When we last left the WBS Penguins, they had just announced the return of defender Barry Goers to WBS for the 2016-17 season, and they had just begun to digest the effects of the new AHL rules surrounding fighting. Here's a quick summary of what's happened since then.
COACH DONATELLI'S NEW STAFF
On August 2, the Penguins announced three new additions to the coaching staff to assist head coach Clark Donatelli in his duties. In concert with the Pittsburgh trend of having two assistants behind the bench, WBS added Chris Taylor, formerly an assistant coach with the Rochester Americans, and J.D. Forrest, previously the head coach for the farm team of the Austrian hockey club Red Bull Salzburg, to the bench. WBS also brought in Madison Nikkel to serve as video coach, having analyzed pre-game and in-game video as Head Manager for the Boston College men's hockey team for the last four years.
The week of August 8 brought us several juicy bits of news for the farm team. WBS led off with a doozy, as they unveiled new home and away jersey designs on August 8. WBS decided to change their jersey designs to better align with the "Pittsburgh Gold" theme returned to by the defending Stanley Cup champions (man, that still feels good to write). In addition, the new white jerseys will mark a return by WBS to an alternate design they wore for the 2005-06 season. The white version will serve as the home jersey, and the black version the away, until Christmas, at which time the two will switch places. On August 10, the team unveiled its new warmup jersey design, which, to me, is more in line with the whimsy of minor league sports.
WBS announced on August 9 that local product and fan favorite Patrick McGrath will return to the club for 2016-17 on an AHL contract. McGrath, from Shavertown, PA (the first player from the northeastern Pennsylvania area to suit up for the pro team), recorded only one assist in 19 games for WBS during 2015-16, with no games in the playoffs, but he also recorded 66 penalty minutes. McGrath also played in 33 regular season games for Wheeling during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals, two assists, and 110 PIMs. It will be fascinating to see how McGrath adapts his rough-and-tumble game in 2016-17 to the new restrictions on fighting (nine fights allowed during the season, escalating suspensions starting with the 10th fight, automatic game misconducts for fights right before, at, or just after faceoffs).
On August 11, WBS announced the return of Jarrett Burton to WBS for 2016-17. Burton, promoted to WBS from Wheeling on February 6, tallied two goals in 23 regular season games for WBS, as well as 15 goals and 23 assists for Wheeling in 44 games.
After the Burton signing, things went quiet on the WBS front until August 22, when WBS, in conjunction with the AHL, announced its regular season schedule for 2016-17. The AHL schedule is not nearly as balanced as its NHL counterpart; where every NHL team visits every other team at least once, AHL teams often don't play at least a dozen other teams in the league to save on travel time and costs. So it goes for WBS this season, who will play 50 of their 76 regular season games against teams within their own Atlantic Division (Bridgeport, Hartford, Hershey, Lehigh Valley, Providence, and Springfield). Furthermore, even within their own division there is imbalance, as of its 50 division games, 12 will be played against the returning Calder Cup finalists from Hershey, and another 12 will be played against Lehigh Valley. The remaining division schedule will see eight games against Hartford and six each against Bridgeport, Providence, and Springfield. The remaining 26 games on the WBS schedule will feature North Division opponents, highlighted by six against Binghamton and Syracuse; four each against St. John's and Utica; and two each against Albany, Rochester, and Toronto. WBS will not play anyone in the Central or Pacific divisions this regular season.
One other recurring feature about the AHL schedules is its heavy emphasis on weekend games. This season is no different, as out of 76 games, 60 of them will be played either on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Another 10 will be played on Wednesdays, the fourth-most-popular day of the week historically for WBS games, leaving a paltry four games on Tuesdays and only two on Mondays. In fact, out of 27 Saturdays on the calendar for this season, WBS will be playing a game on 26 of them, with only Christmas Eve excluded.
The eighteenth season of WBS hockey will open for business on Saturday, October 15, when the Penguins host the Hartford Wolf Pack. WBS will face a three-game-in-three-day stretch on eight different occasions during the season, with another eight three-game-in-four-day stretches and a four-game-in-six-day stretch in the middle of January 2017, leading to the regular season finale on April 15, 2017, against Bridgeport.
That's all for now. Get ready, folks...camps will be opening faster than you think, and it'll soon be time to play some hockey once again.