Rask/By S. Bradley

Monday night not only brings the surprisingly sluggish New Jersey Devils to TD Garden, but also numerous servicemen and women from our armed forces for Military Appreciation Night.

Following a tradition started by Aaron Ward a few years ago, U.S.-born Bruins Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler have purchased tickets for military personnel and their families.

You won’t find anyone in the Bruins’ locker room that lacks an appreciation for what the men and women of the U.S. and Canadian military do overseas and at home. One player, however, who has a firsthand appreciation of what it takes to be a soldier is goaltender Tuukka Rask.

Despite his enormous talent as a netminder, the native of Finland wasn’t exempt from the requirement that every male citizen of that country devote at least six months to military training after turning the age of 18. Rask paid his dues during the 2006-07 season the year before he came over to North America.

“At times it sucked; at times it was fun,” recalled Rask about fulfilling his military requirement in a recent conversation with TheBruinsBlog.net. “You get really tight with the guys there. You spend a lot of time with your group there, and obviously playing hockey at the same time wasn’t easy because you have to practice and play games. But I definitely learned a lot – discipline, leadership, stuff like that. It was a really fun six months.”

Rask said that the first two months of his military stint were a boot-camp atmosphere that took its toll. Things lightened up over the final four months.

Some star athletes like Rask might try to get out of such a commitment but “I tried to feel responsible for the country and I did my share,” Rask says. While a couple of the guys in Rask’s group stayed in the military, most moved onto to their other careers like he did.

Through the Bruins’ association with military organizations and events like Military Appreciation Night, Rask has crossed paths with numerous Bruins fans with ties to the military. Even though he’s not an American native, he still admires those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect their country.

“I’ve seen a few guys and I appreciate what they do. It’s a great thing,” he said.

Spoon’s debut

Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner, a second-round pick last June, had his wish granted this week when Peterborough (OHL) traded him to Kingston. And then he rewarded the Frontenac’s’ faith in him by producing two goals and two assists in his first two games (both wins), including the overtime game-winner Sunday.

Gold for Gothberg

Prospect Zane Gothberg, a sixth-round pick last June, earned a gold medal last week with the U.S. Junior Select Team at the 2010 World Junior A Challenge in Penicton, B.C. Gothberg was pulled in the championship game, which Team USA won 6-4 after rallying from three goals down against Canada East, after he allowed four goals on 14 shots. But prior to his final-game struggles, Gothberg was awesome with three wins, a 1.00 goals-against average and .965 save percentage.

Defense returns

Injured Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk is nearing a possible return this week, but he won’t be the only blueliner making a comeback in a Bruins game. Thursday the Bruins host Florida for the first time in the regular season, so Dennis Wideman should get his first shot at revenge on his old club. The Panthers played in Boston during the preseason but Wideman did not dress that night. It’ll be interesting to see what type of reception Wideman receives, especially considering he was traded as opposed to leaving on his own, and that trade netted Boston the popular Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell.

Meanwhile, if Boychuk hurries back, he could exact his own measure of revenge on New York Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. It was Dubinsky’s slash that forced Boychuk out of the lineup with a fractured arm a little less than four weeks ago.