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In Boston, the Bruins won’t win a popularity contest with the Red Sox, Patriots, or Celtics, but their hardcore fans are true Bostonians and as dedicated to their team as any fans of the other New England sports teams. For those unfamiliar with the game of ice hockey, imagine a sport which, like soccer, is a low-scoring affair, but unlike soccer, permits physicality between players and doesn’t reward those who like to fake injuries. It also represents one of the best ways to have fun when you’re near a frozen body of water and can’t go anywhere because there’s too much snow (this is New England for about four months out of the year). Many Bruins fans, unlike fans of franchises in the southern United States, have fond memories of playing the game with family and friends. Collegiate hockey (the BU Terriers and the BC Eagles are among the top teams in the nation) is extremely popular around Boston as well.

History

The Bruins were part of the Original Six teams that comprised the National Hockey League (NHL) at its inception, along with Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and Toronto. While the Bruins never enjoyed a true dynasty, they have lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup on a number of occasions, most recently when defenseman Bobby Orr revolutionized his position with his dazzling offensive skills in the early 1970’s. Ray Bourque and Cam Neely, gifted defenseman and beloved tough guy, respectively, are the most recent Bruins legends; however, neither player enjoyed a championship season with the Bruins.

State of the team

The Bruins managed to underachieve and overachieve in the same season last year. Having nearly reached the conference finals during the 2008-2009 season (to be defeated by the Carolina Hurricanes on an improbable goal), the Bruins were expected by many to make a deep run into the playoffs. With a Vezina trophy-winning goaltender signed to a new deal and several emerging young players signed to new contracts, last year was to be the beginning of a new era of hockey glory in Boston. However, scoring suffered with the trade of sniper Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs (more on this later) and injuries to key players. The linchpin of the offense, Marc Savard, suffered a concussion from a dirty hit doled out by the Penguins’ Matt Cooke. The squad limped through the middle of the season but showed some signs of life at the end as the playoffs commenced (keep in mind that half the teams in the league make the playoffs; unlike teams in other sports, hockey teams can endure long stretches of mediocrity but still earn the opportunity to play for the championship). They managed to upset the Buffalo Sabres and found themselves one game away from a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, up 3-0 in their semi-finals match-up with the Philadelphia Flyers. Like the 2004 New York Yankees, however, they could not come up with the series-clinching victory in four attempts. Despite last year’s spectacular implosion, this is a team on the cusp of greatness that seems capable of beating the much-hyped Penguins and Capitals in a seven-game series. With a new offensive weapon (Tyler Seguin, the second overall pick in the 2010 entry draft) at the disposal of coach Claude Julien, the Bruins are well positioned to make a run at the Cup this year.

Names to know

Tuuka Rask: A top-notch, Finnish goalkeeper who became a star when starter Tim Thomas struggled due to injuries.

Tyler Seguin: Top draft picks in the NHL, more so than their counterparts in other professional sports leagues, are often strong contributors early on in their careers; these players come straight from the cutthroat competition in Canadian “junior” leagues or other storied college programs like Boston College, Boston University, North Dakota, and Minnesota in NCAA Division I hockey. The Bruins hope that their top pick, fresh from the junior leagues, could be the solution to their offensive woes.

Patrice Bergeron: A member of the Canadian team that won gold in Vancouver, Bergeron is a playmaker that opposing defenses can’t ignore. After suffering a devastating concussion, he appears to be back at full strength.

See them in action

The Bruins play at the TD Garden, which greets you as you come over the Zakim bridge into Boston. Last season, “Chipotle Student Tickets” cost $29.50 (the ticket also gets you a free Chipotle burrito at a Chipotle location in Boston!); “Family Section” tickets cost $20 (no family necessary). Both of these “discounted” tickets get you seats in the balcony, where regularly priced seats cost anywhere up to $100. From the balcony, you still need binoculars to see the action. I would highly recommend checking out the “rookie” games against the New York Islanders on September 15 and 16 at the TD Garden. Tickets are just $5, and the games will feature top young talent from both teams.

The Bruins’ first preseason game will be on September 22, against the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal; they open their regular season at home against Phoenix on October 9.