Inside the important, peculiar role of veteran P-Bruins leader

Scott McLaughlin
May 20, 2020 - 12:51 pm
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It’s not exactly the role young hockey players dream about -- that of the 31-year-old captain in the American Hockey League.

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Every player wants to be an NHL regular by that point in their career. They might view it as a disappointment or even a failure if they’re not. Maybe they’d even retire from the game and move on to the next chapter of their life by then.

There’s little glamor in it. Fans don’t get excited to see the AHL veteran who’s had a few shots in the NHL but never quite stuck. They get excited to see the 20-year-old prospects for whom the sky is the limit.

Nonetheless, it is an important role, and one that not every player is cut out for. It requires a lot of selflessness, a willingness to help young players who may soon pass you in the NHL call-up pecking order.

The Providence Bruins, and therefore the Boston Bruins by extension, have been fortunate enough to find several players who fit the bill over the years, including their current captain, Paul Carey.

While Carey’s contributions to the organization -- along with those of fellow P-Bruins veterans like Brendan Gaunce, Brendan Woods, Steven Kampfer and Alex Petrovic -- may be easy for the average Bruins fan to overlook, they certainly don’t go unnoticed by his Providence coaches and teammates.

“What they did, and it’s really tricky to do at our level, is combine the fact that they still want to get better, they still want to play in the NHL, and we ask them to never lose that, but at the same time we’re also asking them to help out these other guys that eventually might take their job,” said P-Bruins coach Jay Leach. “So it’s a really tricky situation. I think the one thing that PC does so well is he focuses more on the team and the team success more than anything.

“…I think that attitude just kind of grew throughout the room and we were able to create an environment here in Providence that’s healthy,” Leach added. “It’s a healthy competition between PC and whoever it might be, and I think they embrace the competition and at the same time they also want to make sure everyone’s doing well and the team is succeeding. He’s instrumental in that, along with some of those other guys as well.”

Jack Studnicka, the Bruins’ No. 1 prospect, played on a line with Carey for a significant chunk of this season and said the team’s veteran leadership in general helped make his first season as a pro much easier and more enjoyable.

“All the older guys just do such a good job at connecting the room,” Studnicka said. “There’s not really older and younger guys; it’s just more a team atmosphere. Everyone loved coming to the rink and loved playing together.”

Studnicka said those veterans also helped him learn what it takes to become a pro.

“Definitely off the ice, learned how to watch the more veteran players, how they take care of their body, how they eat, how they stretch, prepare, cool down, stuff like that that doesn't always happy in junior hockey,” Studnicka said. “…I think down in Providence I couldn't have had a better cast for seeing that done right with the leadership that they had.”

Carey admitted that being the P-Bruins’ captain wasn’t easy at first. After all, this is a player who played 60 NHL games for the Rangers just two years ago. As Leach pointed out, he still has his own goals of getting back to the NHL.

“That was a bit of a challenge this year, taking on a new leadership role and really starting to take these young guys under my wing,” Carey said. “It was an adjustment I had to make, but these young guys make it so easy. They show up to the rink every day with a ton of passion, and they’re eager to learn everything. … They really seem to get most of it, but I just try to help them along and keep an open mind to whatever questions they have and try to teach them through my experiences I’ve had along the way.”

The Weymouth native also knew the importance of his new role because he had seen one of his good friends embrace it before him. Carey and defenseman Tommy Cross played together for four years at Boston College from 2008-2012, and Cross went on to play six seasons for the P-Bruins and was their captain from 2015-2018.

“It was certainly a huge honor for me to wear the ‘C’ this season,” Carey said. “I’ve known a lot of the captains that have played here before. One of them, Tommy Cross, is a very close friend and old teammate of mine, so I knew that I had very big shoes to fill. I was super excited for the opportunity when Jay Leach told me I’d be wearing the ‘C.’ There’s a lot of history that goes into it. It’s special to be able to represent our team and our guys and try to create a culture moving forward that’s conducive to winning and also family-like.”

Carey, who has played a total of 100 NHL games across seven seasons, still hopes there is more NHL playing time in his future. But he’s also reached a point where he says he can now take some pride in seeing his younger teammates get there as well.

“If I can turn on the TV five years from now and see even a handful of these young players on TV, playing in the NHL, then I’ll feel like I did a pretty good job and I can hang my hat on that a little bit.”

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