FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT WITH ANGELLO, ALMARI

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.

Anthony Angello recorded a pair of goals in just his second professional game.

“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.

Niclas Almari recorded an assist and a plus-three rating in his first pro game.

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

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

DENNIS BONVIE HOCKEY CAMP RETURNS TO TOYOTA SPORTSPLEX


Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Dennis Bonvie will host his annual hockey camp at the Toyota SportsPlex (40 Coal Street in Wilkes-Barre) from June 9-11.

Youth hockey players can learn from the 15-year pro, as well as former Penguins defenseman Chris Kelleher, current Penguin Patrick McGrath, and coach Don Tweedy during the three-day camp.

Individual sessions will be held each day for players in the Mite, Squirt and Pee-Wee age groups, with each skater receiving more than three hours of ice time over the three days.

Cost of the camp is just $99 per skater, and you can sign up online by clicking here.  For more information, call the Toyota SportsPlex at (570) 208-9471.

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

BLUEGER LOOKING TO MAKE NHL LEAP


The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins had just been eliminated from the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs. Understandably, the mood in the locker room could be best described as “not great”.

As the players stewed in the still-fresh sting of an abrupt postseason exit, the coaching staff reminded them that they still had a lot to be proud of from the year, but to capture the moment and use this disappointment to motivate them moving forward. Eventually, the players got up, took off their gear for one last time until next season, and the mood slowly lightened.

The locker room opened to the player’s friends and families. As loved ones and close companions entered in the room, Teddy Blueger entered the gym.

Less than 30 minutes after being bounced from the playoffs, Blueger was working out, the same way he had during the season. Never mind the fact that there were no games for him to play on the horizon, he was going to give 100 percent in the weight room.

That kind of work ethic has been on display ever since Blueger arrived in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on an amateur tryout in 2016. Two full seasons later, his hard work has paid off visibly with his play on the ice, and probably has him in a position where he’s ready for the NHL.

Blueger received his first NHL call-up during this past season, but he didn’t see any game action. Even though he never got in the line-up, Blueger emanates confidence when it the subject of playing for Pittsburgh comes up. 

“I think I’m ready,” Blueger said. “It would be nice to get an opportunity to play soon. That’s when you really know if you’re ready or not. That being said, I think if I had a chance to get in (during the season’s call-up), I would have done well.”

The Latvian forward’s sentiments are shared by his head coach, Clark Donatelli. Donatelli has overseen just about all of Blueger’s development in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and he believes there’s not much more for him to prove at the AHL level.

“He’s ready to play games now at the NHL level,” Donatelli said. “He’s a top prospect… I would think he’d be battling for a spot up there next year.”

Statistically, Blueger is coming off of a shining season of professional hockey. Twenty-one goals placed second on the team, and 45 points crushed his previous career-high. He became a fun minor storyline throughout the year due to his overtime prowess, leading the league with four overtime game-winning goals.

However, the Shattuck St. Mary’s product’s impact stretches vastly beyond his offensive output. Blueger is revered by his teammates and coaches for his stout defensive play where he was always the first over the boards for the penalty kill or challenged with important D-zone face-offs. His defensive dominance remained intact this season, so really, the improved offensive numbers were the icing on the cake. 

“It was nice to be able to step up and be more of an offensive contributor,” Blueger said. “It’s nice knowing that I can be relied on in that way, but defensively is how I’m going to get to the next level. My defensive game has come a long way, positioning, puck battles, D-zone coverage, stuff like that has gotten better.”

He hasn’t gotten his NHL moment yet, but Blueger says he’s been encouraged by seeing some of his Wilkes-Barre/Scranton teammates lock down positions in Pittsburgh during his first two years in the organization. He specifically cited the ascents of Dominik Simon and Zach Aston-Reese this season as examples of Pittsburgh trusting the developmental process in the AHL and then rewarding players with NHL spots if their results warrant it.

Simon and Aston-Reese look like they’re in the Steel City to stay, and maybe Blueger will join them soon. Free agency plus Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford’s offseason wheeling and dealing could alter the complexion of Pittsburgh’s roster. That means there could be an open spot ripe for the picking.

“That’s what they say every year,” Blueger retorted, acting as the devil’s advocate. “Stuff like that’s out of my control. My job is to show up and play as well as I possibly can. Hopefully then I can take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself.”

By Nick Hart

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

PITTSBURGH SIGNS DEFENSEMAN JUSSO RIIKOLA


The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed defenseman Juuso Riikola to a one-year, entry-level contract, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.

