With a shootout win at home followed by a shootout loss on the road, the Providence Bruins kicked off the 2021-22 season over the weekend by taking three out of four points.
The P-Bruins edged Bridgeport, 2-1, on Saturday, then lost to Hartford, 4-3, on Sunday.
After a year in which the P-Bruins played home games in Marlboro, Mass., with no fans, it was great to have people back in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Saturday night.
On Sunday, new coach Ryan Mougenal was pleased with the way his team came from behind in the third period to earn a point.
“I think we learned a lot today. It showed a lot of who we were. We’re exciting to watch, that’s for sure. We made some high-end plays with a little bit of risk mixed in there, but I’ll tell you this: it’s a great bunch to be around, they’re a lot of fun. I like our team a lot. If we play like that this year, we’ll be in real good shape,’’ he said.
Here’s the good, bad and ugly.
— It was a strong weekend for Kyle Keyser. He came off the bench after Troy Grosenick left Saturday night’s game with a lower-body injury and stopped all 19 shots he faced, then denied both Bridgeport shootout attempts. He made a spectacular glove save on Austin Czarnik of the Islanders in the third period. On Sunday, he made some huge stops in the third period as the P-Bruins came from behind to force overtime and earn a point. He also stopped five straight attempts in the shootout before the Wolf Pack finally put a puck behind him.
— The line of Jakub Lauko, Jack Studnicka and Chris Wagner was effective in both games. Wagner recorded four shots in each game and banged in the tying goal on a third-period power play on Sunday. Studnicka scored in the shootout on Saturday, then added a goal and an assist on Sunday. Lauko recorded two assists on Sunday and came to the defense of Studnicka after an elbow by Hartford’s Anthony Bitetto.
— A pair of Atlantic Division title banners were unfurled at The Dunk on Saturday.
— In addition to Studnicka and Wagner, Tyler Lewington on Saturday and Sammy Asselin on Sunday recorded their first goals of the season.
— Jesper Froden buried the winner in the shootout on Saturday.
— Providence gave up a shorthanded goal to Johnny Brodzinski of Hartford in the second period on Sunday.
— The P-Bruins allowed 16 shots in the first period against Bridgeport.
— Injured: Josiah Didier, Troy Grosenick, J.D. Greenway, Victor Berglund
Some of the names have changed, as they do every year in the American Hockey League, but all indications are that the Providence Bruins again will be a strong team in the Atlantic Division this season.
No surprise there, as the P-Bruins have finished at the top of the division for the last two seasons. With fans back in the stands for the first time in a year and a half, a pair of championship banners will be unfurled before the home opener on Saturday night.
One big change is behind the bench as Ryan Mougenel moves up to head coach after Jay Leach departed for the Seattle Kraken.
The departure of general manager John Ferguson Jr. is also a major development, as he moved on to the Arizona Coyotes as assistant GM. Ferguson’s duties will be covered by Evan Gold, Boston’s assistant general manager and director of legal affairs, and Jamie Langenbrunner, director of player development and player personnel adviser.
“The team will play with the same structure. I do think that ability to move pucks north to the forwards, that needs to be part of the emphasis as well,’’ Gold said.
“I’m excited that, hopefully, everything shakes out where every night we should have pretty good goaltending, the ability to defend and hopefully put some goals in.’’
Here’s how the 2021-22 P-Bruins look:
Providence has a strong, deep group up front with the potential to put up some good offensive numbers.
“Depth will be a strength of the group. Through the middle of the ice we’ve got a lot of versatility, some two-position players, so (Mougenel) will have good options in terms of lineup construction,’’ said Gold.
At the top of the lineup, Cameron Hughes and newcomer Steven Fogarty are proven AHL players. Ball-of-energy Jakub Lauko could be poised for a breakout season and maybe his first NHL callup if he can stay healthy. Sammy Asselin, who earned his first NHL contract over the summer, is a versatile forward with a nonstop motor.
Jack Studnicka and Chris Wagner arrived from Boston this week and figure to provide a boost for as long as they are here.
Jesper Froden, a 27-year-old winger from Sweden, had an eye-opening training camp with Boston and should be a nice fit in the top six.
Pesky Oskar Steen has shown steady improvement in his first two years in Providence and will look to build on that in year three.
Zach Senyshyn, coming off a couple of strong preseason games, looks to be primed for a big year in his fifth pro season.
Ian McKinnon, who made his mark with some memorable fights last season, will answer the bell when needed.
Curtis Hall, Matt Filipe, Joona Koppanen, Alex-Olivier Voyer and hulking newcomer Justin Brazeau, who scored 61 goals in 68 games in the OHL in 2018-19, round out the forward group.
The back end should be strong.
“We’ve got a mix of mix of mobility and puck moving as well as some stoutness in (Tyler) Lewington, (Jack) Dougherty and (Nick) Wolff,’’ said Gold.
