Bruins 2008 first-round pick Joe Colborne has a lot of things that should eventually make him a key contributor in the NHL . This summer, his leadership was displayed during rookie development, and last week Peter Chiarelli singled him out as someone whose skating has improved in the offseason. Looking at him, his 6-foot-5 frame makes size his biggest possession, but Colborne also has something that nobody else on the ice at training camp has: a cage.
Colborne got his nose and lip cut up pretty badly last week after taking an elbow to the face in the first of the Bruins’ two rookie games against the Islanders. He had stitches on the inside and outside of nose, as well as the inside of his lip and underwent neurology tests to determine whether he may have suffered a concussion. Everything checked out regarding the latter, but as a result of the facial injuries, he’s been forced to rock a full cage at practice. While wearing the mask doesn’t affect a player’s abilities in any way — he’s gone at 100 percent in practice and will play in Monday’s scrimmage — the quirks of adding a cage have been noticed by the young center.
“Thank goodness I went to college and had to do two years with the cage,” Colborne said Sunday. “It took a little bit of getting used to [Saturday] but today today it felt better.”
The cage isn’t too uncommon for players to wear over short stretches when playing with injuries to the face. The likes of Joe Thornton  and Zdeno Chara  have sported it in the past for Boston, but it is certainly a nuisance to to those forced to wear them. That’s where the conversation took a turn to youth hockey, when full cages were the norm, and depending on which youth hockey organization one was in, players were instead bugged by the vaunted neck guard.
“Oh yeah. All the way up,” Colborne said when asked if he was forced to wear one while playing as a youngster. “They were pretty pointless to me. We all just taped them up and made them as small as possible so they’re more comfortable.”
Straightening his neck out and moving it side to side, almost robotically, he added, “you walk around like this and you can’t move your neck at all in them.”
The neck guard and the cage both fall into the category of annoying pieces of equipment. Colborne certainly doesn’t miss the neck guard, known more among young players for itchy tags and restricting qualities than any protective benefits, but can find solace in the fact that it’s been a while since he’s had to wear one and, more importantly, that they’re out of his life completely. The same can’t be said for the temporary adjustment back to a cage as he tries to impress the Bruins brass and coaching staff.
“I had to get used to it for college, but then all summer I was back to the half-visor, and in rookie camp I was half-visor. It’s just cooler, it’s easier to breathe, it doesn’t restrict your vision when you’re trying to look out and use your peripheral vision and look down and see the puck,” Colborne. “When you’ve got those bars in the way, it gets in the way.”
Though it could be days before the stitches on Colborne’s nose are gone, he’s been able to feel the ones in his lip dissolving during the practice sessions and even saw some fall on the ice on Sunday.
Colborne said Sunday was the first day he could breathe out of his nose. His right nostril is still giving some issues when it comes to breathing, but thanks to relentless icing his face — which was very swollen a day after the hit — hasn’t been as big a problem as he prepares to ditch the cage within the next couple of days.
“It’s come down a ton. I’ve been icing it non-stop. Literally I’ve just been going home and plopping ice on it all day long,” Colborne said. “The extra time I’ve been putting in has helped out. It already just feels more natural.”
Colborne picked up 72 points over his two-year career at the University of Denver. He finished last season with six games in Providence, his first taste of the AHL.