By Barry Noss
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins started their season with the largest introduction in the eleven year history of the club. The Zamboni chute echoed with the sound of 100 plus players banging their sticks ready to take the ice. The video board played flashbacks of old friends like Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy and Marc-Andre Fleury. You could feel electricity in the air with the music pumping and the propane torches primed and ready to be lit. The video showed the boys dressed in their WBS Pens sweaters then lifting the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh that they won in June. After the video board recap of the 2008/2009 season, the arena went dark, lit with the glow of the emergency lighting and the primed propane torches. Bobby Day, the WBS Pens announcer, introduced the newest addition to the hockey family; the Wilkes-Barre Jr. Penguins. After that, the WBS Penguins skated out to the blue line.
The Pens ended up winning the season opener 4-2 against the Syracuse Crunch finishing out the month of October 5-2-1-1. Struggles started early on for the Pens as they were not able to rally long enough to gain momentum. Luck was not on their side as they were plagued with injuries and call-ups, a look at the month by month stats below shows this.
One of the largest differences between the 09/10 season was win streaks. The Pens were able to put together win streaks of six games and five games, during Feb 12-21 and during March 17-26. In the previous two seasons there were three, 9 game win streaks; Two in 07/08 (Dec/Jan and March) and one in 08/09 (Jan/Feb). That left the team pushing hard for the playoffs after the all-star break in mid-January. The boys played the final 20 games of the season with the intensity of being in the playoffs. After an exhaustive chase, they claimed a playoff spot, two games before the end of the regular season when they defeated the Albany River Rats on April 9. This strain, combined with the loss of goal leader Luca Caputi, to the Leafs, call-ups and injuries put the Pens in a poor position to face Albany in the East Division Semi-Finals of the Calder Cup playoffs.
During the series, the Pens were just one step, one bounce, one look behind the Rats. The first three games were decided by a single goal and the fourth by an empty netter with 5 seconds remaining in the game. The other thing that stands out in my mind as missing from past seasons is heroes.
Although a couple of players tried, no one was able to obtain hero status with that late game tying goal, save or huge shot block that would even the game or keep the lead. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of fantastic plays during the series, there just wasn’t that one that made the Rats question their place in the game. I am reminded of the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals against the Portland Pirates when Tim Brent buried a rebound just over 30 seconds left in regulation to take the lead and move the WB Pens into the Calder Cup finals.
The WB Pens dropped round one 4 games to none. It wasn’t for lack of effort. As stated above there were a lot of factors in the loss.
Pittsburgh has gaps to fill so they will obviously start there, but I expect to see a strong team in The AHL next season. The WBS Pens will continue to groom players like Johnson, Lovejoy, Tangradi and Jeffery to take that next step. Next year the team will be more consistent and will hopefully get some more bounces that go their way. A deeper playoff run Until October… LET'S GO PENS!!!