PENGUINS PROSPECTS HIT THE ICE IN BUFFALO THIS WEEKEND

Jeff Taylor will be among the players who suited up for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins participating in the 2017 Prospects Challenge in Buffalo

Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese headline the 24-man roster (full roster and player bios) that the Pittsburgh Penguins will send to participate in the 2017 Prospects Challenge held at the HarborCenter in Buffalo, New York from September 8-11.

This year, the Penguins will compete against rookies from the host Buffalo Sabres, the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins. This is Pittsburgh’s first year competing in Buffalo after several years participating in a rookie tournament in London, Ontario.

Pittsburgh will play in the opening game of the Prospects Challenge on Friday, September 8 at 3:30 PM. The Penguins will also play on Saturday, September 9 at 3:30 PM against New Jersey, before concluding with a night contest against the Sabres on Monday, September 11 at 7:00 PM.

All three games will be broadcast live on penguins.nhl.com with Josh Getzoff handling play-by-play duties. Michelle Crechiolo and the Pens’ social media team will be on hand to provide coverage all weekend.

Prior to departing for Buffalo, the Penguins prospects will practice on Thursday, September 7 at 10:30 AM at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, Pa. Players, coaches and members of the development staff will be available to the media immediately following practice.

During the Prospects Challenge, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Clark Donatelli will be behind the bench for the Penguins, alongside his assistants, J.D. Forrest and Tim Army.

Sprong, 20, who skated in 18 NHL regular-season games for the Penguins as an 18 year old in 2015-16, has been a member of Pittsburgh’s ‘Black Aces’ taxi squad during the back-to-back Stanley Cup runs. Back in 2015, Sprong used a strong rookie tournament in London, Ontario to eventually make the NHL roster out of training camp, before returning to his junior club in Charlottetown of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Last year, Sprong’s season was delayed by offseason shoulder surgery, but when he returned to the ice, he was one of the most dominant skaters in the QMJHL. In just 31 games with Charlottetown, he produced 32 goals and 59 points, including four hat tricks and a four-goal game.

Aston-Reese, 23, joined the Pittsburgh organization as an undrafted free agent from Northeastern after leading the NCAA in goals (31) and points (63) in 2016-17. In a brief late-season cameo with WBS, Aston-Reese scored three goals and eight points in 10 games.

Here are some tidbits on the remainder of Pittsburgh’s Prospects Challenge roster:

*Five more players in addition to Sprong and Aston-Reese – defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Ethan Prow and Jeff Taylor; and forwards Teddy Blueger and Thomas Di Pauli – are prospects signed to NHL contracts that have also logged action with WBS.

*Rookie free agent forward Adam Johnson, who inked an entry-level deal with Pittsburgh following a strong showing at the team’s annual prospect development camp in July, will compete in his first game action in a Penguins jersey. Johnson was second on Minnesota-Duluth in goals (18) and points (37) as a sophomore last year.

*Three members of the Penguins’ 2017 draft class will suit up, including top pick Zachary Lauzon. The 18-year-old defenseman was chosen by the Penguins in the second round (51st overall). He will be joined by forward Jan Drozg, a fifth-round (152nd overall) pick, and fellow blueliner Antti Palojarvi, who was selected in the sixth round (186th overall).

*Freddie Tiffels, a 22-year-old 2015 sixth-round (167thoverall) draft pick, will be joining Johnson in seeing his first game action with Pittsburgh following a three-year collegiate career at Western Michigan.

*Of the 24 players attending the Prospects Challenge, 17 attended Pittsburgh’s prospect development camp in July.

Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2017 Prospects Challenge Schedule

Thursday, September 7

10:30 AM – Practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex

Friday, September 8

9:00 AM – Morning Skate (KeyBank Rink)

3:30 PM – Game vs. Boston (Kaybank Rink)

Saturday, September 9

9:00 AM – Morning Skate (New Wave Energy Rink)

3:30 PM – Game vs. New Jersey (KeyBank Rink)

Monday, September 11

11:00 AM – Morning Skate (New Wave Energy Rink)

7:00 PM – Game vs. Buffalo (KeyBank Rink)

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

PITTSBURGH RE-SIGNS J.S. DEA


The Pittsburgh Penguins have re-signed forward Jean-Sebastien Dea to a one-year contract, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.

The two-way deal runs through the 2017-18 season and has an average annual value of $650,000 at the NHL level.

