When you look at a farm team, when you look at a minor league franchise in a developmental league, championships are always to be celebrated, but the primary function is always to train players in the ways of pro sports, to give them a place to learn, develop, and grow their skills so that they can be ready to step into the big leagues and shine without a hitch.
The partnership between the Wheeling Nailers, WBS Penguins, and Pittsburgh Penguins has seen very many successes on this front over the last several years. Looking at Pittsburgh’s playing night roster that lost 3-2 to Toronto on Saturday, eight of the 20 players spent significant developmental time in the WB. Matt Murray, Casey DeSmith, Brian Dumoulin, Garrett Wilson, Dominik Simon, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel...and now the latest, Teddy Blueger.
Blueger was promoted from WBS to Pittsburgh on Tuesday as WBS’s goals and points leader. Frankly, Blueger’s success was getting impossible to ignore; between January 3, the date on which the AHL’s All-Star rosters were announced, and his call-up, Blueger scored six goals and six assists in nine games as part of his season totals of 21 goals and 39 points. He recorded at least one point in eight of those nine games, being held off the score sheet only by Charlotte on January 12.
So from WBS’s perspective, once again, it was mission accomplished.
But the games still go on, and WBS had two of them at home coming out of All-Stars.
February 1: Cleveland 2 @ WBS 7
At least for the first game without Blueger, WBS seemed to have things well under control, outshooting the Cleveland Monsters 42-35 and, on a promotional Football Friday out of respect of yesterday’s Super Bowl LIII, scoring a touchdown on the Monsters, defeating them 7-2.
Jean-Sebastien Dea led the charge with two goals and an assist, with five other players scoring goals, including defender Ethan Prow’s 14th of the season on a power play in the first period. Also scoring were Joseph Blandisi, his third goal in as many games for WBS and his 11th of the season; Ryan Haggerty’s 10th of the year; Anthony Angello’s 15th; and Sam Miletic’s fourth.
Of greater significance, though, were the shenanigans that took place after Miletic’s extra point. Following a scrum in the Cleveland defensive zone in which the Monsters took offense to Linus Olund taking a shot on goal shorthanded while up 7-2, Cleveland appeared to bring the game back to 7-3 with 3:08 to play, but the goal was called off due to Tristan Jarry getting bumped to the ice. Following an ensuing 30-second disagreement between the teams that persisted all the way to the benches, both teams decided to engage in a brawl between benches that Dea unfortunately left the bench to join. He was given a game misconduct for the penalty, and after warm-ups for the following night’s game against Bridgeport were completed, word came down from the AHL that Dea would be suspended for two games.
Frankly, the whole affair was embarrassing to watch. I would like to think professional hockey is evolving past such petty disagreements on the ice, but it is clear that I am mistaken.
Jarry finished with 33 saves on 35 shots for the win, while his counterpart Matiss Kivlenieks stopped 35 of 42 shots in the loss. The Penguins ended the night 2-for-4 on the power play, while they killed off 6-of-7 Monsters power plays. Blandisi took third star for one goal and two assists; Dea added an assist to his two goals for second honors; Miletic assisted on three goals in addition to his goal for top honors on the evening.
#WBSPens Postgame Highlights : The Penguins explode for seven goals to extend their winning streak to four games. Take a look at all of the action from Friday night's victory over the Cleveland Monsters pic.twitter.com/MHQgTsUGhw— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) February 2, 2019
February 2: Bridgeport 2 @ WBS 1
With no Dea and no Kevin Czuczman, who picked up a day to day injury on Friday’s game, WBS hosted the second-place Bridgeport Sound Tigers to end the weekend. Even with Dea out due to suspension and Blueger out due to graduation, I still felt WBS had enough offense left from the likes of Blandisi, Johnson, Angello, Miletic, Haggerty, and others to sustain itself.
Unfortunately, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers posed a much higher quality opponent than the Monsters, especially on defense.
Bridgeport opened the scoring on WBS’s “Pink In The Rink” night at 1:57 of the first through Jeff Kubiak’s third of the year. Ethan Prow tied the game at 14:42 of the first with his 15th goal of the year, another power play goal, but following a very late waved-off icing call, Scott Eansor scored his sixth of the year to put the Sound Tigers up 2-1. Bridgeport saw the lead all the way through to the end of the game by holding WBS to a total of 26 shots on the evening and only being called for 3 minor penalties on the evening, despite these eyes seeing several other opportunities for stick fouls, holds, and various other obstructions.
Tristan Jarry started his second consecutive game and stopped 35 of 37 shots to keep WBS in it the whole way, but still taking a loss. His counterpart Jeremy Smith stopped 25 of 26 WBS shots for the win as Bridgeport ended the week in second place in the division, but only by a point. All three goal scorers took stars on the night: Kubiak third, Prow second, Eansor first.
#WBSPens Video Review - Ethan Prow notched his 15th goal of the season, but the Bridgeport Sound Tigers pulled out a 2-1 win to snap the Penguins winning streak at four games. pic.twitter.com/Hq6bdzCS38— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) February 3, 2019
The home split leaves WBS with a record of 23-19-4-1 through 47 games, good for 51 points but still in sixth place in the division, falling to four points behind the playoff cutoff line. With Blueger now promoted, Ethan Prow leads active WBS players with 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points. Anthony Angello is level with Prow in goals, while Adam Johnson still has 14 and Ryan Haggerty has 10. Blandisi’s combined total is 11 for all teams.
The WBS power play has improved to 17.6%, 19th in the AHL, with four shorthanded goals allowed; the penalty kill ends the week at 79.3%, 24th in the AHL, with five shorthanded goals scored.
Full Atlantic Division standings through the games of Super Bowl Sunday:
- Charlotte Checkers - 48 games, 31-11-6-0, 68 points, .708 points percentage (second in points percentage to San Jose for best overall record)
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 48 games, 25-17-4-2, 56 points, .583
- Providence Bruins - 47 games, 24-16-6-1, 55 points, .585 (owns regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker over Lehigh Valley 23-22)
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 47 games, 25-17-3-2, 55 points, .585
- Springfield Thunderbirds - 48 games, 21-17-6-4, 52 points, .542
- WBS Penguins - 47 games, 23-19-4-1, 51 points, .543
- Hershey Bears - 46 games, 23-20-0-3, 49 points, .533
- Hartford Wolf Pack - 47 games, 19-23-3-2, 43 points. .457
The upcoming week finds WBS hitting the road for a three-game midwest tour, hitting Rockford on Wednesday, February 6, for an 8:00 p.m. EST start, then Milwaukee on Friday, February 8, for an 8:00 p.m. EST start, then Grand Rapids on Saturday, February 9, for a 7:00 p.m. EST start.