Before we get started today, I would ask all of you to put in some positive thoughts or prayers to the captain of the Tucson Roadrunners, Craig Cunningham, who collapsed on the ice prior to the start of the Roadrunners’ game on Saturday against the Manitoba Moose. Cunningham was rushed to a local medical facility, and as of this posting there have been very few, if any, specific details released on his condition. Our friends over at Five for Howling are well on top of this serious situation and will bring you the latest details as they come in, including an anticipated medical update sometime today, but for now, all of your well wishes and prayers will be greatly appreciated for one of the AHL’s most trusted captains.
November 16: WBS Penguins at Lehigh Valley Phantoms
WBS opened its week with a Wednesday night drive down the PA Turnpike to Allentown for the first of 12 meetings with the dangerous Lehigh Valley Phantoms. There was no scoring in the first, though Lehigh Valley outshot WBS 16-7 in the first 20 minutes. WBS struck first in the second period through the first goal of Thomas Di Pauli’s career at 2:23, but Lehigh Valley matched the goal at 17:29 of the second through Corban Knight’s fourth of the season. Lehigh Valley took control in the third, with Greg Carey scoring the eventual game-winning goal, his eighth of the season, at 5:57 of the third. Less than a minute later, Taylor Leier scored his fourth of the season for insurance, and TJ Brennan finished off the 4-1 victory with an empty-netter at 19:35. Tristan Jarry took the loss, with 32 saves on 35 shots, while Lehigh Valley’s Alex Lyon, pressed into primary duty following Anthony Stolarz’s recall to Philadelphia, took the win with 30 saves on 31 shots.
November 18: Bridgeport Sound Tigers at WBS Penguins
WBS returned to the ice on Friday night, hosting the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for their fifth game in 8 days. Once again, WBS scored first, with Oskar Sundqvist’s sixth of the season at 9:20 of the second, but unlike Wednesday, WBS expanded its lead just 1:03 later, when Carter Rowney scored his fourth of the season, giving WBS a lead it would not relinquish despite Bridgeport clawing back to within a goal on three separate occasions. WBS added goals by Jean-Sebastien Dea at 15:12 of the second and Tom Kostopoulos at 4:34 of the third to ward off goals by Bracken Kearns, Andrew Rowe, and Joshua Winquist. With Hershey looming on Saturday, coach Clark Donatelli turned to Casey DeSmith for this game, choosing to save Jarry for Hershey, and DeSmith turned in a 25-save performance to continue his unbeaten season.
November 19: WBS Penguins at Hershey Bears
Through sleet, snow, wind, and all manner of nasty weather, I made the trek to GIANT Center on Saturday night to take in the latest edition of the WBS Penguins’ fiercest rivalry along with an announced crowd of 10,355. Like it or not, Hershey is still The Franchise, and visiting the home of the 11-time Calder Cup champions is always a privilege.
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) November 19, 2016
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) November 19, 2016
You’ll note here the absence of both Reid McNeill, traded to the St. Louis organization during the day on Saturday, and the newly-acquired Danny Kristo, not yet with the team. You’ll note also that at the start of the game, the powerful line of Jake Guentzel, Carter Rowney, and Tom Kostopoulos was separated, with Guentzel beginning at center, but thankfully for WBS, this did not last.
The first period looked for all the world like WBS was playing its sixth game in nine days. Hershey maintained significant possession during the first 20 minutes, outshooting WBS 12-3 and getting a beautiful goal when Hershey forward Travis Boyd drove around the net as if to try a wrap-around, but instead laying the puck behind him for the Bears’ leading goal scorer Jakub Vrana to stuff home his ninth of the season from a very short, very sharp angle. The first period ended 1-0 to the Bears.
WBS answered at 5:01 of the second when, on one of their first shifts as a reunited trio, Tom Kostopoulos broke free on Hershey starting goalie Joe Cannata, but instead of taking the shot himself, dished to a driving Jake Guentzel for Guentzel’s seventh of the season. Hershey retook the lead at 12:02 of the second when, on a 3 on 2 rush, Hershey defender Christian Djoos took a pass from Domenic Morenado and, rather than fire a slapshot at close range against Tristan Jarry, faked the shot and passed to Liam O’Brien for O’Brien’s second goal of the season. Jarry had no chance. Although Oskar Sundqvist was able to earn a shorthanded penalty shot later in the second, his attempt sailed wide, and the second period ended 2-1 to Hershey, with total shots favoring the Bears 18-13.