Dea, 23, made his NHL debut for the Penguins in the 2016-17 regular-season finale against the New York Rangers. He was a member of the 2016 and ’17 Penguins’ ‘Black Aces’ taxi squad when the Pens won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.

A 5-foot-11, 175-pound Laval, Quebec native, Dea has played three seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. In 2016-17, he played 73 games, the second most on WBS, and notched 34 points (18G-16A), the seventh most on the team.

In 2015-16, Dea set career highs across the board in games played (75), goals (20), assists (16), points (36), plus-minus (+13) and shots (147) with WBS. His seven power-play goals as a rookie in 2014-15 tied him for the team lead with Scott Wilson.

Dea was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Penguins on September 17, 2013. He played three seasons with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. With the Huskies, Dea tallied 192 career points (111G-81A). In 2013-14, he scored 49 goals, 18 more than second-highest player on the team. That total set a single-season career high and tied for the fourth most in the QMJHL.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will open their next season on Oct. 7 against the Charlotte Checkers at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. Season ticket packages for the 2017-18 season of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey, including full season, 22-game, 12-game and Flexbook plans, are available by contacting the Penguins directly at (570) 208-7367.

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

ARMY, DONATELLI COME FULL CIRCLE


Clark Donatelli got his first taste of coaching hockey at a high level back in 2010, when he was a volunteer assistant for the Providence Friars in the NCAA.

The head coach that took a chance on Donatelli was none other than Tim Army.

Now, seven years later, the roles are reversed.

Army was named an assistant coach on Donatelli’s staff with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last week, and is looking forward to working alongside the coach he formerly mentored.

“We have a great relationship,” said Army, 54, who actually grew up playing against Donatelli as a youngster in Rhode Island.  “He came in and helped me that year at Providence in 2010-11.  The thing that impressed me the most about Clarkie was how instinctive he is, how intuitive he is as a coach.  He has a great sense for the game, for his players.

“He also has a great personality, he’s very engaging.  He has a great relationship with his players, his ability to communicate is outstanding.”

Army is no stranger to coaching in the pros.  After five seasons as an assistant for the Friars (1988-93) he moved to the NHL, serving on Ron Wilson’s staffs with the Anaheim Ducks (1993-97) and the Washington Capitals (1997-2002).

He received his first head coaching job with the Capitals AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, in 2002, and stayed in Maine for three years. He returned to Providence as the Friars’ head coach in 2005, and spent the past six seasons as a member of the Colorado Avalanche’s coaching staff.

And although Army has spent the past half decade on the other side of the Rockies, he’s kept a close eye on Donatelli’s progress, thanks largely to a family connection.  Army’s son, Derek, spent two seasons playing under Donatelli with the Wheeling Nailers, as well as a short stint with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2015-16.

“I’ve also seen him grow as a coach when Derek was playing for him, both in Wheeling and Wilkes-Barre.  And his game management, his sense for his players, his ability to make adjustments, his read for the game, is tremendous,” said Army.  “To work for someone who has those instincts, it’s very exciting.”

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

BONVIE RIGHT AT HOME IN LUZERNE COUNTY

When Dennis Bonvie arrived in Wilkes-Barre back in 1999, he had no idea of the impact he would make on his new team, let alone hockey fans in Northeast Pennsylvania.

But he certainly sees the mark he’s left now.

Bonvie was among the dozen figures inducted into the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday night at the Best Western Genetti Hotel & Conference Center in downtown Wilkes-Barre.  He’s the first member of the Penguins to receive the honor from the local organization.

But it wasn’t an honor Bonvie was expecting until he received a phone call two months ago.

“I was kind of in awe, I didn’t know what to say,” he stated from the podium in a packed ballroom.  “Anytime you can be part of a hall of fame with these special people, these special athletes, you say yes right away.”

Already a seasoned-pro of six seasons, Bonvie joined the Penguins organization just prior to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s first training camp, and spent two years with the club.  He experienced the lows (a last place finish in the team’s inaugural season) and highs (a trip to the Calder Cup Finals in the second) in a short amount of time.

But it was the thrills, big hits and fisticuffs that he displayed that turned the what was officially known as the Northeastern Pennsylvania Civic Arena and Convention Center into the “House That Bonvie Built.”

Bonvie spent considerable time away from the rink engaging with fans throughout the area, endearing himself to hockey aficionados and newcomers alike.  He never shied away from a photo or autograph, and generously donated time to community appearances and charity events.

