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WBS Weekly: WBS defeats North Division leaders Utica to complete successful homestand

The victory over the Comets kicks off the final quarter of WBS’s season as they head to Canada for four games this week.

WBS Penguins forward Corey Andonovski during his pro debut on Friday night.

Friday, March 18: Syracuse 1 @ WBS 0

The WBS Penguins welcomed college free agent signing Corey Andonovski to the lineup for the first time on Friday night as the Syracuse Crunch came to town for their second visit of the season. Andonovski, Princeton’s leading scorer this past collegiate season, signed for the Penguins back on March 10.

Whereas Syracuse’s previous visit to Mohegan Sun Arena was a tense 4-3 overtime victory for the Penguins back on February 27, the rematch on Friday was much more tightly contested. Each team had five power play chances and was unable to convert any of them, while current Penguins goaltender Louis Domingue dueled the former WBS and Providence goaltender Max Lagace for 52 minutes and 10 seconds.

Unfortunately for the Penguins, Syracuse were the ones to break through on this night. Gage Goncalves scored his 12th of the season at 12:10 of the third to give the Crunch all they needed for a 1-0 victory and Lagace’s first shutout of the season.

Lagace finished with 25 saves, while Domingue finished with 32 saves on 33 shots.

Saturday, March 19: Utica 2 @ WBS 3

WBS then welcomed the Eastern Conference’s top team by points percentage and wins and the third-most prolific offense in the conference, Utica, to town to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

The paid attendance of 7,248, one of WBS’s larger crowds of the season, was treated to something of a slow start from the home side. Utica outshot the hosts 12-7 in the first 20 minutes and got Frederik Gauthier’s sixth goal of the season unassisted at 17:57 of the first to take a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.

WBS came alive in the second period, though. Sam Poulin leveled the proceedings at 2:28 of the second with his 11th goal of the season, but the highlight of this play came from Cam Lee, who got his 12th assist of the season.

Just 3:20 later, Drew O’Connor fought off two Syracuse defenders to send a perfect centering pass to Jordy Bellerive alone in front, and the WBS forward converted nicely for his eighth goal of the season. O’Connor received his 10th assist of the season on the play, bringing him up to 18 points in 17 games for WBS.

Filip Hållander provided some much-needed insurance at 4:13 of the third period with his 10th goal of the season, assisted by Chris Bigras.

That goal turned out to be immensely important, as Utica converted a 6 on 4 player advantage with starting goaltender Akita Schmid pulled and Anthony Angello in the box for high sticking. Robbie Russo’s fourth of the season on the power play pulled Utica to within 3-2 at 19:55 of the third.

The final five seconds of the game were extremely nervy for the home supporters, as WBS defender Matt Bartkowski sent the ensuing face off victory wide of Utica’s still-vacant net for an icing call. With only 1.6 seconds left, Utica managed to get one final shot off, but WBS goaltender Domingue smothered it for his 26th and final save of the evening to preserve the 3-2 victory.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of March 20:

  1. Springfield Thunderbirds: 58 games played, 32-19-5-2, .612 points percentage
  2. Providence Bruins: 54 games played, 28-17-3-6, .602
  3. Charlotte Checkers: 60 games played, 34-22-4-0, .600
  4. Hartford Wolf Pack: 55 games played, 28-20-5-2, .573
  5. Hershey Bears: 60 games played, 29-23-5-3, .550
  6. WBS Penguins: 58 games played, 26-24-4-4, .517
  7. Bridgeport Islanders: 59 games played, 24-25-6-4, .492
  8. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 57 games played, 22-25-7-3, .474

Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

Defender Pierre-Olivier Joseph, second on the team in points with 29, remains in the top 20 among defenders in the AHL. His nine goals are tied for 4th in the AHL among defenders.

WBS’s assist leader is Juuso Riikola with 21, good for a tie for 20th in the AHL among defenders.

The WBS power play is still near the bottom of the league, with a 14.5% conversion percentage that ranks 29th in the AHL. The penalty kill is back above 80% with a kill percentage of 80.4%, good for 19th in the AHL.

For readers in the AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh television area, Saturday’s victory over Utica is scheduled to be replayed tonight at 7 pm EDT.

WBS has a busy week in front of them this week on the heels of the NHL trade deadline, as they cross the northern border into Canada for four games in five days in three different cities. The AHL has tried its best to eliminate 4-in-5 stretches in recent years, but COVID has dictated otherwise for this road trip.

First off is a pair of games in Toronto against the Marlies Tuesday, March 22 and Wednesday, March 23, both 7 pm EDT starts. Tuesday’s game is rescheduled from WBS’s prior planned trip on December 21, lost due to COVID. Next up is a visit to Belleville to take on the Senators on Friday, March 25, start time 7:00 pm EDT. To close the week, WBS heads to Laval to take on the Rocket Saturday afternoon, March 26, start time 3:00 pm EDT.