- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Ten Boston Bruins players decided it would be best to play overseas this winter during the NHL lockout in order to stay in shape and ready for when the collective bargaining agreement was finally settled.
Now that the CBA is set to be ratified and the 2012-2013 season has been salvaged, those players have either returned or are en route back to Boston in time for minicamp, which could begin this weekend.
Those Bruins players who stayed local have held informal skates at various locations this winter and now that group is getting bigger as more players return to Boston. Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Shawn Thornton, Tuukka Rask, Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid, Gregory Campbell and Brad Marchand were all on the ice at Boston University’s Agganis Arena on Monday morning. While Seguin, Rask and Ference were three of the 10 Bruins who played overseas, the others in this group remained in North America.
A shortened 48-game season will be entertaining, but the players admit it will take a few games to get their timing back and shake off the rust.
“It’s definitely going to be sloppy hockey to start off the season, is the best way for me to put it,” Lucic said.
“It’s going to be awesome,” added Lucic. “With less games, it becomes a sprint right away and every game means so much more. We can’t afford to have a (3-7) start like we did last year, so we’re not in a position to play catch up like we did last season. Hopefully we find a way to maintain it throughout the whole year. I’m definitely looking forward to it. We’ll play divisional teams seven times and that’s going to create some rivalries, for sure. I’m sure every team and every player is feeling excited heading into this season.”
Lucic has been criticized in the social media realm for his decision to stay home and not play in Europe. He appeared to be in good shape after the informal skate Monday morning at BU and said his weight (228 pounds) is the same now as it was at the end of last season.
“You’re never really in game shape until you’re playing games,” he said. “For myself, I tried to keep myself in shape, but we still have two weeks of skating and I’ve never had a problem with my conditioning at any level. I’ll be ready.”
Ference played 21 games in the Czech league, but even though he was on another continent, he remained in close contact with the NHLPA and helped negotiations during the process. He returned to the States and was in New York last week before an agreement was settled Sunday morning.
It was a difficult process to complete, he says, adding the hockey will be “insane” for the remainder of the season.
Marchand also decided to stay home this winter, but it was obvious on Monday that he’s in good shape and said he’s physically ready for the season.
“It’s been a long three months and we can’t wait to be back on the ice and playing in front of our fans again,” Marchand said. “I’m feeling pretty good. The biggest thing is we’ve been able to rest a lot during this time. As good as working out is for you during the season, a lot of rest is great, too. I have been training hard and trying to stay in shape and I can’t wait to play.”
Marchand agreed that the start of the season would be rough.
“The first few games are going to be a little sloppy, but everyone’s going to be pushing as hard as they can every game. It’s going to mean so much more now with a short schedule, and if you go on a bad run to start the year then you could easily push yourself out of a playoff position, so everyone has to bear down and make sure every game counts.”
When it became clear that there would be a lockout, Seguin told his agent he wanted to play in Europe and eventually signed to play in Switzerland. Seguin recorded 25 goals and 15 assists for 40 points in 29 games for Biel.
When asked what he thought of his experience playing overseas during the lockout, Seguin described it as “different.”
“People ask if it was good or bad, it was just different,” he said. “Everything was so much different. The game was better than I expected it to be -- it was really fast with a lot of skill over there. There was less hitting and the guys are not as thick as they are over here, but it suited my game well and I feel I’m skating better than I have been in a really long time.”
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and felt the proverbial “hangover” last season. When asked what he thought about the reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings getting the necessary rest due to the lockout, Lucic replied: “They’re probably the only team that enjoyed that rest, for sure,” Lucic said.