Jack Ahcan and Brady Lyle, both of whom have strong offensive components in their games, had good rookie seasons in 202-21 and will look to take another step in their second year.
Urho Vaakanainen, Boston’s first rounder in 2017, enters his fourth year with the P-Bruins.
“Urho’s now at a point in his career where we’re going to rely on him to be the man. It’s time for him to embrace that. I think he’s willing to do that,” said Mougenel. “We want his game tight, good and mean and all of the things he does well every day. It’s just about the consistency of it. Once he has that consistency, we probably won’t see him again.
“There’s a place for him up there. It’s up to him now.”
Veterans Aaron Ness, Lewington and Dougherty have hundreds of games of AHL experience.
“Some guys are getting acclimated, like (Ness and Lewington) have never played probably such an aggressive line rush against, squash and slide. They’ll be excellent as time goes on and they get a little more familiar with it,’’ said Mougenel.
“A guy like Ness is huge in the development of Jack Ahcan. He’s an elite defenseman at this level. Jack’s got a lot of maturity to him, too, which is crazy when you’re that young. Aaron’s a great guy for Jack to lean on, a great peer for him. Lyle, same thing, he can learn a lot from Lewington. He’s got that stiffness, that hardness.’’
Wolff, who plays a physical, defense-first game, is back for a second season.
Andrew Peski provides depth.
Josiah Didier, Victor Berglund and J.D. Greenway start the season on the injured list.
Providence received some of the very best goaltending in the league over the last couple of years from Jeremy Swayman, Dan Vladar and Max Lagace.
Taking over the net this season will be veteran Troy Grosenick and 22-year-old Kyle Keyser.
The 32-year-old Grosenick has a proven track record in the AHL, while Keyser heads into his first full season in the league.
“The growth in Kyle Keyser has been a big thing. He probably didn’t get off to the start that he wanted (in his pro career), but there’s a lot of progression there. He can learn a lot from a guy like Grossie. I was there (in Worcester) when he was a rookie and the growth he’s had as a pro and a person is exceptional,’’ said Mougenel.
“The consistency part is big. Especially in the American Hockey League sometimes you need that strong goaltending component just because there are mistakes and it’s nice to have a goalie there that can bail you out. That’s one thing that Keyser understands. It’s taken him some time to get there and I feel like his game’s in a pretty good place right now, but those are two guys that will push each other.
“For now, Grossie’s probably the guy we’ll lean on for that consistency early on, but that’s not written in stone either.”
The P-Bruins certainly look to have the makings of a playoff team, if not a contender for another division title, depending on how good their goaltending is. They’ll play with structure, as Providence teams have done over the years, and they have the potential for a more balanced attack than they’ve had in recent seasons. After playing without fans in Marlboro last season, look for the good times to roll again at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
BUFFALO — I’ve been to enough Prospects Challenges to know that you shouldn’t put too much stock in how players perform here.
You just don’t know for sure what lies ahead for some of them. Consider that one of the better Bruins in Buffalo not that long ago was Jesse Gabrielle. Bet you haven’t heard his name lately.
Having said that, there were reasons to be encouraged in the two games the Bruins played – a 5-2 win against the Sabres on Saturday and a 4-3 loss to the Devils on Sunday.
Jack Ahcan, Sammy Asselin and Kyle Keyser played extremely well and are trending upward as main camp opens this week. Jesper Froden was a standout, as you’d expect an experienced, soon-to-be 27-year-old pro to be. He projects to be in Providence this season and he should have an impact right off the bat. Teenage draft picks Brett Harrison, Fabian Lysell and Ryan Mast had their moments.
Here are four notes from the final day in Buffalo:
Lysell ticketed for the Dub
Meeting with the media after Sunday’s game, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney made it clear that he expects Lysell, Boston’s 2021 first rounder, to play in the Western Hockey League this season.
“In all likelihood, Fabian will play in Vancouver. It was exciting to see him today get even more comfortable, when you see him in the open ice, being able to create offensively.
“He’s got some areas, in traffic, and some things that he’s going to have to be aware of, and defensively. All are things we believe we can teach those young players as long as they are willing and receptive to learn. But he’s got the skill set that’s pretty unique for us to be adding to our group and to be excited about,’’ Sweeney said.
“It will be important for him to play against kids in his peer group. We’re excited that he’s going to play over here. We do believe the transition to the smaller ice surface, especially with young guys, they have to play in the hard areas of the ice in order to be successful. He’s more than willing to do that but he’s got to find his space.’’
I had him down for a pair of assists on Sunday, although he apparently was credited with just one. Lysell scored an empty-net goal on Saturday.
“I think he felt very comfortable today,’’ said Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel.
“I thought he was a little bit of a different player. He’s an exciting player. Every time he touched the puck I got excited. I think he was feeling it for sure. He did a very good job — very good game for him.’’
