Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Providence Battling Hartford For Home Ice

March 25, 2009
by T. Chace Jr.

Providence wearily arrived home after a 2-1 win in Rochester on March 8th to end their eight games in thirteen night road trip against some of the AHL’s top teams. They managed to garner seven points despite winning only two games and losing two of their best players in a deadline trade to help their parent club in Boston. Top prospects, Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff, were given new addresses to finish their seasons. Three shootout losses accounted for the remainder of their points.

With a few days off before their next game, the team concentrated on reinvigorating themselves for what stands to be a battle for home ice in the playoffs in the very tight Atlantic Division. With nearly every remaining game in the season pitting the P-Bruins against division rivals, the fight for home ice should provide for great excitement and a preview of the playoffs. By collecting three straight wins over the weekend of March 13-15 against Portland, Springfield, and Lowell, the P-Bruins remained in first place over the red hot Hartford Wolf Pack. Despite a dismal power play of late, Providence continues to stay in every game with hard work and solid goaltending.

After having success last weekend, Providence lost a hard fought battle to Albany at home 1-0 in a shootout loss on Friday, March 20th. Goaltender Tuukka Rask, incensed that Albany’s first shootout goal in the fifth round should not have counted, completely lost his temper after Albany’s Harrison Reed scored in the sixth round. Rask voiced his displeasure with referee Frederic L’Ecuyer and then tried to storm off the ice only to be frustrated further because the gate to the runway was locked. Upon entering the runway, he threw his stick and a milk crate out on the ice which riled up the already wild crowd and resulted in fans throwing objects onto the ice. Rask watched from the bench on Saturday as backup Kevin Nastiuk played well, but suffered a loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3-2, at the Arena at Harbor Yard.

Providence and Rask returned to The Dunk on Sunday to face off with the Hartford Wolf Pack who had jumped ahead of Providence for first place in the standings. Two early goals by the Wolf Pack deflated the large crowd who eagerly hoped for the biggest game of the season. Head Coach Rob Murray stated “it was kind of hard at first, down 2-0 in such an anticipated game, it was like letting the air out of a balloon, and it was not working out like we thought it would.” Fortunately, star defenseman Johnny Boychuk scored halfway through the period to close the gap at 2-1. The Bruins tied the score early in the second period on a goal by Zach Hamill only to lose the lead again on a Brian Fahey goal at 11:40. Once again though, as they have all season, the P-B’s battled back to tie the game with a Kirk MacDonald score with just fifteen seconds left in the period. Providence came out flying in the third period and swarmed the Hartford zone which caused two ill advised penalties that gave the Bruins a two man advantage. Providence wasted little time, as Boychuk scored again on a huge blast from inside the blue line. “It’s the law of averages; Johnny shoots so much, and has such a powerful shot, when he gets it on net, it usually goes in,” Murray said. Wacey Rabbit scored an empty netter to seal the deal.

With Hartford looming again on the schedule for two more games, it should be a wild finish to the regular season. Chances are that both teams will get home ice in the first round, but that won’t satisfy either one of these old rivals as they battle for first place in the Atlantic Division.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Providence Beats Hartford at The Dunk

By T. Chace Jr.

In a game that had the atmosphere of a playoff series, the Providence Bruins defeated the first place Hartford Wolf Pack 5-3 to close within a point of Hartford, with a game in hand. Things did not start off too well for the home team as Hartford scored twice in the first seven minutes. As deflating as that was, the B's were able to get one back before the period ended on a goal by Johnny Boychuck, with assists from Marty St. Pierre and Vladimir Sobotka.

In the second period, Zach Hamill scored his 11th goal unassisted at the 2:43 mark to tie the game at two. The game was chippy and physical all day, referee Nygel Pelletier saw fit to call 15 penalties in all. Hartford scored on a power play a little over halfway though the period to go up 3-2. The resilient Bruins were able to respond however with a Kirk MacDonald goal with only 45 seconds remaining in the period to once again tie the score as the teams headed to the third period in a 3-3 tie.

The Bruins came out flying in the third period and their offensive pressure led to two penalties called on Hartford which created a two man advantage. The Bruins wasted little time in taking the lead for good on another goal by Johnny Boychuck. A huge blast from inside the blue line that beat Hatford goaltender Maxime Daigneault. Wacey Rabbitt followed up with an empty net goal with twenty seconds left in the game. Final score: Providence 5 Hartford 3.

