WATERBURY, Vt. - The Boston Bruins set up training camp in ski country Monday for three days of practice, team-building exercises and relaxation as coaches mull their next round of roster cuts.
The Bruins opened their first practice here carrying 31 players - eight more than they'll have for their Oct. 9 opener.
Coach Claude Julien said the team expected to make more cuts by now, but the level of competition has made those decisions difficult, prolonging the process.
He'll get a chance for further evaluation Wednesday, when the Bruins travel north to Montreal for an exhibition game against the Canadiens.
"Everything comes into play now - the salary cap comes into play, the waivers come into play, there's a bunch of things that come into play. You've got to make the right decision, and it takes time," Julien said.
On Monday, his team hustled through a briskly paced 90-minute workout at The Ice Center before an enthusiastic crowd of NHL-starved Vermonters, many of them children skipping school to attend.
The team, coming off five games in seven nights, looked no worse for the wear, moving crisply through warmups, line drills and shooting practice.
Among the players getting the most attention: Goaltender Tim Thomas, who played his collegiate hockey at the University of Vermont, about 40 kilometres up Interstate 89 from the arena.
The team, which is staying in the nearby ski village of Stowe, had an exercise planned later Monday at Bolton Adventure Center, followed by an autograph-signing session at a Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream plant in Waterbury. A golf outing was planned for Tuesday.
The idea, in part, is to get away from Boston and do some bonding, according to Julien.
"When we start the season, it's not about bonding, it's about winning hockey games," he said. "And we need to do this kind of bonding now, before the season starts."
"I definitely think it has some benefits," Thomas said. "I don't know if getting out of town is key, or it's just what you're doing that creates the benefit. It's something they looked at that we did last year, and it was helpful. Management thinks it's helpful, so why not do the same thing again?"
That was the prevailing sentiment in the crowd, too. About 200 people turned out to watch the practice (it was free admission), some of them arriving early with pens, posters and jerseys in hand, hoping to get autographs.
They lined the path between the team bus and the entrance to the arena, stopping players to ask for autographs or to have their picture taken.
Among them: Brian Hill, 47, of Rutland, and his 10-year-old son, Bauer Hill, who wore a Bruins baseball cap bearing the signatures of several players.
Yes, the boy was missing school. But it wasn't entirely hooky, his father said.
"He'll have to do a little report on it for his fifth-grade English class," Hill said.
One young fan pressed a hand-lettered sign against the rink's glass that read: "Bruins ... Come to Vermont more often."