Two Boston goalie prospects making news

By Janine Pilkington

Regan earns Hockey East honors

With two potential franchise players headlining the list of Boston Bruins goaltending prospects in Hannu Toivonen and Tuukka Rask, it can be easy to overlook the talent of the other players in the system. There is so much that can change while a player is in development, however, that it would be a great disservice to write off any one of them. An injury, trade, or a stretch of poor performances can drastically alter the direction a team will take, leaving others with an opportunity. The Bruins currently have five goaltenders in their prospect system, playing at various levels of pro, college and European hockey.

Not too far north of Boston, netminder Kevin Regan is working his way to another successful season at the University of New Hampshire, and an overall impressive college career. Regan was selected late in the ninth round (277th overall) of the 2003 draft, the second of two goaltenders drafted by the Bruins that year, after Mike Brown (5th round, 153rd overall). While he may have been a late-round draft pick, the South Boston native has found success at every level he’s played, and there’s little reason why he couldn’t do the same as a pro some day.

“Kevin’s worked really hard on his game,” said Bruins Assistant GM Jeff Gorton. “A lot of people don’t talk about him because he’s in college, and we have Hannu and now, Rask. If you follow his track record, though, he’s always won, and there’s a lot to be said about that for a goalie.”

With the departure of senior Jeff Pietrasiak, Regan, for the first time in his college career, is the more experienced netminder as a junior, and he’s had the majority of the starts so far this season.

“It’s been a little different,” Regan said. “I came in as a freshman, as a young guy just trying to get some time, and really working hard and competing. I think it’s a challenge mentally to try to stay on top and push yourself as much as trying to push the guy ahead of you.”

It was a 26-save performance on Nov. 28 that led to a 5-0 shutout of Merrimack College, and the Wildcats were going strong at nine straight games without a loss. While Boston College was heavily favored to lead Hockey East prior to the season, it is currently the University of New Hampshire that is planted firmly on top, with an 9-1-1 record in the division (11-2-1 overall). They are currently ranked second among all Division I college teams, an impressive start for a team that was picked by many to land somewhere near the middle in the standings.

“I think part of it has just been the leadership on this team,” said the junior netminder. “The work ethic we’ve had since Day 1, I think that’s the difference I’ve noticed between this year and previous years.”

Regan, meanwhile, was named Hockey East’s goaltender of the month in November, when he went 7-0-1 with a .931 save percentage and 1.98 goals against average. With a tough game against the University of Vermont just around the corner, Regan knew he would need to put together a solid effort to keep his team headed in the right direction. Once again he came through, allowing only one goal in 23 shots, and helping the Wildcats to a 4-1 victory over Vermont on Dec. 3. He improved his record to 10-2-1 with a 2.23 GAA and .922 save percentage. The Wildcats improved to 10 straight games without a loss.

Gorton praised Regan’s work ethic and mental toughness, and said the Bruins continue to watch him closely. The 22-year-old has the benefit of playing for an excellent hockey program at UNH, on a team that is regularly among the top teams in the division. Regan is an athletic 6’2 190 lbs with good reflexes. He spends a lot of time working on the technical aspects of his game with his goalie coach, and lists running as part of his offseason training regimen. The mental aspect of the game is another area where he excels.

“I think if you’re in good physical shape, it makes you mentally prepared too,” he explained. “It’s kind of a balance — you try to focus on the game, really focus on what you need to do without getting yourself too psyched out. I have a normal routine to stretch and stuff [before games], but I’m not real superstitious or anything like that.”

Realistically, Regan is still a few years away from the NHL. He’ll have another year at UNH during the 2007-08 season, and then the opportunity to sign with the Bruins, likely followed by a couple years in the minors before he’s ready for an NHL roster. With his future role in the Bruins organization yet to be determined, Regan must continue to work hard through his college years to keep himself in the running for a job.

Toivonen trying to overcome early struggles

Perhaps it is an inevitable rite of passage in the career of nearly every goaltender. It is a position where there is nowhere to hide, where an off-game is painfully obvious to all who are watching. Hannu Toivonen had been one of the top goaltending prospects in Boston’s system since he was drafted. During the 2005-06 season, he played his way into an NHL starting position, posting a 9-5-4 record with a 2.34 goals against average and .954 save percentage on a struggling Bruins team. His strong rookie campaign was cut short, however, when a high ankle injury took him out for the remainder of the season. Upon his return to Boston for the 2006-07 season, many believed the 22-year-old would take over where he left off.

“I think in the time he showed last year, before he got hurt, he proved that he was an NHL starter,” said Bruins assistant GM Jeff Gorton. “He was ready and the injury was a setback, and I think we forget that it was nine months, essentially, before he got back on the ice playing in an NHL game, and that’s what held him back the most.”

Toivonen, who is known for his flexibility, quick reflexes and ability to stay focused in even the most high pressure situations, had an uncharacteristically rocky start to the 2006-07 season. In the seven games he played with Boston, his performance was at best inconsistent, as he seemed unable to find his timing and take control of the position. He had a 2-3-0 record and needed to be pulled on two occasions. With a 4.20 goals against average, .869 save percentage, and the team in front of him doing little to make up for it, the Bruins finally decided to pull the plug and send him to Providence in the AHL.

“He’s always had the right approach,” said Gorton. “He took it the right way — he went down there and worked really hard on his game. We’ll see where it goes, but you know, there’s nobody in this organization that doesn’t think he’s going to be a No. 1.”

Disappointed, but determined to get back on track, Toivonen reported to Providence and played in five games. He helped the P-Bruins to a 6-3 win over the Norfolk Admirals in his first game back, but things seemingly took a turn for the worse the next night against the Worcester Sharks when he suffered a mild ankle sprain. He was forced to sit out the next four games, before returning Nov. 24 against the Hartford Wolf Pack. Though he didn’t earn any wins in his next four games with the P-Bruins, his last start was one of his best. The 24-save performance came in a 2-0 shutout by Lowell, and although Providence’s offense failed him, Toivonen appeared to have found his timing. Shortly after, word came that he would be returning to Boston.

“It’s just a matter of getting yourself back, and getting your game back. I think Hannu will do that for sure,” said Gorton. “There are very few guys that can just step into the league and be a No. 1, and to be a great No. 1.”

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.