Long road has Mougenel one step away from an NHL bench

Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

📝 by Patrick Williams

The road to an NHL bench, be it in Boston or elsewhere, often goes through the Providence Bruins.

The P-Bruins’ affiliation with the Boston Bruins dates to the 1992-93 season, the longest ongoing affiliation in the AHL. And take a look at branches on the Providence coaching tree.

Providence has sent seven head coaches on to NHL head-coaching jobs, including Bruce Cassidy an hour north in Boston. Two of that group, Cassidy and Bob Francis, have gone on to win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top head coach. Mike Sullivan has a pair of Stanley Cup championships to his name while Peter Laviolette and Mike O’Connell each have their names engraved on that trophy as well. Another head coach, Bill Armstrong, subsequently had a long management tenure with the St. Louis Blues before becoming general manager of the Arizona Coyotes. Two more, Kevin Dean and Jay Leach, now work as NHL assistant coaches.

Now Ryan Mougenel will attempt to become the next person to take that path when his P-Bruins open their 2021-22 season against the visiting Bridgeport Islanders this Saturday evening in downtown Providence. The 45-year-old Mougenel takes over for Leach, who departed this summer for that assistant’s position with the expansion Seattle Kraken.

Mougenel started on the coaching trail in 2005 shortly after wrapping up six pro seasons as a hard-nosed forward. Now going into his 17th season, he takes over in Providence after serving three seasons on Leach’s staff. His resume includes another five seasons as an AHL assistant coach in the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals organizations, plus eight more seasons in the ECHL coaching ranks.

Along with Mougenel’s promotion and the addition of assistant coach Matt Thomas, Boston has been busy restocking what looks like another deep roster for the P-Bruins, who had a seven-season playoff streak before the COVID-19 pandemic halted play in March 2020. This summer Boston added veteran goaltender Troy Grosenick; defensemen Aaron Ness, Tyler Lewington, and Jack Dougherty; and two-time AHL captain Steven Fogarty to set up a deep foundation in Providence.

Since being hired August 13, Mougenel has had a hectic rush leading into this weekend’s season opener, squeezing in development camp and training camp with Boston before opening camp with the P-Bruins last week.

“It’s happened fast,” Mougenel said. “I think for me in the evolution of kind of getting acclimated here, I think the one thing that I have are great resources, I have great assistant coaches [Thomas and Trent Whitfield], I’ve got great [management support]. And, you know, probably the biggest resource for me is [Cassidy].

“I’ve got somebody at arm’s length that I can call and ask questions. They’re not always questions about how we play or what we’re supposed to do, systematic stuff. That stuff’s easy. It’s the stuff dealing with players that [Cassidy] has been through, [Boston assistant coach] Joe Sacco, and especially [Boston assistant coach] Chris Kelly, and [Boston player development coordinator] Adam McQuaid.

“So for me, I’ve had a lot of people invested in my development here, too, which is kind of nice. That’s one thing the Bruins have always done — given amazing resources not just to the players but selfishly to the coaches, too. So I’ll take all the resources I can. I welcome the input from people that have been there, done that.”

Along with the new signees to form a leadership core, Mougenel will also have a pair of experienced P-Bruins in forwards Cameron Hughes and Zach Senyshyn for additional support; Providence’s longest-tenured players, Senyshyn joined the club during the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs, and Hughes debuted in the spring of 2018.

Said Hughes of Mougenel, “[He is] kind of a hockey nut. He loves it. He’s always watching and always talking about the games from the night before. We all know he’s very prepared and excited to coach us, and we’re all excited to be under him and go through the year with him.”

Leach left a considerable legacy in Providence, graduating a stream of players on to jobs in Boston and producing four winning seasons. Providence held the AHL’s second-best point percentage (.661) when the 2019-20 season concluded, finishing with a franchise-record 12 consecutive victories. Last season, the Bruins held off Hartford in the season’s final game to win the Atlantic Division title with a 15-6-2-2 mark.

“Jay, Trent, and I, I think the one thing we did — we shared a lot, and I think we grew a lot together as a group,” Mougenel said. “I think the one thing that [Leach] taught me is just how important a work ethic is, and not that I didn’t know it before, but I think he takes things to a whole other level. He was pretty inspiring in how hard he worked. I couldn’t believe the hours he put in, how committed he was to the personal growth of all the players.

Mougenel feels Boston’s player-first approach suits him and his staff.

“It’s how we approach our players. We put them first; it’s about them. You know, the winning has been amazing. But that’s because we preach the details, and we get players that buy in. Our scouts do an amazing job of identifying players that can play in the system.

“Development doesn’t just stop after year one if they don’t play in the NHL. There’s growth in the system. I think Butch (Cassidy) does a great job of getting guys into those roles really quickly. So here, we don’t waste a day. That’s something we talk about down here, not wasting a day and getting better.”