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AHL readies Toivonen for Boston stage

Throughout the past 13 years the Providence Bruins have had some of the best goaltending in the American Hockey League.

During the 1998-99 season, when the Bruins won the Calder Cup, John Grahame dominated his opponents, picking up 37 wins and cruising through the post-season.

Following in his footsteps was another young goaltender in Andrew Raycroft, who went on to be the NHL’s Rookie of the Year for the 2003-04 season. This season he is once again the starter for the Boston Bruins.

And there was also Tim Thomas, who holds many Providence Bruins single-season records and has split the 2005-06 season between Boston and the P-Bruins.

But the latest goaltending prospect for the Bruins may be the best yet.

Hannu Toivonen was Boston’s first-round pick, 29th overall, in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. When the Bruins selected him, they did not know Raycroft was going to turn out to be the star that he is today. They were hoping Toivonen would be the answer to their goaltending woes.

But there are always questions when a player so young comes from overseas to play in the United States. Will he be able to adapt to being far away from home? Can he handle the way the game is played in North America? Toivonen easily answered those questions and more with the way he performed on the ice.

In his rookie season (2003-04) with the Providence Bruins, Toivonen saw action in 36 games, compiling a 15-16-4 record with an impressive 2.30 GAA and a save percentage of .925. Toivonen earned more and more playing time as the season went on as he continued to post solid numbers in between the posts.

But it was during his sophomore year that he really became comfortable playing in the AHL and showed that not only could he be one of the best goaltenders in the AHL, but deserved a shot to play in the NHL. In less than 12 months, Toivonen turned from a prospect to the real deal posting a 29-18-3 record with a GAA just above 2.00 and a save percentage of .932.

More impressive though was that he was doing this consistently, day in and day out. When he suffered an injury halfway through the season he came back stronger than he was before the injury. During the crucial games down the home stretch Toivonen always made sure he was one better than his opponent.

He was 10-4 in that span with seven of the wins being either one- or two-goal games. Toivonen pushed the Bruins past Worcester and into the playoffs. So with the Bruins entering the post-season it was no surprise that he carried the team deep.

For the netminder, it was the first action he saw in the AHL’s postseason. The year before Thomas took all the action in Providence’s two post-season games against Portland. But the inexperience did not fluster Toivonen as he and the Providence Bruins faced the Atlantic Division champion Manchester Monarchs in the first round.

Toivonen was brilliant in net winning four of the six games to send the Bruins into the second round of the playoffs against Lowell, where this time Toivonen won four of five. Thanks to the second-year goaltender, the Bruins made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, despite heading into the playoffs as a 4-seed in the Atlantic Division.

After serving two seasons in Providence, Toivonen is with the parent club this year. In 20 games, Toivonen is 9-5-4 with a 2.63 GAA and a 91.4 save percentage and one shutout. It now seems to be only a matter of time before Toivonen becomes one of the standout goaltenders in the NHL. Providence Bruins fans know what Toivonen is capable of. After leading the Providence Bruins to the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals, Hannu looks to continue to make a big impact on the 2005-06 Boston Bruins.