Bruins' party almost over

BOSTON -- After months of waiting and wondering what it must feel like to wear a Stanley Cup ring, the 2010-11 Boston Bruins finally experienced it Tuesday night.

The Brinks truck arrived at the Boston Harbor Hotel at approximately 4:40 p.m. Under a heavy drizzle, security personnel with umbrellas escorted the ushers carrying the rings into the hotel for the private team dinner and ceremony.

It was a casual atmosphere, and as ownership, management, coaches and players exited the facility, it obviously was another special night for the Stanley Cup champions.

"It's pretty incredible," said Bruins president Cam Neely, who helped design the ring. "Winning the Cup in Vancouver was amazing, but when you actually have the ring it's pretty special."

The ring is 14-karat white gold and contains 35 custom-cut princess diamonds, 11 princess-cut diamonds and 256 round diamonds. Each ring has the player's name and jersey number on one side, and the six years the Bruins won the Cup on the other side. The inside of the band features the team's 2011 playoff slogan "Full 60-plus to history" along with the logo of each playoff opponent.

The cost of the ring was not disclosed.

"It's very beautiful, obviously, and they put a lot of thought into it," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "It's very generous and it's a special piece and we are all very thankful. It's a great piece of memory and jewelry."

As the party ended and players slowly began to file out, the consensus was one of awe and disbelief by the size and beauty of the bling.

"Better than what I expected, to be honest," forward Milan Lucic said. "I didn't expect anything like this. They went above and beyond my expectations. I'm obviously very thankful to receive something like this."

Bruins forward Shawn Thornton collected his second Cup ring, winning one as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He said both are special, but he was amazed at the stunning qualities of his new ring.

"This is probably worth more than my parents made growing up," a clearly emotional Shawn Thornton said. "I'm kind of speechless."

Now that the Bruins have their rings, there's one more celebration before the 2011-12 season gets under way.

Prior to Thursday's season opener, the Bruins will raise their Stanley Cup banner to the rafters of the Garden, joining the other five already there. In fact, the Bruins have replaced all five of the old banners with new ones, depicting the team's logo at the time.

"It's obviously going to be something very special," assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said. "I'm looking forward to it. I know all the fans in Boston have been waiting for a long time for this, and it's the same thing for us. It's going to be a special night and we can't wait for it to happen. It'll bring back some great memories."

Bruins coach Claude Julien said there is a legitimate concern of a letdown once the puck drops on Thursday, following almost 3 ½ months of pomp and circumstance. The coach has voiced those concerns to his players, but he also wants them, along with the fans, to enjoy this week's festivities.

"We earned that right," he said. "Our fans have earned that right to experience it. It's part of winning a Stanley Cup and I think our team is mature enough to handle that. No matter how you look at it, it's going to be an emotional night and somehow we're going to have to find a way, both coaches and players, to shift into gear and realize we have a game to win. That's a challenge, but it's a challenge we're ready to take."

Bruins goaltender and reigning Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas said he's not sure if he's ready for the kind of emotional night that Thursday will bring.

"Not yet," he said. "It's probably something that I'll actually mentally prepare for the night before a little bit. We've been so busy I really haven't had time to think about that much."

But the players have thought about what needs to get done once their focus turns to repeating as champions.

"That will be part of the challenge," Thomas said. "It'll kind of be like the playoffs to a certain extent. There's so much energy during the national anthems and everything, you have to be able to enjoy it and then block it out when it comes game time, so it'll be a similar situation on Thursday."

The Bruins' offseason was shortened by the fact they played until June 15, and because of all the attention each player gained from being a Stanley Cup champion. The Bruins all arrived at training camp ready for the upcoming challenge.

They now have their rings. And once the banner is secured in its place, it's time to focus on their next goal.

"It's a real exciting time," goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "We have been waiting for this week for a long time and Thursday's going to be a special day for us. We also have to put all the hype around us on the side and focus on hockey."

The Red Sox suffered an epic collapse and missed the postseason for the second consecutive season. The Celtics could lose the entire season. The Patriots, well, are the Patriots. But Boston is currently a hockey town.

When the Cup banner is raised to the rafters on Thursday, there's no question the Garden crowd will be loud and appreciative for what the Bruins accomplished last season. With the majority of the team back and the chemistry in tact, it's possible the Cup could remain in Boston for the foreseeable future.

"Thursday night will be about our fans," Neely said. "I'm going to be excited for our fans. I just wish we could have more seats in the building, because I know more people would like to be there."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.