The Providence Bruins have suffered some of the usual growing pains that go along with a young team, but they’ve also demonstrated that they are hardworking and resilient, and as a result, they’ve consistently been at or near the top of their division for much of the season.
“I think our guys have gotten a little more familiarity with the systems and what the expectations are,” said head coach Scott Gordon. “I know from my standpoint, I’ve felt like I’ve been on a more even keel just because I see guys are starting to respond better to what’s expected.”
The team won four out of seven games in the month of October, and went on a six-game winning streak that carried it into November. While there’s been a couple bumps and they lost a few players due to injury, the overall result has kept them in the running. More important is the team’s effort for the entire game, which is something that Gordon has talked about, and it’s something that appears to be sticking with his players.
“It’s just, doing what you’re doing good every night, especially right now, with our division — all the teams can win,” said forward Pascal Pelletier. “You can’t play unbelievable on Friday night and then just be out of juice on Sunday. That’s the biggest thing right now, is we’ve got a young team, and we just try to be on the same page every night.”
Also important to the equation is the team’s chemistry, which has evolved with the season. A game that stuck out for many of the players was a Nov. 25 battle in Portland, where tempers flared and the two teams tallied a total of 273 penalty minutes. While the Providence Bruins lost 4-1, they demonstrated that they were more than willing to watch out for their teammates, and it has no doubt made them closer as a team.
“Compared to last year’s team, we’ve got a lot of young guys,” said goaltender Jordan Sigalet. “But this team, on and off the ice, is together. You can see that on the ice, everyone goes to battle for each other. You really noticed it the last game in Portland there, when everyone was just fighting for their teammates, and sticking up for their teammates. That’s going to go a long way come playoff time, and come the end of the year.”
While goaltending has not been a big problem for Providence, injury and player movement have made it difficult to have a consistent starter. Brian Finley made the majority of the starts at the beginning of the season, as Jordan Sigalet was injured. Mike Brown rode the pine for a few games at the beginning of the season before being reassigned to the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the ECHL and it wasn’t long before movement began between Boston and Providence. Finley was called up to Boston, Hannu Toivonen reassigned to Providence, and finally, the Bruins traded forward prospect Tyler Redenbach to Phoenix for goaltender Phillippe Sauve. In late November, Toivonen was sent back to Boston and since then, Sigalet and Sauve have shared net duty in Providence.
After a decent overall, but somewhat inconsistent rookie performance, Jordan Sigalet was looking forward to building upon that what he’d learned the previous season. Circumstances, however, have made it difficult for him to get many starts.
“You know it’d been a tough first month for him being injured,” said Gordon. “I think with him, it’s just about making sure that he’s consistent and for the most part he has been. He hasn’t played a lot, so that’s an even harder task to do.”
After six starts, Sigalet had a 4-1-1 record, with a 2.74 GAA and .896 save percentage. One of those wins included a 1-0 shutout over the Lowell Devils on Dec. 1.
“I said to him the other day, that Friday’s game, that was probably the perfect game for him — that’s why he got the shutout,” recalled Gordon. “I always talk to my goaltenders about economy of motion, not overextending yourself. If you’re in the right position, pucks will hit you, and when you play that way, the game is easy, it doesn’t look like you had a tough save. That’s how his game was Friday. He didn’t make many spectacular looking saves, but they were good saves because of great positioning.”
Matt Lashoff had an excellent camp with Boston, but the 20-year-old defenseman would instead begin his rookie season with Providence. When his performance carried over to the regular season with the P-Bruins, and Boston lost some players to injury, Lashoff earned a call-up. His first couple games in the NHL, he averaged nearly 20 minutes of ice time, and played with the confidence of a much more experienced player. After five games, he saw his ice time decrease drastically, and the young defenseman showed signs that he was struggling. Two more games with Boston, and the Bruins decided to send him back to Providence, where he would get more ice time, and ultimately, more experience.
“The first weekend was probably a tough weekend for him, but he came around and now all of a sudden he’s back to where he was before he was called up,” Gordon said of Lashoff. “I give Lash credit for being able to come down here and get himself back in order quickly, because sometimes it can go on for months.”
Lashoff has played a total of 17 games with the Providence Bruins so far, with five goals and six assists.
Though he’s the same age as Lashoff, defenseman Jonathan Sigalet is now playing in his second season with Providence. Sigalet bulked up in the off-season, currently listed at 6’1 198 lbs, and it seems the added size and strength has made a difference in his play this season.
“At the beginning of the year, it took me a few games to adjust to playing with the extra weight,” said Sigalet. “I feel really comfortable now, I’m at a weight I’m comfortable with and I feel like I’m doing well.”
As a rookie, he led P-Bruins defenseman with 36 points in 75 games. He is currently at 10 points (7 goals, 3 assists) in 25 games. One of the most noticeable differences in Sigalet this season, according to Gordon, has been his increased confidence.
“Last year there were a lot of ups and downs with him,” said Gordon. “All of a sudden, you know his game has gone up a notch because of the confidence, just like I said with Matt Lashoff. There’s an element of knowing what you can and can’t do, and as a result, you get more consistent play, which we’ve gotten from him.”
The offensive combination of Pelletier, Kris Versteeg and David Krejci has turned into an explosive one for Providence, and all three players are currently leading the team in scoring. While Pelletier is back for his second season with Providence, Versteeg and Krejci are rookies, coming out of the WHL and the QMJHL respectively.
“I played with David in the beginning — it didn’t work out like we thought it would,” said Pelletier of the line combination. “But after a couple practices, a couple games we played, and then Steeger came with us, and right now it’s the perfect combo.”
