BOSTON - More than two decades removed from his first NHL training camp, 42-year-old Boston Bruins forward Mark Recchi finds the gruelling start of the pre-season more enjoyable now than when his career started.
"It's a different structure now because you get right in, because everybody's in shape now, you come in and you just work on structure, you work on team stuff, you practice," Recchi said Monday after a team scrimmage. "Back then, it was two lines, you played two scrimmages a day and there were fights every day and it was just battle, battle.
"This went on for a week, so definitely this is more conducive to being a better team. Guys come in in such good shape now, you want to focus on getting better as a team and working on the structure thing and seeing where players are ready to step in."
Recchi, who played with Boston on a one-year deal last season, decided to return to the Bruins on an incentive-filled one-year contract. While he leads active NHL players in games played (1,571) and points (1,485), and is second in goals (563), Recchi—beginning his 22nd season in the league—isn't shooting for any personal milestones.
"Just be consistent every night for the coach," said Recchi, who will break into the top five in games played if he gets into 68 this season. "I want the coach's trust, and that's the only goal I set—make sure he trusts me every night."
Last season, Recchi skated in 81 of 82 games and had 18 goals and 43 points while playing on the club's top two-way line with centre Patrice Bergeron and a revolving cast of wingers. Bergeron and Recchi hit it off as an on-ice pair from nearly the first week Recchi joined the Bruins in March 2009. Playing with the heady centre, who can be dynamic at both ends of the ice, has made life easy for Recchi.
"We support each other very well," Recchi said. "It's just something, whether I've played left wing or right wing with him, it's been good. Who knows why? Fortunately, I haven't had too many guys I haven't had chemistry with. So he's just such a smart player, and I read off him and he reads off me well."
In addition to generating offence and helping Bergeron shut down opposing top lines again this season, Recchi will be asked to continue mentoring the younger Bruins. There figures to be one or two rookies, including possibly No. 2 overall draft pick Tyler Seguin, on the roster when the team breaks camp.
Recchi has skated on a line during practice with Seguin at centre. During Monday's scrimmage, Seguin joined the Recchi-Bergeron combination as a winger. That trio could be together on Wednesday when the Bruins begin their pre-season schedule at Montreal.
"It's good, it's fun, it's enjoyable," Recchi said of working with the youngsters. "Especially when you have good kids. It's not enjoyable when they're not good kids. Ninety-nine per cent, I've had great kids who want to get better and want to learn. That's why they're great players in the league. And (Seguin) seems to me, so far, to really want to be a good kid and a good teammate and a good player."
Bruins players of any age can learn a lot from Recchi, not just about how to play the game but how to approach it.
"The way he feels and the way he acts on the ice, I don't know which one's the kid to be honest with you," said coach Claude Julien, who compared Recchi and Seguin. "He's skating around the ice and he's got the big smile on his face, like a kid going through his first camp and that's the thing I think I admire most about 'Rex.' He's there, he's having fun.
"Some players dread camp, some players really don't like training camps and they want to get into the games. He's one of the guys where, 'Hey, I guess it's part of the process and I'm loving this.'"