( Photo credit: Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By: Tim Dumas | Follow me on Twitter @TimDumas

Bruins prospect Brandon Bussi idolized former Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist growing up in the state of New York. Now that he’s a professional goaltender, the undrafted 24-year-old often gives back to the younger generations in the crease.

During his first full season with the Providence Bruins, Bussi, one of the top goalies in the American Hockey League, he spent five summers coaching youngsters at Stop It Goaltending in Woburn. He is also a passionate advocate for his younger brother, Dylan, who is on the autism spectrum. 

Stopping pucks is his current main focal point. Bussi (pronounced BUSS-ey), who signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Boston Bruins last March, is 17-4-4 with the P-Bruins after making 21 saves on Saturday in a 3-2 win over Hershey. 

He is second in the AHL with a .925 save percentage, sixth in goals against average (2.42), and was named to the league’s all-star game. His play had helped Providence to the top spot in the Atlantic Division and could provide the Boston Bruins, already overflowing with goalie talent, with depth in the event of an untimely injury. 

But the 6-foot-5-inch Bussi, 24, isn’t looking to step in if either Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman goes down. Bussi is already backstopping a first-place team. 

“I try not to be focused about that, to be honest,” he said last week when asked about a potential promotion to Boston. “I’m very happy with where I’m at right now. What we’re doing here in Providence is very important; we have a really good group to do something special. If something were to happen and I’m that guy that is going to get the call, then I’m going to be ready to help them do my job there.” 

Bussi is just a year removed from an impressive career at Western Michigan University, where he set the program record for wins in a season (26). That final season ended with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where he made 30 saves in an overtime victory over Northeastern for the program’s first victory at NCAAs. 

He was splitting time with two other goalies at Providence before Keith Kincaid was traded to Colorado on Feb. 25. Kyle Keyser (2.49 GAA in 17 games) has also played well at Providence. 

The transition to the pros has been startling, according to Bussi. 

“In college, you can get away with maybe not having a Grade A performance,” he said. “But in Providence, the margin of error is very small. The players are faster; they’re bigger, they’re stronger. Finding pucks through the sight lines when there’s traffic in front of you is a lot more difficult at the next level. Those intangibles are some of the biggest things I have to continue to learn.” 

Bussi spent two weeks at Bruins training camp at Warrior Arena before the season started and is not surprised to see Boston running away with the NHL’s best record. 

“It’s a historic, special year those guys are having,” he said. “Being able to meet and see Ullmark and Sway during training camp was insightful to be able to learn and watch from afar to see how they do things. It makes total sense the success that they’re having.” 

Bussi grew up in Sound Beach, New York, along Long Island Sound, and said he had a few interactions with Charlie McAvoy, who is a year older and grew up in Long Beach, on the southern shore of Long Island. 

“I played with or against him a handful of times, but we were never too close or talked that often, but obviously you could tell from a young age that he was going to be a really good player. What he’s doing now really doesn’t surprise me.” 

As the son of a goalie, Bussi was naturally attracted to the position, though his father did try to shoo him away from the crease. 

“My dad was trying to steer me away from that, just explaining about the importance of learning how to skate, but I wanted to be a goalie so bad that I did every obstacle that he had in front of me, and I finally got the gear, and I’ve been playing it ever since,” he said. 

Bussi grew up a New York Rangers fan – “I know I will probably take a lot of heat in the future,” he said – and has been channeling those younger years when he coaches with Stop It Goaltending, working primarily with 7- to 16-year-olds. 

“It allows me to self-reflect a little better. I’ve always wanted to be a perfectionist, but sometimes when you’re a little younger, you can be a little hard on yourself,” he said. “From coaching and speaking to younger goalies, I was able to put certain scenarios in perspective on maybe how I would play in certain situations. A kid would ask me a question, and I thought it was interesting because it would relate to something that I’ve thought about but never could really put into words. That’s really helped me a lot.” 

He wears his other passion on his mask. Bussi’s brother, Dylan, 22, is non-verbal and lives in an adult home on Long Island. When Brandon was a freshman at Western Michigan, he sported a mask adorned with puzzle pieces that represent the complexity of the autism spectrum. 

His mask with the P-Bruins also includes black and gold puzzle pieces. 

“It started out as something more personal to me. As a goalie, we have a little bit of creativity with our masks to make designs to show off not only what team you’re on but for other things that are personal,” Bussi said. “It got a lot more attention than I was expecting. It has now turned into a thing where I’m still trying to figure out the track that I want to go with it. People might be able to hear my story and relate to it, and that is probably where it does the most benefitting.” 

Brandon says Dylan has taught him more about life than the sport he loves. 

“It forced me to be a little bit more mature at a younger age,” he said. “Growing up and being with my brother is one of the greatest relationships that I could ever have, but at the same time, so different that people just don’t understand. It created a unique view for how I see things.”