Versteeg currently leads the team with 27 points in 24 games. The rookie right wing had a brief appearance on the Providence roster at the end of the 2005-06 season, where he totaled six points in 13 games. He worked hard in the off-season and came into camp stronger and a few pounds heavier, listed at 5’10 and 179 lbs.
“Right now they’re having success,” said Gordon. “I think that they all compliment each other in their play — Pascal’s probably the grittiest out of those guys.”
Krejci has also made a quick adaptation to the pro game. He’s currently averaging just over a point per game, with a total of 23 points in the 22 games he’s played. Pelletier, who signed a contract with the Bruins in the off-season, is third on the P-Bruins in scoring with 22 points in 25 games, with a total six goals coming on the power play.
Rookies Martins Karsums and Petr Kalus have been bothered by injury early on, but both are players that the Bruins believe will compete for NHL jobs in the near future. Karsums plays a solid two-way game, and currently has 11 points in the 16 games he’s played with Providence. Kalus, who has been a little slower to acclimate, has just a goal and five assists in the 17 games he played, but has shown tremendous progress since the beginning of the season. Both players should see increased offensive output with a healthy stretch.
Returning players Ben Walter and Nate Thompson are reaping the benefits of the year’s experience in the pros. Although Walter was injured early in the season and missed a few games, he appears to be doing all the right things now, and is on pace for nearly a point a game with 18 total in the 21 games he’s played.
“The thing that I’ve liked about Ben’s game this year is that level of competing,” said Gordon. “Battling one-on-one for loose pucks over to the net and in high traffic areas is something that we’ve talked to him about getting better at, and I’d be hard pressed to find any fault this year.”
Thompson, who is sporting an “A” on his jersey for the P-Bruins this year, has already received a couple call-ups to Boston.
“It was exciting, it was a good experience,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get a few more. Obviously it gives you confidence, in that you can play at that level. You come down here it just makes you want to work harder.”
He has 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) in his 24 games, and is a hard-nosed, hard working player who is always doing the little things to help his team. Thompson is one of those players that doesn’t often grab attention, but he knows his role, and he plays it well.
“As a rookie I think I learned everyone’s got a certain way to play, everyone’s got to bring a certain tangible to the game — I have to help my team every night just being consistent.”
Rookie forward Wacey Rabbit has worked hard to adjust, and appears to be turning a corner. Rabbit, who was captain of the Saskatoon Blades (WHL) in his final junior season, has not yet found his offense. Like some of the other younger players on the team, it seems like only a matter of time before things come together.
“Yeah, he had surgery during the summer, so he was a little behind the 8-ball when he came to camp with his conditioning,” explained Gordon. “One of things I think we had to get him to do a little bit differently, was getting out of his comfort zone, and he was playing at a level that was definitely slower than our expectations. “
Rabbit has a goal and two assists in the 17 games he’s played. He was playing very limited minutes early in the season, something that has gradually increased, and his coaches have also worked him into the team’s penalty-killing unit.
“He’s finding his way, getting out of that comfort zone, where now, he’s playing at the same level as everyone else. There’re still things that we want him to get better at, which in the big picture are really small, but they’ll make him more effective. I think he’s a guy that’s defensively responsible, and offensively, just better decisions will make his offensive game better.”
Yan Stastny was a later addition to the P-Bruins roster, after beginning the season in Boston, who also missed some games with injury. He’s played seven games for Providence with a total of five assists. Stastny was originally drafted by the Bruins in the 2002 Entry Draft, but he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for a fourth-round draft pick. Stastny returned to the Bruins in the spring of 2005 as part of the Sergei Samsonov trade, and spent the remainder of that season in the NHL with Boston. It appeared he would stick to the Boston roster at the beginning of the 2006-07 season, but the struggling Bruins were forced to make some roster moves. According to Bruins Assistant GM Jeff Gorton, it was a tough decision made not only to help right the team, but a decision they felt was best for Stastny.
“He’s close to being an NHL player,” said Gorton. “I think that at this point, playing four or five minutes on the fourth line is going to be a little less efficient than, say, playing 20 minutes and playing on the power play in Providence. It was more a decision based on his development.”
It was also a decision that could easily change based on the team’s needs. Stastny was recalled to Boston again on Dec. 11.
The Bruins assigned three prospects to their new ECHL affiliate in Long Beach following training camp. Forwards Chris Collins, TJ Trevelyan and goaltender Mike Brown headed west where they could get substantial ice time under Ice Dogs Head Coach and GM Rick Adduono. It’s been a tough season for the ECHL franchise, who are currently 5-14-0-2 on the season. They’ve had several close matches, with nine of their 21 games played decided by just a point, and three of those coming in overtime. Trevelyan had a total 17 points in 15 games with the Ice Dogs, while Collins scored a total 12 points in 16 games. In late November, both forwards were recalled to Providence, where they currently remain.
“It’s a good situation out there,” Collins said. “It’s nice to go out there together, to get used to playing together.”
“Long plane rides too,” added Trevelyan. “The coaches are good out there, Rick, he’s a good guy.”
They’ve each played six games with Providence since the recall, Collins has yet to get on the scoreboard, and Trevelyan has three goals. Both players are hoping to stick around in the AHL for a while.
After moving around his rookie season, Brown has had the benefit of regular starts with the Ice Dogs. It’s tough to say where the young goaltender is in terms of his development, as he is once again manning the net for a struggling team. Considering his team’s position, his record is not terrible. Brown is currently at 4-10-2 with a 3.20 GAA and .895 save percentage. He was in the net for two shootout decisions and had a 25-save effort against Utah that resulted in a 3-0 shutout. Conversely, he’s been pulled in two games, and let in seven goals when the Ice Dogs played Bakersfield on Dec. 2.
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