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PROVIDENCE, RI. – Hockey Season has finally arrived!

The Providence Bruins begin their annual quest for the Calder Cup on October 5th, 2018. Their first weekend action is a two game set, with one game on the road and one at home. On the road Friday, the Bruins skate against the Hartford Wolf Pack for their season opener. Meanwhile, the Laval Rocket make their one and only trip to Providence the following night for the Bruins’ home opener.

Preseason Highs and Lows

In preseason action last weekend, the Providence Bruins dispatched the Springfield Thunderbirds in back-to-back tune-up games. After going up 3-0 on the Birds, Providence allowed Springfield to claw within one goal both games. In typical preseason fashion, ECHL skaters from both clubs’ affiliates threw their weight around in an attempt to impress respective head coaches. Twice this led to scary moments for the Bruins as Zach Senyshyn was boarded in a nasty collision, and goalie Dan Vladar was run over around his net.

Providence highlights came off the sticks of Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Senyshyn, Cam Hughes, and Wiley Sherman. Forsbacka-Karlsson assisted on the first two goals Saturday night. After one of the Thunderbirds boarded Senyshyn, he immediately spited Springfield scoring a goal off his own rebound. Hughes opened the score Saturday night, and Sherman potted one Sunday afternoon.

Games That Matter

While the Bruins open at home Saturday night, their season truly begins on the road Friday in Hartford. Last season, the Bruins were 5-3-0 against the Wolf Pack with a positive goal differential. In their first meeting, Providence blanked Hartford with a score of 5-0 in the 2017-18 season.

Similarly, the Bruins had a winning record against the Laval Rocket. In both match ups of 2017-18, Providence skated away with a pair of victories to sweep the season series with the Montreal affiliate. This weekend, Providence will see former Bruin Kenny Agostino who signed a two-way deal with Montreal in the offseason and was subsequently assigned to Laval. 

Lineups and Goaltending

Expect the lines to look something like they did in practice:

F1: Fitzgerald-Szwarz-Cehlarik
F2: Hughes-JFK-McNeill
F3: Kuhlman-Frederic-Senyshyn
F4: Blidh-Koppanen/Pond-Fyten

Per Mark Divver/Providence Journal

D1: Zboril-Lauzon
D2: Sherman-Clifton
D3: Breen-Johansson

In between the pipes, Zane McIntyre leads the Bruins onto enemy ice in Hartford. Meanwhile, Vladar guards the Providence net Saturday night.

Providence Bruins Roster Notes

Colby Cave will miss Friday and possibly Saturday due to a personal commitment. Both Jesse Gabrielle and Cody Goloubef remain on IR, recovering from upper body injuries and will not skate this weekend. However, they have been spotted as limited participants in practices. Also worth noting is a significant portion of the Providence roster are all 2015 Draft picks: Zboril & Senyshyn (1st) Lauzon (2nd) Vladar (3rd) Gabrielle (5th) Hughes (6th).

Crossed Off

The Providence Bruins will take the ice without Tommy Cross for the first time since 2012. In the offseason, Cross took his talents to Ohio where he hoped for a crack at the Columbus blueline. He has since been assigned to the Cleveland Monsters.

Additionally, former Providence Bruins first ballot AHL all-star Austin Czarnik has ascended to the NHL full-time as he signed a $1.25 mil one-way contract with the Calgary Flames. Since 2015, Czarnik has provided a large amount of Providence’s offense, earning third place in AHL scoring leaders last season. His point production and face off win percentage will be sorely missed this season.

Other departing Providence Bruins skaters include: Colton Hargrove (Bruins, 7th round 2012), Adam Payerl (AHL Contract), Sena Acolatse, Paul Postma, and Justin Hickman.

 Summary

Overall, these are two very beatable teams Providence faces in the AHL opening weekend. The departure of Czarnik may be untimely, but expect a hungry Trent Frederic to showcase his offensive capability. Frederic, a late cut from the Boston Bruins main training camp, will be eager to re-claim his spot at 3C. In 13 games last season, Frederic accrued 8 points. If Frederic scores at the clip he did at the end of 2017-18, Czarnik’s point totals won’t be missed as much.

On defense, Providence ices a lot of left-handed defensemen. Learning to play your off-side is a necessary evil for a young player. However, the difference between the team playing to their correct handedness and not was significant. Still, Providence bench boss Jay Leach coaches a lot of talent at the blue line, with Zboril, Clifton, Johansson, and Lauzon all returning for a sophomore professional season eager to build on improvements made last season. Both Zboril and Lauzon need to step up their offense with the departure of Cross, who was a dangerous scoring threat on the power play.

Final Thoughts

Hartford will send Marek Mazanec or Dustin Tokarski to man the Wolf Pack crease Friday night. Additionally, Former Bruins Rob O’Gara and prospect Ryan Lindgren will skate against their former club. O’Gara takes the ice against his former team for the first time since his trade for Nick Holden in February, while Lindgren scored a meaningless goal against the Providence Bruins last year in the final match of the season with Hartford. Neither should be considered as dangerous a scoring threat as 2017 seventh overall pick Lias Andersson.

When Providence takes the ice Saturday night at the Dunk, they face a favorable match up in the Laval Rocket. Similar to their parent club Montreal, Laval finished near the bottom of the league standings last year. Their lineup featured only one legitimate scoring threat, and this year’s version looks similarly harmless. Providence drew a good opponent to beat up on in front of their first home crowd of the season.

Conclusion:

The Bruins must overcome poor starts which required come-from-behind victories last year. Specifically, the goaltenders need to eliminate early goals that deflate the team. Providence will start the new season 2-0-0 if they push the Wolf Pack early and often, and do not play down to the Laval Rocket’s level.

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