BOSTON -- For a professional athlete, Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid is as quiet as they come.
Off the ice, he’s soft-spoken, doesn’t swear and is the type of person who would help a little old lady cross Causeway Street on a busy afternoon.
On the ice, he’s a completely different person. Once he laces up his skates, McQuaid’s transformation is Bruce Banner-esque.
“He has a switch and then he just goes crazy,” Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “He’s the nicest guy ever, one of the nicest guys I have ever met, but when he goes on the ice something switches and he’s an animal. He just wants to destroy guys. It’s impressive, a special thing to have.”
However, staying on the ice has been a challenge for the injury-prone McQuaid the past couple of seasons.
On Wednesday, McQuaid played his first game in eight months when the Bruins hosted the Washington Capitals at TD Garden. Boston won 2-0 on goals by Zdeno Chara (power play) and Simon Gagne (empty-netter).
McQuaid admitted he was a bit off on his timing and positioning, but overall said he was satisfied.
“It’s been a while,” he said. “I definitely felt good to be out there. At times I felt pretty good, other times there was a little bit of rust here and there. I’m just trying to keep building on things and pushing forward.”
The physical aspect of McQuaid’s game was present. He had no issues throwing his body around and was involved in a few big hits, which he said felt good.
“It’s how I know how to play,” he said. “I’m used to playing that way and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to really try to lean on guys. Maybe it was a little pent up.”
There’s an internal competition on Boston’s blue line during training camp, and McQuaid wants to regain his spot in the lineup. While fellow defenseman Torey Krug remains unsigned, there are eight defensemen battling for roster spots. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli recently said he would be comfortable starting the season with eight, but it’s likely the team will get down to seven defensemen to start the season.
Bruins coach Claude Julien has been impressed with McQuaid’s progression.
“It was good,” Julien said of McQuaid’s physical play. “He came out and tried to make a statement that he’s ready to play and he wants to be here. I thought he played a real strong game. I gave him high marks for his first game back and how well he played for his first game back.”
This is the best McQuaid has felt at this time of the year in a long time.
His troubles began the summer after playing a career-high 72 games during the 2011-2012 season. McQuaid experienced numbness in his shoulder, arm, wrist and hand. Doctors found a blood clot near his collarbone and McQuaid needed to have surgery before the condition became life-threatening; two procedures later, he was fine.
Due to the NHL work stoppage, he was able to properly rehab and recover and was ready for the start of the lockout-shortened, 48-game season in January 2013. He played 32 regular-season games and scored the winning goal in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals to complete the sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
During the 2013-14 season, McQuaid was limited to 30 games because of quad and ankle injuries. He was injured against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 19, and after numerous setbacks, he finally had surgery on his right ankle in May.
“It’s been a tough few years with various, weird and unique things, and not your everyday common hockey injuries,” McQuaid said. “I definitely just want to move on from that and continue to build. I feel like if I start to play consistently and build some consistency into my game, there’s definitely lots of room to grow and learn. So it’s exciting from that standpoint.”
Understandably, McQuaid hates answering questions about his health. He graciously obliges, but tenses up when talking about his health issues. If anything, dealing with a slew of injuries the past few seasons made him mentally stronger.
“I have a lot more mental fortitude out of it,” McQuaid said. “You learn that a lot of things are out of your hands and who knows what tomorrow brings, so you come in each day with the right mentality and do what you can to give yourself success.”
Like McQuaid, Seidenberg missed the majority of last season after he tore both the MCL and ACL in his right knee Dec. 27. He had surgery Jan. 7. The defensemen spent plenty of time together working with the team’s physical therapist, Scott Waugh, as both players attempted to return to the lineup.
“When he’s healthy, he’s such an imposing player to other teams,” Seidenberg said of McQuaid. “He’s tall, very strong and doesn’t back down from anybody. Everyone knows how tough he is and it’s nice to have a guy like that on your team, someone who gives everything for the guy next to him.
“When he’s healthy, he’s great. Last year was really tough and it’s tough to play with a lot of confidence and within yourself when you’re just battling injuries all the time.”
While Seidenberg’s injury was cut and dried, McQuaid’s situation was unsettling.
“It was tougher for Adam because he had several setbacks,” Seidenberg said. “It was always tough and he didn’t know how long it was going to take. You could tell he was really frustrated. We went through it together, helped each other through the ups and downs. We went through a lot of tough workouts, but it seems like he made it through just fine and he’s in great shape right now.”
McQuaid’s been moving well on the ice, but still needs to improve his strength. The 27-year-old blueliner hopes for a better outcome this season.
“It’s been a challenge for him,” Julien said. “All the injuries have been an issue for him. It just seems he’s got to start from scratch every time and it doesn’t make it easy. When you play, play a lot and you’re healthy, you get yourself on a roll, and it’s been a while since he’s been able to do that.”
After his May surgery, McQuaid’s goal was to be 100 percent ready for training camp. He appears to have achieved that, but now the trick is to remain that way for the entire season. He’s already dealt with enough in his career. He deserves a healthy and productive season.
“It’s been a long road,” McQuaid said.