Penguins fans, as we approach our 20th season, we thought it would be a good time to find out which of our numerous jerseys you like best.
Penguins fans, as we approach our 20th season, we thought it would be a good time to find out which of our numerous jerseys you like best.
For most video game players, spending an hour or two in front of a television screen is a bit of a distraction from school or work.
But for Forty Fort native David Roebuck, that time holding a controller IS work.
Roebuck, 21, is one of six finalists competing in the NHL Gaming World Championship, being held in the new Esports Arena inside the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on June 19. The total prize pot for the event is $100,000.00, with the winner taking home $50,000.00 himself.
“It’s just amazing, the fact that you can make money over a video game,” said Roebuck, whose gamer tag is JrPens91 (he grew up playing for the Jr. Pens program in Wilkes-Barre).
Roebuck played his first video games when he was about three years old, popping a cartridge into a Nintendo 64.
“There were a couple of NHL games on there I would play a lot. And then from there I was hooked on video games,” he stated.
A lot has changed in the world of video games since Roebuck sat down with that first console. Graphics have evolved thanks to systems from Sony (Playstation) and Microsoft (XBox), and the advent of online gaming has allowed players across the world to compete against one another.
And that’s just how Roebuck made the move from casual player to competitive gamer.
The EA Sports NHL franchise allows players to face off in one-on-one battles, or compete with friends as a team against other groups. It also keeps a tally of the best players competing in online action.
“I would play NHL a lot against my buddies for fun. I just loved the game,” he explained. “And then NHL 13, I was playing the leaderboard a bit. And I beat a guy 4-3, and I thought he was pretty good. I went to look up after the game where he was, and he was actually ranked number one.”
That spurred Roebuck’s interest even further, and he began honing his craft, even working HIS way up to the number one ranking in NHL 14. From there, he started competing in tournaments via World Gaming, an organization that not only allows you to compete for money, but also holds qualifiers for larger tournaments.
The road to the finals of the NHL Gaming World Championship was a long and challenging one. More than 1,000 competitors took part in an online, single elimination tournament, which whittled the field down to just eight American players (similar competitions were held for gamers in Canada and Europe).
Those eight gamers (Roebuck included) then met up for a face-to-face competition at the NBC Sports studios in Stamford, Connecticut on May 20 It was the first time most of the virtual opponents had met in real life.
“For the most part, all of the top guys, we know each other, [from playing online],” he said. “But what was neat about it, some of these guys that I’ve talked to for years or seen their streams, when I went to Connecticut to play, we all met for the first time. And it was more like a reunion than anything. We felt more like teammates than opponents, it was a really neat experience.”
The event itself was first class as well according to Roebuck. The NHL provided limousines to get the players to the station, hosted a media day and photo shoot, and gave them five star accommodations (“We were like celebrities”).
But the tournament itself was all business. The winner of the qualifier would take home $5,000.00, and only the top two finishers would earn spots in the championship competition. One loss would put a player into a lower bracket. A second loss would send him home instead of to Vegas.
“My first game, I was by far the most nervous for that.” Roebuck said. “But I was lucky enough to pull that one out, it was a real close game. But after that I was in the swing of things and kind of just was able to tune everything out.”
He won his first two contests before falling in the upper bracket final. But Roebuck was able to rebound and win the lower bracket finale, setting up a rematch with John Casagranda (aka JohnWaynee90) for the overall championship. And although he eventually fell by a 5-2 score, Roebuck had secured his spot on the game’s big stage.
The new Esports arena in Vegas boasts 50-foot LED screens and seating for hundreds of fans to follow the action live. It’s an experience Roebuck is looking forward to.
“Connecticut was my first land event, and they kind of kept it closed off since it was in a [television] studio,” he said. But when it aired on Twitch (a streaming platform which allows you to broadcast video game play), there was over 22,000 people, which was crazy to see. I think it will be a different experience though having that crowd in Vegas.”
by Nick Hart
The Vegas Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final has shocked the hockey world. Back in October, no one in their right mind made the claim that the NHL’s newest expansion team would be playing for the league’s ultimate prize in its first season. Yet here we are, about to start a championship series that features the Golden Knights.
Vegas’ rapid ascent has had substantial influence from Northeastern Pennsylvania. Former Penguins players Marc-André Fleury and Deryk Engelland lead the playing roster, and former team captain Ryan Craig is on Vegas’ coaching staff.
But behind the scenes, the Golden Knights brought in strength and conditioning Coach Doug Davidson and associate head athletic trainer Kyle Moore from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to help steer the team to unexpected heights.
Both Davidson and Moore held those positions last season with the Penguins, and look back on their time with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as invaluable to preparing them for their NHL debuts in Vegas.
“With Wilkes-Barre, you get an idea of how things are supposed to be done on the pro side,” Davidson said. “For me, coming from the private sector, I got more comfortable in my two years with the Penguins organization.”
Of course, little about the Golden Knights’ inaugural season could be considered standard. Davidson and Moore were put to the test well before the first puck was dropped on their exhibition schedule on Sept. 17. Moore remembers working feverishly to get everything in line for the team’s first ever training camp, which included loading their newly built practice facility with workout equipment and heavy weights.
“You could say I got back on my workout routine,” Moore said with a laugh.
Once the players arrived, the two former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton staffers had to figure out how to form a rapport with their new group that they were responsible for keeping in top shape. The nature of the expansion draft that put the Golden Knights together ended up providing a unique way for Davidson and Moore to construct that relationship.
