BOSTON – The last time that Bruce Cassidy drove to TD Garden, his commute was bit more, well, Boston-like.
In the 10 months that have passed since the B’s bench boss last made the trek to Causeway Street, much has changed. The pandemic has forced most people to work from home and visitors to stay away, leaving the city and its roadways far less congested.
The lack of traffic that Cassidy faced on Wednesday morning was a reminder that the world outside of the rink is still far from normal. But a return to the Garden was, nonetheless, a comforting occasion.
“Mostly uneventful…I could get used to that,” Cassidy joked. “I enjoyed that part of it.”
For the first time since March 7 – Boston’s final home game before last season was paused – the Bruins skated on the Garden ice. The practice acted as a bit of a dress rehearsal – fake crowd noise and all – for Thursday night’s home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers. After such a lengthy time away, it was an opportunity for the Black & Gold to re-acclimate themselves with what are normally familiar surroundings.
“We love playing here, we’ve missed it,” said Charlie Coyle. “If there’s things with the boards or the ice, feel it out. It’s good to get accustomed to that. It was good to get out there today, feel it around and just be back in this building and feel comfortable playing here again. It was really nice.”
The Bruins will, of course, take the ice for Thursday’s tilt against the Flyers without any fans in the building. While they have gotten used to playing in empty arenas between the Toronto bubble for last summer’s Stanley Cup Playoffs and the season-opening three-game road trip, this will mark the first time in history that the Bruins play on Causeway Street without a crowd cheering them on.
For a team that has come to expect a full house every night – the team’s sellout streak dates back to 2009 – it will, no doubt, take some getting used to.
“Really excited, kind of the aura of playing in the Boston Garden. It feels special every time coming back here,” said Matt Grzelcyk. “Obviously we’ll miss having the chance to hear the cheering from the fans in Boston, but you’ve got to just find a way to get to our game as quick as we can. I think we’re quite used to it now going through the experience in the bubble, playing a few games.
“But again, I think it’s certainly an advantage to play in front of our home fans here. Talking to the other players in the league it’s a pretty intimidating place to play. We usually feed off their energy.”
Video: Grzelcyk and Coyle talk to media after practice at TD
Knowing that it will likely be a striking and noticeable difference without 17,000-plus fans in attendance, Cassidy reached out to his friend, Celtics coach Brad Stevens, for some advice. The Celtics have already played seven games at TD Garden this season.
“He said it was different for him at first,” said Cassidy. “It took a little while to get used to. I think it will be like the first time we were in Toronto in the bubble where you’re looking around…it will be unfortunate. You’re used to the different songs, the crowd is behind you. It’s really helped us in the past. We won’t have that.”
Even though the building will be far quieter on Thursday night, the Bruins know that they will still have plenty of support from the legions of Black & Gold faithful tuning in from home.
“We want that support in the building. It’s the best place to play when you have the fans there and the building gets loud, but it’s just not the case,” said Coyle. “We have to move on. We know that we have that support sitting at home on the couch and watching us which is great to know. We know what our fans bring, not just in the arena but elsewhere.”
Cassidy could already sense some extra jump in his team during Wednesday’s practice and believes that being back on home ice – even in an empty TD Garden – had the group eager to bounce back from a disappointing end to the opening road trip.
“I think the guys had lots of energy. That was good to see,” said Cassidy. “Sometimes that happens simply because you’ve had a day off and you’re back home – in every regard, your own bed and house. I think a little bit of it is we haven’t skated at the Garden in a long time.
“We’ve played well here over the years and guys were just kind of excited to be back skating with the big logo, the B at center ice. We’ll see [on Thursday] how that plays out for us.”
Pasta Returns to Practice
For the first time this season, David Pastrnak took part in a practice with the full group. The winger, still rehabbing from offseason hip surgery, donned a maroon non-contact jersey and took part in some line rushes with Sean Kuraly and Trent Frederic. Pastrnak had been skating on his own throughout training camp with skating and skills consultant Kim Brandvold.
“He’s progressing well. He’s doing line rush drills, so getting closer,” said Cassidy. “Best guess is he will be with us through this week in a red [jersey], stay out of the heavy stuff. And then hopefully by next week he joins us and we’ll see how close he is to game ready.
“Where that puts him exactly, I don’t know. Probably a little early for that. But as I said before, he is ahead of schedule from the original mid-February date. How much remains to be seen.”
Grzelcyk Skates, Too
After leaving Monday’s game on Long Island following an awkward fall and collision with the Islanders Jordan Eberle, Grzelcyk was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice. The blue liner said that he dodged a bit of a bullet and was “feeling pretty close to 100 percent.” He expects to be in the lineup on Thursday night against the Flyers.
“I think it could have been a lot worse, just kind of a little nick from something I’ve had in the past but feeling good right now,” said Grzelcyk. “I haven’t really talked with the trainers or anything yet, but I feel really good and practice went really well – no hiccups today.
“I’ll do everything I can to make sure that I am in the best position to be in the lineup [on Thursday] and I’m sure there won’t be an issue.”
Cassidy thought Grzelcyk “seemed fine” during Wednesday’s practice and that it was “trending very well for him to be in the lineup” against Philadelphia.
Cassidy added that Ondrej Kase – who did not practice on Wednesday – is still dealing with the upper-body injury he suffered on Saturday in New Jersey and will not play against the Flyers. “I don’t know how long it will be,” said Cassidy.
Wednesday’s Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Jake DeBrusk
Nick Ritchie – David Krejci – Jack Studnicka
Anders Bjork – Charlie Coyle – Craig Smith
Trent Frederic – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner/David Pastrnak
Jeremy Lauzon – Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk – Brandon Carlo
Jakub Zboril – Kevan Miller
John Moore – Connor Clifton
Video: Cassidy addresses media after Wednesday practice