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WBS Weekly: One Last Time

WBS captain Tom Kostopoulos has announced his retirement following this season. WBS clinched their 16th straight trip to the playoffs on Saturday. One last ride for Calder for the greatest of all the WBS Penguins.

APRIL 3: Hershey 3 @ WBS 5

WBS opened its four game slate this week by cutting its magic number to clinch the playoffs from 3 to 1 at the hands of the surprisingly disappointing Hershey Bears. Powered by goals from Teddy Blueger, Garrett Wilson, the first professional goal by Sam Lafferty, and Daniel Sprong, WBS built a 4-1 lead in the third period, only to see it reduced to 4-3 before Jean-Sebastien Dea hit an empty net with two seconds to go to expand the WBS record over Hershey this season to 9-0-1-1. Tristan Jarry stopped 30 of 33 Hershey shots for the victory, his eighth for WBS this season.

NEWS BREAK

Between the Hershey game on Tuesday and the Bridgeport game on Friday, there were three pieces of news to address. First, there was the well-deserved announcement of Daniel Sprong to the 2017-18 AHL All-Rookie team on Wednesday. Sprong was the only member of the six-player lineup to come out of the Eastern Conference.

Second, and perhaps much more significantly, was the announcement on Wednesday that, following the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, captain Tom Kostopoulos will retire. TK is, put simply, the heart and soul of the WBS franchise...its all time leader in games, goals, assists, points, power play goals, and game-winning goals. He is our final remaining link to the original team in 1999, and though this day was inevitable, it is still a bit sad to see TK finally hang them up. I consider myself beyond lucky to have watched him play the game in my backyard for as long as I have, as well as to have shared the annual WBS Pens and Pins bowling tournament with him in 2017.

Perhaps, when we all congregate again in October for the 20th anniversary season, there will be a shiny 29 in the rafters to greet us.

Finally, Pittsburgh announced the signing of draft pick Anthony Angello to an entry-level contract on Thursday starting in 2018-19, as well as an amateur tryout agreement that will bring him to WBS for the remainder of this season.

APRIL 6: Bridgeport 4 @ WBS 3

I’ll be honest here...I really wanted to see WBS stand out on Friday. Facing a desperate Bridgeport team hanging onto playoff possibility by their claws, I wanted to see WBS stand up to Bridgeport’s desperation and initiative to clinch their own playoff spot at the expense of the Sound Tigers and, combined with Providence’s victory on Friday over Hartford, clinch the playoffs for Providence and Charlotte as well.

Instead, after jumping ahead 1-0 through a power play goal by Tom Kostopoulos, Bridgeport scored the next three to take a 3-1 lead. Daniel Sprong executed a beautiful faceoff shot to bring WBS back to 3-2, but Ben Holmstrom took advantage of an exhausted, end-of-his-shift Andrey Pedan to finish a 2 on 1 in the third period to put Bridgeport ahead 4-2. Teddy Blueger tipped in a power play shot from Sprong to make the final score 4-3, but that’s all they could manage, despite a few solid chances in the dying seconds.

Tristan Jarry was unimpressive in net, stopping only 18 of 22 shots for the loss, while his opposing number Christopher Gibson ended with 25 saves on 28 shots. Sprong ended with one goal and two assists for third star honors on the night; Bridgeport’s Ryan Bourque took second honors with two assists; Bridgeport’s Mitchell Vande Sompel scored twice to take top honors.

APRIL 7: Binghamton 4 @ WBS 7

Saturday night, Fan Appreciation Night, was all about two things: The team awards, and Tom Kostopoulos’s final regular season home game. All other forwards and defenders paid tribute to TK by wearing his 29 during warmups, and TK tossed at least a dozen warmup pucks into the stands as souvenirs following the conclusion of warmups.

As for the team awards:

  • Defensive Player of the Year: Jarred Tinordi
  • Media Award: Garrett Wilson
  • WBS Rookie of the Year and Star of the Year: Daniel Sprong (Sprong also received his All-Rookie award from the AHL)
  • Most Valuable Player: Jean-Sebastien Dea
  • Community Service Award and Fan Favorite Award: Tom Kostopoulos

As for the game, WBS took command early with a huge blown call from the officials as they ruled a Garrett Wilson keep-in onside when it was very clearly offside, and the play finished with Dea’s 18th of the season. Since offside cannot be challenged in the AHL, the goal stood following referee discussions, and WBS proceeded to put three more on the board in the first to lead 4-0.

Binghamton put up two in the second to cut the lead in half, but Daniel Sprong scored his 30th of the season just 35 seconds into the third to bring the lead back to 5-2 and tie the WBS rookie record for goals with Michel Ouellet (2003-04). Olympic bronze medalist Christian Thomas then fired home a powerful wrister at 5:44 of the third to restore the lead to 4. Binghamton still did not quit, scoring two more to bring the lead back to 6-4, but Thomas deposited his 17th of the year into an empty net at 16:55 of the third to finally put away the Devils and clinch their 16th consecutive trip to the playoffs, tied for the third longest streak in AHL history. Only the Hershey Bears of the 1960s and 1970s (17 years) and the Cleveland Barons of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s (24 years) have longer streaks.

Starting goalie Michael Leighton ended with 26 saves on 30 shots for his 5th win in as many starts for WBS this season. His counterpart Cam Johnson, in his first pro start, saved 29 of 35 WBS shots.

