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WBS Weekly: “We’re very close to a resolution” for Penguins/Wilkes-Barre decision on future

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The WBS Penguins take four out of a possible six points this week, as the playoffs loom larger with each week.

Photo by WBS Penguins

Let’s open this week’s recap of the WBS Penguins not on the ice, but in the board room.

On Wednesday, February 13, the Luzerne County Convention Center Authority, the governmental body that owns the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza (home of the WBS Penguins), held its monthly meeting. As reported by the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader’s Jerry Lynott on February 14, a resident asked the Authority’s board during the meeting what the progress of the negotiations was between the Authority and the Pittsburgh Penguins regarding the lease agreement allowing WBS to play at the arena. Per Lynott:

(Board chairman Gary) Zingaretti informed (resident Shannon) Collins that board members are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that prevents them from going into detail about the ongoing talks. But Zingaretti said there have been almost daily discussions, some face-to-face and others in email exchanges, as part of the effort to renew the lease that expires June 30.

“I believe that both parties would agree that we’re very close to a resolution so that’s kind of the most I can say at this point,” Zingaretti said.

But he added a bit more when the board discussed finances to pay for Wi-Fi equipment and earmark $1 million for capital improvements.

“Without going into too much detail that’s subject to non-disclosure, we’re expecting some additional funding available and some additional capital expenditures that are going to be coming up,” Zingaretti said.

You put the pieces together, but let me state here unequivocally and for the record...regarding what I reported here back in December about what I saw and heard in Pittsburgh during my annual visit: As a fan of this franchise for its entire existence, I would like nothing more than to be wrong. I would like nothing more than for this franchise to stay where it is.

Wednesday, February 13: WBS 3 @ Hershey 4 (SO)

On to the ice.

If not for the historic winning streak of the Bakersfield Condors, who have won 15 straight games as of week’s end, the hottest team in the AHL entering this week might be the Hershey Bears, who entered their midweek engagement with the WBS Penguins with 11 wins in their last 12 games and points in all 12 of those contests.

Hershey started quickly, with Nathan Walker scoring his 12th of the year for Hershey just 3:38 into the contest. WBS responded from there, proceeding to outshoot Hershey 14-4 in the first period and tying the game through Kevin Czuczman’s 4th of the year on a power play at 11:45.

WBS took the lead in the second period, as Jimmy Hayes scored his 7th of the year at 16:29 with a daring slapshot on a partial breakaway.

Hershey never goes quietly, though. Especially at home.

At 4:04 of the third, Tyler Lewington scored his 3rd of the year to tie the game. WBS took the lead again at 8:43 of the third through Ryan Haggerty’s 11th of the year...

...but soon after, Haggerty was called for tripping, and former Penguin Jayson Megna scored his 11th of the season on the ensuing power play to tie the game once again at 3.

Matters could not be settled in overtime, but they were settled definitively in the shootout, as Sam Miletic and Jimmy Hayes failed on their shootout attempts, but Riley Barber and Nathan Walker each beat starting goaltender Tristan Jarry on their attempts to give Hershey their 12th win in 13 games, 4-3.

Jarry finished with 28 saves on 31 saves in the losing effort, with his counterpart Vitek Vanecek stopping 33 of 36 WBS shots, plus those two saves in the shootout, to take his 13th win of the season. Hershey swept the star honors on the night, with Aaron Ness recording two assists for third honors, Vanecek taking second, and Walker adding an assist to his goal and his shootout clincher for top honors.

Saturday, February 16: Utica 3 @ WBS 2 (OT)

It’s not very often that WBS sells out a home game anymore. There used to be sellouts all the time in the early to mid 2000s, with WBS selling out 144 games between 2000 and 2004 as part of two separate streaks, including a then-league record of 90 between March 2002 and October 2004.

But the arena was full to bursting on Saturday, as 8,176 fans turned out for Military Appreciation Night at the arena. They were treated to something of a dull start at first, as the opening goal wasn’t scored until 19:24 of the second period as Brendan Woods scored off a faceoff following a dubious icing call.

Utica expanded its lead to 2-0 at 2:15 of the third, as Vincent Arseneau buried a rebound past Tristan Jarry for his 6th of the year. Things looked for a while as though Utica’s starting goaltender, the all-time leader in AHL shutouts Michael Leighton, would add to his record, but Sam Miletic ended those questions at 5:46 of the third.