The native of Antigonish, Nova Scotia left the area after the 2000-01 campaign, but returned to the Penguins four years later to great fanfare.  He spent the final three seasons of his 15-year pro career with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, before hanging up the skates at the conclusion of the 2007-08 campaign.

But that was hardly the last Penguins fans would see of Bonvie, as he and his family (wife Kelly, son Rhys, and daughter Davyn) continue to reside in Luzerne County today.

“I came here not knowing what Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania was,” said Bonvie.  “It’s our second home now.”

For more information on the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame, visit the organizations official website.

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

A YEAR IN THE LIFE : JOSH ARCHIBALD


by Mike O’Brien

When Mike Sullivan went out of his way to bestow the moniker of “Buzzsaw” upon Josh Archibald, one could correctly surmise that the head coach, then of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, was a fan of the forward’s style of play.

When Sullivan ascended to become the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, one might have also assumed that an NHL call-up would soon follow for Archibald.

But Archibald was not part of the group elevated from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton soon after Sullivan took over in Pittsburgh.  The 2011 6th-round pick instead was forced to watch as teammates, such as Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson, found permanent homes in the NHL and eventually lifted the Stanley Cup.

But patience paid off for Archibald.

Using the tenacity and speed that once drew the admiration of his head coach, Archibald earned a spot with Pittsburgh late in the 2016-17 season, and found himself hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The third-year pro got off to a fast start this past season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, skating alongside Oskar Sundqvist and Garrett Wilson to form one of the best lines in the Eastern Conference.  The trio combined for 60 points over the first 31 games of the campaign.

As the Penguins continued to jockey for positioning atop of the American Hockey League standings, Archibald had a career night on Feb. 4, posting two goals and an assist in a 7-1 pummeling of rival Lehigh Valley.

Less than a week later, the 24-year-old received his call-up to Pittsburgh and jetted across the country before taking the ice for his NHL season debut in Arizona.

“It was kind of a long trip.  I left New York and I don’t think I got to Arizona until about midnight and had to get up to do the morning routine, morning skate and video,” Archibald recalled.  “I was really excited to get back out there with the Penguins and show them what I had.”

Archibald showed both the Penguins and Coyotes what he had, notching his first two NHL goals to help Pittsburgh rally and earn a point on Feb. 11.  His first tally opened the scoring as he was quick to a rebound chance and snapped a backhander to the top of the net.

Josh Archibald nets his first NHL goal on February 11 against the Arizona Coyotes.

His second goal showed off the skills that made him one of the top performers for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

With the Penguins on the penalty kill, Arizona goaltender Mike Smith had trouble handling the puck near the no-touch zone.  Archibald came speeding in on the forecheck to cause havoc.

“It happened really fast,” recalled Archibald.  “[The puck] was almost in that awkward spot in the triangle where he can’t play it.  It was kind of sitting on the line.  So I think he hesitated a little bit and I got in on the forecheck.  I was able to recover it… …My body just took over and I was able to kick it up to myself with literally a wide open net.”

The bang-bang shorthanded goal with 5:22 to go pulled Pittsburgh within one and, with seconds left, Phil Kessel evened the score with the extra attacker. The Penguins ultimately fell in overtime, but Archibald could not have asked for a better personal performance in his season debut.

Archibald appeared in one more game for Pittsburgh before returning to the AHL, but was recalled for good at the end of the March.  While injuries provided the opportunity for the forward to move into the line-up, Archibald believes his speed, getting behind the defense and never giving up on plays helped to establish himself with the Penguins.

Ice time was sparse through the remainder of the regular season, and Archibald found himself in the press box through the first two rounds of the playoffs.  But as Pittsburgh advanced to Eastern Conference Final versus the Ottawa Senators, Archibald made his way back into the line-up for Game Four with his team trailing 2-1 in the series.  The guidance from coaches for his first-ever NHL postseason appearance was brief.

“They just told me, ‘We know how you can play,’” said Archibald. “’You got to go out there and do it.’”

Archibald and the Penguins smacked down Ottawa in a 7-0 victory that tied up the Conference Final.  He went on to dress for two more contests as Pittsburgh defeated the Senators in seven games to make it back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final.

The championship round saw the Penguins match-up against the Nashville Predators. Once again Archibald’s first appearance during the series came in Game Four.

“We felt we wanted to try to put some enthusiasm and energy and speed in the lineup,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Post-Gazette at the time. “Archie brings all those things to the table. He played some very solid games for us. He’s a guy that brings a certain dimension that we felt we wanted to have.”

