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Vatrano, Acciari Spark Comeback Victory for Bruins at Prospects Challenge

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BUFFALOFrank Vatrano and Noel Acciari are older than some of their fellow rookies competing for the Bruins at this year’s Prospects Challenge in Buffalo.

Vatrano has a few games of pro experience under his belt from spending the tail end of last season with the Providence Bruins. Acciari doesn’t have any pro experience to his name, but after winning a national title with Providence College in April, he knows what it takes to win under pressure.

On Sunday night, against rookies from the New Jersey Devils, both of those players brought that experience to the ice, and they saw it pay off. Big time.

Acciari sparked Boston’s comeback victory by putting the Bruins on the board at the beginning of the second period, and Vatrano capped off the come-from-behind win 13 seconds into overtime with his second goal of the night as the B’s trumped the Devils 4-3 at the HarborCenter.

“Frankie spent a little time with us [in Providence] last year, so he’s around the pro game — I think it helped him out,” said P-Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy. “Even though he didn’t play a ton of games, just being around it can really help in your development the next year.

“I think once the puck drops, like everyone else, we all like good hockey players, whether they’re picked in the first round or walk-ons, for lack of better term. I think you’re going to appreciate what they do.”

There was no doubt that Vatrano’s impact on Sunday night was much appreciated by his teammates. In addition to netting the overtime winner, he tied the game in the second period about a minute after Acciari scored. He seemed to continually breathe new life into this young team, and he showed everyone watching why he was one of three players wearing an “A” on his chest.

“It’s obviously a great feeling, but I’m more happy that we got the win,” Vatrano said. “It took us a little while to get used to one another out there on the ice, but I feel like once the game got going, everyone was moving their feet really fast there and making plays, so I think it was a real good team effort tonight.”

Acciari, like Vatrano, took it upon himself to take the reins on a very young team with very limited pro experience. Despite the fact that he is still a newbie in this organization — he signed with the Bruins as a college free agent in June — he was intent on making his presence known each time he stepped on the ice.

He entered this game with the reputation of being a physical presence, a grinder with a scoring touch, and he showed it. He threw some big hits, and he gave the Bruins their first burst of momentum at the start of the second period, when he took a perfect behind-the-net feed from linemate Colton Hargrove to put Boston on the board.

“It was a good feeling,” Acciari said. “First one’s always the toughest, but it started with a good dump, and really got in there, bumped and backed into the net, and Hargrove just heard me calling. I just had to tap it in; I had the easy part.”

Sunday’s game was certainly a test for the Bruins. Even after Vatrano completed the two-goal comeback in the second period, the Bruins fell behind again and faced a 3-2 deficit in the waning minutes of the third period.

That is where Boston’s trio of 2015 first-round draft picks stepped in to pick up where Vatrano and Acciari left off. Coming off a fruitless power play, Jakub Zboril netted his first goal in the Spoked-B, assisted by Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn.

Suddenly, it was a new game.

“[Zboril] is an active guy; he got in and out of there, so we needed it,” Cassidy said. “Our power play was a little bit scruffy, so they had some looks, and Zach had a great chance the second period — hit the post. I think DeBrusk was in at least two or three times; he’s got a good nose for the net.”

Those three were not the only 2015 draft picks to come up big for Boston.

Originally, Cassidy had planned on starting Zane McIntyre in net for Game 1 of this tournament, but on Sunday, he announced that 2015 third-rounder Dan Vladar would instead man the net. The 18-year-old Czech Republic native did not disappoint. Even after falling behind early, he maintained his composure, particularly during a 20-shot barrage in the second period. He was perfect on five penalty kills. In the end, he had 37 saves on 40 shots — and his first win as a Bruin — to show for it.

“It’s amazing,” Vladar said. “I enjoyed this game a lot, and I must say a very big thanks to my teammates because we played like a team. They blocked a lot of shots, so I’m just so happy that I can be here, and I must say very big thanks.

“It was, I think, the biggest game in my hockey life. I’m so happy that we have two points for winning in overtime. I’m so happy that I can be here.”

Two comebacks were not easy to come by on Sunday night, particularly for a group of rookies that have only had two full days of on-ice practice together. But they found the resolve to get the job done, and that, more than anything else they did on Sunday night, is indicative of what this team has to offer, Acciari said.

“I think it shows that we have a lot of character, to come from behind the whole game, and win in overtime,” he said. “We’ve got a great group of guys here, and I’m excited for [Monday].”

On Monday, of course, the B’s rookies will face off at the First Niagara Center against Jack Eichel and the Sabres’ rookies. With the first of two games officially under their belts, they can finally turn their attention to a game many of them have been eagerly awaiting.

“Our guys, they should relish it,” Cassidy said. “[I] watched [Eichel on Saturday] night — a very good player, and we like to think we have some good players, so it will be a good challenge, especially for our D. You get a guy that’s that smooth and crafty, it should be good.”

Not many of these players knew what to expect coming into Sunday night’s game. They expected tough competition, and they expected a battle, but they didn’t know what it would feel like to step out on the ice for the first time in a Bruins jersey during warmups. They didn’t know what it would be like to harness those emotions and focus on winning a game.

It took them some time to figure it out, but in the end, they did. And in the end, as they prepare for the tough test Monday night will bring, they are even more of a team for it.

“Once you’re out there and you have that jersey on, words can’t describe it,” Acciari said. “But now, you’re playing, and you’ve just got to forget all about that and go back to playing the game.”

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