Lyle not at his best
Coming off a strong rookie year with Providence, Brady Lyle’s play this weekend was not up to the standard that he set last season.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t think he had a great two games. I didn’t necessarily like his games at times. He was forcing a little bit too much. But that’s also to be expected for guys that want to push their game and it was obvious,’’ said Mougenel.
“Brady knows he’s best when plays develop for him, he’s not leading the rush, but a part of the rush. Offensively, he had a lot of kind of looking for that perfect play. He had a lot of drag in his game. He was dragging the puck a lot. So he knows what he’s got to do.
“Brady and I spend a lot of time together, so he knows he didn’t play the best that he could. But, again, getting the rust out, I think that was important for those guys. He’s a player that I think Butch Cassidy will like.’’
Good weekend for Mast
The Ontario Hockey League didn’t play last season, so the last competitive game that Ryan Mast played in with the Sarnia Sting was 18 months ago.
Boston’s sixth-rounder this year, the 6-foot-4 defensive defenseman had a strong weekend, getting better as the two games went on.
“A year off is a tough thing, especially for a big defenseman. His progression was great in the last two games,’’ said Mougenel. “I thought he was one of our best D, for sure.’’
With the departure of John Ferguson Jr., Boston’s executive director of player personnel and Providence general manager, to the Arizona Coyotes as assistant GM, the front office is down an experienced executive who covered a lot of ground for the organization.
To pick up the slack for the time being, the Bruins will spread out the responsibilities, Don Sweeney said on Sunday.
“Where we are right now, I feel comfortable in kind of doing it in-house and collectively. Dennis Bonvie will take on a little bit more of a head scouting role. Jamie (Langenbrunner) and Evan (Gold) will work in conjunction to handle most of the Providence duties and we’ll see where we’re at,’’ said Sweeney.
“We probably will add somebody at some point in time to augment our group, but several of these guys have been looking to do more and it’s a good opportunity for them.’’
Bonvie is a pro scout. Gold’s title is assistant GM and director of legal affairs. Langenbrunner is director of player development and player personnel adviser.
BUFFALO — The Boston Bruins brought a good mix of experienced players and teenagers to the Prospects Challenge and they skated to a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon at the HarborCenter.
The Bruins received two goals and an assist from Jesper Froden and a goal and two assists from Sammy Asselin, while Jakub Lauko and Jack Ahcan chipped in with two assists. Kyle Keyser was excellent in net, turning aside 32 shots. On the younger side, Brett Harrison and Fabian Lysell, both just 18 years old, scored a goal each.
Dynamic day for Ahcan
Ahcan’s fingerprints were all over this game.
Always skating with his head up, he carried the puck or moved it with authority, he jumped into the rush and he defended well.
He even drew compliments from the opposition coach.
“He looked like you want a player of his caliber to look. I thought he was one of the more dominant players on the ice today,’’ said Seth Appert, the Rochester Americans coach who is running the bench for the Sabres.
Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel praised Ahcan, too.
“You see how smart he is. We were just talking about it. Everything he does has a plan. He’s just a different, special player. I was asked the other day, do I talk to him differently about how to defend. I don’t. He’s strong, he’s inside. He’s a hockey player. Sometimes I get caught kind of watching him a lot out there,’’ said Mougenel.
“I think he’s where the game is today. He’s a guy that we can celebrate for his offense and we can celebrate him for how he defends.’’
Froden fits right in
At 27, Jesper Froden is the oldest player on any of the three teams and it showed.
In his first game since coming over from Sweden, the speedy, skilled winger turned in an excellent performance.
“Obviously I have a little more experience than a lot of the other guys here. I have that as an advantage both on the ice and off the ice, help the guys with small stuff and be a leader out there,’’ said Froden.
“He is super committed to being a better player and getting into the National Hockey League,’’ said Mougenel.
“He’s a guy whose game is going to translate very well over here. He’s one of those players that, when he plays with really good players, I think you are going to see how good he really is.’’
The kids are all right
It was a positive day for Boston’s scouting department.
Brett Harrison, drafted in the third round this year, got more comfortable as the game went on, displayed some good instincts and scored the game-winner in the third period.
“He’s a hockey rat. He’s got a great sense to him. He’s still young, he’s got a lot of time to develop, get stronger, all those things junior players have to go back and work on. He’s impressed me with his intellect, for sure. There’s a lot of good things in his game,’’ said Mougenel.
Talking about his more experienced teammates, Harrison said he’s taken note of “how they work off the ice in the gym and how they prepare for games, it’s really eye-opening. I’m just trying to learn as much information from those guys, soak it all in.’’
The goal by Fabian Lysell, drafted in the first round this year, was an empty netter. Lysell didn’t really get a chance to turn on the jets, but he did fire at least two shots on the Buffalo net before his late goal.
“He’s getting acclimated. I think that’s a fair assessment. He did some good things and I think there’s some things he’ll have to get used to out there. There’s some big bodies out there, too, and it was pretty scrambly, it’s tough to make an assessment. The one thing that’s evident is his skating ability. He’s got great feet,’’ said Mougenel.
