In Providence, disappointment over NHL lockout

In Providence, disappointment over NHL lockout
September 30, 2012, 5:40 am
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NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. While it was good to finally see hockey being played by skaters in Black and Gold sweaters Saturday morning at the Rhode Island Sports Center, it wasnt exactly what anybody hoped.

Young defenseman Zach Trotman snagged himself a hat trick in the camps first scrimmage, and that was damned impressive. But the 23-year-old blueliner was also probably wondering how well he might have done in a full NHL camp -- one with higher stakes and greater competition among NHL caliber players.

Just like young top prospects Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight wanted to see if they could seize a job in Boston after rising up the ranks as top prospects among forwards in the B's organization.

Its the same lament that many of the 35 players at P-Bruins camp are voicing this week after the NHL lockout wiped out both Bruins training camp and the entire NHL preseason schedule. There are familiar faces like Jordan Caron, Chris Bourque and Trent Whitfield along with uber-prospects like Spooner and Knight dotting the roster, and they all have glaringly bright future in the Bs organization.

But for the time being, that future will be filling out an AHL season for the Providence Bruins while the NHL figures out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. There's an appreciation for the job that every player must do in the interim, of course.

But there's also little doubt the lockout has sucked some of the joy out of the process as only work stoppages in pro sports can do.

Its nice to get on the ice and get to know the guys a little bit, but its also definitely a tough situation for everybody involved, said Bourque. Players, fans, the owners and everybody involved wants to see NHL hockey. For us down here we want to have that chance to make the NHL team, and to not have that chance is a little upsetting.

But we know it might be resolved in the meantime, and for now were just going to get into shape and get focused for when the time does come to go up to Boston.

Players like Bourque, Caron and Torey Krug might have been particularly disappointed by the timing of the lockout given their solid chances of winning an NHL roster spot with the Bruins. But theres also an upside to being in the AHL while a work stoppage is underway. It's to each player's advantage to focus on the task at hand rather getting a little too crestfallen about the plight of the NHL.

Above and beyond anything else, all of the players skating for the P-Bruins will get plenty of attention lavished on them by the Boston front office and coaching staff. Peter Chiarelli, Don Sweeney, Jim Benning, Claude Julien and all members of the B's coaching staff are watching each and every session.

That might have been why Knight was making like a battering ram as he smashed opposing players into the boards, and went down on at least a couple of occasions to block shots during a seemingly meaningless intra-squad scrimmage. It's pretty apparent Knight is intent on winning a job and making a lasting first impression, and understands the new mindset required.

Its almost October and we havent played in any games yet, so its a little weird, said Knight. You go to an OHL camp and guys are maybe having McDonalds after practice. Now guys are having protein shakes and people are definitely taking things more seriously. Its great to watch the older guys like Trent Whitfield to see how they treat their bodies and prepare for each workout.

The P-Bruins roster will also be in perfect working order while ramping up through the AHL training camp and preseason schedule, and each of the Providence skaters will be in midseason form when the NHL finally gets started. That's a potential advantage for many of them.

Guys like Tyler Seguin and Andrew Ference were able to find work in Europe pretty easily, and somebody like Zdeno Chara will have a spot in Slovakia whenever they decide to head overseas.

But players like Caron, Spooner, Knight and Bourque will each get their own shot at a third line forward spot for the Bruins when the NHL season finally begins, and none of them was forced into scouring for a job overseas. Instead each of those players along with the other assorted prospects and journeymen dotted along every AHL roster will hit the ground running while playing every day in Providence.

Meanwhile other NHL players like Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk, Nathan Horton, Chris Kelly, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic among others skate and wait with nothing more than informal scrimmages to keep them in shape.

That could leave them a step behind if B's training camp is still a few months away at the earliest.

Its a little bit different, admitted Caron. Its a little bit later than normal training camp too. We had fitness testing this morning and then we got right out onto the ice. Essentially its all the same thing. Its just with different guys.

I think being in game shape is going to be important. I know a lot of the NHL guys dont have leagues to play in right now, so its not too fun for them. I feel pretty lucky to be here in a real training camp and to get the season started. I just want to be a part of the team and help them win.

So theres clearly some rancor and disappointment that the P-Bruins skaters are working out in Providence rather than playing preseason games in Saskatoon and Winnipeg with Boston this week. Its all understandable under the circumstances fully grasped by the players in P-Bruins, and the show must also continue on in the meantime.

Thats exactly what the Baby Bruins will do in Providence until sanity prevails between the NHL and the NHLPA, and the best hockey league in the world is again open for business. For now they are what's keeping the candle burning for pro hockey in New England during this nuclear winter for the NHL.