Riikola, 24, spent the past few weeks representing his native Finland at the 2018 World Championship, where he had two assists and was plus-4 in eight contests.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Riikola, a left-handed shot, has played the last six seasons with KalPa in Finland’s top professional league. He made his debut as a 19 year old back in 2012-13. He has served as an alternate captain for his club each of the last three years.

A native of Joensuu, Finland, Riikola steadily improved his offensive numbers over his six professional seasons. This past season, he scored a career-high eight times and added 16 assists for 24 points in 59 games. One year ago, in 2016-17, Riikola set personal highs in both assists (19) and points (25) in 59 games. That same year, Riikola added seven points (1G-6A) and a plus-7 in 18 postseason contests, helping KalPa advance to Finland’s championship series.

Riikola, who went undrafted in the NHL Draft, had 26 goals, 63 assists and 89 points in 283 regular-season games with KalPa. He tacked on 10 points (2G-8A) in 31 playoff games.

Riikola was teammates with Olli Maatta on the Finn’s 2013 World Junior Championship squad. Riikola’s older brother, Simo-Pekka Riikola, is an eight-year veteran of Finland’s top professional league.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will begin their 20th season of play this coming October.  For more info on season ticket packages, including full season, 22-game, 12-game and flex plans, call the Penguins at 570-208-7367 or fill in your info below.

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

JUMP TO THE PROS WAS AN ADJUSTMENT FOR JOHNSON

By Katherine McVeagh

Shifting from the life of a collegiate athlete to that of professional can be quite an adjustment, both on and off the ice. Those coming out of the college ranks, where all players are in relatively the same age group and experience level, have quite an adjustment when it come to playing against older, more experienced and, sometimes, more skilled opponents.

Adam Johnson went through this trial first-hand during the 2017-18 season, his first professional campaign after competing at the collegiate level for two years. It didn’t take him long to recognize the difference amongst opponents and teammates.

“The biggest thing was it just seemed like the guys are a lot stronger [at the pro level],” Johnson said. “It’s obviously a little bit faster and it’s a tougher league. I think college gets you well-prepared, but it’s still a big jump here.” 

Before he even knew there were professional pastures ahead of him, the undrafted forward wasted no time establishing himself against collegiate competition. Johnson experienced great success in his time at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Across 81 collegiate games, he notched 55 points (24+31). As a member of the Bulldogs, Johnson played in two NCAA tournaments, making it to the national championship game in his sophomore season.

Johnson’s impressive résumé earned him a two-year entry level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he passed up his final two years of NCAA eligibility. And after falling short in the 2017 championship, Johnson was able to cheer on his former team as they won the 2018 NCAA men’s title this past April.

“I was pretty happy for them,” Johnson said. “Actually, I still have a lot of good buddies on the team so I was pretty pumped for them.

“Obviously it would have been nice to win one with them, but we had a good season here and I was having fun here. Overall it was great to see those guys do it.” 

In his first professional season, Johnson registered 11 goals and 20 assists in 70 games for the Penguins. Looking back on his first year of with the team, Johnson referenced his confidence as something he seeks to develop.  

“I think it was a little up and down, but overall I’m trying to improve on that category,” he said. “I think toward the end it got a little better. So I’ve just got to keep that going and improve it for next year and just play with confidence.”

As he worked to find consistency in his on-ice self-esteem during the season, Johnson found he had a lot more time to stew in his thoughts than he had before. He noted the amount of free time players have as another big difference when adjusting from college to the pros. 

“There’s a lot more down time,” Johnson said. “You don’t have school to take care of, and you’re not around your buddies all of the time when you’re away from the rink, so it’s a little bit different. You’ve got to find something to do with your time.”

Even though he’s made the jump from college to the pros on the ice, he still has some work to do to finish his collegiate schooling.  This offseason, Johnson has the opportunity to wrap up some classes he still has on the docket to complete his finance degree from UMD.

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

THOMAS TAKING TIME TO LOOK BACK ON BUSY SEASON


The hockey season can be a grind.  Training camps start in mid-September, the regular season runs through the middle of April, and if your team is lucky enough to experience the playoffs, you could be playing up through June.

Because so much happens over the course of the marathon, it’s difficult for even the most passionate supporter or studious player to recall everything that happened during a season.

How did they score on the power play in game 21? What was the rush that followed the hit post on a breakaway back in the first home game of the year? How many saves did the goalie make in Game 45? It all becomes a blur with so much going on over such an extended period.

It takes something truly remarkable to stand out when the season is all said and done. 

And even though he was the busiest member of the team this season, there’s no chance Christian Thomas will be forgetting the year he had in 2017-18.

