As many as three men who have had their names inscribed on the Stanley Cup within the last four months will be on the visitors’ bench at the Dunkin Donuts Center this Friday night. Opposing them will be a handful of Black Aces who partook in the victory lap after the Boston Bruins garnered the Cup in June 2011.
Amidst all of that, longtime Providence Bruins staple Andrew Bodnarchuk shall make a prompt return to his old abode in rival Manchester Monarchs garb to commence the 2012-13 AHL season.
“The weirdness of it is going to be over once the puck drops,” Bodnarchuk told the Manchester Union-Leader.
In turn, the weirdness will give way to the renewal of an Atlantic Division feud characterized by two teams with intriguing common threads and common yet conflicting interests.
The Baby Bs and the Monarchs, child club of the reigning champion L.A. Kings, are each trying to emulate their respective parent teams after a succession of early spring cleaning sessions. The Monarchs are coming off back-to-back first-round falters, while Providence is seeking to regroup, retool and rebound from three straight AHL playoff no-shows.
With the NHL lockout dragging on indefinitely, both parties’ cause will be bolstered by offseason imports and the assignment of youngsters who practiced and/or played during the 2011 or 2012 NHL banner run.
Jordan Caron, arguably the top taxi not to see game action in Boston’s victorious odyssey two springs ago, joins three fellow 2011 Black Aces on the P-Bruins’ season-opening scroll. The others are Matt Bartkowski, Colby Cohen and Trent Whitfield.
None other than Bodnarchuk, who joins Andrew Campbell and Slava Voynov as the most seasoned Manchester defenders, also had an up-close look at the Cup that spring. He subsequently returned for a fourth season in the organization, again spent predominantly in Providence, then signed with the Bruins’ successor as champions when free agency hit this past July.
Bodnarchuk’s new allies include the likes of Andrei Loktionov, Jordan Nolan and Voynov. Loktionov played two postseason games for Los Angeles last spring, while Nolan and Voynov suited up for the full 20-game ride.
Voynov, in particular, will be worth watching. The point-based playmaker tallied a prolific 15-36-51 scoring log in his last full AHL campaign and pitched in 20 points in 54 NHL regular-season appearances last year.
This matchup will feature a few other seasoned pros with a winning touch.
In Bodnarchuk’s place, the P-Bruins figure to debut a new veteran blueliner in Garnet Exelby, who won a Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves in 2002. He joins reigning AHL scoring leader Chris Bourque as another AHL ring-bearer raring to don the spoked-P for the first time.
Bodnarchuk and Bourque have clashed with their current employers, and each other, in past Calder Cup action. Bodnarchuk made his professional debut in a second-round tilt versus Manchester in 2007 while Bourque and the Hershey Bears abolished the P-Bruins in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals.
Bourque and the Bears repressed the Monarchs at the same point in the 2010 tournament, and neither Manchester nor Providence has won a postseason series since.