Sixth rounder Ryan Mast turned in a solid, no-frills game. As advertised, he defends well.
Introducing Matt Thomas
Matt Thomas and Ryan Mougenel have been buddies since they were teenage hockey players in Toronto some 30 years ago.
Thomas is from Mississauga and Mougenal is from Scarborough. They skated together in the summers while playing for rival Catholic high schools, Thomas for St. Michael’s and Mougenel for De La Salle.
And they’ve remained close through the years as they climbed the ladder in their hockey careers.
Thomas was an assistant coach under Mike Haviland with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the ECHL in 2002-03 when the team traded for Mougenel. The Bullies went on to won the ECHL championship in what turned out to be Mougenel’s final year as a player.
When Thomas moved on to be head coach of the Fresno Falcons of the ECHL a few years later, he hired Mougenel as his assistant.
Now they are working together again, with Mougenel taking over as head coach with the Providence Bruins with the departure to Seattle of Jay Leach and Thomas coming on board as assistant coach along with holdover Trent Whitfield.
“We know each other so well. I like to think I’ve been a member of the Providence staff for the last three years,’’ said Thomas.
“Usually when there was a debate going in between Whitter, (former head coach Jay Leach) and Mouge, I was the guy coming in to vote one way or the other on Facetime. We know each other so well away from the rink, there’s a lot of mutual respect.’’
Working for the coach who used to work for him won’t be any problem, said Thomas.
“I know the way I’ve always been as a head coach. We all know that somebody’s got to make the final decision, and that’s the head coach. But we’re a team. Just like the players on the ice. It’s not one guy doing all the heavy lifting. We work together and we collaborate and we’re supportive of each other in the ways that we need to be.’’
Thomas comes to Providence from the Cincinnati Cyclones, where he was named ECHL coach of the year in 2019. Before Cincinnati, he was head coach at Alaska-Anchorage of the WCHA, where his stickboy one season was a young rink rat named Jeremy Swayman.
Early on in his coaching career, Thomas succeeded Nate Leaman as volunteer assistant under the legendary Shawn Walsh at the University of Maine.
Working for Walsh was akin to earning a PHD in coaching, Thomas said.
“That first year I got to sit in the crow’s nest, up top in the Alfond Arena, next to (legendary assistant coach) Grant Standbrook. Just the way Grant could analyze the game, the things he could see. Then to watch the way Shawn ran everything – really hard on his staff, really demanding. More importantly, he wanted you to be good, so he pushed you to be good,’’ said Thomas.
Quote of the day
Seth Appert on NHL draft picks opting to stay in school:
“In my years of college hockey, I never saw a player regret taking another year. I saw a lot of players regret leaving a year early.”
Sam Asselin will center Jakub Lauko and Fabian Lysell against the Sabres on Saturday.
BUFFALO — Sam Asselin is writing a nice feel-good story for himself with the Bruins.
In 2019-20, as an undrafted center/left wing out of the QMJHL, Asselin honed his game in the ECHL, scoring 52 points in 53 games.
He moved up to Providence last season and continued to improve, posting a line of 8-8-16 in 25 games while playing on the power play and the penalty kill as well as in five-on-five.
Boston rewarded him over the summer with a two-year, two-way NHL contract and the 23-year-old from Montreal is raring to go.
“Start with training camp, start with rookie camp here and try to make the most out of it,’’ Asselin said after Friday’s practice at the HarborCenter.
“I just want to go step by step. There’s a lot of depth here in this organization. There’s a lot of players that can do what I want to do, so honestly I just want to have a really good camp. I hope I can get a game in up there in exhibition and show what I can do.’’
When the Bruins prospects face off against the Buffalo Sabres youngsters on Saturday afternoon, Asselin will center the top line with Jakub Lauko and Fabian Lysell on his wings.
He smiled as he talked about playing with the two flashy Euros.
“Lauks looks really, really good. It’s his third year. I know Lauks from junior. Never liked the guy in junior. He was fast, he was good, strong. He’s really strong for his height and his weight.
“I’m pretty pumped to play with him. We never had the chance to play together last year so it’s going to be a good combination tomorrow.
“Lysell is a little tiny, but you can see the skills and the hands that he has. It’s pretty nice to see that at 18 years old. I don’t remember myself doing all he does at 18.’’
Asselin is undersized at 5-9 and 180 pounds, but his stature hasn’t held him back.
He points to Eric Veilleux, who coached Asselin with the Halifax Mooseheads in his last year in junior and is now an assistant coach with the Syracuse Crunch, as playing a key role in his development.
“Honestly, he just showed me the right way. He gave me the green light to explode, I would say that. I was coming into Halifax after a great Memorial Cup in Bathurst. I was supposed to be the third center, just more of a defensive role, maybe, second power play, PK, good on faceoffs.