*Hartford chirped, slashed, and shoved Providence players all day trying to goad them into retaliation penalties. The Bruins showed great restraint. Jared Nightingale started a fight with Vladimir Sobotka in a short wrestling match in the third period for the only fisticuffs.

*Brodie Dupont stood in front of the Providence bench for well over 2 minutes during one timeout, while the officials were busy. The Providence bench wished him and his teammates all the best.

*The three stars were Boychuck, Hartford D-Man Brian Fahey and St. Pierre.

* Tuukka Rask gets the win, and no suspension thus far for his temper tantrum against Albany last Friday night.

*All of the Rhode Island High School Hobey Baker Award recipients were introduced after the second period. Congratulations to all our high school boys & girls winners.

* Attendance was 7327. Providence is seventh in the league in attendance, averaging about 6100 fans.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Interview With Matt Hunwick

Matt Hunwick – Providence Bruins
By Thomas R. Chace Jr.
January 25, 2008

Matt Hunwick was born, and his family still resides in the state of Michigan. At 22 years old, Matt is a graduate of the University of Michigan, having majored in Economics. He is a rookie in the American Hockey League but has already seen substantial ice time with the parent club in Boston. He got his first NHL point in Toronto against the Maple Leafs in December of 2007. He is a lifelong Red Wings fan, citing Steve Yzerman as a boyhood hero. He shares many qualities of his hero; he’s a class act with a bright future.

TRC: You’re 22 now?

MH: Yes.

TRC: How long have you been playing hockey?

MH: I started playing hockey when I was 5. I started skating when I was around 3 years old. My grandmother, a figure skater, and my Dad used to take me skating.

TRC: Who or what was your inspiration to begin playing hockey?

MH: My Dad played hockey so he inspired me and of course living in Michigan and following the Red Wings I developed a passion for the game.

TRC: Who are your heroes or who do you admire most in the game?

MH: Steve Yzerman was a role model for many of us in the area.

TRC: Which NHL player or players do you think your style of game most resembles?
Have you been told you resemble a certain player type?

MH: Being out here in Boston I’m hearing a lot about Don Sweeney and similarities in the way he played. Growing up I tried to look at the best qualities of guys like Lidstrom and Chelios and try to incorporate them into my game.

TRC: What part of your game do you think needs the most improvement to get you to the show?

MH: There are a couple of areas; my shot could definitely get better. I also need to play smarter and make good decisions with the puck.

TRC: What do you like most about playing for Providence and the Bruins organization?

MH: I think the guys are great. There are a lot of college guys. We’re a young team and we really get along great. I think we did a good job before the season started; we had some good practices along with some outings meant for team bonding that was instrumental in our early success. Winning is a habit and we got into good habits.

TRC: What other cities do you enjoy playing in?

MH: When I was up, I played in Montreal on a Saturday night, which was unbelievable. I also got to play in Toronto; it was Hockey Night in Canada for them. (Matt got his first NHL point that night)

TRC: What cities do you least like playing in?

MH: I don’t know if any city wants to know that. I guess any rink that does not get a good crowd and can’t create an exciting atmosphere. It’s fun to play in front of big crowds that are lively.

TRC: Who is the hardest team you have played against, and why?

MH: This year, Springfield plays us well. Worcester has kind of had our number. We had a game in Philadelphia that was real tough, we won but they played us real well. Anybody in our division is always a hard game.

TRC: Who does it give you more pleasure to beat?

MH: Going up to Portland and beating them after a three hour bus ride. They have a really good team and a great environment, so coming out of there with a win is always good, especially when you have another three hour ride home.

TRC: Do you have any pre-game rituals, what do you do to get up for the game?

MH: Not really. I’m not superstitious. I’ve been coming to the rink earlier, riding the bike and playing soccer with my teammates. But nothing really out of the ordinary.

TRC: What do you do to relax?

MH: I like working out. I like watching TV and going to the movies. I’ve started reading a lot this year, reading at least about two hours a day. I’m reading more now than I think I did at Michigan.

TRC: Do you do any volunteer work?

