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Moore, Johnson Provide Vital Leadership for 2013-14 P-Bruins

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - Every team needs seasoned veterans. Young players learn from their coaches and learn from each other, but more importantly, they learn from the leaders around them.

During playoffs, 'experience' is a word constantly used. A team that has experience often goes far. When a team suffers defeat, we talk about the silver lining of the experience gained.

For the Providence Bruins in 2013-14, they were a group that didn't have too much of that experience.

Alexander Khokhlachev, Seth Griffith, Anthony Camara and Matt Lindblad were all playing their first full seasons as pros, along with defenseman Chris Casto and goaltender Malcolm Subban.

Still, a young team consisting of mostly first and second year pros made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal of the Calder Cup Playoffs, and fought back from a 5-0 deficit in that game. They never counted themselves out.

They were helped along by leaders like Captain Mike Moore and veteran forward Nick Johnson, both armed with six years of pro experience.

"That was kind of the story of our team," said Johnson, after Providence was eliminated by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the playoffs. "We were young, and not always controlling the game, but we always knew we could just stay with it and always had a chance."

"Some games, it got away from us, like Game 7 there, but we always had a chance, and if it was 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, we still had a chance, so it was nice. We were never out, and we always enjoyed playing and trying to come back like that."

The 31-year-old journeyman Bobby Robins and his nearly nine years of experience also helped a young squad prove resilient down the stretch of the regular season and into the postseason.

Moore and Johnson, though, both came to the P-Bruins as free agents in the 2013 offseason.

During the frenzy of free agency last July and in the days surrounding the blockbuster trade with Dallas and the signing of Jarome Iginla, General Manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins' brass inked Moore and Johnson to one-year deals on July 5.

Sometimes, it's not just the 'glamorous' signings that pay dividends.

The experience of Moore and Johnson would end up proving vital to a younger Providence group transitioning to the AHL, and for some who got the chance up with the big club, to the NHL.

From the outset, Johnson was a versatile asset for the P-Bruins, able to play in all situations. After a strong training camp with Boston, he had a shot at making the big club, but was one of the final cuts.

"A lot of players may have pouted with that disappointing news, but Nick’s arrived in Providence ready to lead a young team and complement our group,” Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney said last November, with the season just underway.

Johnson became a mentor to the young forwards, especially centerman like Khokhlachev, who were learning the commitment it takes at both ends of the ice, game in and game out, to be successful at the NHL level.

He was proud of the way the young guns developed, and the way they battled throughout the season, while learning to be a pro on and off the ice.

"It was nice to see. They're young - and they're going to get old soon - but they got better," said Johnson.

"They were a little frazzled at the start of the year with all that's going on," he admitted. "And they just kind of grew up, they had a good time and us old guys just tried to mix in with the young guys by the end, so it was great, it was nice to see."

Johnson is 28 years old. He's hardly 'old,' but he was a vet to the rest of his Black & Gold teammates who barely cracked 23 years of age.

The forward ended up playing 51 games for Providence in 2013-14, racking up 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points with a team-leading plus-20 rating. He fought through an upper-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for a month and a half as the P-Bruins made a push to the postseason, but he still offered advice when he could.

A pro with now 113 games of NHL experience (he played nine up with Boston during an injury-riddled December for the Bruins), and 263 games of combined regular season and playoff experience in the AHL, he proved invaluable to Providence.

Similarly, the 28-year-old Moore brought 303 AHL games of experience with him to the P-Bruins, and suited up in 75 games wearing the Spoked-P in 2013-14 as captain. His plus-13 rating ranked third on the team.

With a squad of young players in Providence, the Bruins' brass had known they would need leadership.

“It did not take long for everyone to appreciate Mike Moore’s leadership,” Assistant GM Don Sweeney said back in November.

"His unselfish play is a big part of his character. He leads by example and plays the game with big heart and passion."

Fast forward to May, and the same qualities were showcased through a P-Bruins squad that bypassed elimination three times in the playoffs.

"It was awesome to see the improvement of the younger guys throughout the year and that correlated to the team having success and getting to the playoffs," said Moore. "We wouldn't have done it without our young guys, and I can't say enough about all of them, and stepping up - it was a team effort, and different guys contributed, everyone contributed in their own way."

"When you're part of a group like that, you see everyone pulling for each other, and you can see the character that's in the room, and that guys want to battle for each other, and never give up on anything, it's something that you are excited to be a part of, no matter how old you are."

"You want to push yourself to be good for your teammates, and we had that character and that culture in there."

That culture translates from top to bottom in the Bruins' system, whether a player is drafted, acquired, or signed as a free agent.

Both Moore and Johnson brought pro experience, along with four-year college careers, to the Black & Gold. They had been recalled and assigned, and placed on waivers more times than they'd like to add up.

They always want to become consistent NHL players - that's the dream and goal. But they also want to be valued, and both found homes within the Bruins' organization this past season, filling important veteran roles in Providence.

"You know, I really enjoyed playing here, and I enjoyed the guys on the team and the organization is, you can't say enough about it, they respect their players," said Moore.

"There's a reason they're a successful franchise, because of the culture they created, and you want to be part of successful cultures, and successful franchises - you want to be there, you want to help contribute to that success."

First year pro, defenseman Chris Casto, saw that contribution firsthand as Moore's defense partner the entire second half of the season.

"He taught me a lot, not only about the game and how to handle the coaching staff and how to be responsible and to stay even-keeled and not get too emotional about things. I knew that going in, but he helped me act it out," said Casto. "Also, in life, he was a great partner on and off the ice, whether going golfing or taking time away, to just not think about hockey."

Moore and Johnson become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Where they will be in 2014-15 remains to be seen, but the 2013-14 Providence Bruins felt their impact, on and off the ice.

"I think we did everything we sought out to," said Johnson. "The sky was the limit for us, and we came up a little short, but it was a positive year, and a good learning experience for everyone."

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