Sunday, April 17, 2011

Daniel’s Den: Might the P-Bruins enlist Army?

So, for the second straight year, the two biggest hockey brand names in the Divine City –Friar Puck and the Providence Bruins- have gone without any postseason play. And as is the custom when the vinegar that comes with patchiness refuses to dissolve, personnel changes behind the bench are officially in order.

As was reported Saturday, third-year P-Bruins’ skipper Rob Murray will not be invited for a new contract, despite a stimulating, 12-6-1 tear to salvage the team’s dignity over March and April.

Murray’s tenure with the P-Bruins was half-and-half, seeing how he built upon his former higher-up Scott Gordon’s consistency with a trek to the 2009 Eastern Conference finals. The memory of that run left town with Tuukka Rask and Murray’s pupils endured a year-plus of privation before the aforementioned comeback to curtain this season’s playoff near-miss.

At least by comparison to PC’s release of sixth-year foreman Tim Army, in wake of the program’s first three Hockey East playoff no-gos all in a row, Murray’s dismissal is the foundation for a healthy debate. But what’s done is done, and perhaps these coincidental vacancies have opened the door for an enticing chapter in Rhode Island hockey.

As they continuously tapped their toes and gripped their watches with their fingers and eyes these last two-plus years, many Friartownies were apt to label Army the anti-Rick Pitino. I.e., anything but puck professor material, but a respectable coaching candidate on the professional front.

Have the cosmos collaborated on a second try to transplant the label of Tim Army Corps from the Skating Friars to the Baby Bruins? Will Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli give a devout Ocean State puckster a second crack at coaching around his quarters?

No guarantees, far from it. But no reason to haul that puck in before it even kisses the ice. And make no mistake, it ought to be a fun notion for local rooters to consider.

If it were to happen, it would uphold the sentimental value that comes with the Armys status as Rhode Island hockey’s royal family. Tim’s father, Tom, was once a long-time official scorer at the Dunkin Donuts Center (nee Providence Civic Center) and both are still outspoken backers of the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society.

And hey, Army could hardly be a more fetid bust with the P-Bruins than he was at PC, and there is enough historical data to verify his AHL credentials.

Recall that in 2005, Army’s alma mater lured him away from the Portland Pirates, whom he had coached to three straight supra-.500 records after nine seasons as Ron Wilson’s NHL sidekick in Anaheim and Washington.

Granted, the Pirates circa 2002-05 were less than extravagant, and they did whiff on a postseason spot in Army’s third season. But they were better than egregious.

It would like take some proficient pitching from his peers to elevate Army’s candidacy to surefire status, assuming he even plugs himself in to begin with. But if he did, the hometown factor couldn’t hurt. It did nothing to fuel the Friars, but to apply the Newtonian formula with the best of anyone’s prior knowledge, there would surely be more mass for Army to accelerate at the Dunk than at Schneider Arena.

And if you were in his skates, wouldn’t you be tempted by a clean sheet like that?

Last Wednesday, AHL president Dave Andrews announced next year’s schedule reduction plan, which will trim the time-honored 80-game regular season slate to 76 and also regress to the best-of-five first round playoff format the league had ditched in 2003.

In a letter to all fans, the accomplished chieftain, about to complete his 17th year on the job, cited his hopes to “to provide a safer environment for our players through increased rest and recovery time, and also provide our fans with an even higher caliber of play as the result of reduced player fatigue.”

The need to address those exact two issues has been patent for at least the past two seasons, wherein the P-Bruins played at home strictly on Fridays and Sundays and had back-to-back-to-back extramural engagements on all but six weekends in 2010-11.

It’s admittedly tough to toy with tradition, not to mention force even the most miniscule business concessions, as Andrews acknowledged in his letter. But if you can recall a time when teams like the P-Bruins had their share of weeknight contests and often took a breather on Saturday or Sunday, you’ll also recall that the AHL was all but confined to New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Maritimes.

Times have changed, and you have to think of others, particularly the circuit’s first Pacific Time Zone representative from Abbotsford. The producers need a convenient and comfortable slate, and so do the consumers, who are imbued with schoolchildren and parents. No approach is going to be perfect, but this one ought to be a few ice chips better than the status quo.

For whatever historical references are worth, this might be the best source of inspiration for Bruins Buffs as they (try to) look forward to Monday night’s Game 3 in Montreal:

The 1999 Colorado Avalanche opened their Western Conference semifinal series with a pair of home losses to the two-time defending champion Red Wings, spilling a 3-2 overtime decision in Game One and then conceding Game Two, 4-0. This meant lugging a virtual must-win scenario back to Joe Louis Arena, which not unlike the Bell Centre is one of the league’s more perennially daunting mansions to visit in the postseason.

Yet the second-seeded Avs perked up and pulled even, taking 5-3 and 6-2 scores from their hosts. (Did we mention the Red Wings were coming off back-to-back Stanley Cups that year?) Along with the momentum, Colorado proceeded to usurp the series lead with a Game Five home triumph, and then dealt the knockout in Detroit, 5-2, for a 4-2 series win.

How’s that for chewing on instead of your toenails?