The Providence Bruins made the best of a tough situation during the 2005-06 season and while the team fought hard to the end, the Portland Pirates ultimately halted their brief playoff run. The upcoming season provides a blank slate for the baby B’s, and already there is a sense of optimism that wasn’t present early last season.
The most striking difference is that head coach Scott Gordon won’t need a scavenger hunt last minute in order to patch together his team. Now in his fourth season at the helm of Boston’s farm team, he expressed enthusiasm for this season’s squad. On paper, at least, the team that takes the ice this season should be a vast improvement from last season. Gordon hopes that his players develop chemistry early on, and with some hard work, become a formidable team to play against.
Providence should have little to worry about between the pipes. The Bruins signed 25-year-old former Nashville Predators draft pick Brian Finley to a contract over the summer, and the likelihood is that he will spend much, if not all of the season in Providence. Finley brings four years pro experience, mostly from the AHL, where he has performed at a consistent level.
Jordan Sigalet returned to training camp far more confident and upbeat than in his rookie season. He should provide strong competition for a position in Providence, and aside from Finley, appears to be the player most likely to land a spot. Sigalet finished his rookie season with a 19-11-2 record, 2.55 goals against and a .900 save percentage.
Also attending Providence’s training camp is Bruins draft pick Mike Brown. Apart from a couple brief call-ups to Providence during the 2005-06 season, Brown spent the majority of his rookie season in the ECHL playing with the South Carolina Stingrays and the Dayton Bombers. He played a total of 18 games with the Bombers, and went 4-12-2 with 3.66 goals against and .896 save percentage.
Troubles in Boston trickled down to the farm team last season and Providence was forced to look to the ECHL to find bodies to fill the roster. The good news is that they will begin with a far more stable defensive corps than they did a year ago. Veterans Jay Leach, Ryan Gaucher and Sean Curry have returned to the team, along with Bruins prospects Jonathan Sigalet and Matt Lashoff. Former Bruins draft pick Bobby Allen (1998) was signed by Boston and is also in the mix.
“I think the biggest thing last year that put us behind the 8-ball at the beginning of the year is the fact that we went into camp having to look for three defensemen,” Gordon said. “Girard retired, Nick Boynton held out, then you had an assortment of injuries, and suddenly we had to scramble to get defensemen.”
With those pieces already in place, the focus will instead be on turning this group of players into a team. Gordon emphasized how valuable the knowledge of returning players will be to the growth of his team. Their familiarity with the coaching staff and its expectations will in turn help the younger, less experienced players. Of all the defensemen expected to be in Providence at the beginning of the season, however, Matt Lashoff will be the most inexperienced of the bunch, and Coach Gordon gave positive reviews of the 19-year-old’s second rookie camp in Boston.
“From where he was last year in training camp, where he finished the year with us, and how prepared he was this camp, he really stood out,” he said of Lashoff. “He looked like a deer with the headlights in the eyes last year, and this year he looked like a pro. He was looking like he was going to earn a spot with the team.”
The Bruins’ top draft pick from 2005 is coming off his third season with the Kitchener Rangers (OHL). Lashoff played played in 56 games his final season with Kitchener, where he totaled 47 points (7 goals, 40 assists) and 146 penalty minutes. He had a brief appearance with the Providence Bruins on a tryout contract at the end of the 2005-06 season that included seven regular season and six postseason games.
Sigalet returns to Providence for his second season stronger and more than 25 pounds heavier than when he first showed up for Boston’s rookie camp in 2005. Sigalet completed his rookie season with 59 penalty minutes and was the top scoring defenseman on the team with 36 points (9 goals, 27 assists) in 75 games.
“There’s a lot of certainty with our defensemen, as far as knowing what each guy is going to bring,” Gordon said.
The Bruins will have some of their better forward prospects assembled in Providence this season, which will certainly put them in a better position up front. Last season’s rookies Ben Walter, Nate Thompson, Tyler Redenbach and Pascal Pelletier return for round two, along with veteran wing Jeremy Reich. These players will provide the bulk of the experience at forward for Providence.
Walter played 62 regular season games in Providence last season, earning a total of 40 points (16 goals, 23 assists) and a couple brief appearances in Boston. Thompson played in 74 games with a total of 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) and 58 penalty minutes. Redenbach led all rookies on the team in scoring last season with a total of 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists) in 78 games. Pelletier joined the team late on a tryout contract in December of 2005, and remained with them for the rest of the season. He made an immediate impact in Providence with a total 46 points in 53 games and was awarded with a contract from Boston over the summer.
“We have a lot of potential with our forwards,” said Gordon. “Last year we had a lot of rookies in the lineup at forward, but this year we have returning players and we have some new guys that won’t just be filling in spots, they’re genuinely good NHL prospects. The uncertainty is how much of an impact they’re going to have with us, but it looks like they should all have a huge impact.”
Recent college grads Chris Collins and TJ Trevelyan signed with Boston as free agents over the summer. Boston College alum Chris Collins brings speed, offensive instincts and a sound defensive game. Trevelyan is another natural at finding the back of the net, who possesses good overall hockey sense and is a fearless competitor. Both players were among the top ten nominees for the Hobey Baker award last season.
Additionally, four players from the CHL will begin their pro careers in Providence. Former Moncton Wildcat (QMJHL) Martins Karsums capped off his junior career with a spectacular performance in the QMJHL playoffs that earned him the Guy Lafleur trophy as the league’s playoff MVP. Karsums had returned from an ankle injury to score a total 65 points in 49 games, and is an electrifying player to watch.
David Krejci had two solid seasons with the Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL), and served as one of the team’s captains during the 2005-06 season. Krejci is a pure offensive talent who put up a total 81 points in 55 games his final season in the QMJHL. Wacey Rabbit played four seasons with the Saskatoon Blades, and served as the team’s captain in his final year. Rabbit is a hardworking player who is quick on his skates and a consistent scoring threat whenever he is on the ice. Kris Versteeg played most of the 2005-06 season with the Red Deer Rebels (WHL) where he played part of the season on defense. Versteeg earned a tryout contract with the Providence Bruins at the end of last season and had two goals and four assists in 13 games.
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