Providence Bruins season preview

By Kevin Forbes

The Providence Bruins have benefited tremendously from the expiration of the NHL collective bargaining agreement. As many as nine players slated for NHL duty are instead finding ice time
at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Rhode Island. Although the team could find
their roster stripped of talent when NHL play resumes, for the short term, at
least, they are able to ice a deep and competitive team.

Providence is looking to improve on a 2003-04 season that saw them
place fourth in the Atlantic Division and bow out in two games in a
best-of-three qualifying series against the Portland Pirates. The team will continue
to have strong goaltending, a mobile blueline and a speedy forward corps,
but it won’t always be coming from familiar faces.

Only 12 players are returning from last season, which means there are
ten new faces in the lineup. With such changes, the team has put importance
on leadership and veteran additions. None of these new players are fresh
faced rookies. They all have experience at the AHL and ECHL level, except for
Patrice Bergeron, who spent all of last season in the NHL. This will
allow the team to come together quicker at the beginning of the season, and
it will also help them dealing with any losses of players when the NHL
season begins.

Goaltending

Providence will once again feature some of the best goaltending in the
AHL. Last season’s duo of veteran Tim Thomas and Bruins top prospect
Hannu Toivonen both placed within the league’s top 20 netminders in both
goals against average and save percentage. Thomas has now departed to join
SM-Liiga’s Jokerit and Toivonen will assume starting duties with fellow
prospect Peter Hamerlik backing him up.

Toivonen continues to impress after forming a strong tandem with Thomas
last season as well as leading Team Finland to a bronze medal at the 2004
World Junior Championships. A big, quick goaltender, Toivonen plays a
butterfly style and still covers a lot of the net when he is down. With the
Bruins unable to come to terms on a contract deal with 2004 Calder Trophy
winner Andrew Raycroft before the lockout began, Toivonen could find himself
shuttled into the starting role in Boston when the NHL season begins.
Even if a deal is agreed upon between the two parties, barring the signing
of a veteran free agent, Toivonen is slated to be Raycroft’s backup in
Beantown.

Peter Hamerlik spent most of last season moving between three different
ECHL teams and Providence. The twice-drafted netminder posted strong numbers
in 3 games with the P-Bruins, but he needs to get consistent playing time
somewhere.

Key Additions: Peter Hamerlik
Key Departures: Tim Thomas

Defense

Kevin Dallman and Milan Jurcina are the only returning
blueliners to Providence as their defensive corps underwent a dramatic
change. Jurcina will benefit from the additional seasoning at the AHL
level.
Tabbed to be Boston’s seventh defenseman when the NHL season starts up,
the towering Slovak enters his second year with Providence. He provides
plenty of size to the lineup as well as smooth-skating two-way play. Dallman
enters his third year with the P-Bruins. A slightly undersized offensive
defenseman, Dallman will help run the power play. He led Providence
defensemen in scoring last season with 29 points.

Pat Aufiero and Brent Thompson headline some of the new additions to
the blue line. Aufiero is formerly a New York Rangers prospect, who can
take care of business at both ends of the ice. During his two seasons in the
Rangers farm system, he split time between the AHL and the ECHL and is
now looking to stick with Providence. Thompson is an AHL veteran who is
entering his 14th professional season. Last year, he was an assistant
coach/player with the Colorado Eagles of the Central Hockey League. A former Yanick
Dupre Memorial Award winner as the AHL’s Man of the Year, Thompson brings a
physical presence and plenty of leadership and experience to the
lineup.

Chris Dyment is a former Montreal Canadiens draft pick who has spent
the last two years in the AHL with the Houston Aeros and the Springfield
Falcons. He possesses great size and plays a punishing defensive style,
but doesn’t have a lot of upside. Jayme Filipowicz joins the team after
spending last season with the Hartford Wolfpack. An AHL and IHL veteran (over
300 regular season games between the two leagues), the former college star
has no fear dropping his gloves. Steve Munn rounds out the defensive corps.
The defensive blueliner spent most of his last two seasons with Atlantic
City of the ECHL.

Key Additions: Pat Aufiero, Brent Thompson, Chris Dyment, Jayme
Filipowicz, Steve Munn
Key Departures: Rich Brennan, Zdenek Kutlak, Peter Metcalf,
Brian
White, Ed Campbell, Martin Wilde

Forwards

Scoring goals was a problem for Providence last season. Their top
scorer, Brad Boyes was sixth in the AHL in points, but he tallied most
of his points with Cleveland, before he was acquired by Boston from San Jose.
The second (Andre Savage) and third (Matt Herr) leading scorers from last
year have departed and their fourth leading scorer (Ivan Huml) did not agree
upon a contract with Boston before the lockout, but if anything, the present
Providence roster has more firepower then last year.

