The Providence Bruins have proven themselves to be both competitive and resilient, in a division race that came right down to the wire. Finishing out the 2006-07 season at third place in the Atlantic, Providence had a 44-30-2-4 record, which was no small feat in a divison with six teams over .500.
"Every single night in our division we were playing someone that was battling," said Providence Head Coach Scott Gordon. " I thought our guys just played through the roof — I don’t think I could’ve expected any more from them."
Not surprisingly, player movement to and from the big club and injuries would also test the team. The Boston Bruins traded Kris Versteeg, who had been Providence’s leading scorer, and Yan Stastny, who became a big contributor after he was reassigned from the NHL. Boston also recalled forward Jeremy Reich and defenseman Bobby Allen, thinning out the roster further, but the AHL club was fortunate to find players who could pick up the slack.
"We were in the hunt, we were in the right direction. You can’t control the lost personnel, all you can ask is for your team to compete at its best, and we did that."
After a couple brief assignments earlier in the year, Hannu Toivonen rejoined Providence in early March, where he would finish out the majority of the regular season. Toivonen would finally get the substantial playing time that he needed, and overall, has performed much better as time progressed.
"Really it’s just about getting the rough spots, " explained Coach Gordon. "If you don’t get on a roll early in the season, you’re left to second guess yourself. All of a sudden you’re thinking a little bit more and that snowballs. You start questioning yourself, and you’re probably creating your own habits and over-analyzing. By coming down and playing as much as he did, I think he’s that much closer to being where he wants to be."
Toivonen appeared in 27 games for Providence, during which he posted two shutouts and owned a 13-13-1 record. His goals against average leveled out at 2.37, and his save percentage at .909. He will continue to get the majority of starts as Providence makes its push for the Calder Cup.
As Toivonen is prepped for another shot at the NHL in the 2007-08 season, however, Jordan Sigalet has had to take on a lesser role.
"You make a decision as a coach," said Coach Gordon. "We want to do what’s best for Hannu to get him back where he was, because realistically, he’s that guy that when you look at his ability and what he’s capable of, you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to get him ready for the NHL. Unfortunately, Siggy takes a backseat to that."
Sigalet was recognized by the team for his contribution to the community, and also raised more than $11,000 for the Rhode Island chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society through his charity Sigalet Saves for MS. Despite taking the backseat with net duties, he still managed to make 25 appearances between the pipes, where he owned a 15-5-2 record, including three shutouts. Sigalet had a .915 save percentage on the season and 2.39 goals against average.
"Everything from my standpoint — his performance, his attitude and his illness have been top-notch. You can’t discredit him for any of those things. It speaks volumes about his character, being able to handle that, and I have the utmost respect for him as a person, and what he brings to our team."
Providence had their share of bumps and bruises on the blueline, the majority of which were beyond their control. Jonathan Sigalet had returned to the lineup in the fall, both stronger and with added bulk, which, combined with the previous year’s experience, made him a much more poised, confident and consistent performer. He appeared in a total 50 games for the total season and tallied a total 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists). Unfortunately, an injury and subsequent surgery would take him out for the remainder of the season. He did, however, get in one game at the NHL level, and is expected to be ready to play by next season.
Aside from a couple brief recalls to Boston, Mark Stuart spent the majority of his season with Providence, for a total 49 contests and 20 points. Stuart was easily one of the best young defensemen on the team, a tough competitor who not only gives his all on the ice, but is invaluable for what he brings to the lockerroom as well.
"He’s just a tremendous player," complimented Gordon. "A great character, his work ethic is second to none, and he’s a guy that when it’s all said and done, one day he’s going to be a captain of an NHL team."
Twenty-year-old Matt Lashoff was named to the AHL‘s 2006-07 All-Rookie team and was the only member of the Providence Bruins to partcipate in the AHL All-Star game. Lashoff also led all Providence defensemen in scoring with a total 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) in 64 games. He earned a look in Boston, but was returned to the AHL to gain more experience and fine tune his game. His growth since training camp, however, is apparent, and he’s inching himself closer to an NHL job.
"His play away from the puck is much better — identifying his opportunities to get up into the rush and how to be more effective in that," Gordon said about Lashoff’s progress. "Maybe at the start of the year he was always waiting for something to happen, and when something didn’t happen, he brought himself into a difficult situation. That’s pretty much been removed from his game and as a result he’s been a threat offensively in the sceond half of the season for us."
Despite losing Kris Versteeg midway through the season, Providence had three forwards surpass the 50-point mark, and many more that stepped up when they needed it.
Rookie David Krejci took over the reins as the leading scorer, averaging more than a point per game, with a total 74 points (31 goals, 43 assists) in 69 contests. He finished out the regular season ranked 13th overall in the league in scoring and third among all rookies. Krejci consistently brought a high level of competition, no matter the opposition, and had a strong physical element to his game. He scored seven power-play goals and led the team with three shortanded. Krejci was also named rookie of the year for Providence.
