Commentary

Bruins help city's recovery

Boston's first major sporting event after Monday's tragic bombings offered time to reflect, pull together as a community

Updated: April 18, 2013, 1:15 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Dennis SeidenbergJim Rogash/Getty ImagesThe Bruins returned to the ice Wednesday night, hoping to help Boston stay strong.

BOSTON -- An act like the terrorist bombings of the Boston Marathon spawns a thousand stories. They are stories of heroism and tragedy and the stories of why and how and who.

But the stories that are sometimes the hardest to get a handle on are the stories of "what now?"

Because at the very heart of any act like this is a desire to not just destroy and kill but to disrupt, to steal the routine that is part of a community's fabric.

The bombings have taken some of that away. The Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators' game Monday night was postponed until Sunday, April 28, a day after the regular season was supposed to end. The Boston Celtics' game against the Indiana Pacers was cancelled for good Tuesday.

But Wednesday, long before the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss, some of the "what now" stories began to unfold.

They unfolded long in the form of those fans, many sporting Bruins jerseys, standing outside the TD Garden leaning against the tall iron fence that separates the player and staff parking lot.

They were told in the form of Bobby Robichaud and his 10-year-old son, Jarrett, both sporting Bruins jerseys, Jarrett wearing a large, yellow foam hand with the index finger pointed in the universal "No. 1" signal.

The father and son were standing not far from the statue depicting Bobby Orr's iconic goal against the St. Louis Blues in the 1970 playoffs. It was Jarrett's spring break, and the Rhode Island residents had made the one-hour drive in to see the Bruins take on the Buffalo Sabres. Did Bobby think about not coming in the wake of Monday's attacks?

"Absolutely not," he told ESPN.com. "You can't let them take over our lives. They want you to stay away."

No one knows exactly who "they" are yet.

Maybe that will be part of the "what next?" or moving forward. Maybe not.

But on a beautiful spring night where the Boston Marathon signs still fluttered from some of the streetlights along Cambridge Street and where television cameras and news crews have become a regular part of the downtown landscape since Monday, there was a heightened anticipation for Wednesday's game, the first major sporting event since the bombs went off.

And so preparing for Wednesday's game wasn't about preparing in the normal sense, but preparing for something different, something more.

"It's not a normal game, that's for sure," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference told ESPN.com.

"For everybody that's coming tonight and obviously the players, there's nothing normal about it," he said.

It's about doing something positive and familiar, "but at the same time really reflecting on the last couple of days," Ference told ESPN.com.

It's easy to suggest a game like this, even against a familiar old foe, is about healing. But it's a little more complex than that, and maybe even a little more meaningful. When something like the bombings happens to a community, people are looking for cues about how to proceed, and those cues can often be given by how groups of people react.

"It's a really important opportunity for normalcy," said Adam Naylor, a clinical assistant professor of sport psychology at Boston University's School of Education who has done extensive work in the field of player development and coach education.

"It's at times like this that community is so darned important," he added. "To come together is so important."

And so they did come together -- maybe not knowing what to expect but wanting to be there nonetheless, seeking some sort of comfort from a familiar, shared ritual.

And what better ritual than to see the Bruins skate onto the TD Garden ice to play their longtime rivals the Sabres? Buffalo and Boston have been going at it for four decades now. And to be sure, there is comfort in that kind of shared dislike.

There was comfort in welcoming Patrice Bergeron back to the Bruins' lineup, as was the case Wednesday night after the team's heart-and-soul center had been absent for six games with a concussion.

There was comfort and more than a little intrigue with the appearance -- for the first time on Boston ice -- of Carl Soderberg, the much-heralded prospect who flew in from Sweden on Tuesday evening and who skated with the Bruins on Wednesday morning and then again during warm-ups (although his NHL debut will wait a little while longer).

[+] EnlargeBruins fans
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBruins fans joined together for an emotional national anthem rendition Wednesday night.

Finally, there was more than a little comfort in just being in the building as the lights went down and tuxedo-clad Rene Rancourt strode out onto his familiar piece of carpet at the corner of TD Garden to belt out "The Star-Spangled Banner."

With the Boston Fire Department Honor Guard at his side, Rancourt began as usual -- but after a few bars simply held the microphone out and let the fans carry the tune the rest of the way.

It wasn't an important moment for only those in attendance at the sold-out game. Those at home were watching, too, watching for signals that things hadn't been irrevocably changed Monday. They could see signs it was so when they saw the "Boston Strong" stickers on the Bruins' helmets and the helmets of the Sabres players too, and the signs in the stands reading "Believe in Boston," and the chants of "We are Boston" that went up spontaneously early in the first period.

"When you look at the support this city has had from rivals and everything else, that are giving us support at this time, it's amazing. We have an opportunity here to make our city proud," Boston head coach Claude Julien said Wednesday morning.

"I think we're all in for it and hopefully we can do that for this city right now," he said.

Naylor was with his 5-year-old daughter at the time of the explosions. His wife, who works at the Floating Hospital For Children at Tufts Medical Center, was taking a water commuter boat home. After spending a decade on the Boston University campus, he recognized on television the red hats worn by campus trainers and other staff who were among the first to help when the marathon turned to chaos.

And so, as it was for virtually everyone in this city, this region, the event was instantly close and personal.

"It's going to be a while to sort all that out," he said.

So if a hockey game in and of itself doesn't heal the wounds suffered by this city, this nation, it does provide a place for a community to gather and feel something of normalcy -- and in that normalcy a chance to realize that those bombs, as deadly as they were, did not stop the machinery of a community. And know that in this city, perhaps more so than in any city in America, sport is community.

Sports is what gets talked about at Sunday family dinners, Ference said.

Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and, of course, the Bruins.

"We're part of that," Ference said.

"Obviously in this town sports is huge. It's a huge part of our social fabric."

It would be difficult to find a team that is more ingrained in its community than the Bruins.

Ference and his wife and daughters live in the city.

We recall taking the media bus from Logan Airport during the 2011 finals to the rink in time to see captain Zdeno Chara riding away on a bike and wearing a Bruins hoodie, headed to his downtown home.

Ference's wife and two daughters were a couple of blocks away from the blast Monday, so he knew almost instantly that they were safe. But Ference's worry, his connection to the bombings, didn't end there. There were friends who were injured, family members of friends who lost limbs. So it's not so much "what if?" for Ference as "what did happen?"

No different from anyone in attendance at Wednesday's game.

"Just everything was too close to home," he said.