Though the Predators knotted the series with a 4-1 win, it was an event that Archibald will forever savor.

“It was just one of those games, but it was a lot of fun,” Archibald said. “Great experience to get in a game like that.”

Of course, it is much easier to look back on such times when you end up on the winning side of history.  That is exactly what happened with the Penguins pitching consecutive shutouts  to claim their second straight Stanley Cup.  Though Game Four was Archibald’s lone contest played during the series, he was on the ice after the deciding contest to take his rightful turn lifting the coveted trophy in the air.  It was a moment that meant that much more with his college and Penguins teammate, Jake Guentzel, passing him the Cup.

“It was a pretty ecstatic moment for me.  For [Jake] to hand me that Cup to me after what we’ve been through kind of together, in college and then him coming into Wilkes-Barre at the end of last year and then even this year in Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, it was pretty awesome.”

Archibald will get a crack at another Stanley Cup and a chance to build on his NHL resume, as he signed a two-year contract with Pittsburgh on July 13.  The one-way deal would seem to indicate a more permanent tenure at the NHL level for Archibald, who hopes that the end of the regular season and playoffs “were a good indication of what I can do.”

If life briefly settled down for Archibald following the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run, things are about to pick up big time in a short while.  Josh and his wife, Bailey, who were married last summer, are expecting their first child in the next week or two.

From marrying his college sweetheart last summer, to scoring his first NHL goals, getting his named etched on the Stanley Cup and soon to be welcoming a new addition to the family, it has been quite the year for Archibald.   There is little question as to where it ranks so far.

“Probably number one,” joked Archibald. “It definitely has been the best year so far.  Hopefully, we can keep building and have even better years from here on out.”

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

DONATELLI, FORREST TO LEAD TEAM USA AT HLINKA TOURNAMENT


Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins training camp is still more than a month away, but two members of the team’s coaching staff will be back behind a bench later this week.

For the second consecutive season, Clark Donatelli will guide the United States Under-18 Select Team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.  The eight-team tournament will be held in Breclav, Czech Republic and Bratislava, Slovakia, starting on August 7.

Among the assistants joining Donatelli with Team USA will be Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach, J.D. Forrest.

The tournament features the top players under the age of 18 from the major hockey playing countries.  The teams are split into two groups (Group A – Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, USA; Group B – Canada, Finland, Russia, Slovakia), with each team playing once against the other countries within its group.

The top two teams in each group will advance to play in semifinal and medal rounds, while the lower ranked teams will face off to determine places five through eight.

Donatelli and Forrest were among the coaches and administrators who helped select the team of 22 skaters from a pool of players at USA Hockey’s Boys Select 17 Player Development Camp, held last month in Amherst, NY.

Last year Donatelli led the U.S. to a second-place finish in the competition, guiding the team to a 4-0 record before falling to the Czech Republic, 4-3, in the championship game.

We will have updates after every game online, and J.D. Forrest will be keeping us updated from overseas with blog posts and photos throughout the tournament.  We hope you’ll follow along with us.

The full U.S. team schedule for the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup:

 DATE  OPPONENT  TIME (E.T.)  ROUND  LOCATION
 Thursday, August 3  Hungary U-20  2:00 pm  Exhibition Game  Budapest, Hungary
 Saturday, August 5  Slovakia U-18  11:30 am  Exhibition Game  Bratislava, Slovakia
 Monday, August 7  Sweden  9:30 am  Preliminary Round  Breclav, Czech Republic
 Tuesday, August 8  Switzerland  9:30 am  Preliminary Round  Breclav, Czech Republic
 Wednesday, August 9  Czech Republic  1:00 pm  Preliminary Round  Breclav, Czech Republic
 Friday, August 11  TBD  TBD  TBD  TBD
 Saturday, August 12  TBD  TBD  TBD  TBD

Ivan Hlinka played in 256 games as a member of the Czechoslovakian national team and scored 132 goals in international competition. He also played in 544 games in Czechoslovak league, scoring 347 times.  Hlinka was among the first Czech-born players to suit up in the National Hockey League, joining the Vancouver Canucks in 1981.  He set a Canucks rookie record with 60 points (later broken by Pavel Bure).

In 2000, Hlinka took over the head coaching reigns of the Pittsburgh Penguins, guiding the team to a 42-28-9-3 mark, and a spot in the Eastern Conference Final.  He was killed in an automotive accident in the Czech Republic in August of 2004.

