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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Next Best Thing

Since the current situation in the NHL lockout drama hasn't really changed, my need for some ice related news is at an all time high.  So, like any hockey fan, I turned to the next best thing.  That, my friends, would be my AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had been maintaining some semblance of normalcy with the optional workouts at the team's practice facility for about a month or so.  We all know that Malkin went to the KHL to play (joining former teammate and house-mate Sergei Gonchar) but Crosby, Kunitz, Dupuis, Neal, Cooke, Vitale, Lovejoy, and a host of others had been actively participating in team related skates.  That was until the CBA expired a few weeks ago.  While they still skated through the week, they were officially locked out by the following Friday.  Now, many players have scattered to other locations to participate in a variety of "charity" games and other events to maintain season conditioning.

Since the NHL allows teams to waive players with two-way or entry-level contracts, the Pens did so to many of their "younger" guys.  Those not claimed off waivers were immediately eligible to play for WBS.  And that's exactly what they are doing.

My PC player du-jour, Eric Tangradi, was one of those guys that was still on the "baby Pens" active roster at the end of last season.  Because of that, he is afforded the opportunity to start the year in Wilkes-Barre and hopefully get a chance to move up if the season starts soon.  But the interesting thing to me as I watch some video and read the reviews of this years training camp thus far is the depth we have on that roster, especially at defense.

Our players are a virtual who's who of big time defensive prospects and top squad guys that would easily be top two line d-men on any AHL team and there are also many potential NHL starters.  Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo, Dylan Reese, Joey Mormina, Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Brian Dumoulin, Alex Grant, Carl Sneep, Philip Samuelsson, and Reid McNeill are all going to be battling for only a few spots between the AHL Pens and the ECHL Wheeling Nailers.  These guys are all in for a fight and it will be interesting to see how that shakes out in the coming weeks.

As for Tangradi thus far, he has become a veteran on a team that is stacked with talent.  My hopes are still high for him to make a roster spot on the Pittsburgh team if there is a season this year.  I could see him on a line with Crosby or Malkin easily.  He tallied a goal in this years Black vs. White intrasquad scrimmage last Sunday.  The black team, coached by another of my PC players, former Penguin Bill Guerin beat the white team coached by current Pens coach Dan Bylsma 2-1 in a shootout.  Also, Wednesday night was the opening exhibition game versus the Rochester Americans.  WBS won 4-3 with an empty netter late in the third period.

As a hockey fan, I say no NHL...no problem (for now).  While the pace of the NHL games can't be matched, the AHL will fill in nicely as the next best thing in it's absence.  I will be following my 'farm' team, WBS, much closer than I usually do at this point forward.  I encourage all hockey fans to go out and support your local clubs too to get your hockey fix.

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