( Photo Credit: Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277

As what seems like daily updates since the American Hockey League set a tentative return to play date, NHL.com/ EPRinkside.com AHL beat writer Patrick Williams has been a great source and continues to be leading up to the upcoming February 5th, 2021, date. In a Tweet on January 19th, 2021, Williams mentioned the topic of the upcoming 2021 regular-season schedule, which is still a work in progress. Patrick also mentioned in his following Tweet that when you are dealing with provincial, state, and local governments, NOTHING is easy. He added in that Tweet that he certainly doesn’t envy the schedule-maker.

Former Providence Journal bruins columnist now current New England Hockey Journal beat writer Mark Divver Mentioned in a Tweet last week that the AHL’s Providence Bruins have two preseason games, both against the Hartford Wolf Pack at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut on January 31st, 2021 and again on February 1st, 2021, at the new home facility in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Earlier this month, the AHL Bruins franchise released a statement that the organization would need to relocate hopefully short term to where the Providence Owner Larue Renfroe owns the New England Sports Center complex, which houses several regulation sheets of ice.

The Dunkin Donuts Center has and continues to be operated by the State of Rhode Island as a field hospital for the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic forcing the Providence hockey team to seek ice elsewhere. I have heard from a close source that the AHL Bruins will start their 2021 regular season on Friday night, February 5th, 2021. Divver also mentioned in a later Tweet that day that the Providence club would hold its annual training camp at the Lynch Arena facility in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

On January 4th, 2021, the AHL announced that the league would operate under a new 2020-21 Divisional Alignment with 28 of the 31 teams participating. The league also announced that the Charlotte Checkers, Milwaukee Admirals, and Springfield Thunderbirds have opted out of the return to play, leaving five divisions and 28 teams moving forward to the early February start.

AHL President and CEO Scott Howson told Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press on a January 4th, 2021 phone interview, “Based on the information I was getting, I wasn’t sure we were going to reach 28 teams even two weeks ago, but I think some of the teams got excited and found a way to make it work,” AHL president and CEO Scott Howson said by phone. “It’s a good day for the AHL, except for the three that can’t participate, and obviously we know their reasons, and they’re legitimate, and they’ll move on and plan for ’21-22.”

With the Springfield team opting out, it leaves the Atlantic Division the smallest of the five in the AHL with just three teams participating. With health at the highest priority for the AHL moving forward in these Covid-19 days, minimized travel within divisions was heavily planned, and it’s not going to matter how many teams face each. When the 2021 AHL regular season schedule does, in fact, get released, It wouldn’t be shocking to see the three teams in the new Atlantic Division participate in a 25 game schedule.

As seen above in the Tweet provided by the AHL Communications account, the Atlantic will consist of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI Affiliate), the Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR Affiliate), and our very own Providence Bruins. For logistical purposes and commitment to stay healthy per CDC guidelines assisted by local and state restrictions, we could see a schedule of two games per week and an almost daily practice routine with minimal travel playing two other teams in the new and hopefully temporary division.

During the 2019-20 regular season and before the Covid-19 pandemic pretty much shut the world down, the Providence Bruins matched up well against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, outscoring the NHL Islanders affiliate 23-14 and a 5-4 season record. The Bruins and Sound Tigers were originally supposed to play 12 games against each other before everything go postponed in mid-March 2020.

On the other side of the coin, the 2019-20 regular-season games against the New York Rangers’ top minor-pro affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, told a totally different story. Against the Wolf Pack, the Providence club went 3-6 on the season, being outscored 27-16. A huge factor for the Packs’ success against the Bruins was in goal with the solid efforts of Igor Shesterkin, who was owning pretty much all goaltending stat categories before the Rangers brought him up to the Big Apple full time. The Providence team played nine of the original scheduled ten games before the league shut down.

So, these teams close to each other already have a history of playing over ten games per year, so I don’t think it will be a huge factor in whether the Providence team does well or not. What you will see out of so many games against two division rivals is the compete level and a little bit of that sandpaper style game with so many face-to-face meetings.

Another factor is the six members the NHL Bruins will have with the organization as “taxi squad” members that will primarily be from Boston’s top minor-pro affiliate. This is certainly going to be a challenge for Providence head coach Jay Leach with Bruins prospects and middle-depth two-way signings such as Trent Frederic, Robert Lantosi, Karson Kuhlman, Jack Studnicka, Paul Carey, Oskar Steen, Uhro Vaakanainen, and Jakub Zboril with the NHL Bruins for who knows how long.

If you’re a diehard Boston Bruins fan and want to see the stars of tomorrow, please check out one of the affordable streaming packages above from the great folks at AHLTV. For the second straight season, join Providence play-by-play announcer Austin Rooke as he’ll update Bruins fans with all the action from the New England Sports Center.

These home games at the Marlborough, Massachusetts location are NOT open to spectators. During this pandemic and until a vaccine is readily available to the general public, please stay away from the NESC and even the NHL Bruins training facility at the Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, Mass. Plenty of time for safe interactions when seeking a player autograph or photo when life and hockey return to normalcy in October. No need to increase the chances of a player or a team getting this nasty virus and postponing any games due to selfish acts during these tough pandemic times.