BostonBruins.com - The Providence Bruins were rolling right along.
Before the sports world came to a screeching halt in mid-March, the P-Bruins were among the hottest hockey teams on the planet, having strung together a franchise-record 12 consecutive victories. Providence (38-18-3-3, 82 points) had been without a loss since an overtime setback on February 9, propelling them to the top spot in Eastern Conference, 1 point clear of the Hershey Bears.
The streak was one game better than the club's 11 straight wins during their 1998-99 Calder Cup championship campaign.
But any dreams of their first title in over two decades were erased earlier this month when the American Hockey League officially scrapped the remainder of the 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a difficult blow, for certain, but one that P-Bruins head coach Jay Leach acknowledged requires some perspective.
"I fully recognize the situation that we're in with this country and the world. By no means is us making a run at the Calder Cup more important than these front-line workers. I want to make that clear," Leach said during a media conference call on Monday afternoon.
"In regards to our season, it was definitely disappointing. We were clicking just at the right time. We had won 12 in a row and our players were really coming along and just hitting their stride. Certainly disappointing.
"We had two goalies [in Daniel Vladar and Max Lagace] that were at the top of the league, which as we all know is probably your most important key down the stretch here. We were getting scoring from all four lines, and our defense was pretty shored up.
"We were certainly a team that looked like we could make a run. Unfortunately, this happened, and it is what it is."
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Despite the P-Bruins' having their season cut short, Leach was proud of the progress his group was making, particularly when it came to establishing a culture - on and off the ice - that is befitting of the Black & Gold.
"I think organizationally we've tried to tackle this for the last several years - a combination of a very competitive player and a heady player that obviously has some kind of ability…as a group, we've got that," said Leach. "But I think what maybe stands apart from - I'd like to think - other organizations is…they all compete at the highest level. I think that's something the Bruins take pride in.
"It starts with [Patrice Bergeron] and [Brad Marchand] and [Zdeno Chara] and all these guys that have played so many years and had such success. It's certainly something that we've tried to tackle down here."
While the P-Bruins will not suit up again for the foreseeable future, there are several players that could help the big club at some point this summer should the NHL resume play. In recent days, optimism regarding the league's return has grown, meaning the need for a 'Black Aces' squad is becoming increasingly more likely.
"I can tell them they still have a responsibility to hone their craft and make sure that they're ready whenever that time is called because it's gonna be called, it's just a matter of when. They're very aware of that," Leach said when asked if he has stayed in touch with his club.
Leach noted that nobody is quite sure what a 'Black Aces' squad would look like, but mentioned the likes of Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, and Steven Kampfer as players that are likely to get the call to Boston.
"I don't think that anyone has a clue…we just don't know the size of the group," said Leach. "It just depends on what the limit is and what they're gonna need and I don't know if anyone can really forecast…I can tell you that there are plenty of candidates, these guys have shown that."
Leach also touched specifically on the development of a number of his players:
Captain Paul Carey, F | 22 G, 17 A, 39 P in 60 games
"I think the one thing that PC does so well is he focuses more on the team and the team success more than anything. Kind of lets everything else fall where it may. If we're focusing on team success, he wants everyone to get better…and we're all on the same page and in it to win it.
"That's what he's about and that attitude grew throughout the room. We were able to create an environment here in Providence that's healthy, a healthy competition between PC and Freddy, [Oskar Steen], whoever it might be."
Trent Frederic, C | 8 G, 24 A, 32 P in 59 games
"Trent Frederic, I've said it so many different times. He has so many different attributes that not many have. He's a bigger guy that has a heck of a shot, can get up and down the ice, and then you add the physical component that he has with confrontation, more than anything, being a part of his game.
"He really, I found, was able to gain some huge strides with that, especially with his consistency, night in, night out, of being that guy to play against when you get to that point, you're relentless. He certainly showed that and he's gonna continue to improve on that."
Zach Senyshyn, RW | 7 G, 9 A, 16 P in 42 games
"We were very excited for where Zach was, going through that stretch the last five-six weeks…Seny found a home with [Brendan] Gaunce and [Brendan] Woods. They were really an up-and-down line that could do a lot of things. They had some speed with Seny and Woody and Gaunce was able to complement them with some heady play and Seny was starting to score, was getting to the dirty areas and they were a heavy forechecking line.
"He was finding an identity. I think we all thought that was his identity, a big guy that's quick and can get to the front of the net. It just seemed like he was starting to put it together…I saw speed, I saw a willingness to get to the net, I saw a willingness to be F1 on the forecheck and with that came some offensive opportunities and he started to cash in a little bit.
"In our mind and in Seny's mind, he's exactly where he needs is and needs to be. He's starting to really develop. I think he had a pretty nice stint in Boston a couple months before, unfortunately got injured, but he was getting right back to that place as we ended. We're hopeful that will continue."
Jack Studnicka, C | 23 G, 26 A, 49 P in 60 games
"Studdy, for all intents and purposes, had a terrific year. Twenty-year-old kid jumps right in, plays every real scenario. Down the stretch, I was really leaning on him and Cameron Hughes as the guys to seal some games out for us. His competitiveness, his speed, his hockey sense really shone through and was able to be very productive on both sides of the puck. I think he had a terrific year."
Urho Vaakanainen, D | 5 G, 9 A, 14 P in 54 games
"Always a competitor, but really started to show signs of some offense. I think he had five [goals] this year, but all of them on the rush. He's starting to get a little bit more comfortable there…this year, I found him to be significantly more confident on the blue line in the offensive zone, really activating from the blue line.
"The other is joining the rush and really getting his shot off on the rush. He's got a really effective wrist shot and he was able to beat goalies multiple times coming down on his strong side, for the most part over the glove. Definitely showing signs of offense in his game. It always comes from his feet just because of how well he skates. He wants the puck a little bit more now.
"He's 21…takes a while for these to really come into their own. He's always gonna have that defensive aspect to his game, always gonna be competitive. But the offensive stuff is starting to come bit more naturally to him and that's just fine with us."
Jakub Zboril, D | 3 G, 16 A, 19 P in 58 games
"Zboril, very much like Senyshyn, the last 12 games or 15 games, became probably our best defenseman overall. His ability to move the puck cleanly…really there's not many that can do it at our level. He was paired with [Josiah] Didier for most of it and I think Dids' competitive juices wore off a little bit on Z and kind of ignited a bit. And before you knew it, he was a real force down low."