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

SCOTT YOUNG NAMED PENGUINS DIRECTOR OF PLAYER DEVELOPMENT


The Pittsburgh Penguins have named Scott Young director of player development, Jarrod Skalde player development coach, and Brendan Sullivan goaltending development coach, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.

Young, 49, enjoyed a distinguished 16-plus year NHL career that included Stanley Cup championships with the Penguins in 1991 and the Colorado Avalanche in ’96. He also had a stellar international career with USA Hockey, all of which earned him enshrinement into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2017.

A native of Clinton, Massachusetts, Young most recently served on the hockey staff at his college alma mater, Boston University, since 2014. His tenure there began as the school’s director of hockey operations, before he moved behind the bench as an assistant coach for the last two seasons.

Young’s lengthy NHL career saw him skate for six franchises – the Hartford Whalers, Pittsburgh, Quebec/Colorado, Anaheim, St. Louis and Dallas – while amassing regular-season totals of 1,181 games, 342 goals, 415 assists and 757 points. His goal total ranks 10th all-time among American-born players. Young tacked on 87 points (44G-43A) in 141 career NHL playoff contests.

An eight-time 20-goal scorer and seven-time 50-point producer, Young enjoyed his best season with St. Louis in 2000-01, setting careers highs in goals (40) and points (73). In his final NHL season at age 38 in 2005-06, Young led the Blues in scoring with 49 points in his second tour of duty with the club.

The Whalers’ first-round (11th overall) draft pick in 1986, Young played two seasons of college hockey at Boston University, where he was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year as a freshman. During his time with the Terriers, Young was teammates with Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins bench boss Clark Donatelli.

At the international level, Young represented the United States in three Olympic Games (1988, 1992, 2002), three World Championships and three World Junior Championships. Young was also a member of the U.S. team that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. The Americans won silver in the ’02 Olympic Games.

As a player, Young skated for a handful of legendary coaches that included Bob Johnson, Herb Brooks, Jack Parker, Joel Quenneville and Marc Crawford.

Skalde, 46, joins the Pittsburgh organization after accumulating a wealth of professional experience as both a player and coach in professional hockey leagues all over the world.

The Niagara Falls, Ontario native enjoyed a 17-plus year professional playing career that included stops with eight NHL clubs over parts of nine seasons.

Skalde was originally a 1989 second-round (26th overall) draft pick of the New Jersey Devils. He broke into the professional ranks in the early ‘90s with the Devils and their American Hockey League affiliate in Utica, where he was teammates with Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin, who was chosen fifth overall by New Jersey in ’86.

Since hanging up his skates, Skalde has embarked on a nine-year coaching career that most recently saw him serve as head coach of the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League over the last two years. Skalde has also been a head coach in the American Hockey League (Norfolk Admirals, 2014-15), ECHL (Cincinnati Cyclones, 2010-13) and the International Hockey League (Bloomington PrairieThunder, 2008-10).

As Cincinnati’s head coach in the ECHL in 2013, Skalde won that circuit’s Coach of the Year award. His coaching career includes a stint as assistant coach of Canada’s entry into the 2016 Under-18 World Junior Championship, and one year as Norfolk’s assistant in 2013-14.

During his playing days, Skalde logged over 1,000 career professional regular-season and playoff games in North America, appearing in 622 AHL contests, 322 games in the now-defunct IHL, and 115 NHL appearances. In addition, he played in professional leagues in Sweden, Switzerland, Asia and Slovenia.

A captain of five different clubs, Skalde was a champion twice as a pro. He won the IHL’s Turner Cup with the Orlando Solar Bears in 2001 and won a championship in Slovenia with HK Jesenice in 2008.

As mentioned, Skalde broke into the NHL with New Jersey, followed by stints with Anaheim, Calgary, San Jose, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia. He notched 34 points (13G-21A) with those clubs. He also laced up the skates with nine different franchises in the AHL and seven in the IHL.

Before joining the Devils organization, Skalde played four seasons of junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League, mostly with the Oshawa Generals, plus a late-season stint with the Belleville Bulls. Skalde and the Generals won both the OHL and Memorial Cup championships in 1990, when one of his teammates included Eric Lindros.

Sullivan, 29, has worked closely with newly-appointed Penguins goaltending coach Mike Buckley for the last eight years as a staff member at Buckley’s GDS Elite training school. Sullivan has also spent the last two years as a scout for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League.

