( Photo Credit: Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By: Mark Allred | Follow me on Twitter @BlackAndGold277

    The American Hockey League Providence Bruins wrapped up their 2022-23 season with a best-of-five Calder Cup playoff series exit to the Hartford Wolf Pack. It was a brutal end to an otherwise promising season for the Providence Bruins, who had high hopes at the beginning of the playoffs coming in as AHL Atlantic Division champions for the third time in the last four years.

    The Providence Bruins had a solid regular season, finishing with a 44-18-8-2 record and 98 points, placing them first in the Atlantic Division and capturing the first seed in the AHL Eastern Conference. The team had a balanced scoring attack, with two players reaching the 20-goal mark, five players with at least 15 goals, and a solid defensive corps anchored by veteran defenseman and Providence team captain Josiah Didier. Providence was one of the most consistent teams in the AHL during the 2022-23 regular season, jockeying between first and second place in the Atlantic.

    This was the first season in a long while; the top minor-pro affiliate of the Boston Bruins started and finished their respective season on top. In the past, and mainly due to injuries to the parent NHL Boston organization, Providence typically begins near the bottom of the division and turns on the heat as soon as the calendar year changes marching their way up the standings and securing a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs. With the AHL B’s making the postseason this year, it was the ninth straight campaign trying to seek a league championship.

    Heading into the playoffs, expectations were high for the Providence Bruins. Their second-round matchup was against a tough Atlantic Division opponent, the Hartford Wolf Pack. The Wolf Pack, a team the B’s played ten times during the 2022-23 regular season, having Hartford owning a record 6-3-1 in ten games split five home and five away. Hartford finished the regular season sitting fifth in the Atlantic and sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 35-26-4-7 record and 81 points. It didn’t help, and not making excuses that Providence had close to two weeks off before starting the second round. Hartford seemed more prepared for this series as they swept the previous best-of-three first-round matchup against the Springfield Thunderbirds 2-0.

    Despite the early exit, there were several bright spots for the Providence Bruins in the playoffs. AHL Rookie forward Luke Toporowski played well in his first professional postseason, with goals in four games. Big Justin Brazeau provided Providence a chance with his net-front presence leading the B’s in postseason scoring with 2-1-3 numbers. Defenseman Jack Ahcan, who’s played a never quit attitude since day one of joining the Boston Bruins organization, was the best blueliner in this shortened postseason with a goal and an assist offensively.

    Goaltender Brandon Bussi was one of several players who impacted the disappointing best-of-five series against Hartford. The Bruins prospect is currently in the last year of his one-year, entry-level deal and is an absolute must-re-sign to add to the NHL Bruins depth in goal and an ace in the hole if you need to make a cap-relief move this offseason. Bussi posted a regular season record of 22-5-4 with one shutout, a 2.40 goals-against-average, and a .924 save percentage in 32 games played.

    Bussi, a 24-year-old New York native, is 6′-5″, 209 pounds, and the perfect height and weight prodigy that excels under Boston Bruins goaltending coach Bob Essensa and goaltending developmental coach Mike Dunham’s system. Brandon’s story this season has been remarkable to watch. He played last season in the NCAA with the Western Michigan University Broncos. Bussi was one of the key contributors to Western Michigan’s best collegiate year, helping his team get to the Regional Semi-Final with a 2-1 overtime victory over Northeastern and Regional Final loss to Minnesota, the eventual National Champion in the 2022 tournament. Regardless of the results of the Boston Bruins first-round exit and the goaltending controversy, I continue to believe the tandem in Boston of Essensa and Dunham is criminally underrated.

    Looking back at the regular season, the Providence Bruins can hold their heads high as another year of development, and minor-pro competitive hockey is over. Under the eye of head coach Ryan Mougenel and his assistants Trent Whitfield and Matt Thomas, they worked hard to sit atop the Eastern Conference to finish the year, but the bye week break might’ve been a tough one to think of during the off-season. Providence played with a sense of urgency and determination throughout the year and overcame several injuries to key players. Head coach Mougenel deserves credit for keeping the team focused and motivated.

    As the team looks ahead to the future, there are reasons to be optimistic. Several prospects and young players showed promise in the 2022-23 season, including forward prospects and AHL rookie Fabian Lysell and second-year Georgii Merkulov were offensive juggernauts along with veteran Letteiri. Bruins defensive prospect Mason Lohrei got his first pro games after leaving Ohio State, and is a work in progress. Forward Joona Koppanen had a solid year as the team’s best penalty killer, while veteran forward Vinni Lettieri was a key asset to the Providence power play and led the year in points before his second-half of-the-season ankle injury.

    Overall, it was a disappointing end to the season for the Providence Bruins, but there are reasons to be hopeful for the future. With a solid group of veterans and promising young players, the team can look to build on their successes in the 2023-24 season and beyond. I believe new Providence General Manager Evan Gold, who is the Bruins organization’s salary cap master, can find the players needed in the upcoming free agency that brought veterans like Lettieri, Connor Carrick, Dan Renouf, and even departed netminder Keith Kinkaid to the B’s organization during last year’s free agency period.

    I find myself saying this after every Providence Bruins season end, but I’m looking forward to next year and what kind of depth the Bruins place in with the top minor-pro affiliate. Center Brett Harrison, who had an outstanding Ontario Hockey League 2022-23 campaign, started the year with a broken leg and looks ready to contribute at the AHL level. Forward Trevor Kuntar had a decent career with Boston College, left school early, signed an entry-level deal, and is ready to add to the depth of the Providence Bruins roster.

    Many thanks to all of my supporters over the years and recent followers who happen to enjoy my AHL Bruins coverage. It’s been another fun year writing about the Bruins affiliate and the online relationships.

    I want to thank the Providence Bruins organization for allowing our Black N’ Gold Productions sports media company access to media credentials for another season. We’ve had a long relationship with the longtime AHL franchise and appreciate the acceptance of other BNG colleagues to get the experience of covering the team with post-game interviews. Class act as always!

    Please stay tuned for my Providence Bruins off-season coverage and, hopefully, the relaunch of my Providence Hockey Report hockey podcast, currently available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, and Spotify Podcasts.