Back-to-back losses puts pressure on Marlies, Penguins

By Jared Clinton (@JPDClinton)

After streaking to the Western Conference Final, the Toronto Marlies are hoping they’re not going to start sliding their way out.

With eight straight wins to start the Calder Cup Playoffs, it seemed like everything was clicking for the Baby Buds. While they were bombarded in game one, they pulled out a victory over the Texas Stars to take the series lead, but their porous defense came back to bite them in game two.

The hope was, especially with a team that had been on such an amazing run into the Conference Final, the Marlies would bounce back in game three at the friendly confines of Ricoh Coliseum. However, following a trend from the first two rounds, the team with the ever-important third goal pulled out the victory — that goal coming off the stick of the Texas Stars’ Travis Morin.

Morin, the regular season points leader and league MVP, struck with the game-winner just under a minute after the Marlies drew even on a TJ Brennan tally. It was just Morin’s fourth marker of the playoffs, but it couldn’t have come at a bigger time for the Stars, who’ve now taken the series lead back from the Marlies.

After a rough outing in game two, Marlies goaltender Drew MacIntyre withstood all eight of the Stars’ shots in the first period before allowing a second period marker to Radek Faksa. After allowing 50-plus shots in each of the first two games, the Marlies tightened up defensively, allowing 30 attempts on MacIntyre in game three.

Across the ice, Stars’ goaltender Christopher Nilstorp held off the Marlies’ extra-man attack and sealed the victory for his squad.

For the Marlies, it will be absolutely pivotal to knock off the Stars in game four if they’ve got any hopes of staying in the series. The problem, however, lies in stopping a balanced Stars attack, and trying to create zone time and shot attempts. Through the first three games, Nilstorp has only seen 69 shots. MacIntyre, on the other hand, has faced 131.

Game four goes tonight at Ricoh Coliseum, with puck drop slated for 7 p.m. ET.

After two tight games, with each St. John’s and Wilkes-Barre pulling out a victory, the IceCaps offense finally exploded, while their defense held, with Michael Hutchinson earning the 30-save shutout.

Only down by two goals heading into the second period, the Penguins defense couldn’t hold fast. St. John’s capitalized, scoring early and often in the second frame, with goals coming from Eric O’Dell and Kael Mouillierat in the first seven minutes. Mouillierat’s marker, a goal coming on a 5-on-3 powerplay, gave the IceCaps an insurmountable 4-0 lead heading into the final frame.

With just a second left in the second period, Zach Redmond buried a Will O’Neill pass past Pens’ goaltender Peter Mannino, which signalled the end of Mannino’s night.

The fourth game of the Eastern Conference Final starts tonight at 7:05 p.m. ET, with the Penguins trying to take advantage of home ice and even the series at two games apiece.

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Morin, Kichton, and Hartzell get Player of Month honours

Travis Morin, Brenden Kichton, and Eric Hartzell have taken home AHL Player of the Month nods for their performance in January.

Morin, the AHL’s leading scorer with 65 points (26-39), had his best month of the season to date, putting up ten goals and 11 assists en route to Player of the Month. The 30-year-old Morin has appeared in three games for the Dallas Stars this season, just the fifth, sixth, and seven games of his career in the bigs. A ninth-round pick of the Capitals in 2004 — back when the draft went that long — played his way up to the AHL after completing four years with the NCAA’s MSU-Mankato and two years in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays.

An AHL veteran, Morin has racked up 272 points in regular season action in the AHL. Currently on a two-way deal with a cap hit of $550,000, Morin’s career has consistently seen the forward get to the next level, so he could be given some time to see if he can put it together in the NHL with Dallas next season.

St. John’s IceCaps defenceman Kichton, who received the Rookie of the Month honour, also set a career high for points in a month with 14 in January. The rookie defenceman’s three goals and 11 assists came on the strength of five multi-point contests, with a career-high three-point (1-2) game coming against Providence on Jan. 26.

Drafted in the fifth-round of the 2011 draft by the New York Islanders, Kichton went unsigned and re-entered the draft where he was selected in the seventh-round by the Winnipeg Jets. So far, the selection is paying dividends for the Jets, as Kichton made a good month better by earning a selection to the AHL All-Star team that will take on Farjestad in St. John’s next week.

Finally, Goaltender of the Month was awarded to Eric Hartzell of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Hartzell was signed by the Penguins organization after completing four years at Quinnipiac University. In his final season in the NCAA, Hartzell was awarded ECAC Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

January was one to remember for Hartzell, as he went 5-2 with a 1.33 GAA and .944 SV%. As for the season, in 18 games with the Baby Pens, the rookie goaltender has posted a 1.85 GAA and a .925 SV%.

Harry Zolniercyzk puts hat in Goal of the Year race

It might be appropriate, what with the Super Bowl just around the corner, to say that Harry Zolniercyzk went into Beast Mode, if only temporarily.

