But not necessarily on Vezina winner Tuukka Rask. The eyes were on the four players vying to be his backup.
Three months later, one of those players is still in Boston, occupying the dressing room stall next to Rask’s. One of those players is in Iowa, on loan from the Bruins to the Wild. And the two that remain are in Providence, still fighting to prove themselves.
One year ago at this time, Zane McIntyre was in the midst of his junior season at the University of North Dakota. In between a hectic schedule of games was an even more hectic schedule of classes, with homework, practices and conditioning somehow squeezed in.
These days, once practice is over, he is home free. No more homework. No more classes. His life is all hockey.
It has been a pleasant adjustment.
“There’s a lot more downtime, it seems like — a lot more time that you can focus on yourself, which is nice,” McIntyre said following a practice at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I. “Whether you go home and cook lunches, cook dinners, spend time doing yoga and foam rolling and stretching on your own — that’s been nice, where I can take that time and have that time to focus on that. At school, you’re bouncing around, your head’s spinning, and you’re going crazy going from one activity to another. It’s been good.”
Life as a first-year pro has suited McIntyre. It hasn’t been perfect, by any means — but McIntyre didn’t expect it would be. He expected this year, his first year as an official member of the Boston Bruins organization, would be a learning experience.
It certainly has been that.
“It’s been what I expected, in a sense — but also had a couple hiccups, some bumps in the road, but I think that’s, in the long run, going to make me a better player, a better person in life,” he said. “It’s been a lot of adjusting, but in the same sense, too, the guys have been great making that transition. The coaching staff here has been straight upfront with what’s going on, and that’s all you can ask.
“Every single day, you come in and you put your work in and don’t leave anything on the table, and go from there.”
When McIntyre began his first AHL season, he expected to be Malcolm Subban’s backup. Then, as it often does, life got in the way. Subban, a third-year pro and Providence’s projected No. 1 entering the season, succumbed to an undisclosed injury shortly after being released from Boston’s camp and assigned to Providence’s.
Normally, Subban would carry the bulk of the load in the early going while a first-year goaltender like McIntyre became acclimated. But Head Coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t have the luxury of allowing McIntyre time to become acclimated. By the time the puck dropped on the P-Bruins’ 2015-16 season, McIntyre was the No. 1 guy.
“I can’t complain, to be honest — playing that many games,” McIntyre said. “Obviously, you never want to see your teammate go down, but that’s why you build your roster and your lineup in the offseason to have that depth. So I think those couple games that I did get in, it was definitely good to see [game action]; maybe not the greatest way to get acclimated, especially with the way I played, but there were obviously some positives, too, in the games that I did play.”
In his first seven games as a pro, McIntyre went 2-3-2. His first start — an overtime loss to Wilkes-Barre in which he stopped 38 of 40 shots — was one of his strongest. But there were, as McIntyre called them, hiccups thereafter. There was an outing at Bridgeport in mid-October when he allowed five goals on 17 shots; there was a strong performance at Lehigh Valley later in the month in which he only allowed two goals but didn’t get enough run support to get the victory.
Early in the season, Cassidy said McIntyre had a string of games in which he gave up a goal he would have loved to have back. He predicted that as soon as McIntyre began making those one or two timely saves every night, everything would fall into place. And he was right.
“Before the last two weeks, we’d had some solid games defensively where we just didn’t get a save, and then at the other end, we weren’t finishing,” Cassidy said. “And that turned in the last little bit; we’re getting the save when we need it, so we don’t get behind, or get behind two goals, or the game gets tied — and we’re taking the lead to stretch the lead, extend the lead, and bury some teams. You put those two things in there, and it bodes well for your team.
“Now, we’ve corrected some of that, so the pendulum swings in our direction a little bit.”
McIntyre fought through the first month of the season. He found ways to improve from game to game, even as the challenges mounted. And now that Subban is back — he returned to game action on Oct. 30 — McIntyre isn’t seeing quite as much playing time, but that hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing.
“Every athlete wants to play and compete, so I’m sure that’s a bummer, for lack of a better term, for [McIntyre],” Cassidy said. “But it’s allowed him probably to go back to work a little bit with [Goaltending Coach Bob Essensa] and get back to basics and work on some things.”
The game in the AHL is different than it was in the NCAA. It’s faster. The players are just plain better. McIntyre was well aware he was in for an adjustment when he signed his entry-level contract, and he was right.
“The fat’s kind of trimmed off, compared to the college hockey games,” he said. “You get guys who are playing on a third, fourth line that can still shoot the puck, that can still put it in the corners, that can still make plays in small areas. So you combine that with all the guys on the ice and in the different styles that you see in the teams that you play — it can be pretty challenging, at times.”
Challenging, yes. But insurmountable, no.
Something clicked for McIntyre and his fellow P-Bruins during a road trip through Pennsylvania that began the day before Thanksgiving and ended four days later. They lost the first of three games in overtime. They lost a second one two days later. But on Nov. 28, when they shut out Lehigh Valley 3-0, the P-Bruins seemed to be reborn. Everything clicked.
Since that game, Providence has won five of six games. The usual suspects — the Griffiths, the Khokhlachevs, the Czarniks — are stepping up game after the game, the role players are chipping in and the goalies have been on fire.
There is a different feeling today among the P-Bruins than there was three weeks ago. But it’s not shocking to McIntyre. Not at all. If anything, it was only a matter of time before the turnaround came.
“I don’t think anything felt different; I think it’s just been a combination of getting used to the systems here, getting used to our players, how we play as a team, and how we want to play as Bruins,” McIntyre said. “I think that, in a sense, took a while to get accustomed to, and now, it’s been nice.”
McIntyre, just like his team, has been on the upswing. He has won three of his last four starts. In those three wins, he has allowed a total of just four goals.
He has been better. That is clear. But by no means is he letting his foot off the gas. He still has lots of work to do, he said. He still hasn’t shown half of his potential.
“It’s been just coming every day to work, feeling better about my game and where it’s going,” he said. “There’s been a couple flashes of what I can do, but I haven’t reached any expectations quite yet. So just got to keep on working.”
There is still a long way to go this year. Early in the season, Providence lingered at the bottom of the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings. Six games later, they are in 10th place. They are still working their way up.
In order to continue to do so, they will need to fall back on a strong goaltending tandem. Not only will Subban have to continue to show his No. 1 stuff, but McIntyre must continue to support him — and support the team — when he is called upon.
This is not news to McIntyre. It is something he thinks about all the time, even now, as a 23-year-old in the midst of his first pro season. Already, he thinks about how he wants to be remembered as a player. Already, his legacy is something that weighs on his mind.
And when he thinks about his hopes for his own legacy, his expectations for himself are pretty cut and dry.
“Just a guy who works his butt off every day,” he said of how he wants to be remembered. “Obviously, an elite goaltender who can play in the big games and can make the big saves when needed and who’s just a rock out there for his teammates.
“It’s obviously a work in progress, you know? Every day, just getting better and trying to reach that goal.”