The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in sports to win. The laundry list of injuries with which players played, from teams that go the two-month distance, is usually jaw-dropping. Just Google “Patrice Bergeron” and “2013 playoffs.”
But with the coronavirus still raging in some parts of the continent, the 2020 Cup promises to be the most difficult to attain since Lord Stanley donated it in 1892.
That notion hit home again for the Bruins on Thursday morning at Warrior Ice Arena. With the most arduous practice of their brief training camp on tap, featuring a scrimmage at the end of it, coach Bruce Cassidy had hoped/expected to have a full roster available. It just didn’t happen.
David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase, both of whom made their first on-ice appearances on Wednesday, were both deemed “unfit to participate” in the NHL’s new super-secretive parlance. Cassidy, as forthcoming a coach as you’ll find, could not reveal much else but his concern.
“Hopefully, (their status) changes in the near future,” Cassidy said. “Yeah, any time players miss a session when we expect them back at full speed, until he’s out there, it’s a concern for us as a team. But we’re just going to forge ahead. We’ve plugged different guys in. We’re obviously missing two guys that play up in your lineup and a guy like David that’s your leading scorer, you want him in there, you want him getting back into condition, you want him returning to the ice and be with his teammates.
“But he’s not… so we used Anders (Bjork) up there. We’re going to mix different guys in. We’ve used Jack Studnicka a little bit on the wing. He gets a look with (David Krejci). (Karson Kuhlman’s) been there before. So it does allow you to do other things, but obviously we’d prefer to have both those guys back.”
Both Pastrnak and Kase missed the first two days of camp because they needed to fulfill quarantine obligations after returning from their native Czech Republic. The NHL has chosen to take a vigilant stance on the players’ privacy as it tries to pull off a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament during the coronavirus pandemic, so we don’t know if there was a positive test, whether a symptom or two cropped up, or there was some protocol sticking point.
It’s too early to call it a worst-case scenario for the Bruins, but the wheels are certainly turning in their coach’s mind. That Cassidy moved top center prospect Studnicka to right wing in the top six speaks to the fact that he’s at least preparing for the possibility he could be without one or both of his top right wingers.
“Am I think ahead to being without those guys for the round robin or the playoffs? No. That would be speculating,” said Cassidy. “But, yeah, for today, and if I get word later today that the same thing’s going to happen tomorrow, then we start thinking. We’ve looked at a couple of guys. Is there anything else? We’ll meet as a staff to do that. But there are only so many guys who can go up to David’s spot.
“Kase came late, so there are a lot of guys who’ve played in that spot. We know that with (Krejci) on his right side, so that would be nothing new. But to miss both of them, it sure is an opportunity for someone else. But like I said, I’m not thinking too far ahead, other than if it does turn into a long-term thing, who’s the best fit. That’s why we moved different pieces around.”
So plug in your favorite 21st century cliché. This is the new normal. It is what it is. Whatever.
But it’s clear that everyone needs to get used to random, largely unexplained absences of their favorite players. And their teammates will just have to deal with it.
“(Pastrnak) is not a guy you can replace just like that. It takes everyone to take a little more responsibility,” said Charlie Coyle. “But as we talked about with a guy like (Studnicka) or someone else down the line on the third or fourth line, it’s guys pushing each other. It’s that next man up mentality. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play different roles and be in the lineup and win hockey games. Yeah, we want everyone in there and healthy. That’s when we’re at our best. But if that’s the case, and it usually is in playoff time when guys are injured and guys are out for whatever the case is, that next guy can step up and fill a role.
“It takes a little bit from everyone, just to take on more responsibility, a little more leadership and try to fill that. We’re ready for anything. Bruce and the coaching staff, we talk about that all the time. We have the leadership, too, and they talk about that, just to be ready. Because anything can happen, as we know with what we’re dealing with right now, what everyone is dealing with right now. You’ve got to be ready for anything, ready for the unexpected and just be comfortable in it.”