Thomas signed on with the Penguins in mid-September, moving him only a short trip north from Hershey to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Little did he know that he would soon become a world traveler after being named to Canada’s men’s national team in December.

His international tour started with Canada’s participation in the Karjala Cup. He played in Switzerland and Finland during the event, which Hockey Canada used as sort of an evaluation tryout for future tournaments. Despite not logging big minutes, Thomas impressed Canadian coaches which earned him the invite to play for his country once again in the historic Spengler Cup Tournament over the December holiday period.

Not to be forgotten is that in between those events, Thomas did pretty well while lacing up for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Thomas ultimately recorded 18 goals for the Penguins, 15 of which came at five-on-five. Only Daniel Sprong scored more goals for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton while the team was skating at five-on-five (19).

Then came the big one: The Winter Olympic Games. Thomas was named to Canada’s men’s hockey team, went to South Korea, and came back with a bronze medal, capturing his country its fourth medal in the men’s event in the last five Olympics.

“This will probably be one of the most memorable years of my life,” Thomas said. “I haven’t won a championship in a long time, so winning the Spengler Cup was cool. Then winning bronze at the Olympics is something that I’ll never forget. Never.”

All the travel and important games made a long season even longer for the 25-year-old forward. Although that lengthy campaign yielded a lot of success, he’s ready for a break.

“There was a lot going on,” Thomas said with an affirming smile. “I’ll definitely take a couple weeks off. I’ll head home, unwind, but then get right back into the workouts.”

He’s getting some much deserved time off, and maybe that will give him some time to reflect on everything he was able to accomplish. Not only should he feel his pride throughout this summer, but 20, 30, even 50 years down the line when his playing career is long over, Thomas will always have the fond memories of an unforgettable 2017-18 season.

“I got to win a Spengler Cup. I got to win a bronze medal at the Olympics. I can always say that.”

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

PENGUINS LOCKER ROOM EQUIPMENT SALE THIS WEEKEND


The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins annual locker room sale will take place at the Toyota SportsPlex (40 Coal Street, Wilkes-Barre) on Saturday, May 19 from 10am-2pm and Sunday, May 20 from 12-pm-2pm.

Fans will be able to purchase new and used equipment, including sticks, helmets, gloves, skates, pants and pads, as well as other accessories.

Equipment will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, and will only be available in person (no online sales).  Cash and credit cards will be accepted as payment.  All sales are final (no returns).

In addition, the Penguins Team Store will have select items on sale for up to 20% off.  Be sure to swing by the shop inside the Toyota SportsPlex while you’re there.

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

LONGEST GAMES IN WBS PENGUINS HISTORY

It’s finals week at many colleges throughout the area, and kids are pulling all-nighters to get ready for their finals.

Well, there was an all-nighter in the American Hockey League last night as well.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Charlotte Checkers battled in the longest game in AHL history last night/this morning, with Alex Krushelnyski scoring at 6:48 of the fifth overtime to give the visiting Phantoms a 2-1 victory. That goal came at 1:09am.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have played seven games that have gone to multiple overtimes in the playoff history. Here’s a quick look back at those contests, from longest to shortest.

APRIL 25, 2005 – Colby Armstrong scores at 12:26 of the third overtime to give the Penguins a 3-2 win over the Binghamton Senators in Game Three of the East Division Semifinals. The Penguins, who had dropped the first two games to the Pens, went on to win the next three games and advance to the East Division Final.

MAY 6, 2015 – Zach O’Brien’s goals at 4:13 of the third overtime gave the Manchester Monarchs a 4-3 win in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Monarchs advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in five games, and went on to capture the Calder Cup that season.

MAY 7, 2001 – Alexendre Mathieu’s goal at 15:43 of the second overtime gave the Penguins a 2-1 win in Game Two of the Western Conference Final against the Hershey Bears. The Penguins swept the Bears in four games as they advanced to the Calder Cup Final for the first time in team history.

APRIL 23, 2016 – Jake Guentzel’s goal at 13:52 of the second overtime gave the Penguins a 5-4 win over the Providence Bruins, and a sweep of their best-of-five Atlantic Division Semifinal, with all three victories coming in overtimes.

MAY 8, 2012 – Simon Despres scored at 12:08 of the second overtime to give the Penguins a 3-2 win over the St. John’s Ice Caps in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinal. The victory staved off elimination for the Penguins, who went on ti win Game Six in St. John’s three days later. However, the Ice Caps posted a 3-2 victory in game Seven to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

MAY 14, 2014 – It was Simon Despres once again playing the hero, scoring at 6:32 of the second overtime to give the Penguins a 5-4 win over the Providence Bruins in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinal. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won the series in seven games, and advanced to face St. John’s in the Eastern Conference Final.