MH: I’ve done some. Back at Michigan we used to go to the children’s hospital on Thursday nights. All the athletes from all the sports would go and sign hats and pictures for the kids. We all looked forward to seeing the kids on Thursday nights. We don’t really have anything set up like that here yet. When I was up in Boston we bought a lot of toys for some kids in area hospitals before Christmas. We were all set to deliver them to the kids but I got sent back to Providence before I could participate.

TRC: If you couldn’t play hockey, what would your next career choice be?

MH: It’s nice that I am playing hockey. I’m able to network and meet new people. Most students get to intern and network while in school but as players you’re constantly working out or playing hockey through the summer and there’s no time to do internships and the like. I would like to use my education and future networking to get into some sort of business career. I would also like to go back to school and get my master’s degree. I’m also into building and using my hands to make or fix things.


MH: Oh Jeez. Probably, deciding to go to Michigan to begin with and as important deciding to go back in my senior year. We had a tough end to my season after my junior year. I was contemplating leaving after my junior year and I’m so glad I stayed. In my senior year I had a blast. It was awesome. Getting my degree was also very important; I would have had to go back if I had left early.

Providence Sentenced To Hard Labor

February 24, 2009
by Thomas Chace Jr.

The Providence Bruins garnered all six points available to them last weekend against Atlantic Division foes, Manchester, Worcester, and Springfield. Those points could prove to be huge as the team hopes to carry that momentum on a very difficult road trip through the East and North Divisions. The Bruins have a five game winning streak on the road, but will face some stiff competition over the next two weeks. The P-Bruins will be facing division leaders in Hershey and Manitoba (twice) as well as Philadelphia, Norfolk, Toronto, and Rochester. Getting points on this trip should be very tough to come by.

Providence has been successful of late despite the absence of a consistent offensive attack due to the many call ups by the parent Boston Bruins. Their leading scorer is once again defenseman Johnny Boychuck. His game winning goal against Springfield on Sunday with 3:16 left capped a three goal weekend for the Edmonton, Alberta native. Head Coach Rob Murray claims, “Boychuck has been bringing it all year. I’m sure he has one of the hardest shots if not the hardest shot in the American Hockey League.” Boychuck leads all AHL defensemen in points, goals and shots; he leads Providence in power play points with 30. The play of rookies Brad Marchand and Mikko Lehtonen has eased the loss of Vladimir Sobotka, Byron Bitz, Petteri Nokelainen, and Martins Karsums to the big club in Boston. Wacey Rabbit has reached a career high in goals with ten, and veterans Jeremy Reich and Peter Schaefer have combined for 50 points.

The goaltending has been consistent with the bulk of the work continuing to be borne by Tuukka Rask. Rask has played the fourth most minutes in the AHL, has the second most wins with 24, and has a 5-1 record in shootouts. In fact, on February 14th against Portland, Rask was brought into the game just for the shootout. Kevin Nastiuk had started for Providence and played through the overtime in a 5-5 tie with division rival Portland, only to be replaced by Rask who stopped four of five breakaways to give Providence a 6-5 victory. Asked why he replaced Nastiuk with Rask in the shootout, Murray stated simply, “we felt Tuukka gave us a better chance in the shootout.” Simple, eh?

Hershey, who leads the East Division, will be looking for payback after getting smoked in Providence 7-2 back on January 2nd. Manitoba who boasts the best record in the AHL has played Providence twice already, losing in a shootout and dominating them in a 4-0 victory nine days later. There were six fights in the two games, and with back to back games scheduled in Manitoba, the atmosphere is sure to be playoff like. The Bruins are taking a slim four point lead on their last long road trip of the season, and although it may not determine how their season will finish, it will surely be used to measure their playoff mettle.

Home Ice Important For Providence

January 31, 2009
by Thomas Chace Jr.

The American Hockey League mandated that all teams take four days off during the All-Star break. For the Providence Bruins that meant time for only one practice, and players were left on their own to work out and mentally prepare for a return to the ice at home versus their division rival, the Portland Pirates. The Atlantic Division has only a five point separation from first to fifth place. Providence has a majority of home games coming up and Head Coach Rob Murray wants to establish Providence as a very difficult place to play. Friday night was not what he is looking for.

