The Bruins’ lone representative at the 2003 World Junior Hockey Championship in Sydney/Halifax, Milan Jurcina, unfortunately was unable to play due to a severe charley horse. He is still going to be out of action with his regular junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads for another week.
Without Jurcina, Team Slovakia still bettered their 8th place finish of a year ago to 5th place this year. However, they still could have really used the big 6’4” and 220-pound defenseman in losses to Russia and USA, as well as a 6-0 loss to Finland in the quarterfinals. Slovakia’s best ever finish at the WJHC was a silver medal in 1999.
Missing the tournament was particularly frustrating for Jurcina because he was playing on “home ice,” due to the fact that he already plays for Halifax of the QMJHL. The smaller ice surface of North American arenas often leave foreign players at a disadvantage, but not Jurcina; he has played in North America for over two years after being drafted by the Mooseheads in the 2000 CHL Import Draft. Jurcina would have also likely found a pocket of “hometown fans” cheering for him, as a result of his solid play on the blueline for the Mooseheads.
In 30 games this season Jurcina has sported 11+7=18 point totals with an impressive 8 power-play goals. One Mooseheads season ticket holder has described him as being “a tower back on D for the Moose…a man amongst boys on most nights.” His fine play this season should warrant him a spot on the Providence Bruins’ defence corps next season. With some luck, and another great training camp as he has had with Boston the last two years, he could even find himself seeing time with the big club as early as next season.
The Boston Bruins’ recent skid has left a very sour taste in the collective mouths of Bruin fans, however if one follows the Providence Bruins the taste might turn to merely bittersweet. While Boston has been in the doldrums with only two wins in their last 14 games (as of Jan. 10/03), Providence has been riding high with a current 12-game unbeaten streak. Conversely, when Boston was the NHL’s premier team during the months of October and November, Providence went a mediocre 12-11-5 through their first 28 games. Bruin fans just can’t seem to get the “best of both worlds” they so desire.
Leading Providence to their 12-game unbeaten streak have been some of the Bruins’ key prospects. Over this streak, AHL rookie Martin Samuelsson piled up a number of multi-goal games, highlighted by his first career AHL hat trick on December 28 against the Portland Pirates. The speedy winger has really emerged as a goal scoring threat during the 12-game span, putting up totals of 10 goals and 5 assists for 15 points. If Martin continues to display this speed and scoring touch he could find himself heading to Boston for a call-up this season with the recent long-term injuries to wingers Sergei Samsonov and Rob Zamuner.
Forward Andy Hilbert also displayed some hot hands amassing 13 points over the 12-game stretch. Hilbert was rewarded for his consistent play by both being named to the PlanetUSA All-Star Team, and a January 9th call-up to Boston. Providence goaltender Andrew Raycroft showed why he was the CHL Goaltender of the Year in 1999-2000 posting a 6-0 record in his last six starts. The rock-solid play as of late by Providence goaltending duo of Raycroft, and Tim Thomas, coupled with a number of shaky performances by Boston goalies John Grahame and Steve Shields could warrant a call-up for either Raycroft or Thomas in the near future.
As we have already seen in Boston this season, hot streaks do not last forever. Providence will eventually cool off, but they are well coached by head coach Mike Sullivan and staff, as well as a highly skilled team that should put up a good fight for the Calder Cup this post-season. As for Boston, things will eventually “even out” for them as well.