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Bruins Notebook

Grieving Chara leads teammates with an emotional return

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / September 18, 2011

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On Friday night, Zdeno Chara returned to Boston via Slovakia, where he attended a memorial service for close friend Pavol Demitra.

Coach Claude Julien would have granted Chara a day off. But yesterday, despite being exhausted from the intercontinental flight and still mourning his neighbor’s death, the captain participated in the first day of on-ice activities.

Chara, paired mostly with freshman Dougie Hamilton, acknowledged being tired by the end of the session. But the Boston bosses knew Chara wanted to lead his teammates during the opening day of practices.

“He showed a great example of a guy who’s dedicated, through everything he’s been through in the last week,’’ Julien said. “He lost a pretty good friend. I think emotionally, it took a toll on him this past week.’’

Great experience Last season, Matt Bartkowski got an unexpected treat: an invitation to Prague.

The first-year pro was one of the surprises of camp. The front office informed Bartkowski he would be assigned to Providence at the start of the season. But they were pleased enough with the defenseman’s camp that he joined the big team in Europe as a healthy scratch for the season-opening games against Phoenix.

Bartkowski was with the Bruins at the beginning. And he was there at the end in Vancouver as one of the Black Aces, the group of spare players that practices with the team.

“It helps a ton,’’ said Bartkowski. “You see what they had to go through. The sacrifices, the determination, the mental aspect of it through the playoffs.’’

In between, Bartkowski spent most of his first pro season in Providence. In 69 games, Bartkowski had five goals and 18 assists. He appeared in six games for Boston, averaging 9 minutes 10 seconds of ice time.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound blue liner, who is a left shot, projects to be in the top four in the NHL because of his skating and physical play. The 23-year-old, currently behind Steven Kampfer on the depth chart, is expected to start the season in the AHL.

Thornton preparing This summer, Shane Hnidy, one of Shawn Thornton’s closest friends, lined up his post-retirement plans.

After calling it quits, Hnidy nabbed a radio gig as the Jets’ full-time color analyst. It is a job that could suit Thornton just fine, too, once the tough guy wraps up his on-ice career.

Retirement has been a touchy subject for former enforcers this summer following the death of Wade Belak. Former Canadien Georges Laraque related how challenging it can be for bruisers to adjust to post-hockey life.

Thornton, in the last season of his two-year deal, isn’t ready to retire. But he acknowledged the need to consider future options.

“I’m going into my 15th year, so I think about it every now and then,’’ Thornton said.

“You try and set yourself up where you’re not as stressed leaving the game. You try and be smart and try and start opening some doors as you go along. Hopefully your transition will go a little easier. But yeah, I think about it.’’

Seguin to the middle Tyler Seguin skated most of his shifts at center. Seguin was flanked by Nathan Horton and Kyle MacKinnon. Seguin spent the majority of his rookie year on the wing . . . Former junior teammates Milan Lucic and Craig Cunningham skated on the same line. The ex-Vancouver Giants, who won the Memorial Cup in 2007, were centered by Ryan Spooner . . . Today’s Garden sessions (10 a.m., 12:30 p.m.) are free and open to the public.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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