As could be expected, both teams were noticeably sluggish at the outset of the game due to the All-Star break. There were no goals scored and only thirteen shots total for both teams in the first period. Providence got on the board early in the second period on goals by Matt Marquardt and Jordan Knackstedt and held a 2-0 advantage, only to see that evaporate with goals 32 seconds apart by Portland’s Aaron Slattengren and Colton Fretter. Halfway through the third period, Fretter beat Providence goaltender Kevin Regan again; that was later followed by an empty net goal by Mike Weber. A Portland win along with a win by Hartford has now tied all three teams atop the Atlantic Division with 53 points apiece. In regards to his satisfaction with his team’s effort after the game, Murray stated that, “No, he was not satisfied, not by a large amount of guys, it wasn’t good enough. It looked like a few guys were still on the four day break. We want to dominate teams at home and right now we’re not doing it. Teams are coming into our building and taking points out of here and we don’t seem to be putting up enough of a fight.”

Earlier in the week, goaltender Tuukka Rask was called up with the big club in Boston and is expected to start against the New York Rangers this weekend. All-Star Martins Karsums was allowed to return home to Latvia to play in a tournament to try and get his Latvian National team qualified for the 2010 Olympics. Despite those obstacles to overcome, Coach Murray expects his team to bring emotion and effort every night, especially on home ice. “It’s important, the standings are so tight, we have six out of eight games at home coming up, there should be a sense of urgency with our home games. We need to play better at home and find a way to not allow teams to come in here and get points from us.” .” Providence is 2-4 in their last six home games, and with division rivals ahead on the schedule and most of those games at “The Dunk”, the P-Bruins are looking to establish Providence as a more difficult place to play for their opponents. Stay tuned.

Providence Excelling With Purpose

December 27, 2008
by Thomas Chace Jr.

The purpose of this franchise is to develop players in a system that will allow them to perform seamlessly when and if the parent club, the Boston Bruins, suffer injuries or need players to fill in voids on their NHL roster. That being said, this Providence team has performed above and beyond what could have been expected of them thus far. The fact that they also lead the Atlantic Division is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the whole Providence organization. The Boston Bruins are the top team in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, and Providence has undoubtedly helped them get there. Start with the call up of defenseman Matt Hunwick, who is now one of Boston’s top four defensemen. Follow that with successive recalls of defenseman Matt Lashoff and Johnny Boychuk, forwards Vladimir Sobotka, Martins Karsums, and most recently Marty St. Pierre. Boychuk and Karsums have since been returned to Providence and are scoring at a feverish pace. The call ups have also had a positive impact on other players who have stepped up their game and are now contributing in the scoring department. Mikko Lehtonen, Wacey Rabbit, and NHL veterans, Jeremy Reich and Peter Schaefer are starting to carry the load. Defensively, rookie Jeff Penner has made huge strides since opening night.

Both Bruins franchises would not be having their success without their greatest asset right now, goaltending. Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez have provided the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. Waiting in the wings is 21 year old Finnish sensation, Tuuka Rask, who is off to a great sophomore season. His GAA is near the top of the AHL, despite playing in at least seven more games than those ahead of him. His three shutouts are already a personal best in the regular season. Asked to take on a leadership role by head coach Rob Murray, he has held up his end of the request with his positive attitude, work ethic, and stellar play.

With the new year approaching and teams on their tail, the Providence Bruins have found success in the standings and more importantly are fulfilling their purpose. This Providence team recognizes that when Boston comes calling, they have the tools and direction to be successful in the show.

Providence Still Finding Their Way

November 18, 2008
by Thomas Chace Jr.

Who are these guys? They lost their top scorer; they lost perhaps the league’s best enforcer. Their head coach headed off to the NHL. What style of hockey are they playing? This Providence team is not like the team from a year ago when losses were few and far between.

On the weekend before last, the Providence Bruins took an unbelievable 141 shots on goal in three games and came away with only one win in three tries. They scored a total of only five goals. In the first game they were beaten by Chicago for the second time this season, in a rematch, on Providence’s home ice, 4-1. That was followed by a wild game in Albany where they were losing 3-1 with less than five minutes remaining. Goals by Brad Marchand, Martins Karsums, and an overtime game winner by Vladimir Sobotka preserved a 4-3 victory. Providence was helped by ten power play opportunities and outshot Albany 59-17. The last game over the weekend saw the Philadelphia Phantoms shut out the Bruins 2-0, as Scott Munroe preserved a Philly victory despite facing 46 shots. Head coach Rob Murray stated, “We did a lot of really good things, we got a lot of shots; the fact that we scored just one goal in our two home games was disappointing, but we’re doing the right things.”

