit the links before they hit the ice, when they attend the Boston Bruins Foundation Golf Tournament at The International in Bolton on Monday morning. Then Friday, they will get poked and prodded going through annual physicals, before they are cleared to lace it up with the rookies next Saturday.

Preseason

The team’s preseason slate of games opens on Wednesday, Sept. 21st, when the B’s travel north of the border to Ottawa to take on the Senators. Their preseason schedule features six games in total, with a pair against Ottawa, Montreal, and the New York Islanders.

The B’s will play two of those six contests at home on TD Garden ice, Friday the 23rd and Thursday the 29th, both starting at 7pm.

Players To Watch

While the core of this championship team is still in tact, the Bruins enter the 2011-12 season with question marks just like any other NHL team. Gone are wingers Michael Ryder (to Dallas) and Mark Recchi (retired), along with veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle (to Carolina). Who replaces them on the roster and fills in the production they provided last year? The hope is that Joe Corvo can be plugged in on the blue line in place of Kaberle, while Boston’s other off-season acquisition, winger Benoit Pouliot, is likely to fill one of the voids left by either Ryder or Recchi. But with Marc Savard out indefinitely still dealing with post-concussion symptoms and Marchand still officially unsigned, there is still a forward position or two on the roster that could be up for grabs.

Jordan Caron, who appeared in 23 games with Boston last season, seems to be the frontrunner for a potential spot on the big club. But there are other “baby B’s” that, with a good training camp performance, could climb the organization’s depth chart and find themselves in the NHL to start the season. Anyone from Zach Hamill, to Maxime Sauve, to Jamie Arniel, or Ryan Spooner, all who are within striking distance of earning some NHL experience this season with Boston.

On the blue line, the six-pack of Chara, Corvo, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid, and Johnny Boychuk appear pretty well set to return to the Bruins roster come Opening Night. Behind them though are a handful of young defenseman ready to pounce on any big club opportunity that presents itself… guys like Matt Bartkowski, Steven Kampfer, and David Warsofsky.

Of course in goal, the B’s boast a talented tandem of netminders, led by now two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas. Is this finally the year Thomas wears down and starts showing his age? If so, have no fear… it’ll just be “Tuukka Time!” Tuukka Rask, in the last year of his current contract, will be ready and willing to show his value to the team this year, with hopes that a new deal with the team is in his future.

And heck, if the front office feels at any point during camp that the roster needs a face lift, GM Peter Chiarelli has the salary cap space to swing some deals. With Savard’s $4 million cap hit seemingly off the books as he likely heads to long-term injured reserve, the B’s are sitting pretty with over $11 million in cap space heading into the season. A new deal with Marchand will take up a chunk of that cash wad, but still, Boston is in a better cap situation now than they ever have been, since the new hard salary cap was put into place post-lockout.

With the Sox heading down the home stretch of the regular season and the Pats ready to kickoff their 2011 campaign with Super Bowl aspirations, it’ll be easy to forget the always-overshadowed Bruins this month. But hey, pay attention to them… after all, remember they are the ONLY reigning champions in town right now.

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