An Ode to the AHL

To preface this blog, I guess I should start with this – as many of you know, I will be heading off to Worcester Massachusetts to cover the AHL All-Star Classic in January. Thanks to an incredible friend of mine who for whatever reason has a lot of faith in me and has provided me with her utmost support, I will be going to the All-Star Game as a journalist (as well as a fan). It is an opportunity that I never ever thought I would be given the chance to have…I am so grateful.

You see, over the past three months I have been taking more and more interest in the AHL. Specifically the Sharks AHL Affiliate the Worcester Sharks…and in thinking back, I guess it all stemmed from September 23nd – the Teal and White Game.

Many NHL teams have a preseason scrimmage with their prospects as a means of entertainment and introducing the young talent to the fans…the Sharks do this by mixing both prospects and veterans and then dividing the group in two. (As opposed to Philadelphia where the Phantoms and Flyers just duke it out)

While many fans may not be familiar with their teams’ prospects, or pay them the attention they deserve, I personally started to take notice of the depth we had. We had seen the veterans before, we knew their style, their personalities, and what they bring to the game…I was curious to see what these other guys could do.

From the Teal and White Game through the preseason, I became familiar with the new names and their individual styles. I grew more and more impressed as I watched them become comfortable playing for the big club…so when the preseason ended and many of them were gradually sent back to Worcester, it’s fair to say I was sad to see them go.

…So I began to follow their successes in Worcester. Given the injury from which Torrey Mitchell is still recovering, the Sharks roster has had room for one more. Todd McLellan has taken the opportunity to plug Worcester players in on a trial basis and see how they perform and how they gel. From the very start of the season, we’ve seen at least one Worcester player on the bench during any given game. For me, it has only helped to strengthen my respect for Worcester as I have been hugely impressed with our AHL team.

Throughout the season, we have had the privilege of getting to know some of our rookies. Five of them have made appearances during the regular season so far and it has become evident that the depth in the Sharks roster is impressive enough to have any professional hockey team shaking in their skates. All five of these guys possess something special and something unique that they have brought to the Sharks’ bench.

Lukas Kaspar (43) – the first Worcester Shark to be recalled to San Jose for the regular season. He played his first game on October 9th in the Sharks home opener against Anaheim and while he didn’t register a point in the game he did catch a 2 minute high-sticking penalty. It wasn’t until two games later, in Los Angeles, that Lukas would make his presence known on the Sharks roster. With a picture perfect crossbar “ping”, he scored the game winning goal as well as the only goal that night.

Brad Staubitz (59) – recalled for the October 17th game at Anaheim, Brad showed both the Sharks and the Ducks what he is all about when he registered a five minute fighting major in his first NHL shift. McLellan knew his scrappiness is what they needed against the Ducks and Brad did not disappoint. He doesn’t hesitate to defend his teammates and has stood up to both Dion Phaneuf and Jordin Tootoo during his second stint with San Jose. Brad Staubitz has been a big part of establishing the Sharks as a physically dominant team this season.

Jamie McGinn (64) – was recalled for the October 28th game against Pittsburgh, but did not register any points. It wasn’t until the next game; October 30th at Detroit that Jamie found his groove. Scoring the second goal for San Jose, Jamie’s goal put the Sharks ahead 2-1. Jamie also tallied an assist on the game winning goal of the night. His speed and ability to find the net makes Jamie a great asset to the Sharks offensively. I don’t care who you are, it’s got to feel good to score your first NHL goal against the defending Cup Champions.

Riley Armstrong (40) – While he was only called up to the big club for two games so far, Riley’s November 29th season debut was a proud moment for him being as he was called upon to fill in for Jonathan Cheechoo. During his next game with the Sharks, December 2nd against Toronto, Riley registered a 2 minute hooking penalty…but that didn’t stop San Jose fans from embracing him. Above one of the sections in the upper bowl, a hand made sign devoted to Riley encouraged everyone to take notice of the fresh, eager talent on the ice. San Jose cannot wait to have him back again.

Tom Cavanaugh (47) – called up for the December 4th game against Columbus. He tallied his only NHL point of this season on Jeremy Roenick’s goal against the Edmonton Oilers on December 6th. The Sharks went on to lose in OT but Cavanaugh’s point production thus far does not do him justice…when you watch him play you see how devoted he is to getting a win. He does the dirty work. You see him fighting for the puck in the corners and behind the net. You see him out on the forecheck. He creates space for his teammates which is one of the reasons he is so valuable to San Jose.

Let’s not forget…
Thomas Greiss (1) – Greiss has not played in goal for us yet this season…because he hasn’t had to. While he was called up on November 8th (along with Brad Staubitz) because Nabokov was injured, his duty was to serve as back-up to the back-up. Brian Boucher stepped in as number one, and Greiss took the number two spot. It’s got to be a reassuring feeling for San Jose to know that they have so much depth in net.

One could definitely say that the guys mentioned above have had a lot to do with where the Sharks are sitting in the point standings. Not that they have scored crazy amounts of goals, or tallied numerous assists, but that their confidence and courage to do whatever their coach asks of them keeps their teammates’ spirits high. Confidence in their coach and confidence in one another is what creates chemistry…and chemistry creates wins.

Now, while it may not make the top of your list of things to do for the New Year, I would strongly urge you to get to know your Affiliate teams…

Many fans don’t take the time to realize what an impact our “farm” teams have on the big clubs, but when injury plagues a team, it’s up to the rookies and prospects to step up their game and keep our teams in it…but by far the most amazing thing about following the AHL has been watching these guys grow. Watching their skills and talents evolve, watching their hunger and intensity deepen.

To watch a young player on NHL ice for the first time is to see the love of the game in it’s purest form.

The way hockey was intended.