Buffalo’s Prospects Challenge: Part 1 — Bruins Go Big And Go Home

 Photo Courtesy of Joshua Bemis (@ToCauseway) 

 By: Jen Stasio-Coombe  |  Follow Me O Twitter @hockeygirl2976

The Prospect Challenge in Buffalo, New York kicked off on Friday Sept. 7 and ran through Monday, Sept. 10. The challenge featured a round robin-style tournament between the Buffalo Sabres, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New Jersey Devils, and our own Boston Bruins.  Boston, Buffalo, and New Jersey each won 2 of their 3 games and Pittsburgh waddled home without a single win on the weekend. Final standings, as seen below, ended up being determined by the goals for and goals against.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be putting out a series of articles on my experiences and takeaways from this incredible experience. So, sit back relax and enjoy the first of these here and now.

When it comes to prospect tournaments, the play is often rough and tumble, a little chaotic and very, very fun to watch.  You bring together a team composed of young men who may have had a few pro games under their belt (if they were lucky) may or may not have played together before, and some who have barely even skated North American ice until now.  Next, you put them in a game situation where they are required to rely not only on their own skill and understanding of the game but trust in the teammates they have just met and possibly even learn a new style of play, which may completely differ from what they have trained their whole lives.

This is a recipe for a scrappy, emotion-filled, challenge ridden matchup and if you are looking for structured NHL formula style hockey, you are out of luck.  A chaotic environment results in one of two outcomes — you adapt, learn, and rise to the challenge, or you continue to do what you always have done and go back whence you came. Providence Bruins head coach Jay Leach said, “It’s about when they are ready…we will push them, but we won’t push them into something they aren’t ready for.”

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Photo Credit: Joshua Bemis (@ToCauseway)

In hockey, going back from where you came is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is not because you aren’t adapting, sometimes it is for your own good, and sometimes it is because you just need more time. A prime example of this is one of the breakout stars of this challenge, Axel Andersson. He wasn’t perfect, but this kid is like an angel on skates, his puck handling is on point, and his touch is incredible. He is one of the boys I mentioned with little to no North American ice time and the style of defense played abroad is different so he had to learn on the fly. After seeing him skate the first night against the Penguins, paired up with Wiley Sherman on the third-line D, I was convinced. He has smarts and this pairing is sweet!

I asked each of them how they felt being paired with the other. Axel explained, “I liked having Sherman there, he was confident, and made me feel comfortable.”  The respect was mutual as Wiley said, “I have always been paired with skill players, he is a skills player,” placing a hard emphasis on skills, “I really enjoyed playing with him.”

Admiration for these skills does not end with his teammates. Leach had this to say after the first night’s matchup against the Pens.

“Andy (Axel Andersson)… he is smooth, isn’t he?” Leach said. “I’ve only been able to see him play one game and (in) development camp, I have been thoroughly impressed with his game.”

Over the next three days, Jay and I spoke each day about ‘Andy’ and each day he had good things to say about how the player was learning from the video and taking the constructive criticism. On the final day, he confirmed what we had discussed on Day 2.

“The program over there (Sweden) is very good at developing defensemen in particular.  It would be good for him to play one more year there, where he is comfortable, and then I am sure he will be fine to be here.” In a surprise twist of fate I was able to meet Axel’s father and he was of the same mind as Coach Leach, but for a more parental reason, “Axel has only one year left of school and he wants to finish that first (before coming to the states),” he said. “As a father, that makes me happy.  He will continue his play at home.”

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Photo Credit: Joshua Bemis (@ToCauseway)

Sweden has done a stellar job thus far, let them have at it, so long as Andy comes back to grace us with his angelic moves again next year. For now, he will be close to home, close to family, be able to finish his schooling and come back in the fall ready to get movin’ and Bruin.

A huge THANK YOU to @ToCauseway for the amazing photography you supplied for my articles for this series.  Your assistance was invaluable and your guidance even more so.  In addition, a giant THANK YOU to @wifeofsalmon for making me feel so welcome and helping me settle in on my first assignment.  You were both great and I owe you one.  Hope to work with you both again soon!

Look for the second article in the series coming soon.

What’s ‘Bruin’ In Providence For Austin Fyten?

Fyten_Austin_10_11_1( Photo Credit: everettssilvertips.com )

By: Jen Stasio Coombe | Follow Me On Twitter @hockeygirl2976

Colton Hargrove has said goodbye to the smallest state in the union and donned his Ten Gallon Texas Hat.  The funny part is not that his new hat is as big as his old state, but that we immediately welcome Austin Fyten to remove his giant tuque and join this itty-bitty piece of the planet.  That’s right P-Bruins peeps off one goes to Texas and in one comes from the same.

