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Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season in Review: January
by Jen Dobias

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins took the ice in 2012-13 for their 14th season of play and looking to come on top of the rough and tumble East Division. With the NHL lockout providing the backdrop for the first half of the season, the Penguins seemed to find their stride over the final two months of the regular season en route to their 11th consecutive Calder Cup Playoff appearance.  Over the next few weeks, we will recap Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s season, month-by-month. 

After a rough end to 2012, the Wilkes/Barre-Scranton Penguins entered January hoping that the new year would bring a return to stretches of success that were the hallmark of November.  The first month of 2013 would be notable not for the NHL and Pittsburgh debut of 2010 first-rounder Beau Bennett, but also the acquisition of an AHL All-Star.    

Looking to snap a four-game losing streak to start the new month, the Penguins were thwarted in their initial opportunity on Jan. 4, thanks in large part to the efforts of Binghamton netminder Robin Lehner. Despite outshooting the Senators, 44-15, the Penguins fell by a score of 3-1.  Bennett’s goal at 8:21 of the first would be the lone goal let up by Lehner as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s winless streak stretched to five games. 

The day after being stymied by an opposing goalie, it was Penguins netminder Brad Thiessen who 30 made saves en route to a 3-0 win over the Worcester Sharks.  Only 40 seconds into the contest, Benn Ferriero potted the eventual game-winner against his former team. Riley Holzapfel and Warren Peters added goals in the second period to make the final score, 3-0.  Thiessen’s shutout was his first of the season.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton closed out the weekend in Connecticut on Jan. 6 and was again victimized by a strong goaltending performance.  Connecticut Whale goalie Jason Missiaen made 35 saves to earn his first shutout of the year, 2-0. Rookie Kyle Jean scored both of his team’s goals.

A familiar foe again had the Penguins’ number on Jan. 9 as Lehner held the offense at bay with 31 saves in a 3-1 win for Binghamton.  Even though Paul Thompson’s 10th goal of the year pulled Wilkes-Barre/Scranton within one at 4:45 of the third, Lehner turned aside 14 shots in the period and the Senators potted an empty netter in the waning minutes of regulation.

The two losses would see the Penguins own an, almost two-to-one, 67-34 shot advantage over the opposition.  Though the shot differential would not be so gaudy over the next weeks, the Penguins were able to embark on a five-game winning streak.

Rookie blueliner Brian Dumoulin made his presence felt at the onset, scoring the deciding tally in consecutive games.  On Jan. 11 against rival Hershey, his power play tally 12:57 into the first would be the game’s only goal.  Brad Thiessen made 23 saves for his second shutout in three starts and the Penguins’ second 1-0 win of the season.

The next day against the Adirondack Phantoms, Thompson gave the Penguins an early edge on the man-advantage 7:11 into the first.  Adirondack responded at 8:36 of the second, as Marcel Noebels netted his first AHL goal to tie the game.

In the final minutes of the second frame, Brian Gibbons darted down the right wing, pulled up at the circle and found former Boston College teammate Dumoulin in the slot. Dumoulin beat Adirondack netminder Scott Munroe glove side to net to put Wilkes-Barre/Scranton ahead for good.

Even though the Norfolk Admirals enjoyed a quick start in their match-up against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 15, it was a strong finish by the Penguins that led a 4-2 victory and their third straight win.    With the Penguins holding a 2-1 edge late in regulation, the Admirals notched the equalizer during 5-on-4 play at 14:46 of the third. The Penguins would regain the lead on a power play of their own less than three minutes later, as Trevor Smith tipped an Alex Grant one-timer past goalie Viktor Fasth. Brian Gibbons added a shorthanded empty-netter to seal the win for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton..

The Penguins and rival Bears took things outside on Jan. 20 in the 2013 Capital BlueCross AHL Outdoor Classic in Hershey.  It was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s first ever appearance in the AHL’s outdoor event and the second in a row for the Bears. Tomas Kundratek snapped a scoreless tie with 4:20 left in the second to give the Bears a 1-0 lead.  Holzapfel would answer for the Penguins 7:47 into the final frame to tie the game and send things past regulation.

Just 1:19 into overtime, Jayson Megna sent Thompson on a breakaway. Thompson rifled the puck off Sabourin’s glove and into the net, putting a damper on Hershey’s winter festivities and giving the Penguins their fourth-straight win.

Thiessen followed up that show and continued his hot play with his third shutout of the month and season on Jan. 23 against St. John’s.  All of the offense came in the first period as Grant, Philip Samuelsson and Holzapfel allowed the Penguins to leap out to a 3-0 cushion. Thiessen made 26 saves in the win.

The next day the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins would receive on their most consistent offensive weapons over the final months of the regular season and through the playoffs.   Pittsburgh sent Benn Ferriero to the New York Rangers organization in exchange for Chad Kolarik.  At the time of the trade, Kolarik ranked in the top-15 in AHL scoring with 35 points (16g-19a) in 41 games and had already been selected to appear in the 2013 AHL All-Star Classic in Providence, R.I.

The day after joining Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Kolarik quickly flashed his offensive firepower as his team battled the Rochester Americans on Jan. 25. Scoring his first goal as a Penguin on his first shot during his first shift of his first game, Kolarik gave his new team a 1-0 lead just 1:36 into the game.

The excitement from Kolarik’s early marker faded in the second period as Rochester scored four times, three coming in the last five minutes.  Rochester would ultimately hand the Penguins a 4-2 loss, snapping their five-game winning streak.

Wilkes/Barre-Scranton rebounded the following night against the Toronto Marlies with a solid 3-1 victory.  After a clean slate in the first period, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton put on an offensive clinic in the second only to be repeatedly denied by Mark Owuya.  Taking 19 shots and limiting Toronto to only three, the Penguins spent much of the period on the attack. They finally solved Owuya at 11:19 of the frame as Holzapfel fired a shot through a screen to break the scoreless tie.

The Marlies tied things up on a power play 7:03 into the third, but Thompson netted his team-leading 14th goal just 59 seconds later, forcing a turnover and beating Owuya to the glove side.

Skating 5-on-4, Adam Payerl added an insurance tally to make the final score 3-1. With a strong showing in net, Zatkoff earned first star, making 27-of-28 saves, including 13 in the third period alone.

Though Wilkes-Barre/Scranton wrapped up play in the month of January, newcomer Kolarik was Wilkes/Barre-Scranton’s lone representative at the AHL All-Star Classic.  Kolarik notched two goals for the Eastern Conference, but it was not enough as Ryan Hamilton completed his hat trick with only 11.2 seconds left on the clock to lift the Western Conference to a 7-6 win.

Wilkes/Barre-Scranton entered the All-Star break having won six of its last seven games.   Brad Thiessen became the second Penguins goalie of the season to be named CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month,

In seven appearances during the month, Thiessen was 5-2-0 with a 1.36 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and three shutouts for the Penguins.

Overall, the Penguins went 7-4-0-0 in January to bring their season record to 21-18-2-1.  Buoyed by their strong goaltending and the addition of Kolarik, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would continue its strong play into February. 

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