This past weekend went much better from a point gathering perspective. Providence got eight goals on Friday night against division opponent Worcester, and won going away in the third period by an 8-3 margin. Commenting after last weekend’s shotfest, Coach Murray claimed that “you don’t know you’re going to get an eight goal performance, but you know it’s just a matter of time before the puck starts going in. We’re not doing everything right, but the effort is there, there was lot of good things we did last weekend despite the two losses, that you can take the positives out of. One of the positives obviously was that we were outshooting teams by a 3 to 1 or 2 to 1 margin.” A loss on the road to bitter rival Portland on Saturday night was not one of their better games. Providence did not generate enough offense and turnovers created opportunities for the first place Pirates. Portland is a very good team and very quick and Providence’s defense was taken advantage of most of the night. Portland, in first place, with only one loss all season, at the hands of Providence, has won nine games in a row. On Sunday back at home in Providence the Bruins were solid on their power play, scoring on three of seven opportunities. They showed great resiliency time after time throughout the back and forth affair. Ironically, the P-Bruins were outshot in all three games but won two out of three and gathered four of six points. Go figure. Certainly the more shots you take, the more opportunities you have. Spectacular goaltending can thwart those chances though.

Who are these guys? We don’t know yet. This team is still finding their own identity. Right now their leading scorer is a defenseman, Johnny Boychuk. The teams plus/minus is down from last year. They are a team in transition and each game has been a learning experience. One common thread, however, with last year’s team is the effort put forth by everyone in the organization. Effort and hard work usually result in victories as the season progresses.

Coach Rob Murray Gets AHL’s First Victory

October 9, 2008
By Thomas Chace Jr.

The Providence Bruins played the American Hockey League’s first game of the 2008-09 season last night at the newly renovated Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI. On opening night, new head coach, Rob Murray, was given the game puck by another newcomer, center Marty St. Pierre, after the P-Bruins beat the Lowell Devils 4-3 in an overtime shootout. St. Pierre scored along with Mikko Lehtonen on their shootout opportunities while goaltender Tuukka Rask thwarted all of Lowell’s chances. For Coach Murray it was a somewhat nerve-racking day as he approached his first game as head coach of the very successful Providence Bruins franchise. “It was great. I was real nervous standing there during all the introductions, which probably made it worse because it seemed to take forever. I was pretty pumped up. I was very nervous when I woke up this morning, but once you get in the confines of the rink and get around the guys that nervousness subsides.”

Murray, an assistant coach for five years with the P-Bruins, is getting his first opportunity to be a head coach at any level. Yesterday, he found out before his first game that his roster was still in flux. Jeremy Reich and Peter Schaefer both cleared waivers and reported to the team. The Boston Bruins also assigned forward Vladimir Sobotka to the P-Bruins. Returning captain, Nate Thompson, did not clear waivers. He was claimed by former Providence coach Scott Gordon, who now coaches the New York Islanders. In regards to Thompson, Murray said, “he was disappointed not to get Thompson back, but I believe Nate is an NHL caliber player and so does Scott Gordon, and that was the problem with that scenario. We all saw it coming, it was not surprising and I wish him all the best. I know he’ll do well.”

Murray’s first win was not pretty by any stretch, but a win is a win, especially in your coaching debut. The game was pretty sloppy and lacked any real flow due to poor ice conditions and an inordinate number of infractions called. The game was chippy at times, especially after several Bruins were hit from behind on two different occasions. With the loss of true heavyweight Steve Macintyre, the P-Bruins will rely on team toughness as evidenced in their response to the incidents. Murray was impressed with the response from his team, and praised Ryan Stokes for taking on several Devils after those hits.

Providence led 3-1 early in the second period, but Lowell’s creative Russian rookie Vladimir Zharkov scored halfway through the second, and again in the third period to tie the score at 3-3. Providence goaltender, Tuukka Rask, made several big saves with less than five minutes left in regulation and stoned all four chances by Lowell in the shootout. Rask was perhaps the best goalie in Boston’s training camp this year and was disappointed in being assigned back to Providence. However, Murray says, “he has come down with a real good attitude. I like the way he has approached it and I’ve talked to him about taking on the onus of a leadership role; he has embraced that and I believe that will help him to be very successful.” The Providence Bruins have a tough act to follow after last years AHL best record, but they have one of the greatest AHL players in history to show them how to be successful in hockey and in life.