Fun and games aside, who is Austin Fyten and what does he bring to Providence?    Austin Fyten was a promising 20-year-old forward playing in the WHL for Lethbridge Hurricanes.  In 2010, the 54-point season he put up had many talking draft and development camp.  According to an article by Paul Prass, that talk was stifled when in an exhibition game days before attending his first development camp he suffered an injury, resulting in a torn ACL.  Sitting out the entire 2011 regular season rehabbing his knee and fighting back from such a devastating blow did not prevent Fyten from putting up 5 points in 6 playoff games post-season.

Never to be kept down and without being drafted, Fyten entered the 2012 season at the ECHL level for the Idaho Steelheads seeing 47 games and posting 41 points.  Apparently showing the Dallas organization what they wanted to see, Fyten was given a PTO with their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars.  However, while he saw 11 games, he only put up 2 points, and it was back to the Steelheads.

The 2013 Season saw much of the same with time split between the AHL and ECHL.  The number of games played went up to 62, but his numbers saw the reverse with a slide down to 35.  2014 saw the Philadelphia Flyers taking a chance on the kid they had vetted 3 years previous and had felt had a ton of promise.  Assigning him to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, their AHL affiliate, for the entire season. They were looking for a solid payout on their risk.  Numbers of 2-9-11 in 64 games followed by another lower body injury were not the rewards they were hoping for so once again the seeds of change had been sewn.

The 2015 season was spent mostly in the ECHL, with the South Carolina Stingrays, and only 6 games played at the AHL for the Hershey Bears.  It appears however that this extended period in the ECHL this late in his career may have been a wake-up call.  After helping the Stingrays through 19 playoff games with a showing of 19 points, Austin has spent all but 5 games in the 2016 and 17 seasons in the AHL with the Dallas Stars. Including 11 games in the postseason ending in a brutal defeat by the Toronto Marlies.

Now coming to our own little slice of heaven here in Providence, Austin brings with him, a physical style to his forward game with the ability to play Center or Left Wing.  Obviously not a high scoring forward he seems happy to kill penalties and bring some grit up front if it’s needed.  With the depth we have at center it will be interesting to see where he fits in and how well he meshes with the other players on the team.  Sometimes it is not just who you are, but who you are with, so I am going to give Austin a ‘Fyten’ chance to make a solid start here.  Only time will tell if he has truly found his Providence, divine or not.

A Brief History Of Providence, Hockey, And The Bruins

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Image Courtesy of the RI Reds Heritage Society

By: Jen Stasio Coombe | Follow Me On Twitter @hockeygirl2976

Providence has had a long and storied history with ice hockey. One which dates to December 1926 when the Rhode Island Reds played the Springfield Indians in the now-defunct Canadian-American Hockey League (C-AHL).  While the Reds lost heartily that day, the fervor for the game that was never to be quenched.  At the time the Reds were known more for their pugilistic acumen than their talents with the puck, but as the years flew by they gained their footing and truly made a name for themselves winning the Fontaine Cup in 1930, ‘32 and ’34, coming in second in 1931 to their very first foes, the Springfield Indians.

The demise of the Canadian-American Hockey League at the end of the 1935-36 season would not end the era of ice hockey for Rhode Island.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of both the C-AHL and the IHL (International Hockey League), the International-American Hockey League (I-AHL), later to be renamed the AHL, was formed in 1936 with 8 foundational teams.  The Rhode Island Reds being one of these elite eight.

The Reds barely noticed the changed in leagues.  Refusing to fall far behind and capturing their first and second AHL titles back to back in 1939 and 1940. World War II was hard on everyone, but the team and the community struggled through these times together coming out the other side stronger and wiser for their efforts.  The war had changed everyone, values were slightly altered, and emphasis was placed more on the moment.  Capturing the Calder Cup was in the cards only 2 more times for the ultimately ill-fated team; 1949 and 1956 saw the last two years the Reds were to celebrate their ultimate victories. However, as many looked back, they remembered that while winning was an incredible experience the journey along the way, the ups, the downs, the comradery and the friendships.  That is what made ice hockey mean so much to Rhode Island and Providence.  Therefore, when the affiliation with the Rangers ended in 1975 and in 1977, after 51 years, the Reds said goodbye to hockey, everyone knew it would not be gone for long.

