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Plenty to cheer about with these Bruins

PROVIDENCE -- Overhead, the scoreboard flashed down to two minutes and now it was obvious to the jam-packed crowd at the Civic Center.

The score was 4-1 for the Providence Bruins and all that was left was the cheering. The Calder Cup was going to be theirs.

They rose as one and began saluting their heroes and the cheering didn't stop. It just got louder and louder until it seemed as if the building couldn't hold any more noise.

Not even an empty-net goal by the Bruins' Cameron Mann in the final half-minute could stem the sound. And when it was done, when the Bruins had beaten the Rochester Americans, 5-1, the players stormed their goaltender John Grahame for a wild on-ice celebation.

Sticks, helmets, gloves -- everything flew straight up in the air as they surrounded their talented netminder. For the first time in 43 seasons, Providence had a hockey champion and the sellout crowd of 11,909 seemed to be basking in the glow of it all.

And none of them left, either. After waiting through the traditional handshake and the awarding of the MVP trophy (Providence's Peter Ferraro) the noise began again when team captain Dennis Vaske was handed the large silver Calder Cup, symbol of American Hockey League supremacy.

Vaske, a defenseman, held the cup over his head while the throng cheered and then he began skating around the rink with his teammates following in his wake.

Then followed a time-honored hockey tradition, each Bruin touching the Cup.

Vaske handed it off to another defenseman, Bob Beers, who took a few strides and, in turn, handed it to winger Antti Laaksonen, who then gave it to Marquis Mathieu and down the line.

When Grahame, the brilliant goaltender, grabbed hold of the Cup, the cheers grew even louder, if that was possible.

The sound system was now playing We Are the Champions and the crowd was joining in. It was a piece of sporting history, and they all wanted to be a part of it -- fans, players, coaches.

On the Bruins' bench, Peter Laviolette, the young Providence coach, had his jacket off and was being mobbed by everybody in sight.

``This was the best team in the history of the American Hockey League and they proved it right here,'' said Laviolette, a former Olympian from Franklin, Mass., coaching in his first year in the AHL. ``They were 43-7 at home and they were a perfect 10-0 at home in the playoffs.''

You can't get much better than that, which is why their fans wanted to be a part of last night's happening.

Some of them didn't make it, simply because there weren't enough tickets. In the hours before the game, they milled around in front of the Civic Center, hoping against hope they could buy their way into the building.

It was a remarkable scene, people pleading for one ticket or two, willing to pay as much as $50 for one $13 ticket.

Following Friday night's loss that sent the series back to Providence, the P-Bruins set some sort of gate-sale record for sports at the Civic Center, selling 5,000 tickets on Saturday morning during a two-hour stretch that completed the sellout.

Yet that didn't stop people from descending on the city looking for stray ducats. There they were, standing outside the center, all asking the same question:

``Anybody got any extra tickets?''

``It's not every day that one of our teams has a chance to win a championship,'' said Tom Reilly, of Narragansett, who drove up from South County with his friend, Nicole, hoping to land two tickets. He was willing to pay $30 for a $13 ticket.

Paul Kelly, 42, a Boston Bruins' season ticket-holder from Wayland, Mass., drove from his home without a ticket figuring it would be an easy matter to buy one.

``But everybody who walks by asks me if I've got any tickets to sell before I can even ask them,'' said Kelly. ``I gambled on coming without a ticket and I lost. I usually lose. I'm not a gambler.''

The would-be ticketbuyers came in all shapes and sizes, too. Matt Lavoie, of Providence, and his pal Taylor Brown, of Warren, both age 14, had their hands raised hoping a scalper would spot them. Lavoie says he roots for all kinds of teams, but the P-Bruins can do something none of the others have done so far.

``This is the closest I've come to a championship,'' said young Matt. I'd love to be able to see it.''

The lucky ones got to see a Bruins' celebration, almost from the start. They greeted the Providence skaters with a standing ovation from the moment they stepped onto the ice in the first period and the noise never seemed to let up from that point on.

The crowd alternated between chants of ``We want the Cup . . . we want the cup'' to ``We Are the Champions . . . We are the Champions.''

If there was an anxious moment in this game for Bruins' fans, it came midway into the third period on a goal by the Amerks' Dean Melanson that cut Providence's lead at the time to 3-1.

Aside from ruining Grahame's bid for a shutout, the goal gave the visitors a glimmer of hope. But that was wiped out 17 seconds later when Ferraro took a pass from winger Jeremy Brown, skated in on goalie Martin Biron and drilled a 20-footer past him just inside the left goal post.

Now, it was 4-1 and there were 10 minutes left. It was all over but the shouting. And a lot of shouting it was.

Copyright 1999 The Providence Journal Company

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