Saturday, September 17, 2011

Providence Bruins All-Time All-Star Team: Goalies and Defensemen

As part of the website’s year-long commemoration of the Providence Bruins’ 20th anniversary season, Daniel’s Den has selected 20 former P-Bruins and assembled an all-time all-star squad.

To qualify, a player must have been on the P-Bruins roster for the full length of one season or otherwise seen action in at least 80 games (a full season’s worth) in a Providence jersey. Accordingly, the likes of Dave Capuano, Todd Elik, Matt Hunwick, Steven Kampfer and Glen Murray―to name only a few memorable players―were not considered.

In addition, players make the final cut based specifically on their contributions to the P-Bruins and not necessarily on the success they went on to in the NHL. Therefore, you won’t see any mention Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Mark Stuart or Brent Thompson.

Even with those criteria, the selection process was still patently painstaking, hence the populous taxi squads listed at the bottom of the column.

But on this opening weekend of training camp, the final cuts are ready for release. And so, here is Part I of the P-Bruins All-Time All-Star roster with top two goaltenders and top six blueliners.

Starting Goalie: John Grahame
During the glory years that saw them make three straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals, the P-Bruins had their answer to Patrick Roy. Like Roy, Grahame occasionally let his passion boil over the top, most notably in an unsavory stick-throwing incident during a March 2001 game against Syracuse.

But the rest of the time, Grahame let his proficiency and determination translate onto the stats sheets and scoresheets. He not only earned credit for 54 of the 1999 championship team’s cumulative 71 victories, but also backstopped eight playoff series wins in a span of three years. No other P-Bruins goalie has even won half as many rounds.

And Grahame’s reliability was there in clutch situations of each kind. During the dominant 1998-99 season, the most tantalizing he did to an opponent was letting Fredericton reduce a 3-0 difference to 3-2 before curtaining the conference finals in Game 6.

On the flipside, in 2001, Grahame backstopped a scrappier squad to six straight wins in elimination games. His last great highlight with the Spoked-Ps was a 1-0 shutout of the Worcester IceCats in Game 6 of the division finals, which stole the momentum and led to Providence upsetting the regular-season champions.

Backup goalie: Tuukka Rask
Like Grahame, Rask had a behavioral episode late in his final year before earning a permanent spot on Boston. After some disputed goals gave Albany a shootout win at his expense, he smashed his stick, stormed down the tunnel, then re-emerged to heave a milk crate onto the ice.

But there are more memorable common threads as well. Rask was the consensus starter for the 2007-08 season, when the P-Bruins won their second regular-season title and came within three points of tying the AHL record set by their ancestors from 1999.

In addition, Rask has fared better in the postseason than any Providence goalie not named Grahame. Between his two AHL campaigns, he won three playoff rounds and participated in five.

Starting defenseman: Brandon Smith
There’s a reason why Smith was named the team’s top blueliner in consecutive years. It should not be considered a 100 percent coincidence that each of his three years in Providence saw the P-Bruins go to the conference finals of the AHL playoffs. In those three years, he saw action in all 50 of the team’s playoff games, scoring 25 assists.

In both the regular season and postseason, Smith averaged more than half a point per game with the P-Bruins. And his 104 regular-season assists surpassed those of all Spoked-P forwards until Andy Hilbert claimed the crown as the P-Bruins all-time prolific playmaker.

Starting defenseman: Jeff Serowik
The Providence College alum put the “wonder” in “one-year wonder” during the 1994-95 campaign, his only year in the Bruins’ organization. Playing all but two regular-season games, he pitched in 28 goals (then a tie for an AHL record) and 62 points while also serving 102 minutes worth of penalty time.

By season’s end, he was the first P-Bruins player to lay hands on an AHL trophy, accepting the Eddie Shore Award as the circuit’s top blueliner.

Second-unit defenseman: Kevin Dallman
Like Smith, Dallman was a two-time recipient of the team’s best blueliner prize in 2003-04 and 2004-05. And like Smith, Dallman showed some valuable offensive flair during a lengthy postseason run in the latter year.

Playing in all 17 games as the Cinderella P-Bruins ventured into the Eastern Conference finals, Dallman pitched in four goals and six assists, an output identical to forward Pat Leahy’s.

Prior to his award-winning seasons, Dallman made an impression as a rookie out of the Ontario League in 2002-03, leading the team with a plus-15 rating. Overall, in three full seasons with Providence, he saw action in 208 games, charging up 16 goals and 68 assists and elevating his numbers in each successive year.

Second-unit defenseman: Johnny Boychuk
In one full year with Providence in 2008-09, Boychuk placed second on the team in both points (65) and plus/minus (+19). His two-way proficiency made him the team’s first Eddie Shore Award winner since Serowik.

And just like Serowik, Boychuk could only hang around the Divine City for one year. His imposing presence on the home front and tireless puckslinging from his point in the attacking zone earned him a one-way ticket to Boston for the 2009-10 season.

He would return for a two-game conditioning stint that December, scoring a power-play goal on 14 shots in those two outings, but that only reiterated that he was ready to play at another level.

Third-unit defenseman: Adam McQuaid
The rugged stay-at-home defender endeared himself to the Dunk masses as the team’s penalty-minute leader in 2008-09. The year prior, he was one of Tuukka Rask’s most reliable praetorian guards in garnering the P-Bruins’ second AHL regular-season championship.

McQuaid’s presumptive third full year ultimately turned into a half-year. Five days after his 22nd fight in 175 games with Providence, he made his NHL debut and only played three more AHL games before becoming a permanent Boston constituent.

Yet in only 32 outings, he garnered enough penalty time to place fourth on the P-Bruins 2009-10 leaderboard and also posted a plus-10 rating, second only to Brad Marchand.

Third-unit defenseman: Jonathan Sigalet
In two out of three seasons spent largely in Providence, Sigalet placed second or in a tie for first among Bruins blueliners in the plus/minus column. And over a cumulative 1999 regular-season games, he pitched in 21 goals and 60 assists.

If not for season-ending surgery in 2006-07, Sigalet doubtlessly would have cracked double-digits in the goal column for the first (and so far only) time in his professional career. Additionally, he might have made a difference in the P-Bruins playoff run, which ended in a six-game, second-round defeat at the hands of the Manchester Monarchs.

Taxi squad: Bill Armstrong, Nick Boynton, Jeff Penner, Tim Thomas