Not long can be a very relative term, I get it, Trust me. My father is a paleontologist/geologist and as he would remind me, <using best dad voice> “Jennifer, not long, geologically speaking, could be billions of years.”  Whereas, to my teenage daughter, a web-page taking ten seconds to load is <teenage whining> “forever.”  So, let us settle somewhere at a more reasonable in between.  Our beloved Providence Bruins, the official AHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins, brought hockey back to Providence proper in 1992.  But the Road to Providence started, almost fortuitously, in 1977 in a little town you may have heard of, Portland Maine.

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Image Courtesy of the Portland Library

Portland Maine was abuzz with the news that a new hockey team was to follow the construction of Cumberland County Civic Center.  Multiple teams bid to be “that” team, but the Philadelphia Flyers were the only one of the bunch willing to commit their top-level farm team to the great white north of Maine.  Voila, the Maine Mariners were born. The Mariners opened their inaugural season on October 15, 1977, in front of a crowd of over 6,000 and carried that momentum throughout the season being the first team in the AHL to ever win the Calder Cup on their first go. As affiliations go, in 1983 Philly decided to change direction and sold the rights of the Mariners to the New Jersey Devils.  The Devils loved the ready-made franchise idea but wanted them a little closer to home so, in 1987 New Jersey up and moved the team to Utica New York re-branding them the Utica Devils. This franchise was eventually purchased by the Calgary Flames organization and has undergone many iterations, including a few seasons of dormancy, but currently live on as the Stockton Heat, their AHL affiliate.

Portland, Maine refused to be left out of the hockey mix and here is where it really gets good.  The AHL approved an expansion team to be supplied from the Boston Bruins, to be located in Portland Maine, and to be named… wait for it… the Maine Mariners.

 Internal Dialogue:  Wait… What?!?  Didn’t they just leave?? A team called the Maine Mariners left Portland for Utica and changed their name. Now we were issued a new team, also called the Maine Mariners, but stockpiled with players from Boston????

Okay got it, I am totally on board.  Good deal, carry on smartly. 

Thank you brain, I shall. 

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Image Courtesy of 1000logos.net

This, my friends, is where our Providence Bruins began, with the second incarnation of the Maine Mariners.  A roster filled with Boston Bruins players, a new black, white and gold color scheme and the Mariners were ready to take to the ice that fall finishing first in their division.  After five seasons in Portland, a deal was struck to relocate the franchise and rename it the Providence Bruins.

Don the Spoked P, lower the lights and queue the organ, your Providence Bruins hit the ice for the first time in 1992 ending the 15-year drought.  In the 25 seasons since taking root, the team has three regular Season Titles, five Division Championships, one Conference Championship and one Calder Cup. Their per game attendance average has hovered a little over 8000 since climbing from a low of 6000 in 2007.  With the continued support of the fans and the community, this team will continue to make future history for both Providence and the Boston Bruins!

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Image Courtesy of Providence Bruins
Thank you to the following sites for providing information and insights helpful in creating this article.
Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society http://www.rireds.org/
AHL – The American Hockey League https://theahl.com/
The Portland Library https://www.portlandlibrary.com/life-of-the-library/hockey-history-portland/ 

Providence Bruins Search For New Team Captain

Tommy-Cross-3-22-17  (Photo Credit:  Angela Spagna)

By: Jen Stasio | Follow me on Twitter @hockeygirl2976

A ‘C’ may bring cool refreshing air to mind in these, the hot and hazy days of summer, but for the Providence Bruins faithful it pokes the still tender bruise left from the loss of our beloved Captain, Tommy Cross. In hockey, unlike other sports, a captain is not just a player with a particular title, he is a mentor, a leader, a defender, and a mediator.  The one who sets the tone both on and off the ice. So, before I go on to give you my take on who may be on the horizon as our new capital-C, Captain, allow me to wax poetic a moment about what Tommy Cross has meant to Providence, both the team and the community.

Donning the ‘C’ for three consecutive seasons, longer than any other captain in the team’s history, Tommy Cross led Providence both on and off the ice.  He mentored the young players, always willing to sit down for a chat or spend a moment just listening if that is what was needed.  With a level spirit and a casual air, he aimed to put his teammates at ease and create that bond that drives a solid club. Cross attributes his leadership success to being himself, to modeling a hard work ethic and to being happy.  In an article for the Providence Journal, written shortly after Cross was named Captain in 2015, Mark Divver quoted him as saying “I look back on some of the guys that have been leaders here while I’ve been here… … they were themselves. It’s important to be yourself, bring your own attributes to the table.” While in a more recent interview with GottaLoveCTHockey Cross confirmed he still believes this to be the best policy stating, “There’s a need for different types of leaders, and it’s important to be who you are and not change.”

