Finally, the Boston Bruins are on the cusp of making their facilities reflect the “practice like you play” adage. Almost two decades after moving to a modern game venue, the TD Garden, they are aiming to follow suit with their tune-up grounds.
The only marvel regarding the team’s Tuesday morning press release on plans for a new practice rink is that it did not surface sooner. The franchise hopes to let its players start grooming their game within city limits by 2016 after nearly three decades of practicing in the suburb of Wilmington.
According to the press release, the arena will be one of several projects in the new Boston Landing complex. The release elaborates that there will be a myriad of business, lodging, recreation and transportation facilities coming to the city’s Allston-Brighton neighborhood.
Interpreting an initial statement by club principal Charlie Jacobs, csnne.com beat writer Joe Haggerty opined, “we’re talking state-of-the-art here.”
Perhaps not so coincidentally, that was also less than a year after the franchise had garnered its first Stanley Cup since 1972. It was barely out of the afterglow of the culmination of a renaissance that started with humble beginnings in 2007-08.
That was when fan-favorite player-turned-executive Cam Neely arrived as the new vice president. That was when second-year general manager Peter Chiarelli fixed his false start by replacing Dave Lewis with Claude Julien as head coach.
Little by little, after multiple playoff no-shows, the Bruins restored relevance and built upon it with that new personnel. They won their first series in exactly a decade in 2009, whetting a regional appetite for greater springtime fulfillment.
By the end of Neely’s first season as club president, they slaked that appetite with the 2011 title. Expectations and interest have hardly receded in the three-plus years since.
For those reasons, the idea of a pristine practice pond closer to the franchise’s Causeway Street epicenter could not help but appear overdue. By all accounts, Wilmington’s Ristuccia Arena has little company, if any, as a lingering remnant of the pre-Neely/pre-Julien Bruins.
As ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald wrote in his report on Tuesday’s announcement, “Over the years, the Bruins have made renovations to the rink to accommodate the players, but the facility is not up to league standards. Most NHL teams have top-notch facilities.”
Meanwhile, a Boston Globe write-up co-authored by Amalie Benjamin and Chris Reidy noted that “For the Bruins, a new practice facility within the city offers a range of possibilities in providing more amenities to players, bringing in more revenue, and bonding with fans.”
The Ristuccia discrepancy might not have jutted as much when this was a sub-.500 squad that failed to fill the TD Garden. It might not even have drawn much attention as late as 2010, when the team still had questions as to its Cup caliber.
But now the Bruins have a core of coaches, players and higher-ups trying to maintain the momentum that accompanied a 2011 championship and run to the 2013 final. They continue to add punctuation to their sustained relevance through the likes of the NESN documentary series, Behind the B.
Incidentally, that series cast no shortage of camera time on the incumbent training arena, which has been in use since 1987-88—that is, since President Neely’s second of 10 seasons as a player in the NHL’s New England chapter.
The first two decades of the Ristuccia era started with runs to the 1988 and 1990 Stanley Cup Final, followed immediately by back-to-back conference final dismissals. That promptly gave way to a decade-plus of mediocrity and misery, inconsistency and instability, drabness and disgruntlement.
Between 1992-93 and 2006-07, the Bruins won a sparse two playoff rounds and missed the dance altogether five times. There were other years when they sculpted a sound stature in the regular season, only to prove themselves paper bears in the postseason (i.e. 2002 and 2004).
That was all before Neely returned 11 years after his playing career ended due to injuries. Over the seven years since, he has garnered no shortage of due credit for preserving the team’s new standard that started to build circa 2008-09.
It was therefore fitting that Neely spearheaded Tuesday’s practice rink proclamation on the team's website, which quoted him as follows:
Since joining the Bruins in a front office capacity, a goal of mine has been to move the Bruins into a first-class practice facility and this agreement moves us closer to accomplishing that goal. The vision that New Balance has for the Boston Landing project is exactly what we were looking for, and we are confident that through this partnership, we will build a facility that our entire organization will be proud of.
The new arena ought to be a hallmark for New England’s extended hockey advocates as well. Granted, the region has always sustained a steady interest in the sport via the grassroots, college and minor pro levels. But the aura is more convincing when the local NHL franchise holds its proper position as the centerpiece.
By making nearly daily use of a Boston-based, state-of-the-art community rink, the Bruins can strengthen their magnetic tug. Depending on as yet unspecified details of the arena, they can make it a go-to venue for other hockey entities.
Assuming it can house enough spectators and guest locker rooms, it could be an attractive option for neutral-site high-school games. Its direct basis within Boston could render it an ideal site for Eastern Junior League showcases. Ditto major games and tournaments pertaining to USA Hockey’s Massachusetts District.
In a similar vein, the Women’s Hockey East Association should consider shuffling its championship tournament there away from the Cape Cod-based Hyannis Youth and Community Center. The Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s League could lobby for their share of practice and game time there.
Time, of which there is still more than two years’ worth, will tell as to specific possibilities. Who will want in and who the building can work into its itinerary will doubtlessly become more apparent later.
If nothing else, the Bruins will be able to sanction community and youth hockey events at a more convenient and captivating venue. That alone can only help the perpetual drive to strengthen the franchise-fanbase relationship.
They have the right to do so given the winning bar they have fastened for themselves. While the tagline is no longer in official use, they have restored their posture as New England’s “Hub of Hockey.”
The competitive vibe took roughly a year to kick in after that slogan surfaced. The last great gain will take roughly a decade to open after the fact.
But the fact that the Bruins have signed on for this facility on authentic Hub soil is an achievement all the same.