Boyes will be called on to lead the attack during his first full season
with Providence. He’s never had a problem putting up points at
the AHL level (136 points in 158 games before this season) but he has only
seen one game of NHL play. He’s already been part of three different
organizations and soon needs to make his mark at the NHL level.

A surprise to some Bruins fans was the addition of Patrice Bergeron to
Providence. Despite playing all of last season in Boston, Bergeron is
only 19 and would normally not be eligible to be in the AHL. However with
nothing left to prove in the QMJHL, an agreement was reached between the
Canadian Hockey League and the National Hockey League to allow Bergeron as well
as Florida’s Nathan Horton and Minnesota’s Brent Burns to be
assigned to their respective clubs’ farm teams in the AHL. The only
condition is that those three players must be made available for
Canada’s World Junior Championships entry this winter. A definite call up when
NHL play resumes, Bergeron will benefit from the playing time in
Providence.

Andy Hilbert and Martin Samuelsson are two players who
saw time with both Boston and Providence over the last few seasons. Hilbert
has a new one-year deal with Boston and to some, this is a make or break
season for the former Hobey Baker finalist. He needs to use this time in the
AHL to put it all together in order to get a roster spot when NHL play starts
up again. A two-way player, he’ll be counted on to put up some points.
Samuelsson also excels at both ends of the ice, and also needs to make
an impression. His calling card is his blazing speed, but he has had
trouble delivering offensively.

Patrick Leahy and Carl Corazzini return to Providence to provide
secondary scoring. They both have plenty of experience in the AHL and will help
provide a veteran influence to the forward corps. Leahy plays a power
forward type game, with offensive skills matched up with gritty play.
Corazzini is a hard working Boston University grad, who’s held back
because of his lack of size and offensive skills. Able to play in all
situations, he puts points on the board through sheer determination.

Kris Vernarsky, Brendan Walsh and Colton Orr are also
returning to duty with the P-Bruins. Vernarsky was acquired from
Toronto a
few seasons back and has played well as a checking center for
Providence who is also able to help out a little bit offensively. Walsh is a fan
favorite with his willingness to drop the globes and play a physical game. He
led the team last season in penalty minutes with 281 and was the co-recipient
of the Bruin’s Hendricks Memorial Fan Appreciation Award. Orr is another
heavyweight with Providence. He was second in penalty minutes on the
team with 257 and even saw time in the NHL last season. A former WHL
bruiser, Orr
could see himself win a spot in Boston as their enforcer when play
resumes.

Jay Henderson returns to Providence after a triumph few seasons away
from the organization, highlighted by winning two Calder Cups in the
previous two seasons. Originally drafted by Boston back in 1997, Henderson hopes
that he’ll go three cups in three years with Providence. He was a member of
the Providence team that won back in 1998-99.

Yorick Treille, Ben Guite and David Gove are the new faces among the
Bruins forward unit. A native of France, Treille is a former Chicago prospect
who plays a hard working physical style and has good playmaking skills as
well. Guite is an AHL veteran who played last season with Bridgeport and was
originally drafted by Montreal. A speedy winger who plays hard each
game, Guite plays a strong two-way game. Gove is a former top scoring center
from Western Michigan University who was a Hobey Baker candidate in his
senior year. Only 5’9, his lack of size has held him back, but he can provide
timely offense on the AHL level, as he proved last season with the Utah
Grizzlies (14 goals and 36 points in 75 games).

Key Additions: Patrick Bergeron, Jay Henderson, Yorick Treille,
Ben Guite, David Gove
Key Departures: Andre Savage, Matt Herr, Ivan Huml, Darren
VanOene,
Brett Nowak

Outlook

Compared to last season’s lineup, this year’s Providence Bruins are a
completely different team. Despite losing many players over the course
of the offseason, the team has replaced their deletions with veteran
experienced AHL players.

It remains to be seen whether the team possesses enough offensive flair
and defensive conscious to achieve, however the players on this team know
what it takes to win and there are pieces in place to be successful. But
nothing is guaranteed, of course.

With players like Bergeron, Horton and Burns as well as Pittsburgh’s
Marc-Andre Fleury and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza along with
countless others in the AHL for at least the beginning of the year, the
league wide talent is at an all time high.

It will be interesting to see how the team comes together at the
beginning of the season and how they cope with losing a lot of their top talent
when the NHL season begins.

Providence opened their season at home on October 15th, 2004. They lost
4-3 to the Springfield Falcons. Andy Hilbert had 2 assists while Martin
Samuelsson, Brad Boyes and Pat Aufiero provided the goals.


Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.