Good Luck Flash

Good Luck “Flash”
August 18, 2008
By Thomas R. Chace

Last Tuesday, after a rigorous and exhaustive search, the NY Islanders named AHL coach of the year, Scott Gordon, as their new head coach. Scott “Flash” Gordon has been the head coach of the Providence Bruins for the last five seasons. Gordon, who won the 2007-08 Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach, was named head coach of the NY Islanders by GM Garth Snow. The Islanders held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon and introduced Gordon to the Long Island media. The 45-year-old Massachusetts native, Gordon, led the Providence Bruins to their second best record in team history last year, compiling an AHL best regular season record of 55-18-3-4. Providence was surprisingly upset by the Portland Pirates in the second round of the AHL playoffs.

Providence’s 1998-99 team garnered 56 regular season wins and a Calder Cup championship and was led by head coach Peter Laviollette, who ironically has already coached the Islanders himself. Laviolette was unceremoniously let go by the Isles after ownership and team management showed very little patience with the coach who rose through the ranks in similar fashion as Gordon has now. Laviolette went on to coach and win the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. I’m sure the Islanders realize the error of their ways and will give Gordon a longer leash to prove he is capable of winning on the Island. The Islanders are soon to be in a brand new arena, part of a larger project referred to as The Lighthouse on Long Island. They are trying to regain the glory and redeem the values of the great NY Islander Stanley Cup years. The future looks bright; Scott Gordon has proven he can lead young players. Scott Gordon can definitely win hockey games, the numbers are there. Scott Gordon earned this opportunity. Trust the Gordon’s Fisherman to steer the Islanders ship through the storm ahead, with help from an enthusiastic crew who can see a lighthouse and good times ahead. Good luck “Flash”.

Providence Season Ends Abruptly

May 10, 2008
By Thomas Chace Jr.

As I walked away from the Providence Bruins locker room for the last time this season, I realized I had made so many new acquaintances, that the sadness I felt for the boys in losing the series, was tempered by my experience this season covering the team. This team was like a distant cousin right here in the greater Providence area. The lack of coverage by our only newspaper saw to that. This Providence team was the best in the American Hockey League during the regular season, yet they received little attention throughout the season. The team who won seventy-five percent of their games during the season and won their first six playoff games in dramatic fashion has now suffered defeat at the hands of their arch rival, the Portland Pirates. The four games in a row in which they were defeated were decided by four goals, all one goal losses, including two in overtime. They were one minute away from winning game three in Portland that would have, in all likelihood, been the game that would have propelled the Bruins into the next round on their quest to win the Calder Cup. Even when they were down by two goals with minutes to play in game six, I felt they would win and force a game seven. I had the same feeling when the Patriots played Oakland in the playoffs in the amazing snow game where the infamous “tuck rule” took place. But on this night it was not meant to be. The resiliency the boys showed all year was present, but they just couldn’t get that tying goal. There is no doubt that the Pirates benefited from the return of their goaltender in game three, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, a 30 year-old NHL veteran, but it could be argued that the Bruins outplayed the Pirates in every phase of the game, yet still lost the series. These things happen in sports and it is surely disappointing and hard to swallow. The team perhaps deserved a better fate but it was not for lack of effort or costly mistakes; they played the same way they played all year. They fore-checked you to death, were aggressive in the neutral zone, and with few exceptions, out shot and out chanced opponents.

They are a very, very good team who were led by two extremely talented coaches in Scott Gordon and Rob Murray. Many of the Bruins players had their best years ever as professionals. It started when they bought into the system that was presented to them in training camp; their resulting record is proof that it was a success. More proof existed in the call ups of so many Providence players to the parent club in Boston; no player looked out of place when pressed into service in the NHL. So yes, I am saddened by the loss to the Pirates, but the team should hold their heads high. They were the best team in the AHL and despite their playoff loss to Portland; they have become better hockey players and are much more prepared to advance in their own professional careers. They are a class act and it was a pleasure to be around an organization that fosters such goodwill in the community and humility on and off the ice. There is so much to be proud of and that is what I’ll take away from this season after the disappointment ends.

