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WBS Season Finale Report: One last set of fireworks

The WBS Penguins concluded their 2020-2021 season with a bang, as Kasper Bjorkqvist scored in overtime to beat the Phantoms on Saturday, then fought on Sunday in Hershey. Check out all the final highlights here.

Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza
Photo taken by me

Saturday, May 15: WBS 2 @ Lehigh Valley 1 (OT)

Approximately four hours before WBS took to the ice for their last visit to Allentown of the season, the Hershey Bears wrapped up the North Division championship for the season by defeating the Binghamton Devils 3-2 in Hershey. So the final game between the Penguins and the Phantoms for the season was largely ceremonial, as neither WBS nor Lehigh Valley had any titles or standings position to play for. For the Penguins, it was a matter of no one getting hurt.

On that front, they appear to have succeeded.

As for the game itself, WBS opened the scoring at 11:57 of the first period with Jonathan Gruden’s sixth goal of the season, assisted by Drew O’Connor (his 12th helper of the season) and Nick Schilkey (his 13th).

The goal was matched by Ryan Fitzgerald of Lehigh Valley, who scored in the third period to send the game to overtime.

In the extra session, it was the newly-returned Kasper Bjorkqvist, in his fourth game for WBS since his Finnish league season ended, who sent the home fans home disappointed by giving the Penguins the win.

Jordy Bellerive got the only assist on the game-winner by Bjorkqvist, his first for WBS this season, as the Penguins clinched at least a .500 points percentage for themselves this season with the victory. Despite the Phantoms’ COVID issues this season, the Penguins and Phantoms were able to get in a total of eight games against each other, with each team winning four.

Penguins goaltender Alex D’Orio finished with 23 saves on 24 shots in the victory, worthy of third star honors. The win was his sixth for WBS this season, his fifth in as many starts, and his last win for WBS of the season as Pittsburgh recalled D’Orio on Sunday morning just before their playoff opener to serve as their third goaltender. Zane McIntyre took the loss with 26 saves on 28 shots.

Sunday, May 16: WBS 2 @ Hershey 5

With the Toronto Marlies defeating the Laval Rocket 3-2 in overtime on Saturday, Hershey entered their season finale having clinched the MacGregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s regular season champions. There was nothing left for either side to play for as WBS made its final visit to Hershey of the season to close out 2020-2021.

But if you thought this final game would be ceremonial, you were very, very much mistaken.

Over the course of the finale, there were four fights between the Penguins and Bears. Felix Robert, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Cam Lee, and captain Josh Currie all threw down against Kale Kessy, Shane Gersich, Mason Morelli, and Kessy again. On top of all that, Hershey captain Matt Moulson took a match penalty for spearing with 8:05 to play after this dustup with WBS’s Billy Sweezey.

As far as the scoring goes, Connor McMichael, Moulson, and Brett Leason scored within the first 21:03 to send the Bears on their way. Drew O’Connor and Cam Lee scored in the second to bring the Penguins back to within one, but Eddie Wittchow and Leason scored in the third to give Hershey the 5-2 victory and a season record of 8-2 over their rivals to the north.

With D’Orio up to Pittsburgh, the WBS net belonged to 18-year-old Brett Brochu, previously with the OHL’s London Knights and three years younger than the WBS franchise itself. Brochu, only with WBS because the OHL didn’t play this season, stopped 31 of 36 shots in his pro debut. Opposing Brochu was Hunter Shepard, playing only his third AHL game but stopped 34 of 36 shots for the win.

Final Statistics

The 22nd season of WBS Penguins hockey thus concludes with a record of 13-13-4-2, a points percentage of .500, and a fifth place finish in the temporary North Division.

Among the Penguins, captain Josh Currie finished the season with 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 24 games and the team scoring title. Currie ends up sharing the goals title with Jordy Bellerive and Tim Schaller, none of which were able to break the tie between them in the final two games. Nick Schilkey’s 14 assists led WBS to end the year, with Schilkey adding seven goals to finish second in scoring.

I can’t say enough about Drew O’Connor, either; after joining the team in March, O’Connor finished with 7G+12A for 19 points in 20 games to lead the team’s rookies.

Among the goalies, rookie Alex D’Orio finished with the team’s low GAA of 2.18, the team’s best save percentage at .915, and the most wins with 6. Max Lagace finished second in all three categories, with 4 wins, a 2.30 GAA, and a .907 save percentage.

At the time of this writing, with a handful of games still to be played, WBS’s power play finished the season with 24 conversions in 133 chances for a percentage of 18.0%, 16th among the 28 participating teams. The penalty kill conceded 21 goals in 117 chances to finish with a percentage of 82.1%, good for 12th in the AHL.

The 2020-2021 AHL season still has a little bit to go, with the Toronto Marlies playing out their string this week with three more games and the Pacific Division tournament starting on Tuesday. But for the WBS Penguins, it’s time to head home or to Pittsburgh for either a well-earned vacation or a chance at the Stanley Cup.

The 23rd season of WBS Penguins hockey is expected to begin in October.