“Eric saw in me something else. He gave me the green light. I started scoring goals, which I never did before. He would do video with me, show me the right way to play,’’ said Asselin, who finished 10th in Q scoring that year with 48-38-86 in 69 games.
“Sometimes I was off in practice and I was 20 years old, a little older (than teammates). If I was off in practice he’d come to me and say, ‘You’re a leader, you can’t be off.’ He’s been a big part,’’ said Asselin.
Players like last year’s Providence captain, Paul Carey, also played an important role.
“P.C. last year, just how he is, the way he is, the way he acted. You looked at him and you want to be this guy. Players like that helped me a lot.’’
Asselin has a big supporter in Providence head coach Ryan Mougenel.
“I’m a guy that really roots for Sammy. The process that he’s gone through, he’s a guy that’s put his time in. I had a lot of conversations with him when he was playing in the ECHL,’’ he said.
“The one thing that’s always been very clear with Sammy is he wants to play in the NHL. He’s done everything he can to scratch and claw and get there. As a coach and somebody that is a part of it with him, you get goosebumps when he has success,’’ said Mougenel.
“These two games (in Buffalo) are big for Sammy in that he can start revving his engine and get ready for main camp. He obviously wants to start those conversations with the big club, that he can go and contribute.’’
Kyle Keyser spent most of last season in the ECHL before joining Providence when Jeremy Swayman was recalled.
Big opportunity for Keyser
Kyle Keyser was a free agent when he earned his ELC with the Bruins based in large part on his performance at the Prospect Challenge in 2017.
This is an important year for Keyser, who figures to be the starter on Saturday, after an injury-shortened rookie year and then the pandemic limiting him to 27 games last season.
“He’s going to have a great opportunity in front of him to earn his teammates’ trust. I think that’s a big thing with Kyle. He’s a teammate-first guy. He’s definitely putting in the work and he’s going to have to show up, that’s a big part of it,’’ said Mougenel.
“He’s another guy that’s full of life. Guys want to play hard in front of him. He’s got that part down, now we’ve just got to get him making that first save. I know he’s capable.’’
Wolff trims down
Second-year defenseman Nick Wolff looks thinner than last season, when he was listed at 229 pounds.
“The one thing with Wolfie is his body has slimmed down, which he needed to do. I think he was carrying a little bit of weight last year just because of how he plays. He’s another guy that has to keep getting better every day,’’ said Mougenel.
Developing his puck handling and decisions with the puck are things he needs to work on.
“He’s been celebrated for being hard. That’s obviously a huge part of his game, but to play for the Bruins and to play for the Providence Bruins, you have to have certain intangibles of skill. I think he’s embraced that.
“He has a lot of great qualities as a defenseman that we like. Last year was a great thing for him. There’s things in his game that are strong, like he became a very good penalty killer for us. He values a 200-foot clear. If you really watch and break down his game, he does a lot of really good things.
“On the offensive blue is something he has to get better at. It’s something that we talked about in development camp for our D. Listen, it might not be in your DNA, but you better start putting it in your DNA.
“You’ve got guys that are working extremely hard in the offensive end and if the puck comes up to you on the point, Butch Cassidy expects you to make that play and so does Brad (Marchand) and Bergy (Patrice Bergeron) and Pasta (David Pastrnak). If it’s not in your bag, you’d better put it in your bag.’’
Here’s how the lineup is expected to look on Saturday.
Quote of the day
Ryan Mougenel on tough guy Ian McKinnon:
“I want him to be in a place where I can put him on the ice and he feels comfortable and I feel comfortable. It was said best to me that toughness should be in the fact that he doesn’t have to fight all the time. That’s a part of the game that I want him to understand. I value him as a player first and fighting’s a tool in his toolbox.’’
Defenseman Brady Lyle played two seasons at Shattuck-St. Mary’s before he was drafted by North Bay of the OHL.(Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)
There’s a long list of athletes who have used a snub – real or imagined – as incentive to ramp up their effort to reach a goal.
So far, that mindset is working for 22-year-old Boston Bruins prospect Brady Lyle.
When Lyle was not selected in the 2017 NHL Draft, it left a mark. He was ranked No. 48 among North American skaters that year by NHL Central Scouting and made the trip to Chicago with his family in anticipation of being picked.
When it was over, he was not one of the 217 players selected.
“I would say that disappointed would be a bit of an understatement. I felt like I should have been drafted,’’ he said.
“It obviously sucked, but I think it’s going to end up being a good thing for me because it’s something that I still think about all the time and something that still motivates me.’’
A free agent after five years in the Ontario Hockey League, Lyle signed an AHL contract with the Providence Bruins in April 2020.
His determination to prove the doubters wrong shone through during his rookie year last winter.
He was so impressive that Boston tore up his contract halfway through the season and signed him to a three-year entry level NHL deal amid rumblings that other teams also were interested.
Lyle will attend his first Bruins development camp this week.