Providence: First To 100

March 21, 2008
By Thomas Chace Jr.

In my last article I opined about the Providence Bruins road trip to face several Western Conference teams. I wondered how they would hold up physically and mentally as they tried to hold onto the best record in the American Hockey League. This team has been holding the best record in the league all year and that trip was going to challenge them in many ways. They did not fare very well out west, winning in Milwaukee to start the trip, but then losing four straight, including a 4-1 loss to Chicago. They are battling Chicago for the overall best record and home ice throughout the Calder Cup playoffs.

But once again the Bruins have rebounded and shown tremendous resiliency. Upon returning, Providence has gone 5-0-2. They have a ten point lead in their division, they lead Chicago by four points in the overall race, and are the first team to reach 100 points in the 2007-08 AHL season. All year, this team has shown that no matter what the circumstances, they are united to overcome any adversity. Earlier in the year, their team’s best players were called up to the parent club in Boston. Centers Vladimir Sobotka and David Krejci had nearly 50 points between them in limited time with Providence. Right wing Petteri Nokelainen played in only eight games for Providence but averaged a point a game. Their present leading scorer, Pascal Pelletier, was also called up for a time, yet Providence still managed to play stellar hockey. Their goaltender, Jordan Sigalet, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, actually collapsed during a game earlier in the year. He had to be transported to the hospital by rescue, and after several weeks of testing and a hospital stay, was returned home to recuperate and to begin to get back into game shape. His return to the team and his subsequent game efforts somewhat symbolizes what this Bruins team is all about. These guys never give up and they want to hold onto what they have.

In recent days there has been more good news regarding the team. The Boston Bruins have agreed to an eight year agreement with Providence to be their farm club through the 2015-16 AHL season. The playoff rosters were submitted in late February and Providence will enjoy the services of Sobotka, Krejci, and Nokelainen again after all. Another player who is eligible for Providence in the playoffs is Boston RW Phil Kessel. Tuukka Rask, the young Finnish goaltender, got his first shutout the other night and has proven he is a star in the making. The Providence Bruins may fall short of the record for wins or points this season, but their season could become one for the ages. Stay tuned.

Providence Road Odyssey

February 25, 2008
By Thomas Chace Jr.

The Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League’s best team so far this year, are about to embark on a fast and furious road odyssey. They will be playing five games in six nights far away from their home rink in Rhode Island. On Thursday the P-B’s will fly into Milwaukee and face the Admirals on their home ice on Friday night. They will then bus to Rockford to play the IceHogs on Saturday night and then head off to the red hot Western Conference leading Chicago Wolves Allstate Arena for a Sunday afternoon showdown of the top two teams in the AHL. A flight to Houston follows with a game on Tuesday night against the Aeros and finally, on Wednesday, they finish their trip at San Antonio as they face the Rampage for the first time this year. The Bruins have already beaten Rockford, Chicago, Houston and Milwaukee back in Providence, so those teams will certainly be looking for payback. In regard to the Bruin’s opponents they’ll face on the road trip, Assistant Coach Rob Murray said “We have played them, all these teams, except San Antonio, this will be our first look at San Antonio…We’ve got a really good road record; there’s no reason to think that we won’t play well…We are 18-6 on the road.” They are now actually 20-6 thanks to two victories last weekend over Atlantic Division rivals Hartford and Springfield.

When Providence returns home from their frenetic road trip they will have no time to rest. They have three more games in three nights, a grand total of eight games in ten days. Will Providence be able to hold it together physically and mentally? Will they still lead the league in points in the race for home ice throughout the playoffs? Will Hartford make another run at them in the division race? What about the trade deadline deals, will they positively influence this young close knit group? Providence is having a tremendous season, a great group of young talent that has made winning a habit. They will surely be tested over the next two weeks. When they return to Providence, they will have nineteen games remaining; eleven will be at home in the Dunkin Donuts Center. I’m sure, to a man, they would like to go west one more time, at the very end of this special Providence Bruin season, in the Calder Cup finals. Stay tuned for previews.

We're Back...