Zolnierczyk, who is in the middle of a career year with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, buried his 13th of the season last night as the Pens shutout the Syracuse Crunch, and he did it with style.

Signed by the Philadelphia Flyers after four years at Brown University, Zolnierczyk was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks, who subsequently traded the 26-year-old forward to the Pens in exchange for Alex Grant.

A Toronto, Ont. native, Zolnierczyk is on pace for the most productive season of his professional career. With 24 points (13-11) in 34 games, Zolnierczyk has already surpassed his career best in points in a single AHL campaign.

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Wolves unveil anniversary logo, Pens don new threads

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Chicago Wolves will both have some new designs this season.

The Wolves, entering their 20th season in the Windy City, have unveiled an anniversary logo that will be Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 12.31.49 PMfront and center at Allstate Arena. The logo (pictured) isn’t a far cry from the current mark, but features the Roman numeral for twenty.

No changes have been made to the colour scheme, either. The Wolves will continue using the maroon and beige in the logo, colours that have been featured in the team’s pallet almost since the team’s inception in 1994.

It won’t just be the Wolves who have something new to show off, as the Penguins unveiled a new jersey set for the upcoming season.

The three jerseys — a white road jersey, dark home jersey, and gold alternate — aren’t a far cry from what the Penguins have worn in past seasons, but the alternate stands out. Using the gold colour that’s been a part of the colour scheme for the past fifteen years, the Penguins are also debuting a 15th anniversary logo, much in the same vein as the Wolves celebratory logo.

You can take a look at the new Penguins threads below:

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On The Bus: Devils host birthday bashes, Barons paint ice, and other news and notes

With the AHL season right around the corner, and rookie camp already underway, it’s time to get ready for another year of following the future stars of the National Hockey League in our favourite small towns. Below is a collection of links of some stories from around the AHL. If you have any tips, news, or notes you’d like to see, reach us at americanhockeyblog@gmail.com.

  • The Albany Devils have selected a couple season ticket holders to celebrate their birthdays with the team:
  • …and the Oklahoma City Barons are bringing a few fans along to help in the painting of the rink. [OKC Barons]
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins, and, in turn, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, are getting a look at some fresh blood between the pipes. [masslive.com]
  • Finally, the Adirondack Phantoms have given the following silhouette to try to pique your interest about the coming special logo unveiling on Monday:
    Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 5.56.45 PM

 

Mannino signs deal with the Pens

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins announced today that they’ve come to terms with goaltender Peter Mannino on a one-year deal which will see the netminder suit up with the Pens next season.

Mannino, a 29-year-old native of Southfield, Miss., is coming off of a season in which he backed up the Manchester Monarchs and Martin Jones. In 20 appearances in net for the Monarchs last season, Mannino posted a 2.47 GAA and .919 SV%.

The former starter for the NCAA’s University of Denver, Mannino backstopped the team to a Frozen Four victory in 2004-05, and was named the tournament MVP. However, his performance during that tournament was not enough to land him an NHL deal, and Mannino entered the pros as a free agent.

Though Mannino has had a tough time sticking anywhere for an extended period of time, he has shown the ability to be equal to the task when called upon. In 38 games with the Chicago Wolves in 2009-10, Mannino put up career bests in the ‘A’ when he posted a 2.34 GAA and .921 SV%.

Jason Iacona from Chirps From Center Ice (which you should be reading, if you aren’t already) had this to say about the signing:

The signing is an interesting one at best, as Pittsburgh just signed Eric Hartzellto an NHL contract. Unless there’s a competition in camp, one would project that Hartzell starts the season in Wheeling, likely starting every game he possibly can to get pro experience. I can’t see the Penguins carrying three goalies (Jeff Zatkoff being the other goalie not mentioned yet)

However, the move does make some sense in regards to the young, fairly inexperienced Wilkes-Barre blue line projected for the Fall. You now have two veteran goaltenders to backstop all the youth.

Mannino’s contract is a one-year AHL deal.

Penguins land Mikkelson, bring in Hartzell

Over the weekend, the Penguins announced deals with Brendan Mikkelson and Eric Hartzell.

Mikkelson, who spent last season in Syracuse with the Crunch, was a second round draft pick of the Anahiem Ducks in 2005. Though he did get a brief shot in the NHL with the Lightning last season — he suited up for four games — he was primarily in the Crunch lineup, suiting up for 13 regular season games, and 13 playoff contests in 2012-13.

At just 26 years old, Mikkelson will be suiting up with his fifth club, previously playing games in the Anaheim, Toronto, Calgary, and Tampa Bay organizations.

Jason Iacona of Chirps From Center Ice had this to say about the signing:

Bombulie suggests he fills the role of Dylan Reese. He figures that Wilkes-Barre could do well to get another defenseman to fill the role Joey Mormina played.

