On March 11, 2020, the Providence Bruins were riding a high.
The hottest team in the AHL, Providence had just beaten Hartford, 3-1, to secure its franchise-record 12th consecutive victory.
The team was hitting its stride and looking like a Calder Cup favorite. But less than 24 hours later, all that championship talk ceased as the AHL suspended its 2019-20 season indefinitely, like every other North American sports league.
Ultimately, the season was cancelled, no championship was awarded, and the Providence winning streak was frozen at 12.
Nearly a year later, the Providence Bruins took the ice not only in search of elusive and lucky win number 13 in-a-row, but to simply get back to some semblance of normalcy.
The normalcy was there a few days ago, as they picked up right where they left off, starting the season with a 4-1 win over Bridgeport on Friday.
Providence will play just 26 games this year, 24 of those against Hartford and Bridgeport with an additional two games against Utica.
The 26-game slate is one of the shortest in the league, compared to a 44-game campaign by San Diego that marks the league’s longest.
There will be minimal room for error for a Providence team that remains strong and well in its pursuit of Calder Cup glory.
Players to watch
Once again, the Providence Bruins boast a young but talented roster with elder statesman Paul Carey entering his age-32 season. There are several returning players as well as a few young rookies who should provide some optimism.
In net, Jeremy Swayman figures to be one of the team’s goaltenders of the future, and he started off well with his first AHL win in the opener.
The former Maine shot-stopper presents a combination of athleticism and size with good reactiveness.
His backup, Callum Booth, has floated around the minors for the past few years but hasn’t gotten enough playing time to really separate himself as a potential challenger for the starting job.
On the back end, Urho Vaakanainen leads one of the NHL’s deepest blue line prospect pools and could very well see himself elevated to the NHL level in time for next season should he put together another solid campaign.
Aside from Josiah Didier, Cooper Zech, and former Atlanta Gladiators standout Joel Messner, rookies like Jack Ahcan and Nick Wolff will be among the top prospects to watch as they introduce themselves to the professional scene.
The forward group is deep and filled with experienced options like Carey, who finished second on the team in scoring last season with 39 points. Robert Lantosi, another returner, is looking to up his scoring numbers from his breakout 2020 season.
The main concern is with the team as a whole comes from the departure of several top scorers, either through free agency or promotion to the NHL level.
Jack Studnicka (23 goals) and Trent Frederic (eight goals) both made the leap to Boston while Brendan Gaunce (18 goals) and Peter Cehlarik (16 goals) both went overseas to play in Sweden.
To make up for 65 goals lost, players like Zach Senyshyn, Oskar Steen, and Jakub Lauko are facing a big year ahead to up their scoring production from paltry numbers a year ago.
Senyshyn should especially feel the pressure as two of his fellow first-round picks, Jake Debrusk and Jakub Zboril, have both reached the NHL level and are doing quite well.
Drafted for his scoring prowess, it’s a year to see just how good Senyshyn can be when given the chance to carry the load offensively.
Other forward options like Pavel Shen, Joona Koppanen, and another former Atlanta star, Samuel Asselin, will provide some depth.
Rookies Matt Filipe, Curtis Hall, and Alex-Olivier Voyer will also look to contribute immediately.
Voyer is especially promising, coming off an 88-point season in the QMJHL with the Sherbrooke Phoenix, with an even 44-goal to 44-assist split.
Look for him to cement himself as one of the league’s top players if he can get off to a fast start - and he certainly started well in the opener, notching his first AHL goal.
This season is a tough one to forecast given the frequency of opponents, but Providence will need to find different ways to win against the same teams.
Last year, Providence was just 3-6 against Hartford, winning its last two match-ups, while going 5-3-1 against Bridgeport and 2-0 against Utica.
It’s a different team this year with less known scoring production. Providence will mainly have to rely on defense and steady goaltending to find success, something it did well for much of the 2019-20 campaign.
If Swayman can play to his potential and the young forward group can produce goals, Providence could soar to the top of the standings again.
- Record — 14-8-4
- Top Scorer — Robert Lantosi
- Breakout Player — Zack Senyshyn
- Top Rookies — Alex-Olivier Voyer & Jeremy Swayman
- Preseason MVP — Urho Vaakanainen