January 19, 2008
By Thomas R. Chace

The Providence Bruins lost two games in a row last weekend for the first time all season. Not only did they lose, they were shut out in the back to back losses. Having only lost five games all season to that point, it was somewhat of a head scratcher. At the time, Providence lead the league in goals scored; how do you explain that hiccup? Suffice it to say the team rebounded on Sunday with a 3-1 victory over Springfield. With another three game weekend upon them they found their mojo Friday night against the lowly Lowell Devils. They pumped in seven goals despite their leading goal scorer, Pascal Pelletier, being called up to the show with the parent club in Boston. So what did Providence do? They signed the leading goal scorer in the ECHL to a professional tryout agreement. Left wing, Aaron Slattengren, 26, was leading the ECHL with 28 goals for the Augusta Lynx. Slattengren scored the first two goals of the game against Lowell while on the power play. According to Assistant Coach Rob Murray, when any player is signed to an agreement like Slattengren, they will see considerable ice time to see how they play and how they interact both on and off the ice. The outcome of these tryouts can result in an opportunity that can certainly be worthwhile for both the team and the player. Aaron Slattengren made a very nice first impression.

The power play for Providence has really been struggling at home but they were able to score three times with the man advantage in six tries on this night. Lowell had managed only six shots through two periods and despite being down 6-0 halfway through the third period, they played the P-Bruins even. Benoit Mondeau prevented Tuukka Rask from getting his first shutout with a power play goal with a little over three minutes remaining in the game. Providence scored again with :57 left in the game and are back near the top of the AHL in goals scored.

This game was never in doubt and was dominated by the P-Bruins in every aspect of the game. They out shot them, they outscored them, they killed six out of seven power plays, they out hit them, their goaltending was better, and in the one physical altercation, Lowell’s biggest player was bloodied in a battle with Providence’s Steve MacIntyre. Providence is 5-1 against Lowell this season and has outscored them 35-13. It was the return of the Providence team that has led the league all year, returning to form and focusing on winning all the battles that constitute an AHL game.

* My next article will feature an interview with Providence rookie defenseman, Matt Hunwick. Hunwick has played thirteen games for Boston this year and got his first NHL point (assist) against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It's Really A Shame

December 30, 2007
By Thomas Chace Jr.

It’s really a shame. The American Hockey League’s best team is getting no props. They are caught in a New England evolution. The entire region is focused on the New England Patriots perfect season, the new look Celtics who have the best record in the NBA, and the year round love affair with the World Champion Red Sox. Hockey is not a hot topic in discussions among most local sports fans. There is no hockey talk on sports radio, minimal coverage in print, and a general malaise about the sport in general. It’s really a shame.

The Providence Bruins have the best record in the AHL. They have the most points in the league, the most wins, the most goals, a great young rookie goalie, and nobody knows about it. They won the Calder Cup back in 1998-99; fans flocked to the games while the Boston pro teams struggled. Now they are on the other side of that scenario with what may be one of the greatest teams Providence has ever seen. It’s really a shame.

The Super Bowl is on February 3rd. That will end the NFL season, but the Celtics will still be in action. March Madness is fast approaching and both Providence College and the University of Rhode Island should be factors in the NCAA basketball tournament. Spring training for the Red Sox begins in March too. The Bruins have a real battle ahead of them as they look to get some justified attention in these parts. It’s really a shame.

Coaches Scott Gordon and Rob Murray were able to bring most of the current Providence Bruins into a developmental camp before the parent club in Boston held their training camp. During the developmental camp the coaches were able to sell the players on a system of play, both offensively and defensively, that they were hoping would pay dividends as they entered the regular season. The team had to start on the road for the first ten games due to a major renovation of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The road trip consisted of bus rides and no hotel stays, but still helped to form camaraderie among the team early in the season. They won eight out of ten of those games, gained confidence in each other, and also saw that the system worked. The team is led in goal by a 20-year-old Finnish born rookie goaltender obtained from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade for Boston’s Andrew Raycroft. The 6’2” Tuukka Rask leads the league with a 1.98 goals against average. Pascal Pelletier leads the team and league in goals scored and is fourth overall in scoring. The team has six players in the top ten in the plus/minus category. Steve Macintyre, a 6’6”, 265 lb. enforcer, allows the team to play without fear. This is an unselfish, fast, exciting, tough team that just keeps winning games by playing for a full 60 minutes. They have won 82% of their games. That’s pretty impressive. But nobody knows about them except a loyal group of fans, the team itself, and certainly their opponents. It’s really a shame.