Trip to Ireland an eye-opener for B's

After an 11-day odyssey that took them through Belfast, Northern Ireland and Prague, Czech Republic, the Bruins are back home resting before they practice Wednesday and Thursday and then head off on another, but much shorter, road trip. Boston will play the Devils in Newark, N.J., on Saturday and then head to Washington, D.C., for a tilt with reigning Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals.

But before they embark on this next chapter of their season, they’ll have time to soak in what they just experienced as part in the 2010 NHL Premiere Series.

The players obviously played plenty of hockey overseas, but there will be lasting impressions from what they saw and experienced off the ice in Belfast and Prague. For Mark Recchi it will be the stark contrast in cultural and political atmosphere in Belfast versus that of North America or even Prague. Signs of the long religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants were evident, particularly when a splinter Irish Republican Army group blew up a car outside a Londonderry shopping center a day after the Bruins departed Belfast.

“You know, what they go through every day there, any day could erupt and that’s a scary way to live,” Recchi said prior to leaving Prague on Sunday night after the Bruins’ 3-0 win over Phoenix. “You just don’t know what is going to happen. They seem to be able to make the most of their lives and enjoy it. You enjoy every day. They don’t let it affect them. We went and took a tour and learned about all the battles and it really is scary. In this day and age, I just can’t imagine it.”

Team president and NHL Hall of Famer Cam Neely, who has Irish roots himself, said he felt a connection to the people of Northern Ireland who have suffered through so much Sectarian violence. Neely alluded to the numerous Irish immigrants in Boston as another reason he’s drawn in by the Northern Ireland culture.

“The tour of west Belfast was pretty interesting with everything that has gone on there,” Neely said. “Because they speak English, you feel so much closer to them. With the ties to Boston, we have a number of people from Ireland in Boston so it brings us closer when you are over there.”

Once he got to Prague to watch his team prepare for and play in the NHL Premiere series, Neely felt another connection to the once-morbid city that is now alive and festive with tourists and natives. Just prior to being traded to the Bruins, Neely was part of the Canadian team that played in the 1986 World Championships in Prague. At the time, the city and Czechoslovakia were under Communist rule.

“It was in 1986. It was the April before I got traded to the Bruins and I was only here for a few days but what I remember was how depressing it was,” Neely recalled. “Not a great place to be in, especially living here. I just remember everything being gray. It was just so dreary and that’s how [the Communist government] wanted it to be.”

Now to come back 24 years later, Neely said he was amazed at how the city preserved its architecture and has become such a vibrant scene.

“Going through all that and still having the beautiful city and buildings here, it’s been a treat to spend some time here,” Neely said. “Prague, itself, I had no idea what a beautiful city it is. The architecture is beautiful. To come this time around, it was great to see how lively it was as everybody is out all the time having a good time. I also noticed the architecture a lot more and how beautiful the buildings are. It’s an impressive city.”