He is a right-handed defenseman with a big shot. He has good size at 6-3 and 213 pounds. While the offensive part of his game is further ahead than his defense, he is a solid defender, though not someone who’d be labeled as a shutdown guy.
Lyle, who is ticketed for a full season in Providence in 2021-22, knew the Bruins had eyes on him while playing as an overager for Owen Sound.
He recalled John Ferguson Jr., executive director of player personnel and P-Bruins general manager, attending back-to-back games in Flint and Windsor in 2020.
“I knew he was there watching the games. I knew they were interested in me, but I wasn’t really sure to what extent and what was going to come from it,’’ said Lyle, who finished with 22 goals and 65 points in 62 games.
The Bruins offered him a contract not long after the pandemic shut down the OHL season and Lyle jumped on it.
With the AHL season in jeopardy last fall, Lyle signed with HC Detva in Slovakia and spent just over three weeks there and played in three games before heading to Providence. He very much enjoyed the experience.
“I got to see a different culture and what hockey is like over there. I was given lots of resources. I was able to go out on the ice whenever I wanted. I could use the gym whenever I wanted. It was a really cool experience, something that I’m grateful for. It was really fun,’’ he said.
Lyle, who is from North Bay, Ont., was immersed in hockey as a youngster.
“I was lucky enough to grow up on a lake, so I would be out on the ice in my backyard before school, after school, all the time, shooting pucks and having fun out there.
“When the ice melted, I was in my driveway all the time. I remember when I was really young going out and shooting for 40-45 minutes while waiting for the school bus,’’ he said.
At 14, Lyle enrolled at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the renowned Minnesota prep school. The previous year, his friend from summer hockey in Toronto, Logan Hutsko, the Boston College star who signed with the Florida Panthers earlier this year, had invited Lyle for a visit.
“I knew a little bit about (Shattuck) because of some of the big names that have been there. I went and visited the school and seeing Logan there, I kind of fell in love with it, to be honest,’’ he said.
“Just imagine being 14 years old and being able to skate whenever I wanted while getting a really good education. It was kind of a no-brainer once I was admitted to the school and the hockey team told me they wanted me to be a part of their program. It would be hard for any kid to say no.’’
He had two strong seasons at Shattuck with 17-44-61 in 60 games for the 14U team and 16-28-44 in 55 games for the 15U team
Though he ultimately chose the major junior route, Lyle did consider playing college hockey.
“I was open to both. Going to Shattuck, I wanted to expose myself more to college, because I didn’t really know much about it, being from a small town in northern Ontario. I didn’t know what the facilities were like, what the games were like, all that kind of stuff.’’
While at Shattuck he saw what college hockey had to offer, but then his hometown North Bay Battalion drafted him in the first round of the 2015 OHL draft (three slots ahead of Jack Studnicka).
“I remember being a little kid and going to OHL games in North Bay,’’ he said. “I was thinking about going to college for sure, but then when I got drafted by North Bay, it was too hard for me to pass up, having those memories and getting to go back home to play. I couldn’t really turn that down.’’
After three seasons in North Bay, Lyle was traded to Owen Sound and that’s where he played his last two OHL years.
Once Lyle returned from Slovakia and plunged into the AHL season in February, he was noticeable from the opening game. He was one of the top rookie defensemen in the AHL, finishing with 7-7-14 in 25 games.
“I didn’t really feel any pressure. I was confident that if given the opportunity I could earn an NHL contract. I wasn’t going to let that opportunity go to waste. I knew that I needed to make the most of my chances,’’ he said.
“I realized that (an NHL deal) was attainable. I buckled down and did what I needed to do in order to take that next step. It set up a bunch of new opportunities that I have to keep working for in order to take advantage when the time comes.’’
Lyle and the Providence coaching staff – Jay Leach (who has since moved on to Seattle), and assistant coaches Ryan Mougenel and Trent Whitfield — established an excellent rapport.
“It’s something that I really value, and I don’t want to say it’s a bond that I haven’t had before, but they are being honest with me and wanting me to have success. It’s been really fun building that relationship, specifically with Mouge, but also with Whitter,’’ said Lyle.
“Being comfortable with them and being able to ask them questions, they’ve been really supportive the whole time. They’ve been helping me out with what I can do in the summer, stuff away from the rink – my Social Security number, looking for apartments, that stuff outside of hockey.’’
Lyle has spent the summer training at Edge Performance Systems in Foxboro. He’s been on the ice recently at Warrior Arena with Kim Brandvold, the skating instructor for the Bruins, in a group of players that has included the likes of Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy and Jack Eichel.
His goals for the summer include “cleaning up some of my skating – being a more efficient skater. Being able to close in my own end a little better. And sometimes my decision-making can be a half-second too late,’’ he said.
As he prepares for the upcoming season, Lyle will continue to use the snub at the draft four years ago as fuel to propel him forward.
“As long as I keep that passion and that drive, I’m going to keep going back to it and using it,’’ he said.
