June 16, 2013

Spooner, Svedberg pace Providence to Kilpatrick Trophy

By Jesse Connolly

Ryan Spooner was the P-Bruins' leader scorer with 57 points in 59 games this season. (Getty Images)

Here’s a recap of the region’s AHL teams, highlighted by Providence’s chase for the Calder Cup.

Bridgeport Sound Tigers

A promising season ended in disappointment, as Bridgeport fell five points shy of the final playoff spot in the conference. First-year head coach Scott Pellerin’s club played .500 hockey, one year after winning the Northeast Division. Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson were expected to anchor the club, but the two netminders saw their numbers regress in 2012-13.

Prospects Brock Nelson and Nino Niederreiter paced the offense, combining for 102 points. Matt Donovan, 23, led the d-men with 48 points and was plus-14 on the year. Bridgeport saw a few key players graduate to the big club during the year, including hard-nosed forward Casey Cizikas, but on paper, this group appeared to have what it took to be one of the top eight teams in the East.

Connecticut Whale

After two straight playoff appearances following their rebranding, the Connecticut Whale missed the postseason for just the second time since 1997. The Whale all but imploded during the AHL regular season’s final weeks, going 0-5-1 over their last six games. During that time, they were outscored 20-10, capping off their schedule with a 5-1 loss in Portland to the Pirates.  At year’s end, it was announced that the team would revert to being known as the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Kris Newbury led the offense, finishing 10th in the AHL with 62 points. But Ken Gernander’s squad had a number of disappointments up front, including rookie Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) and in-season acquisitions Benn Ferriero (Essex, Mass.) and Nick Palmieri. On the bright side, Cam Talbot had a career-best .918 save percentage, and first-year pros Christian Thomas and J.T. Miller earned time with the big club.

Manchester Monarchs

After storming out of the gate, the Monarchs managed to overcome a midseason slump and finish as the eighth and final playoff team in the conference. Leading scorer Linden Vey finished tied for fifth among the league’s top point-getters and was one of three 20-goal scorers on the team, joining Tyler Toffoli — who’s now up L.A. for the NHL playoffs — and Brandon Kozun.

Martin Jones made a career-high 56 appearances and set a personal record with five shutouts. He, too, hit a bumpy stretch midway through the year but finished the season with six straight wins. But Jones found himself on the losing end three times in four playoff games, as the Monarchs were knocked out in the first round of the postseason by Springfield.

Portland Pirates

The Pirates benefitted from the NHL lockout immensely, welcoming a huge influx of talent. But they suffered greatly when their parent club plucked many of their key cogs. Portland lost a number of key contributors, including defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Michael Stone, as well as forward Rob Klinkhammer, for most if not all of the second half of the year. David Rundbland and Alex Bolduc, who were both All-Stars this past season, also spent a good amount of time up with Phoenix.

The Pirates got unspectacular goaltending, thanks in part to those big losses, from Chad Johnson and Mark Visentin. Portland managed to squeak into the playoffs, but they were swept out in three games by the powerhouse Syracuse Crunch. The highlight of the year was the play of rookie Chris Brown, who led the team with 29 goals.

Providence Bruins

After an unspectacular start that made it appear as if Providence would be on the outside of the playoff picture again, the team rallied behind first-year goalie Niklas Svedberg and rode him all the way to the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the best team in the AHL. In his first year of North American hockey, the Swedish goalie went 37-8-2 with a 2.17 goals-against average in 2012-13, winning the “Baz” Bastien Award as the league’s best netminder.

Ryan Spooner led the charge up front, as the rookie had a team-high 57 points in 59 games. But it was balanced scoring that truly carried the P-Bruins, as 12 players scored 10-plus goals. The development of young defenders Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski also played big dividends and led to the duo being promoted to the big club during the NHL playoffs.

Springfield Falcons

With 45 wins, the Falcons ran away with the Northeast Division, topping the next-best team by 20 points, and  made the playoffs for first time since 2003. Longtime NHL journeyman Curtis McElhinney was outstanding. The veteran goaltender led the AHL with nine shutouts, winning 29 games and sporting a 2.32 goals-against average along the way.

The Falcons overcame key losses at the end of the lockout thanks to the stellar play up front from forwards Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Nick Drazenovic. Nick Holden, who’s now in his third year in the organization, led d-men with 39 points. Springfield knocked off Manchester in four games in the first round but was abruptly swept out of the postseason by the Crunch in the second round.

Worcester Sharks

For the third straight spring, there was no playoff hockey in the city of Worcester. The Sharks finished with the third-worst record in the conference, missing the postseason by eight points. An already-underwhelming offense on paper lost key contributors once the NHL reopened its doors. Perhaps none hurt more than point-per-game forward Tim Kennedy and former first-round pick James Sheppard.

But the losses on the back end were even bigger, as Matt Irwin earned a role on San Jose’s top pairing alongside Dan Boyle, while Matt Tennyson also saw a good chunk of ice time with the big club. Harry Sateri and Alex Stalock split time in net, but neither was ever spectacular enough — shy of a nice run by Stalock in the early going — to truly warrant the No. 1 spot.

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.