MARLBORO, Mass. – For the majority of the season, it seemed inevitable. Towards the end the certainty decreased. However, the Providence Bruins officially earned the Emile Francis Trophy as the outright winner of the Atlantic Division yesterday when they took down the Hartford Wolf Pack 6-3 at the New England Sports Center.
In a typical year, this title would be relatively meaningless as the quest for the Calder Cup is the main priority. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Calder Cup playoffs were cancelled, leaving a division championship as the top prize to play for. This meant that the P-Bruins just had to outlast the Wolf Pack and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for this distinction, and it took them until the season finale to officially earn it.
The P-Bruins had dominated all year, and their final record of 15-6-2-2 shows that. However, the P-Bruins were only 4-3-1-2 in their last ten games. This allowed a team like the Wolf Pack, who finished 14-9-1, to put themselves in a position to steal the title.
Early in the game, it seemed like that reality would play out. The Wolf Pack seemed to have a jump in their step in the opening frame and were able to get out to an early lead when a wrist shot from defenseman Zach Giuttari was turned away by P-Bruins goaltender Dan Vladar. The puck bounced out to forward Patrick Khodorenko, who utilized the heavy traffic in front of the net to snipe the biscuit past Vladar and giving the Wolf Pack an early lead. Hartford was able to hold on for the remainder of the period, and things were looking bleak for the P-Bruins.
Momentum continued in the direction of the Wolf Pack in the middle frame as about seven minutes in when forward Paul Thompson tried to stuff one passed Vladar, but the rebound kicked out to Khodorenko who feathered a pass to defenseman Vincent LoVerde, and all the captain had to do at that point was guide the puck into the net, giving the Wolf Pack a 2-0 lead.
This woke up the beast which is the potent P-Bruins offense, and they took complete control. With about eight minutes left in the period, forward Pavel Shen delivered a cross-zone pass to forward Ian McKinnon, who fired the rubber disk into the back of the net for his first goal of the season. About a minute later, forward Oskar Steen fired the puck on net to keep it in the zone, but forward Zach Senyshyn was able to corral the puck, move across the crease, and bury it passed Wolf Pack net minder Adam Huska, solidifying Providence as fully back in the contest. That would not be all the scoring for the period, as with just over one minute remaining in the frame. Forward Jack Studnicka entered the offensive zone and fed the puck to a speedy Urho Vaakanainen, who collected the puck and wired a snap shot past Huska, giving the P-Bruins their first lead of the game.
With momentum on their side, Providence made quick work of maintaining it as just over two minutes into the period, as a clutch keep by defenseman Jack Ahcan led to a tic-tac-toe play between Senyshyn, forward Eduards Tralmaks and Steen that resulted in the latter finding the wide-open back of the net. The 4–2 lead would increase by one just six minutes later when Shen denied a Wolf Pack breakout and fed the puck to a streaking Curtis Hall who rifled a wrist shot passed Huska for his first goal of his injury-riddled rookie campaign. The final dagger from the P-Bruins came about five minutes later when Ahcan fed the puck across the crease to Studnicka, who one-touched the puck to forward Samuel Asselin, who used his body position in the slot to muscle the puck passed Huska, giving Providence a 6–2 lead. With under two minutes remaining in the period, Thompson was able to answer after a misplaying of the puck by Vladar led to a wide open chance in front, but the damage was done and Providence took the game 6-3.
Huska turned away 36 of 42 P-Bruin shots while Vladar saved 31 of 34 Wolf Pack shots. The two teams finished in first and second place in the Atlantic Division while the Bridgeport Sound Tigers finished in third place with an 8-14-2 record. This was the final game in the division for the 2020-21 season.