Well, somebody needed to fill the gap while Bourque, the P-Bruins leader with 20 helpers and 116 shots this season, was beginning training camp with the parent club in Boston. A little more from other remainders and a few new faces was likewise needed in the absence of prolific point-getters Ryan Spooner, Jamie Tardif and leaned-on defensemen Matt Bartkowski and David Warsofsky.
Camper indubitably did his part in helping Providence win two of its last three outings. He started by ending a four-game production drought, which tied a November 2011 hex for the longest in his professional career, with a hat trick on Friday.
It was a natural playmaker hat trick that helped swell a 1-0 edge into a 4-0 lead over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Bruins ultimately ran up a 5-0 lead before the second intermission and subsisted through Bridgeport’s valiant rally to preserve a 5-4 win at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Two days later, at the same site, Camper garnered the secondary assist on newcomer Graham Mink’s power-play strike at 3:49 of the third period. Putting in his second appearance in P-Bruins attire and barely 24 hours removed from his official addition to the roster, the veteran Mink permanently busted a 1-1 tie and settled a 2-1 triumph over the Manchester Monarchs.
With the crucial helper, Camper inflated his season output to 3-15-18 in 27 games played after he had been stuck on a 3-11-14 line for four straight games.
The setup on Mink’s clincher was the third time Camper collaborated with Max Sauve, who joined him in collecting four points on the weekend.
Sauve had entered the weekend on a five-game scoreless skid but rapidly reversed that trend with at least one assist in each of the last three contests. Besides the Mink goal on Sunday, he had the primary assist on Torey Krug’s 1-1 equalizer in Springfield on Saturday and on two unanswered strikes via Craig Cunningham.
Cunningham, the P-Bruins' reigning top goal-getter with 20 last season, has been experiencing a sophomore slump through much of the first half of 2012-13.
As the calendar Zamboni ushered in the New Year, Cunningham had merely two strikes in October and two in December with a 17-game drought in between. He entered Friday’s action stuck on four goals in each of his previous six outings.
He emphatically bucked that trend at Bridgeport’s expense, connecting on two of four registered stabs to double a 2-0 lead to 4-0. He later opened the scoring with an unassisted strike in the first minute of action versus Manchester.
The aforementioned Krug gave Cunningham company in the weekend’s multi-goal club, hitting the back of the mesh from the point both Friday and Saturday. The pint-sized rookie defenseman thus elevated his output from 1-5-8 to 3-5-8 in a matter of two games.
Another defenseman, new face Wes O’Neill, supplied the P-Bruins’ only other goal in Saturday’s tough 4-2 loss to the mighty Falcons, currently owners of the third-best winning percentage (.657) in the AHL.
One other silver lining Saturday was Trent Whitfield collaborating with Sauve to set up Krug’s goal, giving the seasoned captain two assists in as many nights and three points in four games. This came after he had been out of commission for all of November and December.
With the multi-point outburst from Camper, Cunningham, Krug, Sauve and Whitfield, the P-Bruins now sit a point behind Worcester for fifth in the conference with two games in hand.
At least one or two of Boston’s training campers―with the lowercase “C”―should be back for the coming weekend. But Camper with the capital “C” and his associates can give the Bruins a helpful boost in organizational confidence by sustaining their spirit and doggedness.
Throughout the second half of the AHL season, the belated NHL season will go into an intensive swing. Recurring weekends like Jan. 11-13 will give an impression that Boston is satisfyingly stocked on reinforcements, if need be.