As goals often do, that tally seemed to energize the home side, who spent the rest of the third period poking and prodding for the equalizer, finally finding it in the dying seconds of a power play with 43 seconds to go through Ryan Haggerty’s 12th of the year.

That dying goal got WBS a point, but they could not get the second point as a usually dynamic 3 on 3 OT ended with Jonathan Dahlen finessing a perfect pass onto the stick of a charging Cam Darcy, who deked past Jarry for the winner at 3:12 of overtime.

Jarry finished with 20 saves on 23 shots, while Leighton finished with 35 saves on 37 shots for the win. The two WBS goal scorers, Miletic and Haggerty, took third and second stars respectively, but Cam Darcy stole top honors with his game-winner.

Sunday, February 17: WBS 5 @ Hartford 4 (OT)

The final game of the week for WBS saw the Penguins debut of the newly acquired Blake Siebenaler as the Penguins looked to take crucial standings points away from the Atlantic Division’s bottom feeders from Hartford. The Wolf Pack struck first, as Vinni Lettieri scored his 15th of the season 4:41 into the game, but WBS would proceed to rattle off the next 4 goals, as Ryan Haggerty, Sam Lafferty, Chris Summers, and Joseph Blandisi all tallied to give WBS a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.

Then, it almost blew up in WBS’s face, as Steven Fogarty, Peter Holland, and Sean Day scored within the first 10 minutes of the third to draw Hartford back to 4-4 in a development that I, frankly, find disturbing and foreboding for the future if such collapses cannot be corrected.

Adam Johnson managed to salvage the second point for WBS by scoring his 15th of the year at 1:40 of overtime, but still...time is short, and against any other opponent, that 4-1 to 4-4 collapse might have been made worse.

John Muse took the net for WBS in place of Tristan Jarry on this day, and he saved 21 of 25 shots in the winning effort. Hartford’s Dustin Tokarski saved 22 of 26 shots before being withdrawn in favor of Brandon Halverson, who stopped the first 10 shots he faced before conceding Johnson’s winner in overtime.

Fogarty and Day added assists to their respective goals to take third and second honors, while Johnson added an assist to his game winner for the evening’s top honors.

The four point weekend leaves WBS with a record of 25-21-5-2, 57 points, and a .538 points percentage, good for sixth place in the Atlantic Division and, as you’ll soon see, four points away from the playoff line. As of the AHL’s Playoff Primer entering the games of February 17, WBS had a magic number to clinch the playoffs of 55, calculated as follows:

  • Entering the games of February 17, the maximum possible points for the three teams tying at the playoff line in the Atlantic Division was 109.
  • WBS had 55 points entering Sunday’s game, a deficit of 54.
  • The first tiebreaker, regulation and overtime wins, goes against WBS in all scenarios, so they would need one more point to overcome the tiebreaker, leaving the number at 55.

The win against Hartford takes two off of that number, and after Sunday’s results, the max possible points for the fourth highest team (Providence) is 107 (a reduction of 2), so when the primer is updated later today, the magic number for WBS should be 51.

Full Atlantic Division standings at week’s end:

  1. Charlotte Checkers: 55 games played, 34-14-6-1, 75 points, .682 (leads AHL)
  2. Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 55 games played, 30-18-5-2, 67 points, .609
  3. Hershey Bears: 52 games played, 29-20-0-3, 61 points. .587 (14-0-0-1 in their last 15 after taking two wins off of Lehigh Valley following their defeat of WBS)
  4. Providence Bruins: 53 games played, 27-19-6-1, 61 points, .575
  5. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 53 games played, 27-20-3-3, 60 points, .566
  6. WBS Penguins: 53 games played, 25-21-5-2, 57 points, .538
  7. Springfield Thunderbirds: 54 games played, 22-22-6-4, 54 points, .500
  8. Hartford Wolf Pack: 54 games played, 21-25-5-3, 50 points, .463

WBS will lock up with the Hershey Bears again this weekend, as the Bears visit Mohegan Sun Arena this Friday, February 22, at 7:05 pm EST. WBS then hosts the Rockford IceHogs on Sunday, February 24, at 3:05 pm EST, for a two-game weekend.