DANIEL SPRONG FOCUSED ON IMPROVING HIS DEFENSIVE SKILLS

Everywhere Daniel Sprong has gone, he’s been really, really good at one thing: scoring goals. Ever since he was one of few young lads tearing up the rink in Amsterdam, he was scoring goals. Once he crossed the pond and was terrorizing the bantam and minor midget ranks up and down the eastern seaboard, it was because he was scoring goals.

Sprong has continued to generate offense in bunches since the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted him in the second round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.  But now they’re looking for him to find a new trick: they want him to learn how to play defense.

The oft-cited but always elusive “200-foot game” is what Sprong is focused on achieving these days. Last year, after shoulder surgery denied him the first few months of the season, Sprong used his time back with the Charlottetown Islanders of the Québec Major Junior Hockey League to not only score many more goals, but to work on rounding out the defensive aspects of his skillset.

“I had good teammates and good coaches that helped me out with my 200-foot game in the Q last year, and I think my plus/minus showed it,” Sprong said. “And these games at [the 2017 Prospect Challenge], each game got better and better. It’s never going to be perfect at this time of year, but I’m making progress and getting closer to where I need to be.”

It’s hasn’t been an overnight adjustment for Sprong, largely because his game has been predicated on generating offense his entire life. And when he looks at the roster of the NHL team that drafted him, there’s plenty of existing offensive firepower with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel to name a few. So Sprong feels the pressure to demonstrate his worth amongst a crowded field of competition.

“Pittsburgh has a lot of scoring depth and me being an offensive guy, of course I have to worry about creating chances every time I’m on the ice to prove myself,” Sprong said.

That creates quite a mental paradox for a young player. On one hand, you want to do the one thing you’ve done your whole life, while the people in charge of you want you to do the opposite. Instead of being overwhelmed by it all, Sprong has welcomed this challenge with open arms.

Furthermore, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Tim Army says that Sprong is far from the first player to go through that conundrum.

“That’s the pressure of this immense offensive potential and ability,” Army said. “But then it’s about the process of players learning how to best take advantage of that ability. The only way you can take advantage of it, is being diligent without the puck in all three zones. Pro hockey’s too difficult, it’s too humbling. If you’re not diligent off the puck, you’ll quickly find you’ll dry up offensively, too.”

A young offensive stud isn’t exactly accustomed to playing off the puck all that often, though. Sprong has been the go-to guy for his teams to drive the play shift after shift. Now that he’s starting from scratch and isn’t going to always be in those same situations, well, that’s the current learning curve he’s on right now.

“That’s just all part of being a pro,” coach Clark Donatelli said. “Those offensive players, especially coming out of juniors, their defense IS having the puck. Now when you try moving up, you might have the puck less, so you have to adapt your game. He’s such a high talent that he’ll figure it out.”

Sprong is also far from the first player to go through these growing pains. Donatelli and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton GM Bill Guerin both used the phrase “superstars” when talking about the game’s history of offensive players thriving once they learned how to effectively play defense. Army, on the other hand, had more specific examples.

“I think back to all those years ago when I was in Anaheim, and we drafted Paul Kariya,” he said. “And then when we traded for Teemu (Selänne). They were really young guys at that time. They obviously had brilliant offensive ability, but to learn the game from an away from the puck vantage point, it took some time.Eventually, by them playing, and you being patient with them and instructing them, they begin to figure it out.”

Now, both Kariya and Selänne are Hall of Fame bound.

That’s not to say Sprong is destined for Younge Street, but those two names provide a perfect example of what his career could be if he harnesses the power of the mythical 200-foot game. Only then can he truly reach the skyscraper high ceiling of his offensive talents. More goals for Daniel Sprong. Though he’s probably used to hearing that at this point.

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

PROSPECT CHALLENGE TITLE A TESTAMENT TO PENGUINS ORGANIZATION STRENGTH

At the 2017 Prospect Challenge, there was only one team without a single player selected in the first round on it’s roster. It was the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team with the most undrafted players on its roster was the Pittsburgh Penguins. Which team had the most points at the end of the tournament? The Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite their opponents boasting arguably more attractive depth charts, the Penguins organization proved its dominance once again with its tremendous showing at the Prospects Challenge. The efforts of the scouts, coaches, and most importantly the players culminated in a 5-3 victory in the final game against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.

“This group was pretty special because we didn’t have too many practices,” said coach Clark Donatelli. “We showed them some video, we told them what to do, and they responded. They played really well. I think it gets contagious once they know they have success doing it, they want to do it more.”

Donatelli went on and spoke at length about the organizations philosophy when it comes to not just drafting and signing good players, but “good humans”, as he put it. There is an added emphasis on work ethic, too, and when those personalites all combine in one space, unique things can happen.

