Unlike most other U.S. markets, which are generally synonymous with a single city and state (if that), the Bruins fanbase comprises a unique six-state sphere of influence.
Like any major professional sports franchise in the 617 area code, they are a New England team. That is why it is an unwavering public relations plus point for them to embed their primary minor-league satellite in one of the region’s other five states.
They have done just that for a combined 27 consecutive years with the Maine Mariners and then the Providence Bruins. In that time, but particularly the last 22 years, the rewards have required no studious instincts to realize.
On Wednesday, Boston’s front office reiterated its appreciation for the arrangement by extending its AHL alliance with Providence.
The protracted press release on the team’s website detailed accompanying plans to embolden the operation south of the state border. Don Sweeney, an eight-year veteran of Peter Chiarelli’s administration, will assume the newfangled title of Providence Bruins general manager. Jay Pandolfo will serve as the franchise’s development coach.
These declarations mark an uplifting example of a business group recognizing a good thing in place, yet not letting satisfaction devolve into complacency. The Bruins brass is showing that it knows the extent and strength of its out-of-state outreach and the leading role of Rhode Island’s capital therein.
Per Caryn Switaj of the team’s official blog, club president Cam Neely made an ostensibly obvious, yet obligatory comment when he said, “Having our AHL affiliate so close is a great asset to not only our hockey team, but to our fans, as they can watch our prospects develop.”
The smattering of seven AHL teams in five New England states illustrates no shortage of options to foster that proximity. But the past and present show that the Bruins implicitly sought, and explicitly achieved, an upgrade in interest when they transferred their partner from Portland to Providence in 1992.
This assertion comes with all due respect to those who bleed black and gold in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The fact is that the dynamics and the track record etch rigid underlines below the subtle “Providence works best” statement.
Population-wise, Providence trails only Boston and Worcester among New England cities, making it the region’s largest non-Massachusetts metropolis.
Geography-wise, Rhode Island is the only state that borders nothing except fellow New England states and the Atlantic Ocean. Its distance from the NFL Patriots’ Foxborough home is neck-and-neck with Boston itself, and it has housed the Red Sox’ Triple-A affiliate for 40-plus years.
Historically speaking, Providence rivals the AHL tradition of nearby Springfield, Mass., despite a 15-year gap that resulted from the Rhode Island Reds’ 1977 departure. That setback has long since proven to lend credence to the adage of absence making the heart grow fonder.
In the aforementioned press release, which was reprinted on the P-Bruins website, longtime AHL president David Andrews summed up that notion as follows:
The city and fans of Providence have a history in the AHL that dates back to the league’s formation in 1936. Providence has been a natural partner for the Boston Bruins for the last 22 years, and it is wonderful to see that relationship extended for the foreseeable future.
Attempting to rebut that statement would be as futile as flooding a backyard rink in August.
The P-Bruins now boast the third-oldest living brand name in the league, behind the Rochester Americans (58 years) and Hershey Bears (76). The Boston-Providence partnership is the longest-tenured of its kind (Rochester and Buffalo had a three-year interruption circa 2008-2011).
Earlier this month, when the Providence Journal conducted its “Fall Guide Challenge,” the local hockey team outclassed Providence College Friars basketball as the pollsters’ preferred sports ticket.
The P-Bruins were the league’s attendance leaders in their first four seasons of existence and have finished among the top five for the last five years. They have averaged at least 8,000 nightly spectators seven times, including 2012-13 and 2013-14. They have hosted the AHL All-Star Classic in both 1995 and 2013.
This author was there for the second of those midseason exhibitions, providing firsthand coverage for this site. Sweeney, a former Bruins defenseman whose AHL career consisted of 59 games with the old Mariners, was the honorary captain of the Eastern Conference that weekend.
After the Jan. 28, 2013 game, Sweeney lauded the locals’ energy in an interview with this author. “It just goes to show how passionate the fans in New England are and how supportive they are of the Providence Bruins and the Bruins organization in general,” he said at the time. “It’s a testament to how well this organization here in Providence is run.”
In this decade, Boston’s incumbent officials have sought other means of capitalizing on the Ocean State’s offerings. The Bruins held their 2011 Black and White scrimmage at the Dunkin Donuts Center and later conducted a Boston-Providence alumni game there.
Earlier this summer, the organization confirmed that the P-Bruins’ venue will again host the parent club’s intrasquad game on Sept. 21 of this year.
By holding the first major public event of the season outside of their own locale, the Bruins will promptly whet the appetite for the new season in multiple sectors of their fanbase. The Boston-area nucleus is a given, therefore the October destination of their training-camp cuts is the logical location to visit.
And so the 2014-15 edition of the Bruins bug shall spread from there.
Puckheads from Massachusetts and its sandwiching states will follow the top team by their usual assortment of means. The top team’s closest aspirants will put in multiple appearances at six regional venues and cater to an unadulterated Providence home base 38 times.
In return, building in part on the preseason appetizer, the “Dunk” droves will help groom Boston’s prospects with their passion. They will form the qualitative and quantitative crowd the organization needs to prepare its new blood for the expectant, win-hungry audiences at the TD Garden.
Why would it be any different? Why should it be any different?
Wednesday’s announcement marked the formalities of assent that change need not come within throwing distance of the table. The Bruins are clearly keen on maintaining the perennial PR benefits of Providence, the AHL’s definitive New England city and the premier place for reminders that the region—like the franchise—is more than Massachusetts.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics and historical information for this report were found via the Internet Hockey Database