WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Don Sweeney was promoted to assistant general manager of the Bruins last September after spending three seasons as the team’s director of player development and director of hockey operations. While taking over the role as assistant GM was obviously a proud moment for Sweeney, the Bruins' development camp, which he started in 2007, has become a labor of love for the former Boston defenseman.
The fourth installment of the camp concluded Saturday at Ristuccia Arena, and Sweeney is happy with the way the camp has evolved each summer, helping the team’s prospects learn about what it takes to play in the NHL as well as the organizational philosophies of the Bruins.
“I’ve tried to continue to allow it to evolve and find something new each year to tweak it and get better at it,” Sweeney said. “We want to learn from it each and every year so that the kids coming back -- the returnees -- I don’t want them thinking ‘same old story.’ So I think we’ve tried to do that. We meet with our staff and find different things that they’d like to see. We talk to the players about what worked and what didn’t so that we can continue to be fresh about it and have a more proactive approach.”
Each camp has emphasized team building, and part of that area this past week was having the players work with Marines. By all accounts from players and staff, the experience was a success and Sweeney is happy that he and his colleagues decided to bring in the men in uniform.
“You have to have a little risk and try different things to see whether or not it works,” Sweeney said. “That was part of the thing with bringing in the guys from the [Marines] program this year, to see whether or not it would jive. I’m a believer of this and luckily we have a tremendous amount of support from Peter [Chiarelli] and the organization with financial support to implement a lot of these things.”
Development camp also serves as a chance for Sweeney to do something he truly loves: coach. While Sweeney doesn’t impose or intrude on what the organization’s coaches try to accomplish, he helps out whenever he can, something he also does with the Providence Bruins during the season.
“The natural comfort for me is down on the ice and I love being out there,” Sweeney acknowledged. “But we have a lot of coaches here that work with these kids on a daily basis and they have to have the primary role and responsibility to do that, and they do. But you like to be down there. That’s why I get down to Providence as much as I do.
“I use the analogy that any of us can sit up in the balcony like the Muppets and point out what’s wrong. But really, go down to the ice and realize how fast the game is and also acknowledge to these kids that, guess what, I made the same mistakes that you guys are making currently, but I had people help me along the way and you recognize, you learn from it and you apply that knowledge going forward because that’s really what it’s all about.”
Sweeney is a big believer in positive reinforcement, especially during development camp, and he does his best to remind the prospects that they wouldn’t be in the camp if the team didn’t believe in them.
“Sure, I’m going to identify the mistakes, but also tell them, ‘We’ve recognized the good things that you do as a player and that’s why you’re here and part of this organization. Don’t forget those things either.’ ”
James Murphy has covered the Bruins and the NHL for the last eight seasons. He has written for NHL.com, NESN.com, Insidehockey.com and Le Hockey Magazine. Murphy also authors a blog, Drop Puck Murphy.