A damp, chilly afternoon in Rhode Island welcomed thirty-four prospective players to the opening day of the Providence Bruins’ 2012 training camp. With the lockout sending hockey-fans looking elsewhere for on-ice action, the promising Baby B’s opened their ’12-’13 season in North Smithfield.
The P-Bruins missed the playoffs each of the past three seasons, the longest such streak in their existence. In 2011-12, the franchise saw its lowest point-total in over a decade with one of the AHL’s worst offenses – but offseason additions and another year of development result in hopes running high for the denizens of the Dunk.
A modest contingent of the press attended the first afternoon – including a handful of Boston media bigwigs. A few stalwart fans showed up to dot the bleachers and thirty-odd players donned the spoked-P for the first time this fall.
Day one of camp saw the campers split into two groups and take to the ice for an hour apiece. Between the sessions, Bruins’ General Manager Peter Chiarelli spoke to the media regarding the lockout, his plans for the season and the P-Bruins.
After the Group B left the ice, Providence Head Coach Bruce Cassidy answered some questions.
Cassidy was happy with the team’s performances in the off-ice testing component of training camp. Only one player wasn’t cleared to participate – defenseman Kevan Miller – who had a heart murmur during his physical (Cassidy believes Miller should be cleared soon).
Cassidy suggested that, while the P-Bruins added many rookies this offseason, “… the advantage we have is Spooner has played games in the American League, so has Trotman, so has Cross, so has [Florek]… so a lot of these first-year guys have had a bit of a taste from last year, so that should speed up their development out of the gate.”
Regarding the AHL’s improved talent level during the lockout, Cassidy said: “… the better competition you play against, the better you get – say we go into Adirondack and it’s Schenn and Couturier, [the young players] are going to have a better taste of what they’re going up against… I know they’d rather be in the NHL (who wouldn’t), but if they take advantage of it, they can really build their game.”
I asked Cassidy if he thought Providence’s projected impressive depth (and youth) on defense was a challenge going forward, he replied: “We’re lucky that we have a lot of returning guys – we have six or seven – so we should be able to ease them in. If they’re good enough to beat out the older guys, even better… that’s a good problem to have. We do have that luxury this year with a few extra bodies.”
On the subject of the team’s veteran leadership, Cassidy offered, “Well [Trent] Whitfield is second-to-none in that department – his is by example. Jamie [Tardif] is good there…. I don’t anticipate any issues at all in that regard. Even some of our younger guys have won championships – and they’ll be given the opportunity to speak their mind and demonstrate that… Any time that players police one another it has so much better effect than when the coach does.”
Rookie pro, Jared Knight looked strong on his skates. Wearing a burgundy sweater, he appeared much more mobile than during Development Camp over the summer.
Knight skated on a line with Providence captain, Trent Whitfield. The rookie voiced his appreciation for the veteran leader’s help: “Yeah, just coming back to the bench he’s telling me things to do right, he’s such a good player – a really smart player – knows where to be and it makes it a lot easier to play with a guy like that… It’s nice to have someone like that who takes us under his wing.”
Fellow rookie Ryan Spooner made some noise skating on a line with third-year forward Max Sauve. The two fell into a nice rhythm during Group B’s session, connecting on several of the break-in drills for pretty attempts and goals. Sauve drew a few impressed gasps from the sparse crowd for a Seguin-esque goal, batting a waist-high aerial pass into the net.
Following his hour on the ice, Spooner spoke of his appreciation for playing with players of Sauve’s caliber: “I played with Sauve a little bit here and there and it seems whenever [we] play together we make something happen… he’s a real good hockey player – he’s smart and he knows how to pass.”
The first-year forward is living with his former OHL rival and friend, Knight while the two play for the P-Bruins.
Tomorrow, the P-Bruins will take to the ice for the first of two days of scrimmages. Providence’s season kicks into high gear with the first intense competition of the fall.
Lockout or no – pro hockey is back in New England.
Follow Bob Mand on Twitter at @HockeyMand