Providence Bruins 2008-09 season preview

By Janine Pilkington

With last season’s impressive run behind them, the Providence Bruins are set to kick off the new season at home Wednesday Oct. 8 against the Lowell Devils. The departure of the 2007-08 Coach of the Year Scott Gordon (moving on to the NY Islanders) resulted in the promotion of Rob Murray to the head coaching position. Murray has been with the team for five years, and brings familiarity with both the Bruins organization and its players. Bruce Cassidy, who has 11 years coaching experience, including time in the NHL, will serve as assistant coach for the Providence Bruins.

Of his promotion to head coach, Murray said, “I’m really excited. I was put in a good spot here to learn under Scott through the years and his opportunity to move on and my opportunity to move up coincided with each other.  [I’m] real excited, real comfortable too — that’s one of the things that I look forward to, that familiarity of being here four or five years and learning with the organization, not only Providence but Boston.”

While the final roster has not been set, the philosophy is the same, fans should expect to see the same aggressive, up-tempo style of play.

“We always felt that it didn’t matter who was in the lineup, that’s the kind of style we wanted to play,” said the new P Bruins coach. “That’s what we’re looking for again this year, to really push the puck, push the pace of the game and be an up-tempo type team.”

Goaltending

Assuming there aren’t any trades or injuries in the near future, it’s likely Tuukka Rask will play most of the season in Providence, where he will look to build upon his rookie year.  In Providence he should get the majority of starts, and if either Tim Thomas or Manny Fernandez is injured, Rask would be the first in line for a call-up. He has had a strong camp and was one of the last cuts.

Kevin Regan, the Bruins’ ninth-round draft pick from 2003, will be a new addition in net as he begins his rookie pro season.  Regan is coming off a spectacular senior season with the UNH Wildcats, where he surpassed many personal and team bests. Coach Murray is familiar with the South Boston native, having worked with him not only in training camp, but hockey schools and summer leagues as well.

“Kevin’s a guy that definitely has an incredible work ethic, and it shows,” said Murray, who said it gives Regan an opportunity to succeed. “In the net he’s very active, very athletic. He’s got to get some games under his belt. I hope that he does well, and there’s no reason for me to think that he won’t.  I’m looking for big things from him.”

Defense

There has been plenty of turnover on defense for the Providence Bruins, as players like Jonathan Sigalet, Brett Skinner, Sean Curry and Dwayne Zinger have all moved on.  Matt Lashoff and Jeff Penner were among the last cuts from Boston’s camps, while Matt Hunwick is currently still with the team.  Lashoff and Hunwick are draft picks of the Bruins, while Penner was signed out of college last season and will be a rookie this season.  There will be high expectations for Lashoff in particular, who didn’t have the best camp. He will need to push himself that extra mile this season.

Also returning for the Providence Bruins is Adam McQuaid, a big stay at home defenseman who was originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets. McQuaid played his rookie season in 2007-08 and was, for the most part, consistent in his performance. He was recognized by the league for his work in the community.

Andrew Bodnarchuk joins the team as a rookie, after spending the 2007-08 as captain of the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL).  Veteran blueliners Johnny Boychuk and Ryan Stokes, both of whom came to the Bruins this season, recently passed through waivers and should spend part, if not all of the season with Providence. 

Forwards

There’s a good mix of returning and new players up front this season.  Byron Bitz, Martins Karsums and Wacey Rabbit all played full seasons in Providence during 2007-08, while Zach Hamill, Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt and Levi Nelson got the opportunity to join the team following the close of their junior and college seasons. Mikko Lehtonen, Matt Marquardt, and Brad Marchand are with the team for the first time.

Jordan Knackstedt, a draft pick from 2007, is still unsigned and looking to earn both a contract from Boston and a roster spot in Providence.  Knackstedt is eligible to return to juniors as an overage player, but after four full seasons in the WHL, is probably better served playing pro. Where he ends up is dependent both on his performance and whatever Boston decides is best.

“He looked pretty good in Boston,” said Murray. “He got himself out of that rookie group and into the main camp and so they’ve had a while to look at him. He’s going to get into probably all of our exhibition games here, so we’ll end up getting a really good look at him. That experience we had with him last year, that helps.”

Mikko Lehtonen, a tall, lanky forward from Finland, is playing his first season in North America. Lehtonen is ahead of the game as far as speaking and understanding English and once he gets acclimated, he should be a strong addition.

“He’s a big body,” said Murray. “He’s probably not going to be as gritty a player as maybe a Blake Wheeler or Byron Bitz, but what he lacks in aggressiveness for his physical game, for a big guy, he’s got great hands, he moves really well, and he can control the puck really well in tight spaces.”

While technically he’s a third-year pro, Martins Karsums only has one full season under his belt and will look to build upon that. His offensive production in 2007-08 was greatly improved from his rookie season, and he should be one of the big point producers this season. Last year’s team captain, Nate Thompson, is not likely to return to Providence. Currently with Boston, Thompson would need to clear waivers if he got sent down, and could very well be claimed by another team.  With the departure of so many veteran players, there are no set leaders in Providence yet, something that should resolve itself once the roster is finalized.