After a long offseason, the Providence Bruins opened the 2023-24 AHL season over the weekend with a pair of divisional matchups. After claiming an Atlantic Division crown a year ago, Providence was dumped out of the postseason by regional rival Hartford Wolfpack (New York Rangers).
With a chance for immediate retribution in the season opener at home, Providence struggled to shake off the rust on both ends of the ice, falling 3-2 in a shootout on Friday. In Sunday’s contest at the Springfield Thunderbirds (St. Louis Blues), the teams put on an enthralling display, but the hosts wrestled away the points with a late winner, 4-3.
Down in the ECHL, the Maine Mariners played two preseason exhibitions against their archrival Worcester Railers (New York Islanders), winning the opener in Auburn, Maine, 4-2, before dropping the second game by the same scoreline.
0-1-1, 1 point, 8th in Atlantic Division
While the Boston Bruins continue to churn out NHL-caliber prospects, Providence faces some uncertainty this season. The AHL Bruins saw some roster turnover in the offseason, and welcome in new faces both young and old to this year’s roster.
One of the familiar names — Oskar Steen — led the charge in the season-opening shootout loss to Hartford, 3-2. The Swede set up the opening goal for Jayson Megna before potting one himself midway through the third period. In goal, Brandon Bussi kept Providence in the game with 40 saves in his first start after an impressive preseason with Boston.
On Sunday, Providence couldn’t generate road magic at Springfield in a 4-3 defeat. Providence was kept off the board for over half the contest, trailing 1-0 deep into the second period before the offense awoke. John Farinacci, one of the new additions and a Harvard product, tallied an equalizer and set up Luke Toporowski for his first goal of the campaign to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead heading into the third period.
But the wheels came flying off in the final 20 minutes. Springfield tied the game nine seconds into the final frame, then took the lead four minutes later. Marc McLaughlin evened the game again off a slick feed from Reilly Walsh for the defenseman’s second helper in as many games. But the hosts responded immediately to retake the lead through Adam Gaudette, sending Providence to a second straight defeat.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Brandon Bussi — Aside from the third period on Sunday, Bussi logged 100 minutes of stellar play including a 40-save effort to earn Providence its first point of the season. Stick taps go to Oskar Steen and John Farinacci for multi-point games, and to Reilly Walsh for his pair of assists.
- Called up from Maine — Ryan Mast.
UP NEXT: Providence is home for three games this week. First, they’ll host the Bridgeport Islanders on Wednesday before back-to-back meetings with the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) on Friday and Saturday. All games are scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
0-0-0, 0 points, T-1st in North Division
The ECHL season officially begins this weekend, but Maine made sure to get a couple of exhibitions in before the real games start.
Maine kicked off the preseason with a 4-2 win up in Auburn, Maine on Friday. Reid Stefanson, a returner from last season’s roster, tallied three assists while new signing Ethan Keppen scored twice. In net, local product and new addition Shane Starrett recorded 34 saves in the victory.
On Saturday, the scene flipped to Worcester where the Railers knocked off Maine, 4-2. Keppen and Chase Zieky provided the scoring, while backup netminders Brad Arvanitis and Cody Ceci split the minutes.
- Called up to Providence — Ryan Mast.
- Released — Seth Bafaro, Brendan Harrogate, Troy MacTavish.
UP NEXT: Maine opens the regular season with a home-and-home series against the Trois-Rivieres Lions (Montreal Canadiens). The series begins on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. up in Quebec before shifting back to Portland for a 6:00 p.m. puck drop on Saturday.