Many members of the New Jersey Devils have started their offseason workouts but meanwhile in Albany, the club's AHL affiliate is gearing up for another deep run in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Last season, Coach Rick Kowalsky's crew surprised the AHL before falling to the Toronto Marlies in the final minutes of Game 7 of the AHL North Division Final, earning the Albany Devils bench boss the AHL Coach of the Year Award. This year the Devils will return to the playoffs for a matchup with the Marlies in the first round of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs. All Calder Cup Playoff games in the first round for the Albany Devils will be on The One Jersey Network. Here are the five keys to a successful playoff trip:
1.) The Cavalry Returns
The New Jersey Devils put a very high focus on getting their youngsters experience this season which should help pay dividends in Albany. Fourteen members of Albany's playoff squad will have appeared in an NHL game this season, combining for 55 points (22g-33a) in 281 games played. Miles Wood led the way with 17 points (8g-9a) in 60 games played. Steve Santini is expected to be the backbone of the blueline after 38 games in the NHL this season.
2.) Dynamic Duo
Best friends John Quenneville and Joseph Blandisi are the tag team to watch in Albany. The two forwards' chemistry on and off the ice is undeniable and they can be the difference-makers during the Albany playoff run. Quenneville led the Albany Devils in points during the regular season, posting 46 (14g-32a). Blandisi and Quenneville look to provide more thrilling moments together in Albany, just like how they did in Jersey. In case you forgot, Blandisi assisted on Quenneville's first-career NHL goal, and Quenneville returned the favor on Blandisi's OT-winner against the Rangers.
Video: Quenneville-Blandisi chemistry lifts NJD over NYR
3.) Familiar Faces
The Albany Devils who were around for last year's North Division Final will definitely have a score to settle with the Marlies. Twelve of the 27 players who skated for the Devils in the seven-game series last season will be active for revenge this season. One of the biggest pieces of the postseason success fell on the back of goaltender Scott Wedgewood, who will not be available this year due to a shoulder injury. Which brings us to our next point…
4.) Big Mac and Big Apple
Championships are built from the crease out, and the Albany Devils are fortunate to have two six-foot, four-inch tall goaltenders active on their roster. Mackenzie Blackwood (17-14-3, 2.55 GAA, .907 save-%) and Ken Appleby (17-14-0, 2.63 GAA and .903 save-%) share almost identical stat lines and have filled the shoes as Albany's last line of defense. Blackwood was the Devils 42nd overall draft choice in 2015 and is playing his first professional season after two years with the Barrie Colts (OHL). In 2015, Appleby was named to the OHL's Second All-Star Team, Memorial Cup Most Outstanding Goaltender and Memorial Cup All-Star Team after leading the Oshawa Generals to a Memorial Cup Championship victory.
5.) Perfect Timing
Just in time! The Albany Devils will get an injection of some fresh blood into the lineup with the addition of forward Blake Speers who recently played his final game for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) this week and landed in Albany on Tuesday. Speers already has NHL experience, appearing in three games for New Jersey this season. In addition to Speers, Albany has the possibility of bringing other reinforcements as junior seasons come to an end, including Blake's teammate, defenseman Colton White.
Good luck to our coaches and prospects in Albany for what will hopefully be a lengthy run in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs! Tickets are still available.