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WBS Weekly: some collegiate reinforcements

WBS gets some collegiate reinforcements and splits a home-and-home with Lehigh Valley.

WBS Penguins

Friday, March 17: WBS 4 @ Lehigh Valley 1

After winning the race for Hobey Baker finalist Zach Aston-Reese on Tuesday afternoon, as well as signing Clarkson University standout Troy Josephs to an AHL contract for 2017-18 and an amateur tryout for the rest of this season on Friday morning, the WBS Penguins hit the road for their well-worn drive down the PA Turnpike to meet up with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for their 7th meeting of the season. WBS was bolstered by the return of Josh Archibald and Oskar Sundqvist to WBS by Pittsburgh, though Pittsburgh took Derrick Pouliot in return. Neither Reese nor Josephs were in the lineup for WBS on this evening, as they fell behind 1-0 after just 6:11 through a power play goal by Maxime Lamarche, his third goal of the season.

WBS was able to turn it around in the final two periods, though, as Archibald scored his 15th goal of the season for WBS shorthanded at 8:34 of the second, then Ryan Haggerty scored his eighth of the season at 14:12 of the second to give WBS a lead that they would not relinquish. The ageless wonder captain, Tom Kostopoulos, extended the lead to 3-1 at 10:27 of the third with a very nifty faceoff play...

Dominik Simon hit an empty net at 18:47 of the third to close the scoring and give WBS a 4-1 victory. Goalie Tristan Jarry shook off the early goal he conceded to finish with 29 saves on 30 shots for his 25th win of the season, trailing only the playoff-bound Troy Grosenick of San Jose and Jack Campbell of Ontario, each with 26 wins.

Saturday, March 18: Lehigh Valley 3 @ WBS 2

Ah, the annual St. Patrick’s Day game. Always good for some high tempers, heavy hitting, and an annual reminder of the “most infamous game in WBS history” (their words, though I wholeheartedly agree with them)...the 4-0 loss to Syracuse in 2002 that is more notable for Steve Parsons’ 64 minutes of penalties, still the league record for penalty minutes in a single game, than anything else that happened that day.

It’s important, I feel, to take this game on the calendar to recognize where this franchise once was to better appreciate where it is now. That team in 2001-02 featured some legitimately tough individuals, like the aforementioned Parsons, Jason MacDonald, Darcy Verot, and Brendan Walsh. That team is also the last WBS team to miss the league playoffs, as WBS embarked on its current 14-season streak the very next season. The roots of the WBS franchise are thick with instances of “blue-collar work”, “black and blue hockey”, and a willingness to fight that quickly endeared itself to the WBS fanbase.

Though those days are largely gone, I saw some sparks of the old days during the very physical return match between WBS and Lehigh Valley on Saturday. Signs of the old days of pests, as LV’s Cole Bardreau was a pest throughout. Signs of the old days of, frankly, questionable tactics, as LV winning goaltender Anthony Stolarz sold a Josh Archibald stick tap to his knee as if pro wrestling’s HHH had just taken a crutch to it to draw a penalty very late in the proceedings.

Lehigh Valley, despite being outshot 31-19 in the first two periods, took a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes, with Tyrell Goulbourne scoring his first of the year at 6:01 of the first; Reece Willcox scoring his 3rd of the year at 4:07 of the second with Tristan Jarry tangled up with one of his defenders; then Danick Martel scoring his 19th of the year just 15 seconds after that. Despite his antics, Stolarz was a brick wall all night, stopping all 31 shots he faced in the first two periods, some with absolutely stellar efforts.

To their credit, WBS did not fold in the third. They’re called the Cardiac Penguins for a reason, as the ageless Kostopoulos finally broke Stolarz at 4:49 of the third with a power play goal, his 23rd of the year. WBS would draw back to within 1 when, with Thomas Di Pauli in the box for hooking, Oskar Sundqvist forced a neutral zone turnover and turned it into a shorthanded breakaway goal, his 17th of the season. WBS had a golden opportunity to complete the comeback in the final 1:40 of the game, with Lehigh Valley’s Scott Laughton in the box for slashing, but Lehigh Valley held on to send the majority of the sellout crowd of 8,175 slaloming through the snowpacks disappointed with a 3-2 loss. Jarry ended with 26 saves on 29 shots in the loss, while Stolarz ended with 37 saves on 39 shots for his 15th win of the season. Amazingly, though, his effort was not worthy of a star of the game, as WBS’s Kostopoulos and Sundqvist got 3rd and 2nd honors, with top honors going to LV’s Chris McCarthy with two assists.

I guess that’s why I’m in the stands.

Statistics (through March 20)

Goals: Tom Kostopoulos 23, Jake Guentzel 21 (still on recall to Pittsburgh, and I don’t really think WBS will see him again until and unless Pittsburgh is eliminated from the playoffs), Oskar Sundqvist 17, Jean-Sebastien Dea 16, Josh Archibald 15

Assists: Kevin Porter 31, David Warsofsky 29, Dominik Simon 27, Kostopoulos 24, Sundqvist 23

Points: Kostopoulos 47, Warsofsky 43, Guentzel 42, Porter 41, Sundqvist 40, Simon 39, Dea/Garrett Wilson 29 each, Archibald 28

Goalies: Tristan Jarry 25-14-1, 2.27 GAA (8th in AHL), 92.1% save percentage (T-9th in AHL), one shutout; Casey DeSmith 16-4-2, 2.29 GAA (T-9th in AHL), 91.2% save percentage (18th in AHL), no shutouts

Special Teams: Power play 17.8% (15th in AHL), two shorthanded goals allowed; penalty kill 86.7% (1st in AHL), eight shorthanded goals forced

Fight Tracker: Patrick McGrath 9: Tom Sestito 5, Garrett Wilson 4, Cameron Gaunce 2, Ryan Haggerty 1, Josh Archibald 1, Carter Rowney 1, Tom Kostopoulos 1, Jarrett Burton 1, Kevin Porter 1

Standings: 1) WBS, 69.0%; 2) Lehigh Valley, 66.7%; 3) Hershey, 63.8% (five-game winning streak and 8-2 in their last 10 to charge back into playoff position); 4) Providence, 63.3%; 5) Bridgeport, 61.7% (would lead North Division); 6) Springfield, 50.0%; 7) Hartford, 38.1% (officially eliminated from playoff contention)

Magic Number to Clinch Playoffs: 19 as of the morning of March 19, per the AHL’s Playoff Primer. Hershey’s 3-1 victory over Bridgeport on Sunday will drop the WBS number to 17.

The Week Ahead:

Tuesday, March 21 vs. Hartford

Friday, March 24 at Syracuse

Saturday, March 25 at Lehigh Valley

Sunday, March 26 vs. Utica

Troy Josephs made his pro debut on Saturday, and he did not look out of place at all. I would expect Aston-Reese to make his debut soon, as he arrives in town and gets acclimated to pro life. The sooner the better, because every fresh leg that WBS can call upon will be needed to keep WBS where they are, atop the Atlantic during the stretch drive to the playoffs.