The Bruins let the cat out of the bag before the official announcement was made.
After coach Jim Montgomery called the team to the middle of the ice, whatever he said –muffled by distance – was met with stick taps all around. Then rookie Matt Poitras was given three shootout attempts on goalie Jeremy Swayman. The pride of Alaska and the University of Maine stopped all three shots from the Canadian kid, immediately eliciting a brief “USA! USA!” chant undoubtedly from some Americans.
That served as the 19-year-old Poitras’ send-off to Team Canada and the World Junior Championship tournament to be held this year in Sweden, kicking off on December 26.
The B’s had been wrestling with the decision of whether to send Poitras — whose skill, hockey sense and puck battle level surprisingly earned him a roster spot with the B’s — to the elite junior tourney that has become such a big deal, especially in Canada.
With many factors considered, the team in the end chose to let him go and play a couple of weeks with the elites of age peer group.
“This is quite an accomplishment for all hockey players, a chance to represent their country at one of the biggest stages,” said GM Don Sweeney, who is expecting to join a lot of the organization’s scouts for the tourney. “It’s unique in the fact that he’s playing in the NHL. That’s the things that goes through anybody’s mind. What’s the trade-off? But there’s really no downside for him to go and represent and be a leader of that team and hopefully accomplish the ultimate goal.”
Developments with the Bruins’ roster helped make the decision a little easier. Pavel Zacha, who missed the last three games with an upper body injury, practiced on Monday and could return for Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Wild at the Garden. Morgan Geekie has also shined as a centerman the last few games since returning from an upper body injury that kept him out of the lineup for three weeks.
“Getting somewhat healthy leading up to this was certainly part of the process and why we took this down to the wire to make our decision,” said Sweeney. “Hopefully we get Pav back this week and, I agree, Geeks has played really well since he’s come back from his injury and (we have) that depth in the middle of the ice, (Trent Frederic) has gone in there. So we feel a little more comfortable with where we are right now than where we had been a couple of weeks ago. But Matty will be missed, because he’s done a good job.”
On top of that, Poitras had hit a little bit of a wall, not unexpectedly. The B’s had recently instituted a load management plan, giving him certain nights off. He’s also seen more bench time when the B’s have been in lead-preservation mode.
Though he’ll be traveling to Europe and playing some highly pressurized games, Sweeney sees a benefit in him getting off the NHL tread mill for a couple of weeks.
“We had a plan in place as you’re aware in more recent weeks that we needed to back off a little bit of what his load was. We didn’t map out a master one from Day One because he was going through the process. He was going to rookie camp, he went through training camp, playing a lot of games and just kept meeting benchmarks for himself. Then jumping in and playing the lion’s share of all the games close to the 30-game mark,” said Sweeney. “And there’s a lot of pressure associated with that. I think it gives him a chance mentally and physically to have a little bit of reset and play against your peer group. Again, it’s high expectations and high leverage situations that he’s now been thrust into at the highest level you could possibly play at. He should handle that well. He should take those things from our locker room and impart them on his new teammates and lead from the front. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Sweeney was careful to note that Poitras will have a spot on the B’s when the tournament is done, where exactly that is will be determined in due time. At the start of the season, the team wanted to play him at the center spot because that was where he was most comfortable. But now that Poitras has some acclimation under his belt, Sweeney didn’t rule out playing him at wing.
“It’s an option for us,” said Sweeney.
Meanwhile, Poitras had worked out all summer with an eye on having a strong camp, a good start to his season in Guelph and hoping to earn a spot on the Canadian WJC team. The fact that he made the Bruins created a happy complication to his thought process. But he was, as usual, all smiles before heading abroad. It’s a box that many elite players cherish checking.
“Every year around Christmas time, it’s the best time of the year because you get to Boxing Day and you get to turn on the World Juniors. I’ve been watching Canada play every single year for I don’t know how long. It’s a good opportunity. I’m very excited,” said Poitras. “Obviously, you never want to leave the NHL, but I’m excited to get over there and play for my country. You can never complain about that. It’s a dream come true.”
And as for the American goalie Swayman stoning him in practice?
“The ice was terrible today,”he said with a laugh….
Providence Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel raised some eyebrows on Sunday with some pointed criticism of skilled prospect Fabian Lysell’s buy-in of playing a team game after a 4-1 loss. Sweeney, who was in attendance for the game, softened the edges of Mougenel’s words a bit.
“I certainly heard Moug’s frustration after the game so we sat down for about 20 minutes,” said Sweeney. “The team played very well in the first period. Their pace was up, their execution was good. Fabian was a big part of that. He scored a nice goal on the power play on a downhill shot. He managed the puck very well. And as the team started to ebb away…give credit to Syracuse because they got to their game and our team departed from that. That’s where a young player like Fabian, that’s what (Mougenel) was specifically referencing – it’s about managing the game and having an understanding of it. It’s really no different than anyone else. But Brad (Marchand) and (David Pastrnak) go though the same thing. Offensively inclined players are going to do that. They want to do more. And sometimes it’s just about maintaining within the team structure and executing That’s something that Fabian and all young players are going to continue to go through. Older players are going to go through that. They want to do more. It’s a good quality to have. But you’ve got to do it within the framework of the team. It’s not something that he hasn’t heard directly from Moug and he was just trying to reaffirm that.”
Lysell is third in scoring in Providence with 7-10-17 totals in 23 games. He trails Georgii Merkulov (10-13-23 in 27) and John Farinacci (6-13-19 in 27)…
Charlie McAvoy (upper body) returned to practice along with Zacha and has a chance to play on Tuesday.
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