“If you think about it, all our players came together from different organizations around the league,” Moore said. “Every player had his own experience as to how things go at the rink. So we worked on what we wanted to do as a staff by taking input from players in terms of what worked with their old teams while also establishing our own culture within our locker room.”
As the year wore on, the players and staff acclimated to one another quickly. Both Davidson and Moore credit the overall affability of the players in the Vegas locker room for their group’s transition to one cohesive unit. However, it wasn’t always easy for those two.
Anyone can understand how difficult it is to uproot one’s life in a flash to go to a new city where you have no real understanding of the area or no friends to lean on. Las Vegas was uncharted territory for Davidson and Moore, but thankfully, they had their existing relationship from their time with the Penguins to ease the stress.
“Having that as a starting point was huge, especially because we were both in a new city where you don’t know anyone,” Davidson said. “Kyle’s a guy who over the past few years, we’ve built a really good professional and personal relationship. We complement one another well.”
When the season got going, it was full speed ahead for the Golden Knights. They came out of the gate hot, winning their first three contests, including a 5-2 trouncing of the Arizona Coyotes in their first-ever home game. Their success carried steadily throughout the regular season, building more and more buzz around the team.
There was a general interest and excitement around the Golden Knights at first, given that they were Sin City’s latest attraction, but now the team is a full-on phenomenon. Their practice facility, located about 20 minutes outside of downtown, has a line spilling outside the doors of its merchandise store on a daily basis. The wait time from line to checkout sometimes reaches two hours.
Davidson and Moore worked around a passionate fanbase during their entire time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and then would see the city of Pittsburgh rally around the NHL’s Penguins when they were working with the Black Aces during the team’s previous two runs to Stanley Cup titles. Now, they’re witnessing the same enthusiasm blossom in the desert.
“Our stands are full, and I mean full, for every morning skate and practice at our practice rink,” Davidson said. “If you go grocery shopping, everyone has Golden Knights gear on. It’s inescapable.”
Inescapable, just like Davison and Moore penchant for going deep in the playoffs. Considering they were around as part of the Black Aces for Pittsburgh’s back-to-back championships, this is now the third-straight year that Davidson and Moore have made it to the Stanley Cup Final.
It has made for some awfully long seasons and rather short summers, but they’ll happily trade in the vacation days if it means that the Golden Knights can continue its unthinkable season and go dancing on the Vegas Strip with Lord Stanley.
“It’d be nice to get some time to recharge in the summer, but if I’m working in June, I’m in a good place,” Davison said. “You’re not getting me to complain.”
By Katherine McVeagh
As equipment bags get zipped up, the closing activities of the hockey season are completed and the off-season ensues. The players pack up their belongings, say their goodbyes and are off in a variety of directions for their summer reprise.
For hockey players, the summer marks the longest period of a break from competitive play. While every player’s summer involves time in the gym and on the ice getting ready for the upcoming campaign, they will spice up their time off with some form of vacation, relaxation getaway or time with family.
Christian Thomas, who logged more travel miles than any other Penguin during the 2017-18 season because of his addition to Canada’s men’s national squad, emphasized the importance of taking some time to regroup after a grueling season.
“I definitely take a couple weeks off,” Thomas said. “Probably two or three weeks, and hang out at home in Toronto then get back to the workouts.”
Anthony Peters echoes his teammate’s sentiments, saying that he plans to “kind of just shut it off and do a little R&R,” during the precious weeks where you actually get the rare opportunity to rest. Family time is an important part of Peters’ “R&R” period, too.
“I haven’t seen my family in a long time and haven’t seen my brother since last June,” Peters said, whose brother, Justin, plays pro hockey too. “It’ll be nice to see him and his kids and the rest of my family. To get home and see the family, that’s certainly number one for me.”
Seeing family members is great, and a lot of players will get together with old friends once they’re back in their hometowns, too. Many players cite attending friends’ and teammates’ weddings as a common offseason activity.
While they may be separated from one another for several months, the Penguins still keep in touch with one another during the summer. The team has a group text in which they share jokes, and many of the team’s members will communicate with one another during ongoing music festivals. Daniel Sprong, a big electronic music fan, says that he has no plans to attend any of the high profile concerts around Montréal or Europe this summer, but he’ll follow along online with his teammates.
“A lot of the guys are talking about all the festivals going on around the world,” Sprong said. “We’ll probably watch the streams on YouTube like we did for [Ultra Music Festival] back in March. We’ll be texting about it.”
Unfortunately for Anthony Angello, who is still enrolled at Cornell University, the summer break will not come until classes conclude.
“I’m going to head back to school,” Angello said. “I’ve got final exams and finishing up classes in the next few weeks.”
Beyond the classroom, Angello is the type that doesn’t spend much time unwinding, and prefers to get back into work mode as soon as possible.
“Honestly, I take probably about five days off and by that fifth day I’m just itching to get back into something,” he said. “I just have too much time on my hands. I don’t really know what to do with myself.
“I’ll maybe spend some time with the family, but then get right into training. I’m not going to waste any time.”
Two Penguins have particularly exciting events to look forward to this summer, as the wives of Jarred Tinordi and Tom Sestito are expecting children.
“My wife’s due for a second baby,” Sestito said, noting that the child’s due date is in August. “This one’s a girl. A boy, a girl, and now I’m done. That’s it.”
Tinordi, on the other hand, is just getting started. His wife are expecting their first child, also a baby girl.
“We’re excited, a little bit nervous, too,” Tinorrdi said. “My wife is due soon. We’re getting down to crunch time here.”
Whether players return from the summer rested, stronger, faster, or as new fathers, it is taken by all as a well-deserved break from the demands of the grueling hockey season.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”