Providence Bruins notebook: AHL team kicks off season in temporary Marlborough home

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By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Providence forward Cameron Hughes lines up for a face off against Bridgeport’s Tanner Fritz during a game Feb. 5. (Photo/Providence Bruins)

Marlborough – The Providence Bruins hockey team took the ice at Marlborough’s New England Sports Center (NESC), Feb. 5, kicking off a season like no other amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The highest-level minor-league team in the Boston Bruins organization, Providence is playing locally this year as their home arena in Rhode Island is currently occupied for coronavirus testing.

Photos show NESC’s new look as Bruins start season

Though games are taking place in Marlborough, the Providence Bruins have effectively brought the atmosphere of their normal home ice with them.

The Rink 1 stadium of the NESC, for one, does not usually have advertisements printed on its boards.

This year, though, roughly 40 multicolored panels skirt the ice.

“That was pretty cool,” Hudson High School Hockey Coach Mike Nanartowich said of the entire arena facelift in a recent interview.

Nanartowich has, indeed, seen these changes firsthand, getting to peak into Rink 1 before and after his own team’s practices.

Beyond advertisements, he says, Providence has brought with it past division and league championship banners. Crews have pulled black fabric covers over bleacher seating to hide empty spaces. And NESC staff even melted down the normally perennially frozen ice itself to repaint lines and team logos for the Bruins.

All this is as much for players themselves as it is for the live streaming cameras which offer fans their lone look at Providence Bruins action, this winter.

While the general public can’t visit games in-person due to the pandemic they can buy subscriptions to AHL.TV, which broadcasts league games in real time.

Bruins special teams propel season opener victory

Two power play goals and a shorthanded score helped the Bruins shut out the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in their season opener, Feb. 5.

The first regular season action Providence saw in their new Marlborough home, an eventual 4-1 win had Head Coach Jay Leach celebrating.

“We are very excited to have gotten a game in,” he said. “We were very excited about that and we’re obviously excited for the win.”

‘We got cute’: Bruins drop matchup with Hartford

As that first game went well, game two of this abbreviated 2021 season was a one of unmatched physicality for the Providence Bruins, Leach said in a postgame press conference.

Dropping a 4-0 decision to their Connecticut rivals, the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Bruins are now targeting room for improvement as they head out on a three-game road trip that will have them out of town through Feb. 25.

“We got cute,” Leach said. “We didn’t like some of the physicality that was coming our way and we thought we could make some of the high-end plays.”

Leach says his generally young team has speed. His roster is full of high skill players. But it lacks big bodies capable of outmuscling physical teams like the Wolf Pack.

“It will be a good lesson for us,” he said. “…We’re going to have to find a way to play in the tougher areas of the ice.”

Our Providence Bruins notebook is an ongoing roundup of activity for the Providence Bruins hockey team as they play their 2021 season in Marlborough due to COVID-19. Check back weekly for updates.