“When people come to us, they want to get better,” Donatelli said. “Every single person works so hard on the ice and off the ice. When you’re working in that kind of environment and you have people around you that are willing to pay the price to win and pay attention to details and practice habits, it’s contagious. Fortunately for us right now, that’s our culture. It’s a tribute to the organization and how they draft players.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a first round or a second rounder or undrafted. Once you’re a Penguin, you’re a Penguin. Once you’re part of the family, you’re part of the family.”

New assistant coach Tim Army has only been part of the family for a hot second, being hired by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton one month ago. However, he now has first-hand experience with what the Penguins organization is capable of, even when they have limited resources at the draft.

“I think the evaluation of players and brining in the right group is a credit to all of the scouting staff,” Army said. “You know, they get out there and they watch a lot of games. They’re all over North America and they’re all over Europe. We have some draft picks here, but there are also some unsigned players that are really battling. They bring in the right pieces.”

Those scouts found Teddy Blueger, who wore the “C” as a young leader on this team and was a beacon of light on defense.

Those scouts found Daniel Sprong, whose constant threat of offense kept opposing teams on their heels.

Those scouts found Jordy Bellerive, and undrafted, unsigned 18-year-old who ended up topping the tournament with seven total points (4G-3A) in three games.

Those scouts scoured the globe and found Slovenian Jan Drozg, who unloaded a wicked wrist shot on the rush for what became the game-winning and tournament-winning goal.

And on and on and on.

The Sabres opened the scoring with a first period power play goal by Brendan Guhle. The rowdy crowd at HARBORCenter thought that the hometown Buffalo squad would carry that 1-0 lead into the first intermission until Thomas Di Pauli slammed home a rebound in the waning seconds of the frame.

The second period was a back and forth affair, with the two teams trading goals in quick succession. Zach Aston-Reese made it 2-1 for the Penguins prospects with a goal on a five-on-three man advantage, but Buffalo’s Justin Bailey answered back with another power play marker. Antti Palojärvi, who checked in to the Penguins’ line-up for the first time on Monday, got the black and gold back on top, 3-2, before Buffalo’s third power play goal of the night (this time from C.J. Smith) evened things up again.

Drozg found his game-winner midway through the third, and then Zach Aston-Reese sealed it off with an empty netter.

They didn’t walk away with a trophy or gold medals or anything like that, but with the work put in by everyone with the Penguins this weekend, the organization showed its counterparts why its considered the best there is.

“There’s an expectation of winning here,” Army said. “And we told that to the guys before we bused out. We’re about winning here, so let’s go win a tournament. Well, we won the tournament.”

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

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

PENGUINS ADD TIM ARMY TO COACHING STAFF

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins announced three additions to their hockey operations staff for the 2017-18 season. Tim Army has been named an assistant coach, joining head coach Clark Donatelli and fellow assistant J.D. Forrest behind the Penguins’ bench. Additionally, Seamus McKelvey has been named Head Athletic Trainer, and Mike Joyce has been hired as the team’s Strength and Conditioning Coach.

Army, 54, joins the Penguins with 29 years of coaching experience in the NHL, AHL and NCAA, most recently spending the past seven seasons serving as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche. The Providence,  Rhode Island native spent three seasons (2002-2005) as head coach of the Portland Pirates of the AHL, compiling a 99-89-26-6 record in 240 games. He then went on to spend six seasons as head coach of his hometown Providence College Friars from 2005-2011.

Throughout his career, Army has served as a coach for USA Hockey, including winning the bronze medal twice with the U.S. National Team at the 1996 and 2013 IIHF World Championships. He also guided the U-18 Team at the 2010 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup to a second place finish.

Before his coaching tenure, Army played one season in the AHL with the Maine Mariners, recording 27 points (11G-16A) in 68 games during the 1985-86 campaign. He was also a four-year letterman (1981-85) at Providence College, serving as the Friars captain during his senior season.  He was a Hobey Baker Award Finalist and the first recipient of the Hockey East Scoring Champion Award in 1985.

McKelvey spent the last season as the assistant athletic trainer for the Providence Bruins. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degree at East Stroudsburg University, and worked on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton training staff as a graduate assistant in 2012-13. After graduating from ESU, he spent one year as an athletic trainer for Neumann University and then became the head athletic trainer for the Wheeling Nailers  from 2014-16.

Joyce, originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, graduated from Marywood University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a minor in nutrition. He spent the last year assisting the Penguins as an intern under the tutelage of former strength coach, Doug Davidson. Joyce is also a certified U.S.A. Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach.

The 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