They may be the Providence Bruins’ version of the Odd Couple, but they have combined to form a consistent and multi-dimensional defense pairing for the team this season. One is a well-seasoned veteran from western Canada now playing in his 14th professional season, including over 600 career games in the AHL and over 100 in the NHL. The other is a 21-year-old native of Slovakia playing in his second professional campaign.
They are Brent Thompson and Milan Jurcina.
Thompson, the Bruins’ co-captain, is a 34-year-old native of Calgary who ranks fifth in AHL history in penalty minutes, recently becoming just the fifth player in the 69-year history of the league to reach the 2,000-PIM plateau. With AHL stops in Providence, Springfield, Hartford, Hershey and Louisville, and NHL stops in Winnipeg and Phoenix, he brings a wealth of high-level experience to the Bruins’ roster.
In the typical irony of professional hockey, he became a Bruin on September 22, after spending years as one of the team’s most hated opponents.
“It was a little funny coming to Providence after all those years of getting yelled at by the fans while I was playing for Hartford and Springfield,” he says. “But the truth is, that I always had a lot of respect for the Bruins. They always played hard, and I can recall so many great battles against them. I was thrilled to become a Bruin. I think this team fits my style of play. We’re a hard-working team that goes out and plays hard for one another every night.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Thompson has not slowed down one bit. He is one of only three Bruins to play in all 56 games, and with 179 PIM, ranks third on the team and seventh among AHL blueliners. It was his intense style of play and dedication to team and hockey that led to his pairing with the young Jurcina.
Jurcina, the towering 6-foot-4, 235-pound native of Liptovsky-Mikulas, Slovakia, could go down as one of the Boston Bruins’ best and unheralded draft picks. He was the team’s seventh pick, 241st overall, taken in the eighth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He arrived in Halifax, N.S., at the age of 17 in the fall of 2000 to play in the QMJHL with the Mooseheads, unable to speak any English at all.
The Bruins saw in him a big, strong player who had the ability to skate well and move the puck, to say nothing of his ability to effectively maneuver opponents on the ice.
Milan Jurcina has already surpassed his offensive totals from his 2003-04 rookie season with Providence.
As a rookie with Providence in 2003-04, he posted 5-12-17 totals and 52 PIM in 73 games. After returning home for the summer, he dedicated himself to strengthening his already powerful physique in an effort to further establish himself in 2004-05.
Providence coaches Scott Gordon and Rob Murray quickly paired him with Thompson at the start of the season, and the two former an immediate bond on and off the ice.
“We thought Brent would have a positive impact on Milan,” says Gordon. “Brent brings such an old-school mentality to the game, never missing a shift, playing hurt, playing physical hockey. We thought he would have a good influence on Milan.”
Thompson concurs, but has also found himself thoroughly enjoying playing with his young partner.
“Jurky is going to play in the NHL for sure,” he says. “He’s easily the strongest player on our team, and he has terrific skills as well. I absolutely love playing with him. He makes my job a lot easier, and we communicate constantly. I have his back, and he has mine.”
Jurcina, who has already surpassed his offensive production from last season (5-13-18 totals in 55 games), feels he has gained just as much from playing with Thompson.
“Tommer has been awesome,” he says. “He has pointed out a lot of little things to me, and we talk about our play all the time. When we get back to the bench after a shift, we talk and make adjustments. We talk after periods, games and practices. It’s been great playing with him.”
The two can often be found having epic battles at the ping pong table, and have formed a close bond. It’s ironic to see, when considering their vastly different backgrounds. In fact, when Thompson was selected by the Los Angeles Kings with the 39th pick in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, Jurcina was a month away from turning six years old half a world away.
More than anything, though, Thompson has demonstrated to Jurcina and the rest of the Bruins the burning desire to win the Calder Cup.
“After all of these years, that is still the thing I want to do, and fuels my fire every day,” he explains. “I’ve never won the Calder Cup, and I still want it very badly. That’s why we’re here playing this game. Winning a championship is the one thing that should drive us all.”
“Odd Couple” they may be, but they have combined to give the Bruins a strong and well-rounded pair on the defense corps, one that hopes to lead the Black and Gold back to championship heights.