By everyone’s admission, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ season concluded much sooner than people were expecting. The Game Three loss to the Charlotte Checkers was a stunning one to be sure, but those caught up in the moment may have missed the silver lining brightly shining from that contest.
Rookies Anthony Angello and Niclas Almari, both playing on amateur tryout contracts, were awesome.
Angello scored twice for the Penguins in that game, his first two tallies as a pro. Almari was a stalwart on defense and notched an assist. The Penguins may have lost the game, but Angello accounted for two-thirds of the team’s scoring, and Almari earned a plus-three rating.
The loss meant the 2017-18 season was over, but Angello and Almari sent a loud message for the future.
“I think that was a good example of how I play and what I can do,” Angello said. “Coming in, I started off a little tentative, but then I started to play my game, and dominate down there at the end.”
Angello made the adjustment to the pro game quickly, but as he pointed out, things weren’t smooth sailing right from the outset. It took him several days to get truly settled in with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but once he did, he reached that level where he could break through in the unforgiving atmosphere of an elimination playoff game.
“I obviously had never been a pro before, I hadn’t played as pro style before, and being at school and stuff, I hadn’t skated in a couple weeks,” Angello said. “I was nervous from that aspect, but it all came together for me. Plus the guys were great, practices were well put together, so everything was arranged for me to step in and have success.”
Almari was impressive not only because of his play on the ice, but because of the age at which he thrived. He was only 19-years-old for that game against the Checkers, his first professional playoff game, and yet he maneuvered the playing service with the poise and confidence of a 10-year veteran. Even a casual fan could take one look at the teenager and see that he isn’t very physically imposing at this point, but despite lacking strength, he was arguably Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s best defenseman in that Game 3.
In line with Almari’s performance, his off-ice personality is a poised one. Unfazed by reporters bombarding him with questions that aren’t in his native tongue, he declared himself to be “comfy” in the Calder Cup Playoffs setting. Last season, he captured the championship in Finland’s top junior league while leading all defensemen in points during the postseason.
“I feel like I’m a playoff player,” Almari said. “I always play my best in playoffs… Junior playoffs in Finland aren’t that much different. Of course this level is a lot better hockey and every team has depth, but we had pretty big crowds for our games. It’s easy to get into the game. I think it had a huge impact on my (AHL) performance.”
All signs point to Angello starting the 2018-19 season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. On the other hand, Almari is still unsigned by Pittsburgh and could be headed back to Finland for one more season. Until then, the smooth defenseman will follow the guidance of Pittsburgh’s development staff with the added confidence of his AHL debut in tow.
“I know I played well, but there’s still a lot of improving that needs to be done,” Almari said. “The coaches know the road for me.”
By Nick Hart