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Sexton Bounces Back from Early-Season Injury, Pushes Toward Playoffs

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins
— This season did not begin the way Ben Sexton was hoping it would.

He was hoping to get off to a quick start in his first full professional season. He was hoping to make an early impression and make a name for himself with the Providence Bruins. He was hoping to make an impact.

But then, in a preseason game against Springfield in early October, he took a hit up against the boards that left him with a broken ankle, and his 2014-15 campaign was in question before it even began.

“It wasn’t the start that I was looking for,” Sexton said following Providence’s practice on Tuesday at the Rhode Island Sports Center in North Smithfield, R.I. “But that’s part of the game. I recovered well from it, and it’s been good in the second half.”

Getting off to a good start at the beginning of this season was a priority for Sexton, who signed with Boston in March 2014 after being selected by the Bruins in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. This season marked Sexton’s first opportunity to show his stuff at the pro level for a full season. He got into nine games to finish out the 2013-14 campaign, but that came at the conclusion of a long season with Clarkson University.

After this year’s rookie camp and training camp, Sexton was trending upward. Then, he was forced to take a big step back.

“Anytime you have an injury that you’re out for an extended period of time, it wears on you a little bit mentally,” Sexton said.

But he didn’t waste his time wallowing, or wondering what could have been as he watched his teammates rush out of the gates and into the first three months of the AHL season. Instead, he kept himself in game shape as best he could — which was, of course, a challenge, given the nature of his injury — and he tried to spent as much time as possible with his teammates.

“I thought the biggest thing for me was just coming to the rink every day and being around the guys,” he said. “[It] made things go by a lot quicker.”

Three months is a lot of time to pass when you’re used to dedicating your life to playing and training. That was all Sexton knew, after two seasons with the Nepean Raiders of the CJHL, a season with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL and four full seasons at Clarkson.

But when the time came for him to make his 2014-15 debut in mid-January against Manchester, he was ready to get back on the ice. He was more than ready for that part. It was the pacing that was difficult to rediscover.

“It took me a little bit to get back in the swing of things, and catch up to the pace,” Sexton said. “It’s always quicker after Christmas leading up to the playoffs — but I feel like I’m in full mode now.”

Sexton registered three goals and nine assists for 12 points and a plus-six rating in 35 games this season, culminating in a two-point effort versus Manchester on Sunday. P-Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy described Sexton as the “anchor” of a line that also features Corey Kane and Tyler Randell.

“The biggest improvement in Ben’s game is his pace,” Cassidy said. “That’s not his fault. You have an ankle injury and miss three full months of competitive hockey, you’re going to be behind, and he did a great job of getting himself — and keeping himself — in shape as best he could with that type of injury and then finding his game quickly to stay in the lineup.”

That, perhaps, was the most frustrating aspect of Sexton’s injury. Nobody’s spot is ever guaranteed, and given the timing of his injury — just days before the season opener — he never got a chance to establish himself or carve out a role for himself on a young team.

But over the course of the final three months of the season, Sexton did just that, and it will serve him well heading into a first-round playoff matchup against Hartford that begins on April 22.

“We’ve got a lot of competition here, and one thing about Ben is he’s a very competitive individual,” Cassidy said. “We knew that about him, and it’s really come through lately, where he’s able to give us a solid 200-foot game and contribute some offense, too.

“I think that’s an area of his game that, as young guys come in, you hope develops over time, and we’re going to need it in the playoffs. It looks like it’s coming around.”

Providence will enter the postseason having dropped three of its final five outings, but that doesn’t worry Sexton, especially coming off a decisive 5-1 win in the regular-season finale — and especially after getting some extra late-season reinforcements in the form of David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner and Zach Trotman, who reported to Providence after finishing the NHL regular season with Boston.

Sexton, along with the rest of the P-Bruins, is ready to carry their recent momentum forward.

“I like where we are,” he said. “We won on Sunday, so we’re going into the playoffs on a positive note. We were a really good team after Christmas; we got a couple guys back from Boston who I think should really help.

“I like where we are heading in.”

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