Just when it looked like first place in the Atlantic Division was going to slip from their grasp, the Providence Bruins came to life.
They rallied from two goals down to beat the Hartford Wolf Pack, 6-3, on Thursday and take home the Atlantic Division championship for the second straight season.
Earlier last week, Providence had a chance to wrap up the title but lost in a shootout at Bridgeport, 4-3.
“In a year where we were not really sure which way is up, the one thing we did know was (Thursday) at 1 o’clock we had an opportunity to either win or lose a division title. Those opportunities don’t come around too often and our guys certainly took full advantage of it,” said coach Jay Leach.
For the final time this season, here’s the good, bad and ugly.
— Full credit to players, coaches and support staff for getting through the season without a positive COVID test. Providence finished with a record of 15-6-2-2 and a points percentage of .680.
— Ian McKinnon put the P-Bruins on the board with a goal against the Wolf Pack that sparked his team’s comeback.
— Cameron Hughes got a lucky break in Bridgeport. A pass by a Sound Tigers defenseman hit the skate of one of the referees and bounced onto the stick of Hughes in front of the net. He promptly fired it in the net. Hughes finished as Providence’s leading scorer with 5-16-21 in 25 games.
— Zach Senyshyn had a strong game against the Wolf Pack with 1-1-2 and five shots. Oskar Steen and Sammy Asselin finished with 1-1-2. Jack Studnicka and Pavel Shen both had two assists.
— Curtis Hall scored his first goal as a pro against Hartford.
— Urho Vaakanainen picked a timely moment to score his first goal of the season. His shorthanded tally against the Wolf Pack gave the P-Bruins the lead in the second period.
— Brady Lyle scored his seventh goal against Hartford. He leads all AHL rookie defensemen.
— Dan Vladar made 32 saves against the Wolf Pack and finished the year with a .923 save percentage.
— Robert Lantosi scored a nice end-to-end goal against the Sound Tigers to send the game to overtime. He finished as Providence’s goal leader with nine.
— Sammy Asselin had a strong rookie season, finishing with 8-8-16 in 25 games.
— As of Sunday, the P-Bruins had the AHL’s second-best penalty kill at 84.8 percent.
— The P-Bruins mustered only 11 shots through two periods against the Sound Tigers. “We were as close to terrible as I’ve seen us play this year (for) the first two periods,’’ said Leach. “We held our goalie out to dry for 40 minutes”
— Oskar Steen’s stick snapped on his shootout attempt in Bridgeport.
— The P-Bruins gave up a goal just 91 seconds into the game against the Sound Tigers.
— Injured: Paul Carey, Josiah Didier, Matt Filipe, Brendan Woods
The Providence Bruins were in an 0-2 hole and in danger of losing first place in the Atlantic Division to the Hartford Wolf Pack on Thursday afternoon in Marlboro, but they turned it on in the final 30 minutes and rolled to a 6-3 win in the last game of the season.
It’s the second year in a row Providence has won the Atlantic Division. They finished with a 15-6-2-2 record and a .680 points percentage.
“In a year where we were not really sure which way is up, the one thing we did know was today at 1 o’clock we had an opportunity to either win or lose a division title. Those opportunities don’t come around too often and our guys certainly took full advantage of it,” said coach Jay Leach.
Zach Senyshyn, Oskar Steen and Sammy Asselin finished with 1-1-2 for the P-Bruins. Jack Studnicka and Pavel Shen both had two assists.
Down by two goals halfway through the game, Providence received a jumpstart in the form of a goal from an unexpected source as Ian McKinnon fired home a wrist shot for his first goal of the season.
“I don’t know if there’s a more popular guy in the room than Mac, so that certainly does give us a boost,’’ said Leach. “At that moment, there really was not a lot going on for us. Really not much cooking. Then Mac buries it, yeah, there was a lift, absolutely. The guy’s been fighting for us since he got here. He certainly got us going.’’
With the victory, the season ended on a very positive note for three of Boston’s better prospects – Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen and Dan Vladar — all of whom had strong games on Thursday.
Here are three quick hits.
Studnicka had his ups and downs in the AHL this season, but finished strong. He was never better than on Thursday, when the swagger that he displayed during his rookie season a year ago was back.
“Jack’s all in. He’s been very invested in improving himself and he’s got a lot of expectation for where he wants to be as a player and he’s putting the time in right now and will continue to, I can guarantee you that,’’ said Leach.
“I was happy to see him buzzing, really, from the get-go, and putting everything in on both sides of the rink the way that we know Jack can do it. I certainly was impressed. That was probably his best game down here for us.’’
Boston’s first-round pick in 2017 had a hop in his step on Thursday. He defended strongly and, with Providence shorthanded, he joined the rush and fired home his first goal of the season to tie the game at two late in the second period.