Sullivan, who hails from Fall River, Massachusetts, played four years of college hockey at Lake Forest College, an NCAA Division III school, between 2009-13. He was a four-year starter between the pipes at Lake Forest, earning First-Team All-Conference honors and setting many school records.

Prior to jumping into the college ranks, Sullivan played one year with the Aurora Tigers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League in 2008-09, and he played high school hockey at Catholic Memorial High School, where he was one of the top players in the Boston region. While at Catholic Memorial High School, where he was named his team’s MVP after backstopping his club to a pair of championships, Sullivan began working as a student under Buckley’s tutelage.

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

A YEAR IN THE LIFE : CASEY DESMITH


by Nick Hart

When Casey DeSmith wasn’t stopping pucks on the ice this past season, he often found himself dodging playful jokes from his teammates in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins locker room. It wasn’t an everyday occurrence, but all too frequently, someone would deliver DeSmith an insult regarding his car.

For a pro athlete, DeSmith drives modestly. He arrived at the rink every day in a gold 1998 Toyota Celica, a vehicle with a burnt-out taillight as well as the grit and character of a veteran fourth-liner.  Affectionately known as “The Golden Snitch” in some circles, it was the low hanging fruit, perfectly ripe for his teammates to pick.

DeSmith probably got it so hard from his teammates about his obsolescent automobile because there was little else they could tease him about, especially when it came to his play on the ice. One season after his sudden and shocking ascent from being a third-string goalie in the ECHL to the Penguins playoff starter, DeSmith picked up right where he left off for his first full AHL campaign.

Day in and day out, game after game, he was a dominant force between the pipes. That kind of consistency lent itself to one of the best rookie seasons a goalie has ever had in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins history. Not only did his gaudy statistics earn him a series of individual accolades, but his year culminated in the once undrafted DeSmith signing his first NHL contact on July 1.

“A personal goal that I set was just not necessarily to sign an NHL contract, but having a year to give me the possibility or opportunity to do that,” he said. “I’m glad that I was able to do that, and obviously it’s super exciting.”

An NHL contract wasn’t the only goal DeSmith set for himself at the start of the 2016-17 season, though. He came right into camp with the motivation to prove that his unpredictable playoff success the spring before was no fluke.

Anyone anticipating the New Hampshire native being a flash in the pan was proven wrong, not only when he started the season with an 8-0-2 record, but when he ultimately finished the season with an AHL-best 2.01 goals against average.

“That was important for me,” DeSmith said. “Obviously, the year before I didn’t have a ton of playing time or exposure or anything like that. So I definitely made the most of what I had. But this year, I knew I would have more of an opportunity to prove myself, and I wanted to take advantage of it.”

That’s exactly what he did. The coaching staff and his teammates, already familiar with his wizardry from the previous playoffs, grew to trust him even more. Just because the Penguins didn’t have their A-plus game on a given night, that didn’t mean their chances of victory were sunk. Just because Tristan Jarry wasn’t in net, it didn’t mean the Penguins would have a “back-up goalie mentality” when the other guy went in. Because the other guy was Casey DeSmith.

The rest of the league took notice of DeSmith, too.

Before the season’s end, he was named to the AHL’s 2016-17 All-Rookie Team. Once the season concluded, he and Tristan Jarry stood tall as statistically the best netminding tandem in the league, earning them the Harry “Hap” Holmes Award given annually to the goalie(s) with the fewest goals against at the end of the season.

With the playoffs gearing up at that stage of the year, DeSmith wasn’t really in the state of mind to appreciate the weight of the individual accolades he had received. However, when he returned home for the summer, he took the awards that were stashed in the back of the good ol’ Golden Snitch and handed them over to his mom and dad. It was in that moment that the reality of his accomplishments sunk in.

“I took them out and showed my parents, and you kind of realize how cool it is to get an award for All-Rookie Team or lowest goals against average as a tandem,” he said. “That’s not easy to do. [All-Rookie Team] is something only one goalie gets a year. One tandem as far as the Holmes award. It was handing those trophies to my parents and being like, ‘Man, this was a really good year.’”

DeSmith’s banner year didn’t end with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s season, though. On the first day of NHL free agency, the Pittsburgh Penguins inked him to a one-year, two-way contract.

“Excitement” is the emotion DeSmith cites most often when he thinks back to the day he put pen to paper, making the deal official. But he doesn’t dwell too much on what he’s already done. He’s already prepared to move forward and forge another unforgettable year like the one he just had.

