DeBrusk feels right at home in NHL Outdoors with Bruins

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The DeBrusks would go up to the cabin when they could, usually at Christmastime. It was at Island Lake, about two hours north of Edmonton, where the cold really settles in. Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk‘s grandparents, Art and Cheryl, owned a place right on the lake for 30 years, long enough that Cindy DeBrusk, Jake’s mom, had skated on it when she was a girl.

It was a quick jaunt out, steps away, and onto the smooth surface. Once you made it smooth, that was. 

“You’d just shovel off a section of it,” said Louie DeBrusk, Jake’s father and a former NHL player. “It was just really cool to be out there. We had done that a few times in different lakes and ponds. It’s just a different setting. It really is unique.”

Jake will get a chance to play outdoors again, this time at the Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday on Feb. 21 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS) when the Bruins play the Philadelphia Flyers at Lake Tahoe. The game will be part of a set of two, with the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights playing in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday on Feb. 20 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS). Both games will be played without fans, at a rink built specifically for these games at Edgewater Tahoe Resort.

It will be another in a long line of cherished memories burnished on outdoor rinks, from the days at Island Lake to the rinks in town to attending the first regular season outdoor game in modern NHL history, the 2003 Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, to playing in his first NHL outdoor game, the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium between the Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, something Jake called “a dream come true.”

“Listen, the second Jake was skating, that’s all we wanted to do,” Cindy said. “So any opportunity to be outside and have the kids doing something fun, they loved it. Whether it was out at the cabin or after-hours hockey with his own team, he loved it. He was the first one out there, the last one to leave.”

The cabin at Island Lake was a place for holidays, for camping and boating and hiking in the summer, for ice fishing and skating in the winter. It was not the only place that Jake skated outdoors — he could be found at outdoor rinks all over Edmonton after school and practice — but it was one of the most special.

“It wasn’t just us three, there were actually full-on games,” the Bruins forward said. “That was so much fun. I played against my principal one time. … I think I dangled my principal one time and I’ll never forget that. It was like, wow, I’m cool. For the first time in my life, I have something on him.”

It started when Jake was 6 or 7, when Louie was at the end of an 11-season career in the NHL. Jake was well into hockey by then, games, practices, but, even with all that, he and his friends would find themselves on an outdoor rink at least a few times a week. There were four within a five-minute drive of their house.

“It was a big part of his upbringing,” Louie said. “A big part.”

Cindy, meanwhile, would be patiently — or not so patiently — waiting with hot chocolate and doughnuts from Tim Hortons, while he and his friends would play or race or goof around. The horns would start honking and the parents would start calling out as the dark descended. 

He would pile in with his friends, cheeks rosy, having played defense or even goalie, whatever was needed. 

“That was probably one of my best memories,” Jake said. “It’s when I feel my best. That’s when I’m completely myself is when I’m out there on the outdoor rink. It truly is and that’s why I went out there so much. I felt very free, just having fun, doing what I love to do.”

He had tried to hit an outdoor rink before he left Edmonton for Boston at the start of the season, but it wasn’t quite cold enough and the restrictions didn’t allow for it.

He’ll get his chance on Sunday. 

It’s a chance to get back that feeling, those memories. Including that time that Louie lost an entire toenail. The wind chill dipped well into the negative numbers and the ice was solid that day, requiring an almost superhuman tolerance for cold. 

“I remember taking him out with his friends and it was minus-20, minus-25 [Celsius],” Louie said. “And they would skate for hours. They would never want to come off the ice. I lost my big toenail – to almost frostbite, I got hit with a puck. I was frozen. And these kids just kept going out there. They never had a fear of the cold.”

After that, though, Louie wasn’t quite as excited.

“After that he was scared to come to the outdoor rink,” Jake said, gently ribbing. “He used to love to come out with us too. … That just goes to show how much he would stay out there with me. That’s how much he loved being out there with me. He’d lose a toenail to go out on the ice with his kid.”

The next few times Jake would go to the outdoor rink with his friends, Louie refused to join in. Self-preservation. 

“My friend stuff was the best,” DeBrusk said. “But being out there with my dad was probably right up there, if not better. We’d always compete and stuff like that. And he taught me a lot. He taught me a lot out there.”

And that’s what Jake remembers most. 

“Those are memories that honestly I wish we could have back,” he said. “I wish we could go back and do that. Any time there’s an actual outdoor rink game that we can play it always gets me in a good mood.”

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