“Our back end was a little timid to start, a little tentative, but once we got skating, which is obviously the key to Vaaks’ game, we were off and running. He’s been very good on the kill recently, especially in zone, defending with his feet, making sure he’s in lanes. It was fitting for him to score a shorty like that because he’s really been doing a nice job for us on the kill,’’ said Leach.
Vladar kicked out 32 of 34 shots and finished the season with a save percentage of .923, fifth in the AHL as of today. However, his record is only 3-4-3, mainly because he didn’t get much run support in his starts.
He played very well on Thursday, making a number of timely saves.
“For lack of a better term, I think he was big in the net today. It looked like he was on the top of his crease. He had a couple off-the-rush shots against – and they were trying to pick him high – and he stood tall in there. He was stout, in position, using his body to his advantage,’’ said Leach.
“He certainly dug in. When we were down 2-0, he didn’t let them go up by three, which would have been a tough hill to climb. He was great for us.’’
The Providence Bruins earned a point in both of their last two games, but failed to come away with a win.
Providence lost to Bridgeport, 2-1, in an eight-round shootout at Marlboro on Thursday, then were beaten in overtime in Hartford, 3-2, on Saturday.
“We obviously would have like to get the win and hold onto that game, but, at the very least, we put up our best effort and hopefully we get rewarded the next time around,’’ said coach Jay Leach after Saturday’s game.
Here’s the good, bad and ugly.
— Saturday’s bout between Providence’s Ian McKinnon and Hartford’s Mason Geertsen, two of the toughest fighters in the AHL, was the highlight of the game, maybe the week.
— Dan Vladar’s 2.10 goals-against average and .925 save percentage are both fifth in the AHL. He stopped 59 out of 63 shots in the last two games.
— Special teams were good in the last two games. The penalty kill was perfect at 9 for 9. The power play chipped in with a goal in each game.
— Cameron Hughes earned an assist in both games. He leads the team in scoring with 4-15-19 in 23 games.
— Jakub Lauko’s strong forecheck led to Alex-Olivier Voyer’s goal on Saturday. Lauko’s plus-10 is the best on the team.
— Providence led by a goal with under six minutes left in Hartford, but couldn’t hang on.
— The P-Bruins scored just three goals in the last two games and only five in their last four games.
— Providence hit the post or crossbar three times during their shootout loss to Bridgeport.
— They are 19th in the league in power play opportunities with 97.
— Injured: Josiah Didier, Paul Carey, Matt Filipe, Brendan Woods
The Providence Bruins picked up a point to move closer to clinching first-place in the Atlantic Division, but dropped a 2-1 shootout decision to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Thursday.
The shootout went eight rounds and Providence shooters couldn’t catch a break, hitting the post or crossbar three times before Bode Wilde scored on Dan Vladar and Oskar Steen was stopped by Ken Appleby in the Bridgeport net on the final shot.
Here are three quick hits from Marlboro.
Like Jordan Szwarz and Colby Cave before him, Hughes continues to be a dependable, all-situations center for Providence.
Hughes, who leads the team in scoring with 4-14-18 in 22 games, had another strong all-around game on Thursday. He won an offensive draw on the power play and earned an assist on Paul Carey’s goal, and put three shots on the Bridgeport net. As usual, he did a lot of the dirty work in all three zones.
Coach Jay Leach said when he sends Hughes over the boards, he knows that the fourth-year pro will try to do the right thing.
“Really he’s done that since he’s been here. As you said, those two former players – Szwarzy and Caver – were very similar, playing significant minutes in important roles throughout the game. Hughesy does that equally as well.
“Those guys are the glue guys. They keep everything together. When things go awry, like they always do in a game, they’re the first guy you look for. He’s been outstanding.’’
Studnicka’s in a dry spell when it comes to points – he has no goals and three assists in eight games with the P-Bruins – but he showed some signs of life against Bridgeport.
“I thought today he was very good. He’ll be the first to say it, he’s been in and out with the way he wants to play the game. I think the last couple of games he’s been a little frustrated, but today as the game went along especially, it was Jack Studnicka wanting to make a difference every time he’s over the boards,’’ Leach said.
“He took pucks to the net. Great net-front, had a couple of tips that almost went in. They’re going to come if he plays like that. He was really, really good today. That’s really the only thing I’m watching is the last game. We’ve talked a lot before, with these younger players, going up and down (to Boston) and all that, it’s a difficult time. He’s battling through it and I thought today was a good performance for him, one to build off of.’’
Moving up in the lineup to play on a line with Hughes and Zach Senyshyn, the rookie free agent from Maine had his feet moving and was hard on pucks all day.
“He plays that straight-line game. He’s got powerful strides to get to things and win pucks. He plays inside and certainly is willing to shoot pucks, dog them and get them back. I thought he complemented that line well,’’ said Leach.
“It was a good opportunity for him to play up in the lineup and play with some pretty good players. I thought he was just fine. We’re excited to have him in the mix for the next year, as well. I thought he did a nice job.’’