Apart from being a real leader in the locker room, Cross has been a stable and productive team player on the ice.  Driving the team to not rely on the highs or dwell on the lows, but to play a consistent, solid, and steady game throughout.  Living by this mantra, Tommy played 73 of the 76 games in the 17/18 regular season posting numbers of 8-28-36, preceded by a 16/17 season in which he played 74 and posted 12-23-35.  On top of that consistency, he was recognized as the P-Bruins all-time leader in games played having skated in 362 regular season play, and 43 postseason match-ups.  Numbers like these speak volumes for the coaching staffs’ confidence in his abilities and his mental and physical fitness on the ice.  Not one to drop gloves at the tip of a stick, Tommy found the right way to defend each one of his teammates.  He had the mellow demeanor when necessary to consult with official and convey his message without escalating the situation and the tenacity to draw the hard line with an opponent who refused the gentle touch.   It’s this ability to differentiate situations that made him as valuable an asset as any.

Cross once mentioned that part of being a successful leader is being a good teammate and a good citizen, admitting that it’s something we always must work on because no one is perfect.  Well Tommy, you certainly gave it your all.  He never let his leadership end at the locker room door, encouraging his teammates to be active members of the Providence community, modeling the good citizenship he strives for.   Every year he took part in the Providence Bruins Fan Clubs charity events, helping raise thousands of dollars that were donated directly to the Special Olympics of Rhode Island and the Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

The annual Holiday Toy Shopping Event at Walmart felt his presence as he and teammates not only helped lead the event but participated in making charitable donations and even making sure that thousands of dollars’ worth of toys were given to families in need.  The Tomorrow Fund and The Military Appreciation Night were two more of many charitable and humanitarian organizations that Tommy felt honored to serve.  The big heart reflected in these deeds did not go unnoticed, as in both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 Tommy Cross was named the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year.

These combined are the things that make a great leader, these are the things the make a successful Captain.  A captain does not have to be the top player, the leading scorer, or the star.  He must be willing to be true to himself, to be available to others, and to put the team before the self.  Having said all that, we will miss you, Tommy!  The Baby-B’s Next captain has some big skates to fill.

Even now the game must go on and preferably… with a Captain. Providence has a roster stocked with everything from fresh-faced cubs to seasoned burly bears, and a fundamental decision has to be made.  Who is the right team member to take on that all-important role and feel the full weight of the ‘C’?  In my opinion, there are only 2 real options; Chris Breen and Colby Cave (and no it’s not because they are gingers).  Both have served as Alternate Captains in the last few years, so they both have had a small bite at the apple.  The answer really lies in who has made the most out of that little taste?

Let’s take a quick look at each of them.

Chris Breen

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At 6’7” 224 pounds defender, Chris Breen is a Giant on the ice.  The 29-year-old Ontario native began his career with 5 years in the OHL.  Un-drafted, he fought his way into a tryout spot with the Stockton Heat landing a full-time slot on their roster for 4 years stepping up to Calgary Flames for 9 games in the 13/14 season.  Signing a one-year two-way contract in 2014, Breen made his debut with Providence on October 10, 2014.  Since then Chris came up with 5 goals and 33 assists in 217 regular season games.  His play is excellent, and he has an incredible reach which is great for breaking up lanes and preventing scoring opportunities.  He’s not the fastest on the ice but is able to stretch his long frame to make up for the bit of lag on his transitions.  Perhaps my favorite quality in Chris Breen (besides his amazing beard) is he is unstoppable, you will know he hit you!

Off the Ice, it is hard to find much on Chris Breen.  I have not seen him at many Providence Bruins Fan Club events, and I don’t see much about him online regarding community involvement.  I am not putting him down for this.  Each person has their own skill set, maybe public events are not his thing.  Just to mention Cross one more time, he reminded us there is a place in this world for all kinds of leaders, you need to be true to you.