MAY 4, 2007 – Alexander Giroux’s goal at 5:57 of the second overtime gave the Hershey Bears a 4-3 win in Game Two of the East Division Final. Hershey went on to win that series in five games.

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

QUIET LEADER WILSON LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT SEASON


It was easy to see that Garrett Wilson wasn’t in a great mood at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins exit interviews. One day after being bounced from the Calder Cup playoffs, he stood in front of the local media with his head slightly tilted downward. With the sting of being bounced from the postseason still tingling, Wilson opened his mouth.

He spoke softly, but his words packed a punch.

“We couldn’t get the job done,” he said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow… I’m kind of [ticked] off we couldn’t do more for T.K.”

There’s nothing that can be done to change what happened this April, but Wilson has made it very clear that this year’s loss will only motivate him moving forward. The U.S.S. Wilson’s course for the summer is full speed ahead for the 2018-19 season, where he’s taking no prisoners.

“That’s two years in a row that we’ve been bounced in the first round since I’ve been here,” Wilson said. “That’s definitely going to be my feel for the offseason. It’s sticking with me. I’m going to be ready to go next year, for sure.”

The 2017-18 campaign was a difficult one for the 27-year old winger away from the rink, as he lost his mother to a long battle with cancer in late November. And despite setting career highs in assists (25) and points (47), Wilson admits his mother’s passing made last season a difficult one for him to get through.

The good news is that he believes this season has steeled him for any potential bumps in the road he may come across in the future.

“I went through some adversity and think I handled it well,” Wilson said. “When I face some obstacles again in my career, I can look back on this year and use what I learned and go from there.”

Wilson also credits his teammates for propping him up during one of the most difficult times in his life. One man in the locker room that has been referred to as the ultimate teammate, won’t be back for next season, though. That’s 19-year veteran Tom Kostopoulos, who retired at the end of the season.

Wilson was one of the Penguins’ most outspoken supporters of what the captain meant to the team. That’s also another reason why this year’s playoff exit hit Wilson so hard.

With Kostopoulos ready to write the next chapter of his life, Wilson seems like a prime candidate to assume a leadership position in the room.

But Wilson believes Kostopoulos’ contributions as a captain were so great, that one person trying to bear that burden of captaincy might be difficult. Regardless of who’s wearing what letter on their chests, it will require a group effort to fill the void left by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s longtime leader.

“Losing T.K. is big shoes to fill,” Wilson said. “I don’t think one person can come and fill that leadership role all on their own. It’s going to take a good group to step up. I’m sure [WBS General Manager] Billy [Guerin] and them will get the right pieces in free agency, and we’ll all lead this together as a team.”

If the plan is to lead as a team, fans can still expect Wilson to be at the forefront of the squad, playing with a determination to get that bad taste out of his mouth.

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

AHL ANNOUNCES DIVISION ALIGNMENT FOR 2018-19


American Hockey League President and CEO David Andrews announced that the league’s Board of Governors, which convened for its Spring Meeting today in Chicago, Ill., has approved the following division alignment for the 2018-19 AHL season (National Hockey League affiliations in parentheses):

Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (New York Islanders)
Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes)
Hartford Wolf Pack (New York Rangers)
Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals)
Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers)
Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins)
Springfield Thunderbirds (Florida Panthers)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins)

North Division
Belleville Senators (Ottawa Senators)
Binghamton Devils (New Jersey Devils)
Cleveland Monsters (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadiens)
Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres)
Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks)

Western Conference
Central Division
Chicago Wolves (Vegas Golden Knights)
Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings)
Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild)
Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets)
Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators)
Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks)
San Antonio Rampage (St. Louis Blues)
Texas Stars (Dallas Stars)

Pacific Division
Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers)
Colorado Eagles (Colorado Avalanche)
Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings)
San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks)
San Jose Barracuda (San Jose Sharks)
Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames)
Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes)

Changes from the 2017-18 season include:

  • Colorado joining the AHL as its 31st active team and playing in the Pacific Division
  • San Antonio and Texas moving from the Pacific Division to the Central Division
  • Cleveland moving from the Central Division to the North Division

The playing schedule for the 2018-19 regular season, which begins Oct. 5, will be announced this summer.

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 31 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and for the 17th year in a row, more than 6 million fans have attended AHL games across North America in 2017-18.

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information