“As a competitive athlete, it’s not enough,” he said. “You want to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the ultimate goal. So, it’s like a step in the right direction, rather than ‘Oh, I reached my goal. This is the top’. This doesn’t feel like the top of the mountain. This is another step in my climb to where I want to be.”

While DeSmith has his eyes on a greater prize as he continues to work to advance his career, certainly he had to celebrate the gigantic season and big contract signing in some fashion. And he did. After signing his first NHL contract, DeSmith went out and bought himself a new car.

Now, he’s the proud owner of a black Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Even though he’ll be traveling in style from now on, DeSmith isn’t so sure anyone will let him forget about his old ride anytime soon.

“You know, I might still hear about the gold car from time to time. But at least I won’t be driving to the rink in that anymore.”

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

TIFFELS SHOWS HIS SKILL ON WORLD STAGE

You could say Freddie Tiffels has some history with the Penguins organization.  It is more than his sixth-round (167th overall) selection in the 2015 NHL Draft.  No, this is about a winner-take-all game on the international stage, but we’ll get to that later.

Tiffels signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 22, capping off a whirlwind Spring for the 22-year old from Cologne, Germany. 
His junior year at Western Michigan University was a memorable one.  After two down seasons, Tiffels was part of a resurgence that saw the Broncos thrive in a stacked NCHC that featured the last two teams standing in the NCAA tournament – Denver and Minnesota-Duluth – not to mention perennial powerhouse North Dakota.  Tiffels tied a career high with 21 points (9G-12A) in 37 games as Western Michigan spent 10 weeks in the top 10 and finished tenth in the final USCHO poll.  Though the Broncos fell to Air Force in the first round of the NCAA Championship, Tiffels would go on to make his mark in a not-so-small tournament a short time later. 
 
Though most North American hockey fans hone in on international play every four years at the Olympics, the World Championships takes place annually and is as big as it gets in international play.  Tiffels received an invitation to try out for Team Germany and was the only collegiate player to make the roster. Through training camp and exhibition games, he used his high-end speed to repeatedly catch the eye of Head Coach Marco Sturm.  The relatively-unknown Tiffels made a name for himself skating alongside players such Leon Draisaitl, Christian Ehroff and Dennis Seidenberg.
 
After Tiffels scored his first international goal in a loss against Russia, Sturm told DW, “”Freddie is giving us more than we had expected. He always goes all out.”
The German forward was hardly done and saved his biggest performance for the most important game of the group stage round robin.  And this is where the history comes into play.  Maybe not so much against the Penguins as a whole, but instead another prospect in their system. 
 
On May 16, in Tiffels’ hometown of Cologne, Team Germany took on a Latvia side that included Penguins forward Teddy Blueger.  The winner of this game moved on to the knockout stage. The loser was done for the tournament.  After a thrilling 65 minutes of regulation and overtime hockey could only net a 3-3 deadlock, the two teams headed to the shootout.  Five shooters skated out to center ice and all five failed to score on the opposing netminder. 
 
With the game on his stick, Tiffels raced into the slot and dragged the puck back to his forehand before unleashing a wrist shot through the five-hole of Latvian goalie Elvis Merzlinkins.
 
About the moment, Tiffels said, “I think I was a little bit lucky because Latvia missed three times and [Germany] only missed twice.  I could only be the hero.  If I don’t score, it just goes to another around.  So, I think there was not too much pressure, but when I scored it was probably the best moment of my life.”
 
After that goal, the celebration for Germany was on.  Not so for Blueger and Team Latvia.   The good times almost carried on for Germany, nearly shocking the world and hanging with Canada, but eventually falling 2-1.
 
Following the amazing World Championship run for Tiffels, the Penguins forward now turns his attention to the next phase of his career.  A participant in Pittsburgh’s development camp last month, Tiffels realizes his dreams of making the NHL include a first stop in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but has been working this summer to get ready for the onset of his pro career.  With speed already a part of his game to go along with some good size (6-1, 201 lbs.), Tiffels is focused on the develop the cerebral element of the hockey skill set.
 
“I want to get better at everything, but I think I want to get smarter and making the right decisions on the ice.”
 
Though familiar with each other from past camps in Pittsburgh, Tiffels has yet to catch up with Blueger since that night at Lanxess Arena.  They will seem to have plenty of time to do so come Penguins training camp this fall.  Whether they reminisce or not, Tiffels will always have the fond memories of his entire World Championship experience. 
As one of the new guys on scene now with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Tiffels will to try to generate some more moments versus the rest of the AHL.

