The Providence Bruins had a good thing going with head coach Jay Leach.
The top dog behind the Providence bench for the last three years, Leach helped guide the P-Bruins to a 121-71-22 record, and ultimately parlayed that success into a gig with the Seattle Kraken as one of Dave Hakstol’s assistants.
Replacing that kind of record was never going to be an easy task for P-Bruins general manager John Ferguson Jr., but given Leach’s success, the Bruins opted to simply promote from within and with a member of Leach’s staff, with Ryan Mougenel elevated to head coach.
It’s a move that won’t come with much of a change for Mougenel, who had been an assistant on Leach’s staff alongside Trent Whitfield (on Providence’s staff since 2016) for the last three years, but with established expectations.
“Well, the one thing is maintaining the standard that Leach’s put in place,” Mougenel said of his move to head coach. “And I think that was a big part of me inheriting this job. I recognize the standard that has to be brought every day.
“Same identity as we play. We’re going to dictate, we’re going to compete, and we’re going to have a strong teammate value. So [Whitfield] and I have both addressed that. We want to keep this thing going. It’s a great atmosphere. Leach and [Ferguson Jr.] have done an amazing job of creating an environment where guys want to come to us. And that’s a testament of the Bruins. They know that you come here, you get all the tools. There’s no excuses for you not to grow and develop. The Bruins organization are I think the best in the business at giving those tools to the players.”
The Bruins have also leaned on their AHL affiliate more than most in recent seasons. This is especially true on the backend, with an almost entirely homegrown backend, and with Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo the only homegrown defensemen to essentially bypass the AHL stage of their development and (almost) jump right to the NHL.
“It’s important that we have a vertical assimilation from the Providence Bruins to the Boston Bruins,” said Mougenel. “The faster we can get guys acclimated in their skills to go up and produce for the Boston Bruins, that’s the most important thing.
“A lot of these players that are coming from a great college programs and great junior programs, they’ve been well coached. So a lot of the language is the same. How we teach, it’s probably a little bit different and how players learn differently. And I think it goes back to having that kind of blueprint for the player and how they learn. It’s much more individually based now than it was when I was growing up. Like David Pastrnak played in the American Hockey League. He has a different skill set than a lot of players at that level. So he learns things differently, probably a little bit faster. So you have to use different language with him and grow him so when he goes up, he feels comfortable in the system. So that’s one thing that I think has been really important and how guys play in Providence to the Boston Bruins.”
That development will once again be the name of the game in 2021. And with noteworthy prospects such as 2021 first-round pick Fabian Lysell and the undrafted-but-improving Brady Lyle looking like potential weapons ahead of schedule in Providence among others, it’s about Mougenel trusting what he’s learned over a coaching career dating back to 2005-06.
“The one thing that I know is I’m confident in who I am as a coach,” Mougenel said. “I’m a player-first coach. I want to give the player the why [and] the how. And I think for me, I’m a good teacher at it. I think I speak their language. But there is an adjustment period. I’m a ‘feel’ coach, too. I think that’s important for the players. Especially in today’s game. The commitment to the player, and not just on the ice, has to be evident and they have to feel it. It has to be genuine.
“I read a quote the other day, I think it was Rod Brind’Amour that said it’s not so much about the X’s and O’s anymore [but] it’s about your relationship with players and I was like, ‘Right.’ Like, that’s the obvious. I think definitely it’s changed over the years for sure. I think the biggest difference, to be honest, is players want to know the why. And you hear the word entitlement a lot with young players, and I’m not a coach that believes that young players, young athletes are entitled. They just want to know the why. There’s a lot of different avenues to get the answers and they want to know why we’re doing this and how we’re doing. So for me, it’s really important to provide those answers for the players.
“I’d say that’s the biggest difference from when I kind of got going in this. Back in the day you walk right by the coach’s office and you get dressed, you go out, you don’t talk. You know, there’s always that kind of sense of fear. And for me, I just don’t think you grow as a player when there’s that sense of fear and in an environment like that. So it’s important that we’re doing the right things by giving these guys the answers that they need and that by no means that means that you don’t have those tough conversations or you’re not hard on players. It’s just a different quality of language we use with players now.”
In what will be Mougenel’s first head coaching gig since 2012-13 with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, Mougenel will lean on Whitfield, along with recent addition Adam McQuaid. The P-Bruins will also add another coach to their staff before the start of their season, Mougenel noted, which is slated to begin Oct. 16 against Bridgeport.
And back in Providence after a year spent in Marlborough due to COVID-19 taking The Dunk out of the equation, which is just another thing that has Mougenel jacked for this new opportunity in a familiar city.
“It’s an amazing hockey community, obviously an extremely passionate fan base,” Mougenel said. “We’ve got fans that wait for the coaches at the end of the night by our cars outside of Providence in the freezing cold. My dad was in town once and he couldn’t you couldn’t believe that. And it’s a lot different than any other places that I’ve ever been.
“We’re actually really excited about getting this thing going as soon as we can.”
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.