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.”