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Junior Bruins’ patience is paying off in USPHL

01/10/2014, 12:45pm EST
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

The Boston Junior Bruins dropped two of their first three games in this season’s move to the United States Premier Hockey League Premier Division. Even in that start, however, there were clear signs of the traits that would carry the Bruins to the top of their new league.

“We weren’t giving up many goals,” Bruins coach Peter Masters said. “We had dominated the Portland game. We just couldn’t score.

“The 1-2 start didn’t worry us.”

It shouldn’t have.

The Bruins had been together for just three practices and did not have their line combinations and power play set in the 2-0 loss to the Portland Junior Pirates, but they held a shot advantage and gave up the second goal in the final five minutes. The offense and special teams were bound to improve, and the defense and goaltending had already established themselves.

After dropping another 2-0 game — to the Jersey Hitmen with the second goal coming into an empty net in the closing seconds — Boston has made its way to the top of the USPHL Premier Division standings at 25-3-2-1. The Bruins have just one regulation loss in 30 games since the 1-2 start and have none in the last 12 games.

The offense has made its way to third-most productive in the league while the defense, led by Zach Todd and boosted by the play of standout goalie Sean Lawrence, is the best in the league.

“Our top four guys on defense will all end up being D-I guys,” Masters said.

Todd, who had played in the Bruins feeder programs before playing junior hockey in Canada, has emerged as the leader of that group. The Holden, Mass. resident, who will be 21 later this month, is fourth in scoring among league defensemen with eight goals and 14 assists in 30 games.

“His plus/minus stats are off the charts,” Masters said of Todd’s plus-43, compared to the plus-20 that is second-best on the team.

As those numbers reflect, Todd has been doing much more than producing points.

“Offensively, he’s great on the power play,” Masters said. “If there’s ever been a knock on him, it would have been his play without the puck. He’s always been great with it.

“He’s worked through that issue. Now, his play without the puck is excellent.”

Todd has joined by Connor Doherty and Kevin McKernan, two players on the Junior Bruins when they competed in the Eastern Junior Hockey League last season, and Zach Malatesta, who has moved up from the Bruins Under-16 team from a year ago.

Doherty has already played Division I hockey at UMass-Amherst and is looking to restart his college career. McKernan has committed to Quinnipiac University. Malatesta is a top young prospect after his all-star performance at USA Hockey’s Select 17 Festival.

Masters describes Doherty as an “excellent shut-down defenseman with a big shot from the point.”

McKernan provides steady play.

“He’s not spectacular at anything, but he’s good at everything,” Masters said.

Together Doherty and McKernan have contributed 17 and 15 points, while Andy Michailidis, another holdover from last season's Eastern Junior team, has 14.

Although Masters said he was confident right from the start, the team has exceeded those expectations.

“With Lawrence, who is the strongest goaltender in the league, I figured we’d be somewhere in the top four,” Masters said. “I had a good feeling we’d be competitive.”

Boston is the league’s only team to allow fewer than two goals per game and is nearly a full goal better than all but the third-place Hitmen.

Lawrence, also a Quinnipiac recruit, leads the league’s goalies statistically with wins (21), shutouts (three), goals-against average (1.83) and save percentage (.940).

A slow start is long forgotten.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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