Rask, who remains an unrestricted free agent, signed a professional tryout agreement with the Providence Bruins on Thursday and is expected to start between the pipes on Friday night against Lehigh Valley at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in the latest step of his recovery.
"That was a long, long period that I was just skating by myself and not with the team, so that was something different," Rask said of his solo skates throughout the fall at Warrior Ice Arena. "And for sure, when you've played hockey your whole life and grown up in a locker room, basically, that's something that you miss when you don't have that. Definitely makes you appreciate it even more when you have that time off and come back."
The 34-year-old had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip over the summer after dealing with the injury for the majority of last season. Rask faced a five- to six-month rehab process and returned to ice back in the fall, before joining the Bruins as a third goalie for the majority of their practices over the past two weeks at Warrior Ice Arena.
During those sessions, Rask has noticed a significant difference from how he felt last season when his injured hip hindered his ability to move swiftly around the crease.
"Just one of those wear and tear situations when you hit enough miles that your body's just starting to break up on you; and goalies, the hips are the first ones to go usually," explained Rask, who added that the injury did not affect him away from the ice. "The biggest issue for me was the catching of the joint and the pain that that created. That all is gone. It makes a huge difference. Every time I go to butterfly and get up, I don't have to think about it locking up on me again and creating that pain. I feel great."
Rask last played for the Providence Bruins during the 2008-09 season, his second full professional campaign in North America. Over the course of two seasons with the P-Bruins, the Finland native played 102 games with a 60-33-6 record, .911 save percentage, and 2.43 goals against average.
He will return to The Dunk this weekend for Friday's tilt against the Phantoms, before evaluating whether or not he needs another game at the AHL level. Rask added that the Bruins "have a plan in place" regarding next steps and, if all goes according to plan, he could be back with Boston by next week.
"It all depends on how I feel [on Friday night] tracking the puck and whatnot," said Rask. "Physically, I feel great. Obviously, it's been while since I've seen game action. We'll get [Friday's] game and we'll see what happens after that. I'm confident that won't be an issue."
Rask said that he never seriously contemplated retirement and had the surgery with the intention of returning to the NHL - specifically, the Bruins. During his end-of-season press conference in June, the netminder made it clear that he did not have any interest in playing for another team.
"I think that was the indication for me, that I'm still trying to come back and give it a go if rehab and everything else went well like it did," said Rask. "I never really thought of that. I was doing rehab basically every day for the last five-six months, so it's a long process to go through to then decide to not come back. I never really flirted with the opportunity of just hanging them up."
Rask, who is the B's all-time games leader among goaltenders, was also motivated by the chance to reunite with longtime teammates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand and finish off their lengthy careers together in the Spoked-B.
"That's why I never - in my head I didn't really want to flirt with the opportunity to go anywhere else," said Rask. "It's a business like everybody knows. But for us players, when we've had a team like the Bruins - basically a bunch of us have grown up together here - you kind of feel that brotherhood and you don't want to leave guys on bad terms.
"I just wanted to try to come back and be helpful and maybe finish it off with a bunch of those guys who I've played with my whole career."
When and if Rask does re-join Boston, the Bruins will have some decisions to make. With Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark already on the roster - and playing quite well over the past month-plus - the Black & Gold have a bevy of strong options between the pipes.
"Having one net for three goaltenders, if that's the case, this will be a challenge and we'll figure it out," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "But at the end day, we'll do what's best for the Bruins. And as for the other two, I think it's just human nature that as Tuukka gets close, you're going to look over your shoulder a little bit. It can be good, could be good competition…or it can go the other way where they start worrying too much about."
Cassidy said that he had a discussion with Swayman and Ullmark before the season to make them aware of Rask's timeline for a return and that the netminder would be using the team's facility to rehab from his surgery. Boston's bench boss believes both goalies have handled the situation professionally and remained focused on themselves and improving their own games.
"So, they knew from Day 1 - they've been working in net together," said Cassidy. "In practice, I can't say enough about all three of them. Tuukka's been a real pro. At first, he was in here early, gone before most of the guys came in. He did not want to be a distraction, but eventually he needed to get live shots. So, we worked that out.
"He'd be the third goalie in the net, so I think they've all got sort of their workload. [Goalie coach Bob Essensa] has done a good job balancing that, putting our two guys first and then getting Tuukka's work."
Rask, who has been at Warrior Ice Arena almost daily since the fall, said that he gets along well with Ullmark and Swayman, the latter of whom he split the Bruins' net with last spring. He went on to reiterate that it has been his intention all along to return to the B's and do his part in helping the club win in whatever way he can.
"That hasn't changed at all," said Rask. "I had a good meeting with [Bruins general manager Don Sweeney] after last year and we talked for a while there. Biggest point for me was, if I feel great, I want to try to come back; if I heal properly, I want to try to come back. The only thing at this point that I want to do is just help out.
"I'm not looking for a big contract like I've said before. I just want to come and help out the guys and do my part that way. Obviously, people from the outside are looking at controversy. There's always gonna be controversy in when you play in Boston. But I think so far, sharing the net with Sway and Linus there in practices, we get along great."
Cassidy added that while Swayman would be eligible to return to Providence without passing through waivers, there is not yet any set plan in place regarding what the Bruins' goaltending rotation will look like for the remainder of the season.
"That he does not need waivers doesn't mean he'll be the guy that has to go," said Cassidy. "You have a taxi squad. I think you'd be able to move Swayman on there…it could be that way. I think if you ask any goalie, one net for three goalies at some point becomes a challenge.
"But we'll do whatever we have to do to get everyone in the right spot. At the end of the day, I'll say this about any position: you never want a young player that's still in development, still building his game to a certain extent, sitting out too long, whether he's a goalie, D, or forward. So, we have to manage that if it does become Swayman.
"But by the same token, if he's given us the best chance to win, then we've got to factor it in that that he needs his share of starts."
Ultimately, Cassidy noted, Rask must get back into the Spoked-B before any concrete decisions can be made.
"It's a good problem to have, no matter how it plays out, when your goalies are playing better," said Cassidy. "We want to be one of the elite teams in the league and we're trending towards that. So that's a good thing. And Tuukka could only help us with that, if in fact, he ends up being a Bruin."
Source : https://www.nhl.com/bruins/news/rask-takes-next-step-in-return-heads-to-providence-on-pto/c-3295298421674