Wilkes-Barre/Scranton solved one problem, but faces another.
The Penguins finished off Norfolk in their AHL East Division Semifinals on Sunday, four games to two.
“It was a real physical series. It was a hard-fought series,” said Pittsburgh Penguins Assistant General Manager Chuck Fletcher, who oversees Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. “Norfolk is a top offensive team. A lot of the best offensive players in the AHL play there and their game plan was to hit us and play a very physical game against us and I thought we responded well.”
The next task for the Penguins – knocking off Hershey, the defending Calder Cup champion. Game 1 is Wednesday night in Hershey.
“They have the best record in the AHL this year,” Fletcher said. “If you look at the season series, we had some real hard-fought games with them and won some games early against them and they won some games late.
“They are a team that won the Calder Cup last year and have a lot of playoff experience and a lot of guys that were on that team last year are on the team this year. If you look at their club, they have good size and speed. They have a solid defense led by Mike Green, who played a lot of the year in Washington. Of course, they have Frederic Cassivi in goal, who was the goaltender who won the championship last year,” he continued. “They really don’t have any weaknesses. They are a team that is strong offensively and defensively. They can play a skating style or a physical style. They have the experienced guy in goal who can bail them out if they do get into trouble. It’s going to be a very difficult series. We’re going to have to get contributions from four lines; we’re going to have to stay out of the penalty box and we’re going to have to match their speed and intensity physically.”
|Nolan Schaefer has been strong in goal since joining Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. KDP Photography |
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hopes its winning formula from the first round carries over against the Bears. Norfolk won Game 1, but the Penguins retaliated for wins in Games 2 and 3. The Admirals evened the series with a Game 4 win, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton posted two-straight wins to claim the series in stifling fashion with an 8-1 rout and a 3-2 triumph.
“We had a good game plan and shut down their top line. We held Martin St. Pierre to one point and Pierre Parenteau to three points. Those are two of their top offensive players,” Fletcher said. “We stayed disciplined. We took the shots physically and maintained our composure and did very well on the power play, which I thought was the turning point in the series.”
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton got key performances from many players, including goaltender Nolan Schaefer.
“Schaefer has been the go-to guy since we got him [in a trade with San Jose]. He played great in the first round,” Fletcher said. “He won the goaltending duel with Corey Crawford. I thought he was a little shaky in Game 1, but he was outstanding in Games 2-6 and gave us a chance to win, which we did in four of the last five games.”
Micki DuPont racked up nine points (4+5) in the six games for the Penguins.
“Micki DuPont was probably the best player in the series for both teams. He was just a tremendous player on the ice in terms of offensive production and quarterbacking the power play. They targeted him physically and he absorbed a lot of hits, but he kept moving the puck and kept moving his feet and did a great job of breaking the puck out of our zone time after time,” Fletcher said. “Up front, Jonathan Filewich and Ryan Stone gave us a solid series offensively. Connor James may have been our most-consistent forward night in and night out. He did a great job of killing penalties and checking and he contributed offensively. Stephen Dixon had a couple timely goals and also did a great job killing penalties. We had great contributions from all our guys – players like Wade Skolney and Ryan Lannon and Matt Carkner really played well defensively and did a great job. It was a physical series and those guys really thrived in that environment.”
|Micki DuPont had nine points (4+5) in six playoff games. KDP Photography |
Even though the Penguins have had an infusion of Edmonton prospects this season, the situation has been positive.
“We got good players from Edmonton. That was the bottom line from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s standpoint. We didn’t have enough players to fill out a full team and so many of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s top players over the last two or three years are playing in Pittsburgh. There’s just been a tremendous migration West to Pittsburgh from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. We just simply didn’t have the depth this year to fill out a roster,” Fletcher said. “The Edmonton opportunity afforded us a lot of great young players to add to our team. Our options were to sign a bunch of 30-year-old players that were maybe past their peak in terms of not only ability, but willingness to play hard. In turn, we got a bunch of kids from Edmonton in their second and third years of pro hockey who were still trying to get ahead and still trying to get to the NHL. Their attitude has been great; they fit in seamlessly. A lot of credit goes to Todd Richards and Dan Bylsma for building a team out of two groups. Their players have played hard. It’s one team and they play hard for each other.”
The one-year experiment ends next season as Edmonton will have its own affiliate in Springfield, Mass.
“Edmonton will be in Springfield next year and we’ll put a full team on the ice in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton,” Fletcher said. “We’ve started the past couple weeks looking at players for next year. So, we’ll have a full four months to build a team as opposed to six weeks last year.”
In the meantime, Fletcher will head to Hershey to watch the Penguins battle the Bears.
“I will try to see most of the games,” he said. “It’s great. The Norfolk series, from speaking to people like Dave Andrews, the commissioner of the league, down to many of the pro scouts, they all marveled at the speed and intensity of the series and felt it was the best playoff series they had seen, in terms of entertainment value and end-to-end action and I expect the Hershey series to be the same.”