“He was just head and shoulders above everybody,” Coach Gordon said. “To be able to do what he did as a rookie — there were ups and downs in the first half of the season, but the second half he’s been as low maintenance as any guy we’ve had. He just goes out and plays hard every night, every practice and he competes. He doesn’t get rattled.”
Providence had three other rookie forwards, all making impacts to various degrees. TJ Trevelyan was recalled from Long Beach (ECHL), where he had played the early part of the season. After his recall, he appeared in 60 regular season games with Providence and produced a total 53 points (28 goals, 25 assists). Trevelyan finished out the season third on the team in scoring, and was tied with Lashoff for a team-best nine powerplay goals. He’s only 5’9 179 lbs, but plays much bigger than his size, and he’s a slippery skater who drives hard to the net. Trevelyan has been able to capitalize on his scoring opportunities, something that has been both a pleasant surprise to his coaches and a tremendous help to the team.
“We didn’t know what to expect. We knew he was getting things figured out a little bit towards the end of training camp. Then he came up and really seized his opportunity, and as a result became a pretty good offensive threat for us.”
Petr Kalus missed most of December and early January due to a knee injury, but the progress has been there. He is a gifted goal-scorer who isn’t afraid to drive the net. Kalus is a fierce competitor who finishes his checks and has also demonstrated a willingness to drop the gloves. During the 43 regular season games that he did play, he totaled 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) and accumulated 110 penalty minutes, with seven fighting majors. Martins Karsums, who also missed a good portion of the regular season, produced 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 54 games. Karsums’ intense, gritty style of play has translated well to the pros, and with more experience, his numbers should improve as well.
“I think we can group Petr Kalus and Marty Karsums in the same boat, in that I thought they made huge strides in what basically amounts to about a half year of time,” explained Coach Gordon. “It’s unfortunate that those injuries didn’t allow them to get a full season. They didn’t make that next step as far as their development because of the lost time, but saying that, they’re further removed from where they were at the start of the year and getting closer to where they need to be.”
Ben Walter took home the team’s MVP award, and was also the plus/minus leader at +23 on the season. He exceeded his rookie season totals, finishing second on the team in scoring with a total 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) in 73 games. Walter is a talented playmaker with excellent on-ice vision, who often comes through in clutch situations. He had four game-winning goals on the season and two overtime goals.
“Benny’s much improved over last year. He improved his offense just by being smarter with the puck, by making better decisions, and not having to play as much in the defensive zone because of it. ”
In his second season with the Providence Bruins, Pascal Pelletier had his share of ups and downs. Pelletier first joined the team during the 2005-06 season on a tryout contract, but quickly took advantage of the opportunity and earned himself a place in the Bruins organization. Though he didn’t pile on the points at the same rate he did as a rookie, Pelletier has worked hard, and brings considerable skill, and an abrasive, high energy style of play. The 23-year-old finished out the 2006-07 campaign fourth on the team in scoring with 49 points (14 goals, 35 assists) in 80 games.
Twenty-two-year-old Nate Thompson centered the team’s checking line this season, and performed well enough to get a couple looks in Boston. Thompson had some injury troubles midseason, but appeared in 67 games and improved upon his offensive totals from his rookie season. Despite putting up only 23 points on the season, however, he’s quick, and a player who gets a surprising number of scoring opportunities. Capitalizing on those opportunities is something his coaches would like him to improve upon, as well as a little more consistency in the defensive zone. That said, he’s closer to being NHL ready, and much improved from last season.
“He’s basically had more of an impact as a penalty killer, a checker and an agitator,” said the P Bruins coach. “Those are things he has to do out there so it can carry over into the NHL, the style of play he has to have, and for the most part he’s been pretty consistent with that. He’s shown when he’s gone up there that he can do that — he’s gonna be an energy guy when he’s up in Boston."
The Long Beach Ice Dogs completed their 2006-07 season last place in their division with a 27-42-0-3 record. It was a disappointing season under the guide of new ownership, new coaching staff, and players, as well as the first season the team was affiliated with the Boston Bruins. It also proved to be a short-lived arrangement with the Bruins, as the Ice Dogs have announced they will not be operating next season.
Once TJ Trevelyan left to play in the AHL, the Bruins had only two remaining prospects in Long Beach. Chris Collins finished out his rookie season with 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) in 51 games. He had a couple recalls to Providence, but saw minimal playing time.
Goaltender Mike Brown finished out his second pro season in the ECHL, making 43 appearances in net. Despite the team’s performance, he earned one shutout, had a 3.26 GAA and .900 save percentage. His record for the season was 15-21-0-2.
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