Hershey began the third period with 1:20 of power play time due to a Guentzel hook, and while they did not score on the advantage itself, Christian Thomas scored his 7th of the season just 3 seconds after the advantage expired, and with Hershey up 3-1 against a presumably tired Penguins team, you’d think that would be the end of it.
You would be wrong.
At 6:24 of the third, Garrett Wilson scored a goal more reminiscent of Garrett Jones or Starling Marte when he whacked a puck out of mid-air and through Hershey goalie Joe Cannata’s legs. WBS continued its push throughout the third, eventually outshooting Hershey 15-9 in the third, and with the goalie out in the waning moments, Tom Kostopoulos stuffed home the rebound of a Jake Guentzel shot with only 1:04 left on the clock to tie the game.
The 3 on 3 overtime was largely controlled by WBS, as they were able to both maintain possession through Hershey pressure as well as corral rebounds from missed shots, something they were unable to do in their OT loss to Springfield earlier in the season. Tristan Jarry did his part as well, stopping the Penguin killer Chris Bourque’s attempt at 1:44 of the extra session, then...
It’s one thing to attempt to describe that, Rowney’s toe-drag off the side of the net and stuff home with a Hershey defender all over his back, but it’s another to just link the video and let you see it. Simply a phenomenal power/skill move by Rowney to clinch the second point for WBS, marking the second time this season that the team scoring first between Hershey and WBS (Hershey both times) did not win the game (two WBS OT wins).
FInal: WBS 4, Hershey 3, OT. WBS finished the week with 4 out of 6 points, and they finished their recent stretch of six games in 9 days with 8 out of 12 points.
STATISTICS (through the games of November 20)
GOALS: Jake Guentzel - 7 (T-8th in AHL,, second among rookies); Oskar Sundqvist, Tom Kostopoulos - 6; Carter Rowney, Jean-Sebastien Dea - 5; Kevin Porter - 4
ASSISTS: Guentzel - 10 (T-9th in AHL, leads all rookies); Sundqvist, Rowney - 8; Garrett Wilson - 7; Chad Ruhwedel - 6
POINTS: Guentzel - 17 (T-3rd in AHL, leads all rookies); Sundqvist - 14; Rowney - 13; Kostopoulos - 11; Wilson - 10
GOALIES: Tristan Jarry - 7-3-1, 1.98 GAA (7th in AHL), 92.9% save percentage (8th in AHL); Casey DeSmith - 5-0-0, 1.40 GAA (1st in AHL), 94.9% save percentage (1st in AHL)
SPECIAL TEAMS: Power play 10 for 69, 14.5% success rate (23rd in AHL), no shorthanded goals allowed; penalty kill 55 for 60, 91.7% success rate (1st in AHL), three shorthanded goals forced
STANDINGS: WBS leads the division with 78.1% of points earned (tops in the Eastern Conference but trailing Tucson’s 81.8% and Milwaukee’s 78.6%). Lehigh Valley is second at 70%; Bridgeport third at 64.3%; Hershey fourth at 62.5%; Springfield fifth at 56.3%; Providence sixth at 46.7%; Hartford last at 33.3%.
FIGHT TRACKER: Patrick McGrath 2, Cameron Gaunce 2 (fought Ben Holmstrom of Bridgeport on Friday), Josh Archibald 1, Ryan Haggerty 1, Garrett Wilson 1, Carter Rowney 1 (fought Hershey’s Nathan Walker on Saturday)
THE ROAD AHEAD
November 23: WBS at Hershey, 7:00 pm EST
November 25: WBS at Bridgeport, 7:00 pm EST
November 26: Bridgeport at WBS, 7:05 pm EST
No rest for turkey for these Penguins. Another three games in four days, starting with a return trip to Hershey the day before Thanksgiving.
Keep fighting, Craig.