By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277
Yesterday afternoon the American Hockey League Providence Bruins kicked off their 2021 regular season playing game one of 26 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. This season the top minor-pro affiliate of the National Hockey Leagues Boston Bruins, will not only play a shortened amount of games but also a limited amount of teams in their depleted division. In the 26 game season schedule, they’ll play familiar teams such as the Hartford Wolf Pack (12 Games) and above mentioned Sound Tigers club (12 Games) in the new three-team Atlantic Division. Providence also plays two games out of division against the North Division’s Utica Comets to even things up concerning the regular season.
The Providence game yesterday was a great example of what a youthful injection looked like as the NHL Bruins affiliate looks at a youth movement themselves. The Rhode Island club had 13 departures from last season with names like Brendan Gaunce (F), Peter Cehlarik (F), Ryan Fitzgerald (F), Alex Petrovic (D), Wiley Sherman (D), Brett Ritchie (F), Chris Breen (D), and Max Lagace (G) departing from last seasons roster to join other North American professional organizations or seeking skating time overseas. Also, have to mention those who are currently with the NHL Boston team as Jack Studnicka (F), Trent Frederic (F), Jakub Zboril (D), and Jeremy Lauzon (D) are up in the world best league earning time with their exceptional play.
Yesterday’s Providence Bruins Lineup Per Mark Divver covered the first home game of the season at the new home facility in Marlborough, Massachusetts, the New England Sports Center. Most who follow this Providence team closely can see there’s been a huge roster turnover with recent additions, as seen below.
For pretty much the entire first half of the game yesterday from the NESC, both teams certainly had their chances offensively, but it was also a feeling out process as both teams looked a little rusty for not playing since mid-March 2020. Often polarizing Bruins forward, Zach Senyshyn, who was recently demoted down to the AHL surviving the waiver process, was one of a handful of players buzzing out on the new home sheet. The former first-round selection from 2015 got the first goal of the Providence season at the 8:28 mark of the second period as he tipped home a Jakub Lauko shot from the right side. Also, getting an assist on the powerplay tally from Senyshyn was speedy defenseman, Cooper Zech.
After the Senyshyn goal came to an onslaught of offense, and you could really tell the team mostly made up of newcomers were shaking the rust off and getting comfortable in their games. Notching the second Providence goal of the season was 21-year-old Alex-Olivier Voyer, who was another player I noticed that didn’t take any time at all to find his legs as his stride and grittiness was hard not to notice. Voyer, who had a career year in the QMJHL with the Sherbrooke Phoenix posting 44-44-88 numbers in his final season in the Canadian Hockey League in 2019-20, sniped a beauty from Bruins prospect Oskar Steen and big defenseman Nick Wolff.
The third goal for the Rhode Island club came from a player much like the above mentioned Voyer, who signed a free-agent deal at the end of overage eligibility in the QMJHL. Samuel Asselin, who led the “Q” in goals scored with 48 in 2018-19 for the Halifax Mooseheads, got his first career AHL goal even though he’s been with the Providence club as a roster spot ECHL recall in five previous AHL games. Asselin’s personal ice breaker when it comes to hitting the back of the net came from a sweet, saucy pass from crafty forward Jakub Lauko, who came in the Sound Tigers defensive zone on a two-on-one. Samuel wasted no time blasting a one-time past Bridgeport’s goaltender Jakub Skarek.
The final goal from the Providence team was an empty netter from Bruins forward Robert Lantosi. The Slovakian native has been impressive to watch since joining the Bruins organization in a show-me first role with Development Camp invites to earning an AHL only contract and now signed to an entry-level deal with the NHLBruins on a two-way contract. His speed was seen up and down the sheet as a highly-skilled forward, but his forecheck yesterday was completely off the charts, in my opinion. Another player that was all over the ice and making those small game impacts. Lantosi’s fist of the season came via the courtesy of the Sound Tigers pulling the goalie and Robert getting an empty net powerplay goal to end the game.
Providence Goaltender Jeremy Swayman was just as advertised in his first professional hockey game. He stopped 26 of 27 for his first victory and really looked sharp when sometimes his defense created a turnover or couldn’t retrieve a loose puck in front of him. Jeremy has come fully prepared with a hard-working ethic, but also he acts like a sponge from people close to him when it comes to the training aspect. Swayman was the understudy of former University of Maine alumni goaltender Alfie Michaud and most recent hire and Maine alumni himself, Mike Dunham, who joined Bruins goaltending coach Bob Essensa staff a few years ago. Both Essensa and Dunham have done tremendous things with the goaltending depth in recent years, and it’s good to see when looking a minor-pro stats and Bruins prospects paying dividends with their exceptional play.
Against the Bridgeport team in game one of the 2021 regular season, Swayman was focused on puck tracking, squared to the puck with good body posture, and his lateral movements post-to-post let nothing get by down low with his athleticism and rebound control. He’s going to be so fun to watch as we get further along in this AHL season. Serious audition for him and Vladar as the Bruins continue to this about life after Jaroslav Halak and longtime Bruins Tuukka Rask.
Recently signed AHL Bruins forward Curtis Hall sustained an injury in the first half of the game, and per New England Hockey Journal reporter Mark Divver was seen in Street clothes during the later parts of the game. Hall forwent his Junior year playing for Yale University who’s Ivy League shut down operations opting out of play, leaving the ECAC Conference with only two teams. Curtis had a career year in his sophomore season with the Bulldogs posting 17-10-27 numbers in 28 games played, which is now his final NCAA year as his scholarship has been forfeited because he signed a professional hockey contract with the Providence franchise.
The Providence club’s blue line has been the most intriguing for me when looking at it on paper and then translating to the eye test by watching the game against the Sound Tigers. We’ve all heard how much Brady Lyles’s defensive game and toughness around the crease will be a valued asset and how the skill-set is going to work with defenseman Jack Ahcan who played well in the only preseason contest before yesterdays game. I didn’t get to see many of Ahcan’s games while playing in the NCAA with St. Cloud State, but his first step explosiveness and ability to transition out of the defensive zone smoothly, always surveying the play ahead for a stretch pass or give and go opportunities.
Cooper Zech is another blueliner who was absolutely buzzing around everywhere. Former two time NCAA National Champion and big/rugged defenseman Nick Wolff was another player on the backend to keep an eye on as he’s also with Providence on a one-year show me audition. Wolff has things under control around the crease creating visibility for his goaltender but needs to work on his speed, which will come with more work from skating coaches and guidance from former defenseman and now Head Coach Jay Leach.
Overall I was quite impressed with the game I saw from the Providence Bruins team in game one, but I also understand that this is a small sample size of what could happen later on. With the Bruins playing only three teams in the Atlantic division, this creates avenues for opponents to really get a book on you in an effort to team division rivals’ weaknesses and how and when to expose them. Regardless of this season’s outcome, it’s honestly all about development at this point as we all continue to be hampered by these pandemic days. Get past all this and hope for normalcy for the human factor but also to get back on track in October with the expectation of fans in the stands and this AHL league as a money maker and leader in developing the next best NHL athletes.