Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Remarkable Season in the Works

Remarkable Season in the Works
Providence’s Improbable Turnaround
March 4, 2013
Thomas Chace Jr.

The 2012-13 version of the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins took shape in the summer of 2012.  The lack of scoring and scorers has been a fundamental reason why the team has failed to qualify for the AHL playoffs since the 2008-09 season.  The acquisition of last season’s AHL Scoring Leader, Chris Bourque, was one answer to the scoring questions.  The NHL lock-out delivered another answer when Boston left wing Jordan Caron came to Providence as well.

With just 20 games remaining in the season for Providence, they are about to eclipse their average win totals over the last three seasons.  Their 33 wins for the season trail only Springfield and Syracuse, who have won 34 and are the only teams ahead of the Bruins in the Eastern Conference.

Bourque and Caron have not had the biggest influence on the newfound scoring touch of the red hot Bruins.  Bourque played in the first 32 games and had 8 goals and 20 assists before his recall to Boston.  He didn’t score his first goal until November 9th, however, and his teammates couldn’t finish plays as well as everyone had hoped. 

The Bruins were 17-13-0-2 after 32 games and scored only 79 goals to that point in the season.  Fortunately, tremendous play in net by rookie goaltender Niklas Svedberg has enabled the Bruins to stay in almost every game this season.   Since the offensively skilled Bourque was recalled, the Bruins have gone 16-5-0-3 and lead the Atlantic Division with 71 points.  They have scored 80 goals in 24 games since he went up to Boston; it’s hard to fathom.

Caron has played in 44 games for the Providence club and has been hard to figure out.  He has looked good at times and indifferent at others.  Caron has 10 goals and 5 assists and has been playing well of late, getting points in several recent games.  Caron and Bourque have not been the straws that stir the drink. 

Svedberg, born in Sweden, has never played this amount of games before, but wants to play every night.  The slim, 6’1”, 176 pound AHL All-Star netminder has had a tremendous rookie season.  With 27 wins he could approach the Providence team record of 37 wins by John Grahame in 1998-99, the last year Providence won the Calder Cup.  Svedberg is posting a 2.26 GAA and a .921 save percentage. His win total leads the AHL.  Backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson sports a 2.53 GAA and a .907 save percentage in 21 games played. The tandem has allowed the Bruins to be competitive in every game they’ve played this season.

The Bruins have formed a great bond in the locker room and on the ice and are relying heavily on everyone to do their part.  The results are stunning.  Five players with at least 10 goals, a scoring average of 2.84 goals per game, and goals allowed average of 2.46 to start.  When the Bruins are leading after the 1st period, their record is 21-2-0-1.  With the lead after the 2nd period, the B’s are an amazing 22-0-0-1.  That’s part of this remarkable season.

The guy that best embodies the word “team” is Providence’s right wing, Bobby Robins, who covers more ice and hits more people than a drunken Zamboni driver.  Robins generally sets the tone of the game early on, with an aggressive fore-check or a fist in the face.  Robins plays the game with such fury that teammates want to do the same.  His 31 fighting majors, 253 penalty minutes, and 7 points all pale in relation to his charity work, positive outlook writings on his blog, and the lift he’s given the team and the community.

Rookies like Ryan Spooner, Svedberg, Torey Krug, Justin Florek, Tommy Cross, Alden Hirschfeld, and Zach Trotman have made major contributions this season.  Spooner leads the team with 40 points on 10 goals and 30 assists.  Many of those assists were on All-Star Jamie Tardif’s team leading 26 goals.  Craig Cunningham had a hat-trick yesterday in a 7-1 shellacking of rival Portland.  Cunningham now has 17 goals on the season.

Providence tough left wing, Lane MacDermid joined Bourque in Boston about a month ago. Stepping up to stabilize Providence in the toughness department and to compliment Robins has been Tyler Randell.  He is gaining confidence and trust from the coaching staff with each game.  The veteran leadership of AHL All-Star Captain Trent Whitfield and NHL veteran Garnet Exelby cannot be glossed over either.

Graham Mink, former heated rival, was called at home in Vermont and offered a PTO.  Mink has scored 5 goals and garnered 10 points in just 20 games.  You can’t make this stuff up.  Carter Camper (35 pts), Christian Hanson (23 pts), Matt Bartkowski, David Warsofsky, Colby Cohen, Max Sauvé, Kyle MacKinnon (10 goals) and Kevan Miller have all done something or scored some timely goal to win games.

The goal to play better at home this season is two-fold.  The coaches, Bruce Cassidy and Kevin Dean, were determined to make home games very difficult for opposing teams this season and they wanted to give the loyal home fans a great effort every night.  Providence is 2nd in the league in attendance this year and the Bruins can boast of an 18-8-0-3 home record.  Another goal reached.

The playoffs look like a sure thing;  the ride to return to them has been astonishing.  The AHL All-Star Classic was held in Providence this year.  Perhaps, the AHL administration and its officials can make a return trip to Providence with the Calder Cup as the finale of this improbable Providence season.

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