Mikkelson was #35 on the Bombulie / Cignoli Big Board. Described as a “capable depth defenseman, solid in the AHL and can fill in at the NHL level.”

That certainly helps, as eluded to yesterday by Mike O’Brien, the Wilkes-Barre blue line is very young.

Hartzell, 24, has spent the last four seasons with Quinnipiac of the NCAA, and has been re-signed by the Penguins after signing his initial deal with the Penguins at the culmination of Quinnipiac’s season.

Last year, while with the Bobcats, Hartzell backstopped the team in 42 games and posted a 1.57 GAA and .933 SV%.

A Hobey Baker finalist, ECAC Goaltender and Player of the Year, and First All-Star, Hartzell will suit up in Wilkes-Barre next season to begin his professional career.

Thiessen to backstop SM-Liiga’s HIFK

Once free agency opened on July 5, it was thought that former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goalie Brad Thiessen would be highly sought after.

Nearly ten days later — and still without a job in North America — Thiessen has signed to play in Finland.

Jason at Chirps From Center Ice was on top of this as soon as news came down:

After an illustrious four year career with the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins compiling a regular season record of 88-49-12-6, 2.47 GAA and a .906 SV% and a playoff record of 18-16, 2.31 GAA and a .924 SV% Thiessen is heading to HIFK in the Sm-liiga, which is the highest level of professional hockey in Finland. HIFK is a team located in Helsinki, which is the largest city and the capital of Finland.

While not surprising, the writing was on the wall from the start of the season for Thiessen with the arrival and play of Jeff Zatkoff.

Thiessen undoubtedly will go down as one of the best goaltenders to come through Wilkes-Barre and will be never forgotten for his historic Game 6 performance vs. the Providence Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals this year.

Spending four years in one place is quite an extended stay for a goaltender who was in the habit of inking one-year deals. It had become evident that Thiessen’s spot wasn’t going to be with the big club — no matter his efforts in the ‘A’, Thiessen’s only seen action in five NHL games — but the signing and subsequent extension of Tomas Vokoun all but made his full-time jump to the NHL impossible.

The contract appears to be for one season, so Thiessen could realistically end back in North America come the 2014-15 season.

Zolnierczyk signs extension with Pens

Harry Zolniercyzk has inked a one-year, two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Zolnierczyk, who most will recognize from his stint with the state rival Philadelphia Flyers, comes to the Penguins after his rights were acquired from the Anaheim shortly after the end of the NHL season. At 25, Zolnierczyk made his way to the NHL out of the NCAA’s Brown University, where he captained the team in his final year of NCAA eligibility.

In his fourth and final season with Brown, Zolnierczyk was named the Ivy League Player of the Year, and earned himself a deal with the Adirondack Phantoms. In 16 games with the Phantoms in 2010-11, the Toronto, Ont., native tallied three goals and two assists and added 37 PIM.

The 5’11” winger has only appeared in 44 NHL games over his career, and will have a difficult time cracking what is — on paper — one of the deepest lineups in the big leagues. Zolnierczyk will likely continue his AHL career and start his season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 116 AHL games, Zolnierczyk has tallied 22 goals and 23 assists.

(Cover image by Bridget Samuels)

Penguins bring back pair for Wilkes-Barre

Zach Sill and Paul Thompson aren’t going anywhere.

The duo, who played last season with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, are back with the club after signing one-year, two-way deals with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Combined, the two forwards contributed 38 points (24-14) to the Pens, as well as adding a bit of toughness up front. Sill, who appeared in 58 games last season, had 84 PIM, while Thompson, who suited up in 57, posted 108 PIM.

Sill, who has spent four season in the AHL with the Pens, came to the AHL after finishing his career in the QMJHL. In 259 career AHL games, Sill has scored 30 gaols and added 37 assists. While he won’t ‘wow’ anyone with his skill, Sill is still able to make things happen on the ice with his size and grit. At six-feet and 201 lbs., the Maritimer has the frame of a prototypical power forward, and while his contributions might be slight, his presence on the ice helps create space for those around him/

Thompson, a 24-year-old from Methuen, Mass., came to the Pens as an undrafted free agent from the University of New Hampshire. While at UNH, Thompson showed a flare for finding the net, tallying 57 goals and 55 assists in 140 games, a points per game pace of .80. While it’s no surprise that Thompson hasn’t sustained that in the AHL, his 31 goals and 26 assists in 131 games in the ‘A’ makes him a threat to score. Thompson showed his ability to find the back of the net last season, when he set a career high with 20 goals in 58 games.

During the WBS Penguins run in the playoffs, Thompson suited up in 15 games, and contributed to the tune of three goals and three assists.

Financial terms of the deals have not been released.