P-Bruins drop opener to Manchester

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Professional hockey is alive.

At least it is at the American Hockey League level, where the passion for the game was on display Friday night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. The Providence Bruins hosted the Manchester Monarchs in the season opener, but the visiting team skated away with a 3-1 win.

It just so happens that both AHL affiliates are part of the past two Stanley Cup-winning teams, the Kings and the Bruins. With the current NHL lockout in progress and no hope of it ending any time soon, the AHL is loaded with young talent and future NHLers.

There's always strong attendance for P-Bruins games, but due to the lockout, it will be even better in 2012-13. The crowd outside the Dunk on Friday night was energized, and the fans continued to be excited because they were able to see a pro hockey game.

Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien attended the game, which will be the norm until the NHL lockout ends and the Bruins are allowed to get back to work. For now, the team's coaching staff and management will heavily scout the players in Providence.

"It was good," Chiarelli said of watching a pro hockey game. "It was good to see kind of the fresh youngsters. I thought we had a really good start and we kind of got casual at the end. As far as watching it, it was great to see. It was good and as good as you can get right now."

P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy knows this will be an important season for his players, especially the prospects. Despite the team's loss in the first game of the season, the support from the fans was welcomed.

"The crowd always supports us," Cassidy said. "It's a crowd here, and we've got to start giving them something to cheer about. There are high expectations for home openers, and our season expectations are high. We didn't meet them tonight, and we'll learn from it."

"Ever since I've been here, we've had great crowds even when the NHL was going," P-Bruins captain Trent Whitfield said. "We've got a good hockey crowd here, and they understand the game. We've got to play together for 60 minutes. Tonight, I thought we played a strong 40, but 40 doesn't cut it, especially this year with all the talent in this league."

The Monarchs' Jordan Nolan was a member of the Cup-winning Kings this past spring. He should be defending that title, but that's not the case. He spent the summer celebrating the Cup win, but the 23-year-old forward also was hoping there would not be a work stoppage so the Kings could properly defend their title.

"Obviously it's disappointing," Nolan said. "You win a Stanley Cup, and the goal is to be in the NHL the following season and defend your title. I played here [in the AHL] for a year and a half, and I'm comfortable here. I know the team and I know the boys, so I'm excited to be here. There are a lot of guys sitting at home with no jobs, nowhere to go, and they're sitting and waiting. I'm fortunate to come here and work on my game. I'm still young. I'm trying to get better and develop. I feel pretty fortunate I get to come down here and play.

"It's definitely been tough. You spend your day with the Cup, and you want to be able to do that again and definitely defend your title. You've worked hard all summer, and all the boys were excited to come back and we were looking forward to the season. Then this happens, and it's definitely disappointing, and hopefully they can figure it out pretty soon and we can be back out there playing in the NHL."

With the P-Bruins holding a 1-0 lead late in the second period, the fans enjoyed the first fight of the season when Providence's Bobby Robbins dropped the gloves with Nolan at 14:02. The bout brought the crowd to its feet, and Robbins waved his hands toward the crowd as he skated to the penalty box.

The Dunkin' Donuts Center was abuzz because pro hockey is back. Until the lockout ends, this is going to be the best hockey fans will see in North America.

"This might be the only hockey we get so we might as well enjoy it," said Donnie from Taunton, Mass., who did not want to be identified by his last name. "I think more fans are going to lean towards this because people want to see hockey. I think the [NHL] should be playing while they figure all this out. Everyone wants to see hockey. I think they should be playing until they figure everything out."

Until then, fans can feast their eyes on the future and enjoy good hockey at the AHL level.