WBS forward Tom Sestito took third star honors with a goal and an assist. Christian Thomas took second honors with two goals and an assist, while top honors went to Tom Kostopoulos because that’s what you do when the best to ever wear your uniform plays his last game at home.

APRIL 8: WBS 5 @ Bridgeport 2

WBS closed out their weekend by visiting the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who on account of the events of the previous night had officially been eliminated from the playoffs. Just like the night before, WBS came out flying.

Once again, WBS exited the first period with a 4-0 lead.

John Stevens for Bridgeport brought the Sound Tigers back to 4-1 after two periods, but Gage Quinney restored the four goal lead 8:01 into the third.

Steve Bernier closed out the scoring at 10:19 of the third with his 20th of the season, but it was all for naught as WBS closed out its season series with Bridgeport with a 5-2 win.

WBS starting goalie Anthony Peters was busy, stopping 41 of 43 shots for the win. His opposing number Eamon McAdam only lasted 20 minutes and 10 saves on 14 shots before being removed in favor of Kristers Gudlevskis, who saved 12 of 13 shots.

Gage Quinney took third star with a goal and an assist. Peters took second star with his performance. Top honors went to Adam Johnson with his two quick strikes in the first period.

The win put WBS three points clear of Providence after the Bruins dropped a 6-3 decision at home to Lehigh Valley on Sunday, a result that clinched the Atlantic Division for the Phantoms. Both WBS and Providence have a three in three remaining to close the season, while fourth-place Charlotte has two games left.

STANDINGS (through the games of April 8, as compiled from theahl.com)

  • Atlantic Division: 1) Lehigh Valley 45-19-10, .676 (clinched division); 2) WBS 43-22-8, .644 (clinched playoffs); 3) Providence 43-25-5, .623 (clinched playoffs); 4) Charlotte 44-26-4, .622 (clinched playoffs); 5) Bridgeport 36-29-8, .548; 6) Hartford 32-33-9, .493; 7) Springfield 32-34-7, .486; 8) Hershey 29-36-9, .453
  • North Division: 1) Toronto 51-18-4, .726 (clinched Kilpatrick Trophy as AHL regular season champions); 2) Syracuse 44-21-8, .658 (clinched playoffs); 3) Rochester 35-21-17, .596 (clinched playoffs); 4) Utica 37-25-11, .582 (clinched playoffs); 5) Binghamton 25-37-11, .418; 6) Belleville 28-40-5, .418; 7) Laval 24-40-10, .392
  • Central Division: 1) Chicago 39-22-11, .618 (clinched playoffs); 2) Manitoba 40-25-8, .603 (clinched playoffs); 3) Grand Rapids 40-25-8, .603; 4) Rockford 39-26-8, .589; 5) Milwaukee 38-30-5, .555; 6) Iowa 31-26-16, .534; 7) Cleveland 24-39-10, .397
  • Pacific Division: 1) Tucson 39-20-6, .646 (clinched playoffs); 2) Ontario 36-22-7, .608 (clinched playoffs); 3) San Diego 36-25-4, .585; 4) Texas 36-24-13, .582 (clinched playoffs); 5) San Jose 31-26-8, .538; 6) Stockton 32-27-6, .538; 7) Bakersfield 30-25-10, .538; 8) San Antonio 34-29-10, .534

STATISTICS (through the games of April 8, as compiled from theahl.com)

  • GOALS: Daniel Sprong - 30 (T-5th in AHL, leads all AHL rookies); Teddy Blueger - 20; Jean-Sebastien Dea, Christian Thomas - 18; Garrett Wilson, Ryan Haggerty - 16; Gage Quinney - 13; Thomas DiPauli - 12; Adam Johnson - 11; Zach Aston-Reese, Andrey Pedan, Joseph Cramarossa - 9 (Aston-Reese on recall to Pittsburgh)
  • ASSISTS: Daniel Sprong, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Kevin Czuczman - 31 (Sprong 4th among AHL rookies); Garrett Wilson, Teddy Blueger - 24; Ryan Haggerty - 21; Zach Aston-Reese, Adam Johnson - 20; Gage Quinney - 18; Andrey Pedan - 17
  • POINTS: Daniel Sprong - 61 (T-6th in AHL, 2nd among AHL rookies); Jean-Sebastien Dea - 49; Teddy Blueger - 44; Garrett Wilson - 40; Ryan Haggerty - 37; Kevin Czuczman - 35; Christian Thomas - 33; Gage Quinney, Adam Johnson - 31; Zach Aston-Reese - 29
  • GOALIES (active as of April 8): Anthony Peters 11-7-3, 2.74 GAA, .906 save percentage, one shutout; Tristan Jarry 8-5-2, 3.12 GAA, .899 save percentage; Michael Leighton 5-0-0, 3.02 GAA, .902 save percentage with WBS
  • SPECIAL TEAMS: Power play 13.8%, 29th in AHL, 11 shorthanded goals allowed; penalty kill 81.8%, 21st in AHL, 9 shorthanded goals forced

THE FINAL WEEK

WBS finishes the season on the road, with three games in three cities on three straight nights. First up, the Springfield Thunderbirds on April 13 at 7:05 pm EDT. Next, to Lehigh Valley on April 14 at 7:05 pm EDT. Finally, to Hershey for the season finale on April 15 at 5:00 pm EDT.

I’ll have one more weekly recap for you next week to close the regular season, then the fun times begin with the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs.