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Rookie Chad Ruhwedel was shaking his head, thinking it was very possible he could have been near the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings Monday. Nathan Gerbe, a former standout at Boston College, seemed angry at the carnage in his collegiate home.

Emotions will be raw tonight in TD Garden when the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins stage a hockey game that will mark the first professional sporting event – and the first large public gathering – since the explosions that rocked the nation at the finish line of the big race. The eyes of the nation will be on the game, as it will be televised on the NBC Sports Network.

There were plenty of stark thoughts in the the Sabres’ dressing room after practice Tuesday when players were asked to discuss their feelings about the blasts on Boylston Street. The site is about 1½ miles from the Sabres’ regular Boston headquarters, the Ritz-Carlton hotel on the famed Boston Common.

“You know exactly where it is. I’ve walked past there I couldn’t even tell you how many times,” said Gerbe, who said he watched the marathon finish a few times while he was a student. “For yourself, you thank God for keeping you safe. But something like this happening is embarrassing for our world to affect innocent people and innocent children. Sad.”

Until Saturday, Ruhwedel was a player for UMass Lowell, a school about a 30-minute train ride from downtown. Had he not suddenly signed his pro contract with the Sabres’ in the wake of Tyler Myers’ injury, he could have easily been with his college teammates enjoying the sunny day on the marathon course.

“If I didn’t have this great opportunity, I’d probably would have been down there hanging out with my team,” Ruhwedel said. “It hit me like that. I would have been somewhere in the vicinity.

“My teammates didn’t see it but they were rather close. It was a day where everybody was really joyous and having a lot of fun and then you could see the emotion of people’s faces how heartbreaking it was. It was a pretty rough day.”

“That’s a huge day in Boston,” said interim coach Ron Rolston, a former assistant at BC and Harvard who has also watched the marathon finish several times. “The [11 a.m. Red Sox] game lets out and you’ve got all those fans coming out in the street and they usually stay out to watch the race and go to the restaurants and bars. It’s a scary thing.”

While Gerbe said he was a little nervous about walking the city streets on this trip, General Manager Darcy Regier said he had no reservations taking his team to Boston on its flight Tuesday afternoon.

Winger Steve Ott agreed, but said he expected the Beantown the Sabres arrived in would not be the one they’re used to.

“I’m sure they’ve got it Fort Knoxed right now,” Ott said. “That it’s pretty bolted down and security is pretty high.”

Regier said he was reminded of a flight through New York to South Carolina to attend training camp a few days after the 9/11 attacks. And of the Sabres’ emotional season opener against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden on Oct. 7, 2001, when both teams wore “New York” on the front of their jerseys in the first pro sporting event in Manhattan after the attacks.

He said he also pondered the communal feel in Buffalo surrouding the Sabres’ overtime win over San Jose here on Feb. 13, 2009 – the night after 50 died in the crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Clarence Center near the homes of many Sabres players and coaches.

“You can’t help but think in terms of the families that are involved and how difficult it must be,” Regier said. “The only thing you can do is, thoughts and prayers are with them and their family. It’s terrible.”

The Bruins didn’t play Monday and the Celtics’ NBA game against Indiana was canceled Tuesday. Is tonight still too early to play a game in Boston where a large crowd will gather?

“That’s a good question. I don’t know,” Regier said. “There’s at least a couple of ways to look at it. You can either stop everything or make a statement to these types of situations that you’re gonna get on with life. It won’t be our decision. It will be a decision made by the people in Boston empowered to make those decisions, or even higher.”

Boston city leaders and the NHL apparently decided the game could go on and everyone involved hopes it can play a small part in the healing.

“It’s going to be a little bit overwhelming to start the game with heavy hearts just as people,” Ott said. “It’s extremely disheartening to hear and see. … It’s going to be very touching.”

“Boston will respond really well,” Ruhwedel said. “They’re a very patriotic city, lot of support for one another. They’re a close community and I have no doubt they’ll respond well and bounce back. Right now, I’m sure they’re having a little time to grieve.”

mharrington@buffnews.com