Friday, October 7, 2011

Pre-game Puckbag: P-Bruins vs. St. John’s IceCaps

Opening draw
The P-Bruins will hospitably inaugurate the tenure of the St. John’s IceCaps in the 2011-12 season opener at the Dunkin Donuts Center Friday night. In addition, they shall be the first team to engage the AHL affiliate of the second coming of the Winnipeg Jets.

The previous version of the Jets, who transferred to Phoenix in 1996, overlapped with the P-Bruins for four seasons. With past Winnipeg farm clubs, the Baby Bs went 3-0-1 against the Moncton Hawks and 11-11-0 against the Springfield Falcons in two regular seasons apiece.

The last time Providence faced a Winnipeg partner was in the opening round of the 1996 Calder Cup playoffs. That best-of-5 set ended in Game 4 on April 27, 1996, when the Bruins spilled a 3-0 lead and ultimately conceded the game, 4-3, in overtime.

Naturally, the new Jets are the former Atlanta Thrashers, whose development club was the Chicago Wolves, who shuffled affiliations to Vancouver this past summer. During the 10-year Atlanta/Chicago alliance, the P-Bruins faced the Wolves on six occasions, going 2-4-0.

The IceCaps splash a six-year drought without minor-pro hockey in their city and a three-year period with no high-profile hockey altogether. The late St. John’s Maple Leafs coexisted with the P-Bruins for 13 seasons, though they did not meet in either of the Leafs’ final two years.

The last AHL clash between Providence and St. John’s was a 7-4 Bruins triumph at Mile One Centre on March 1, 2003. The Baby Leafs last visited The Dunk on Jan. 17, 2003, when they lost, 4-1.

Notable names
Veteran goaltender David Aebischer just signed an AHL contract with the Jets on Wednesday, making him an instantaneous candidate to scrape the blue paint for the IceCaps tonight. Aebischer has previously played for three NHL teams as well as the Hershey Bears and briefly the San Antonio Rampage.

The 33-year-old Aebischer more recently spent three years in his native Switzerland with HC Lugano, though he did not play last season and thus did not cross paths with new P-Bruin Josh Hennessy. However, in 2009-10, Aebischer was the team’s starter while former Providence and AHL MVP Randy Robitaille topped the Lugano scoring chart with 49 assists and 65 points.

Former P-Bruins blueliner Keith McCambridge will make his AHL head coaching debut behind the St. John’s bench. McCambridge, who saw action in 169 games with the Spoked-Ps between 1999 and 2002, was most recently an assistant for the Manitoba Moose over the past two seasons.

The IceCaps come bearing another former P-Bruin in Marco Rosa. The 2004 Merrimack College graduate played 34 regular-season and nine postseason games in 2006-07 and was later a teammate of Anton Khudobin’s with Houston.

Khudobin, the presumptive starter for Providence, ought to be sufficiently familiar with the better part of the IceCaps roster as its core comes from last year’s Wolves. But his history with that group is not so favorable.

Prior to his trade from Houston last March, Khudobin went 0-4-1 against Chicago in a span of nearly two full seasons, conceding 13 goals on 101 shots. Of the currently rostered IceCaps, Spencer Machachuk is liable for two of those goals while Riley Holzapfel inserted one.

Machachuk is a former major-junior teammate of Providence rookie forward Craig Cunningham. The two played together for the Vancouver Giants in 2006-07 and 2007-08, winning the 2007 Memorial Cup with the likes of tournament MVP Milan Lucic.

Over their first 19 seasons, the P-Bruins have rolled up an 11-8-0 record in season openers and a 12-6-1 transcript in home openers.