Buffalo, NY- The crowd was a bit smaller for Sunday night’s Prospects Challenge game between Boston and New Jersey at the HarborCenter in Buffalo, but the crowd was rewarded with an exciting game that ended in a Bruins overtime win. The Bruins fell behind early but never gave in, and contributions from several players, from the most experienced to the least, were key in the Bruins’ win.
It was a goal manufactured by Boston’s three 2015 first-round picks — Jakub Zboril, assisted by Zach Senyshyn and Jake DeBrusk, that tied the game just over halfway through the third period, and a goal by Frank Vatrano, who was signed to an entry-level deal in March after his redshirt sophomore season with the University of Massachusetts, that won the game just 12 seconds into overtime.
Vatrano enjoyed being the hero, but his desire is to be a leader for the younger players on the team as well. The 21-year-old forward was happy with the way his team came together as the game went along.
“It’s obviously a great feeling,” Vatrano said. “I’m even more happy that we got the win. Took us a little while to get used to one another out there on the ice, but I feel like once the game got going, everyone was moving their feet really fast there and making plays, so I think it was a really good effort there tonight.”
Bruce Cassidy, Providence Bruins coach and head of the coaching staff this weekend, also talked about the way the team came together more as the game went on. “I think it was a little scruffy early on,” Cassidy said. “Don’t forget, we got a very young group there, so I think there was some nerves probably, so the execution wasn’t great. The guys understand how hard you have to be on the puck when you play against older guys. I thought our third was [better]: they had a lot of energy, and our changes were better, so we had a lot of momentum.”
The Bruins prospects played a physical game, and Cassidy said that’s all about proving themselves.
“I expect lots of that again tomorrow,” Cassidy said. “They want to prove that they can play hard.”
For Zboril, the 18-year-old Czech Republic native, scoring the game-tying goal was just part of the reason for his smile after the game. As he’s still taking it all in, he was thankful for his own and his team’s success.
“It was the biggest game in my hockey life, so I’m so happy that we got the win in overtime, so I’m so happy that I can be here,” Zboril said. “I was a little bit nervous because it was my first game, and I want to say a really big thank you to my teammates because they helped me a lot, and I enjoyed the game.”
Senyshyn spoke earlier in the day of the closeness that has developed between him and his fellow first-rounders since being drafted in June. Playing in his first game with the Bruins was exciting enough, but manufacturing a goal with the two teammates he’s become so close with made it even better.
It was a pass from DeBrusk to Senyshyn, who set up Zboril, that resulted in the game-tying goal.
“It was a pretty cool experience and a little bit of a freak accident,” Senyshyn said. “But Zboril made a really nice play to get it on net there, and Jake made a really great pass, and it was cool that we were able to start [our careers] together and get that goal together as well.”
Cassidy liked what he saw from all three first-rounders.
“Zboril, he’s an active guy; he got in and out of there,” Cassidy said. “We needed it. Our power play was a little bit scruffy, so they had some looks. And Zach had a great chance the second period, hit the post; I think DeBrusk was in at least two or three times. He’s got a good nose for the net. He was good in the third period too and drew a penalty late, and I know he was upset he didn’t finish the play on the breakaway, but you know, he finds his way in there, so good for them.”
Noel Acciari also had a goal for Boston, and Vatrano’s game winner was his second goal of the game. For New Jersey, Joseph Blandisi scored twice and Matt Lorito had one goal.
Monday night, Boston will face Buffalo at 7:00 pm at First Niagara Center for the final game of the Prospects Challenge.