Hartford road trip: Good start for Providence Bruins youngsters

I made the drive to Connecticut on Sunday to watch the Providence Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack in the first (and most likely only) preseason game for both teams. From A (Ahcan) to Z (Zech) and everyone in between, the P-Bruins’ kids were good. Here are a few thoughts from the game.


Jeremy Swayman, the best goalie in college hockey for Maine last season, was solid as a rock with 29 saves against the youngish Hartford lineup. His positioning was sound and he was calm in the crease, though he did kick out a few rebounds. The Wolf Pack turned up the heat in the third period, outshooting Providence, 12-5 (if I recall correctly – haven’t seen any official stats) and Swayman stood tall, making some tough stops on close-in shots before Providence salted away the win on an empty net goal. He was selected as the No. 1 of the game and it was well-deserved. It was a promising start for the rookie heading into the opening of the regular season on Friday.


Cooper Zech, Jack Ahcan and Nick Wolff – all signed as NCAA free agents — had strong showings. Zech opened the scoring, seeing a lane opening up and quickly moving in from the blue line to fire the puck past Adam Huska in the Hartford net. He retrieved pucks and moved them out of the Providence end with authority. Ahcan scored Providence’s second goal on a long wrister through traffic. He, too, moved the puck smoothly and handled it with confidence at the point on the power play. Ahcan looks to have a knack for not putting himself in a position to be overpowered by bigger players along the boards. Wolff, on the other hand, is all about using his size to muscle opponents. He defended hard and was in the thick of a couple of after-the-whistle scrums. His ability to handle fast forwards who take the puck wide will be something to keep an eye on, but opponents are going to know when he’s on the ice. He scored an empty net goal. It was a good day for all three defensemen (and for the guys who scout NCAA free agents for the Bruins).


Coming into the game, I didn’t know a lot about winger Alex-Olivier Voyer and defenseman Brady Lyle, a pair of 21-year-old free agents signed to AHL contracts out of the Canadian Hockey League. Both acquitted themselves well on Sunday. Voyer, from Sherbrooke, has good size at 6-2 and was around the puck a lot. Doesn’t appear to be a speedster, but he looks like he’ll be a solid bottom six winger for the P-Bruins. Lyle, from Owen Sound, played as advertised in this game, moving the puck with conviction and defending well. At 6-2, he wasn’t shy about using his size. All in all, neither player looked out of place. On to Friday’s regular-season opener.

Providence Bruins getting ready to launch a one-of-a-kind season

Jay Leach guided the Providence Bruins to a 38-18-3-3 record and first place in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20 before the American Hockey League season was paused. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Emerson / RI Shots Photography.)

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, it’s going to be a different kind of season for the Providence Bruins.

Is it ever.

Twenty-six games instead of 76. Three months long instead of seven-plus. Home games at the New England Sports Center in Marlboro, Mass., instead of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, which is a COVID-19 testing site. Every game in the afternoon. And so much more.

The postseason? Well, who knows if there even will be one.

Training camp opens this week at Lynch Arena in Pawtucket, which will be the team’s practice rink.

From the start, fending off COVID-19 will be a priority. It has to be if there is to be any semblance of a season.

“First we’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to all the protocols because if we don’t do it right, we’re going to be back where we were in March with nothing to do,’’ said Jay Leach, who is entering his fourth season as head coach.

“I say that because it’s easy to get in here, you see your buddies again, you’re used to a certain way and it’s just human nature to let up. As soon as something like that happens and you get a few cases or whatever, it could really ruin your three-month season, frankly.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re giving ourselves the best chance possible to have a productive three-plus months here.‘’

The P-Bruins will play only three teams. They’ll face Hartford and Bridgeport 12 times each, and Utica twice. There will be no back-to-back games, no three-games-in-three nights, no overnight trips. They will sleep in their own beds every night.

Player development in a winning environment will continue to be the goal. The way the schedule is structured – two games in most weeks, instead of the usual three — leaves more time for practice and off-ice work to help players get better.

“We’re obviously going to have a lot of practice time. We have to be very organized with our days and what we’re doing each day, whether it’s team work or individual skill work, whether it’s getting ready for games on the weekend, whatever it might be,’’ said Leach.

“We’re just going to have to be strategic in getting the most out of these days because they’re precious. And then when it comes to games, we’ve got to compete. We’ve got a three-team division. We want to be the best in that division and that’s going to be our goal.’’

Gone will be the Sunday afternoon slogs between teams that are playing for the third straight day. That’s a good thing. Players should have more gas in the tank for both practices and games.

“(The schedule) is very conducive to proper development because you should be getting the most rest possible. No back to backs, 1 o’clock starts. That should provide for proper rest and recovery so your games should be at a higher level and then also your practices should be at a high level,’’ said Leach.

Expect to see familiar faces in the lineup when Providence faces Bridgeport in the opener on Feb. 5.

Veterans Paul Carey, Anton Blidh, Zach Senyshyn, Josiah Didier, Brendan Woods, Cameron Hughes and Robert Lantosi are expected to start the season with the P-Bruins. Youngsters such as Jakub Lauko, Joona Koppanen and Cooper Zech and rookies Jack Ahcan, Nick Wolff, Jeremy Swayman, Samuel Asselin, and Matt Filipe will be here, too.

It remains to be seen how much time, if any, some of the players currently on Boston’s taxi squad – Dan Vladar and Urho Vaakanainen come to mind – spend with the P-Bruins to make sure they are game-ready, if needed, in Boston.

“Obviously, we’re walking the line of balancing guys playing and at the same time making sure we have all bases covered when it comes to the Boston Bruins being able to field the best team possible and giving them the best opportunity to win every night,’’ Leach said.

Providence had won 12 games in a row when the 2019-20 season was paused last March. Leach is raring to get going again and he believes the players feel the same way.

“Right now there’s nothing but excitement. I really think these kids are like, ‘I don’t want to do what we were doing before. I’m all good with the Zoom chats. I don’t want to do that. I am pumped that I can go skate every day with a bunch of other guys in a professional setting and try to get better.’

“We’re so lucky to be able to do anything right now. The players want to get better, they want to play in the NHL. This is an opportunity for them to get better every day. I really think that’s their mentality, as crazy as this scenario is,’’ he said.