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

A NEW DYNAMIC DUO ON DEFENSE


by Mike O’Brien

One.

That was the total number of defenseman taken by the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2014 and 2015 NHL Entry Drafts.

The dearth of blueliners selected was the consequence of several factors: the Penguins had traded away a number of picks in trades which helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups; following the formula of opting for the best player available when Pittsburgh was on the draft clock; and perhaps a slight organizational philosophical lean to help build up the forward prospect pipeline.

In recent drafts, the Penguins have since shifted their focus to the backline once again, with eight defensemen chosen over the last two drafts.

That one selection though – taken with pick number 203 in the seventh round of the 2014 draft – looks ready to make an impact on the Penguins starting this season.

Seeing him on the ice during the Pittsburgh’s recent development camp, Jeff Taylor seems the template of what Penguins defenseman have come to embody lately.  Taylor is not a towering figure (5-11, 185 lbs.) in the defensive zone, but he has good speed, awareness and passes the puck efficiently.

The 23-year old has a championship pedigree as well.  In his lone season in the USHL, he helped the Dubuque Fighting Saints claim the league’s Clark Cup.  The following year, as a freshman at Union College skating alongside future NHLer Shayne Gostisbehere, Taylor and the Dutchmen on to win the first NCAA Championship ever for the school.

Taylor was drafted that summer by the Penguins and his ability have had many speaking glowingly of the defenseman.

Penguins assistant general manager Billy Guerin told the Post-Gazette in December, “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”

Taylor officially signed his entry-level deal with Pittsburgh after completing his four-year college career this past March.  His first pro experience came via six regular season games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and, while it didn’t reach the lofty heights of his early success at Union, Taylor’s growth both on and off the ice over the short stint was evident.

“His improvement was impressive,” said Penguins assistant coach JD Forrest. “From game one to the last game he played with us, he got better every day.  I was surprised at how fast he picked up the game.  He’s a real smart player.”

Like most players coming out of the collegiate or junior ranks, Taylor will work on his power and strength to complement his already sound decision making with the puck.  Though he finished last season on a high note, Taylor’s experience in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was still an eye-opener.

“It was definitely huge for me to get my feet wet and understand how the pro game works,” said Taylor. “Just the preparation and the recovery, and all that stuff you don’t see that’s behind the scenes. That was big for me coming in.”

Taylor wasn’t the only defenseman to get a taste of AHL life late last year, though.

Dylan Zink, an undrafted free agent who skated four seasons at UMass-Lowell, signed an AHL contract with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and joined the team on an ATO in April.

After averaging 25 points through his previous two seasons, Zink broke out his senior year with 36 points (10G-26A) in 41 games, ranking fourth among NCAA defensemen.  He helped lead the Riverhawks to the Hockey East Championship, a berth in the National Championship and was named a Second Team All-American.

Offense has been a mainstay of Zink’s game for the majority of his college career.  He stands as the only defenseman in school history to record three consecutive seasons with double digit goals.   Penguins management was pleased to be able to sign the 24-year defenseman, and Zink also saw a match with the Pittsburgh organization, noting “the way they develop their players.  They’ve been using their minor league systems a lot up through the NHL.”

As he maps out a path in his mind for career success, Zink doesn’t have to look too far to find someone who has already blazed a trail that he might want to follow.  Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel was also once a similarly-sized, undrafted free agent skating for UMass-Lowell, where he too earned a Hockey East title and was named an All-American. Turning pro after his junior year in 2012-13, Ruhwedel signed with the Buffalo Sabres and spent most of three seasons in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans.  Joining the Pittsburgh Penguins last off-season, Ruhwedel graduated full-time to the NHL in January, hoisted the Stanley Cup a few months later and re-signed with Pittsburgh on a one-way deal on June 22.

Zink would not mind following a comparable model.

“I think I kind of play pretty similar to him and just to see the success he’s had.  He’s spent some time in the minor leagues in the ‘A’, but he got his chance and he’s been rewarded with it.”

For now, Zink’s focus is on preparing for his first season as a pro.

“Right now, I’m just trying to become a better skater,” Zink said. “Working on that and just want to put on a lot of strength. I know the next level, it’s a long season so it can definitely take some wear and tear on your body so I’m really just trying to work on my skating and get as strong as I can.”

Come the start of the 2017-18 season, Taylor and Zink will officially begin their first seasons as pro hockey players.  That puts these two talented players at the forefront of the prospect group that could be next to man the backline for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

2017-18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information