Chris Breen = hard hitting, long reach, aggressive and strong

Colby Cave

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At 6’1” 190-pounds, Center Colby Cave is a force on the ice.  The 23-year-old Saskatchewan native began his career playing four seasons in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos serving as their captain in his final season there.  Signing with the Bruins in 2015 Cave made his debut with Providence at the end of the 2014-15 season.   In his three full seasons with Providence Colby has played no fewer than 72 games per campaign including suiting up for every single game in the 16/17 season. His numbers were equally impressive at 37-60-97 in a total of 223 regular season games.  His play is very fluid, and he has an innate ability to position himself in front of the net for the touch or rebound.  At the same time, he’s defensive-minded consistently looking to break-up oppositional plays before they can get going.  His dig in the corners is aggressive but not reckless, and my favorite quality is that he always comes out of a ‘dust-up’ with a smile.  They may get under his skin, but he doesn’t let it show.  These skills on top of winning 3 of the 4 faceoffs he took in Boston prove he has the focus and flexibility to address many different situations.

Off the Ice, Colby Cave’s Twitter account is a running thread of support for his community back home, organizations his loved ones’ support, and those he supports himself.  On the big, old, world-wide-web there is not much information on his community activities.  However, he has been active with many of the Providence Bruins Fan Club events and charity gatherings.  I had the opportunity to see him interact with a young fan at the most recent event this past May and they had a great conversation. He seemed genuinely interested and was not in a hurry to rush off.  Colby has a community-minded leadership approach and appears to be very willing to mingle with the fans.

Colby= aggressive, solid, consistent, and flexible

Numbers and attributes out on the table, Breen and Cave both have played around the same amount of games, so that is a wash.  Breen is a few years older, but does older mean better for a Captain? It could go either way.  Cave appears more personable, but does that make a better Captain?  Depends.  Honestly, it’s a judgment call, okay it’s always a judgment call, but this is the call I make and why.

Providence Bruins Fan Club - Peeps For a Purpose( Photo Credit:  Jen Stasio )

I chose Colby Cave.  I picked him for three reasons.   First, from everything I have seen Colby has shown leadership potential from way back in the juniors.  He was named Captain of the Swift Current Broncos, and it was said then that the energy and direction he had just seemed to flow to everyone else on the ice.  That is not something you can teach.  Second, his ability to adapt.  I have the impression from watching him on the ice and seeing him interact with people off the ice that he is comfortable in his skin.  He can be himself and make everyone feel they belong.  He doesn’t need to be the star, he just wants to be sure everyone is at their best.

Lastly, perhaps the most tangible reason of the bunch, his numbers.  They don’t lie.  Seriously compare his numbers year over year. Colby has shown the consistency that makes me believe he has the bandwidth to take on the added responsibility of being a leader.  Like I mentioned at the top of the piece Captain is not just a title in ice hockey, it’s a role.  So, to take on an additional role, you must be a consistent and level player.  I feel Colby has these characteristics and would make an excellent Captain.

That is not to say Breen was not an option.  There is only one reason I did not choose him, and it has less to do with him than you would think.  The defense in Providence is overall so young that they need a more prominent guiding force with them, dedicated almost.  If Chris Breen took on the role of Captain, he would need to spread his guidance out to the whole team, making his ability to impact the defensive team significantly less.  I do not think Chris Breen would be a bad Captain, but I do think his guidance is needed more elsewhere.

Blidh Inks A One-Year Deal With Bruins

Blidh1(Image courtesy of providencebruins.com)

By: Jen Stasio   |   Follow Me On Twitter @hockeygirl2976

Swedish winger Anton Blidh signed a $650,000 one-year, two-way contract with the Boston Bruins this week.  Drafted in the sixth-round (180th Overall) by the Bruins at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Blidh played in the Swedish Hockey League for two years before coming to the states to join the organizations AHL affiliate the Providence Bruins in 2015 signing a three-year entry-level contract.

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During those three years, Blidh showed consistency throughout.  Spending the whole 2015-16 season in Providence posting 10-4-14 numbers.  His second season stateside saw Anton earn 19 games in the NHL totaling 2 points.  His time in Providence proved more productive, having 16 points in 53 games. The 17/18 season was his best showing yet, playing in 71 games for Providence and recording career-highs with 11-15-26 totals.  His time in Boston in the 2017-18 campaign was limited to one emergency call-up with no points.

Even with this limited play at the NHL level, Blidh’s aggressive style of play and his versatility fits well with the Bruins organization.  Hard-hitting and always willing to rile up the opponent, Blidh does not shy away from the competition.  As a competent yet not prolific scorer, he is continually looking for opportunities to assist in netting a goal.  He shoots left but can play both right and left-wing without much trouble.  It’s these attributes that make me happy to say I’ll continue to ‘Blidh’ Black and Gold.