Albany Devils gameday blog
The season officially started seven days ago, but the Albany Devils have played just once.
That’s a lot of practice time to prepare for so little game time, but Albany coach Rick Kowalsky is making the most of it.
“You can look at it two ways. One, guys want to play and get in a bit of a rhythm. Or the other side, which we have in this case, with this many guys, we’ve been able to scrimmage and do some things, structure practices a little different to get these guys moving,” he said. “You can do a lot with this many guys, from a scrimmage and specialty teams standpoint. There’s pros and cons to it. It chews up the ice pretty quick with 30 guys out there. But we’re working through it, and the guys have been pretty good. We’ve had a pretty good week.”
The Devils had 28 players and three coaches on the ice Thursday morning. Right wing Scott Parse (lower body) and centerman Steve Zalewski (upper body) both returned to practice on Tuesday and both are possibilities for this weekend, possibly for both games.
“We want to be smart,” Kowalsky said. “We have the time to be patient with guys, so whether they play back-to-back games is yet to be determined. Each day, we check in and see how they’re feeling. We have the time and the bodies to be smart about this, so we’re going to take every precaution we can.”
With their return, and the assignment to the ECHL in the last week of right wing Alexander Carrier and goalie Maxime Clermont, the injury report holds just three names: centerman Kelly Zajac (lower body), left wing Jean-Sebastien Berube (upper body) and defenseman Eric Gelinas (upper body)
Kowalsky said he will likely get both Jeff Frazee and Keith Kinkaid into the crease this weekend, at home tonight vs. Syracuse and on the road Saturday at Worcester. The same eight defensemen remain healthy and skated Thursday morning, the only absence being Gelinas, who is rehabbing in Newark after taking a puck to the jaw. The possible blueliners for the weekend are Jay Leach, Adam Larsson, Alexander Urbom, Brandon Burlon, Matthew Corrente, Dan Kelly, Corbin McPherson and Raman Hrabarenka.
Corrente was a healthy scratch in the team’s opener last Saturday. Kowalsky said it wasn’t an issue with the veteran rule.
“Some guys had really good camps, and his camp was OK,” he said.
With this many bodies, everyone has to recognize that if you’re not at the top of your game and someone else is, you may be suiting up in a suit instead of a sweater on game night.
Also, while the players search for chemistry in their lines, the lineup will be jostled around, probably regularly. The first-game loss, 2-1, to Manchester gave Kowalsky no real reason to keep anything the same on the forward lines.
“It’s tough, because you want to try to create chemistry, and that’s one of the things we’re able to do in practice. And right now, we’re in a situation where one guy who’s not playing one night, the next night could be in the top six and on the power play,” Kowalsky said. “I explained that to them, and it’s important that they’ve got to be pros and come to the rink every day and just worry about that day and nothing else.”
Here’s a look at the forward lines from Thursday morning’s practice. In the red jerseys: Harri Pesonen-Adam Henrique-Bobby Butler. Green: Chad Wiseman-Jacob Josefson-Matt Anderson. Dark blue: Mattias Tedenby-Steve Zalewski-Phil DeSimone. Gray: Joe Whitney-David Wohlberg-Scott Parse. White: Mike Hoeffel-Darcy Zajac-Tim Sestito. Light blue: Harry Young-Mike Sislo-Chris McKelvie.
There’s no guarantee Kowalsky will choose from these combinations when putting his lineup together tonight, but that’s what they were trying out.
ADMIRALS … I MEAN CRUNCH COME TO TOWN
The Devils will play host tonight to the same players who populated the bench for the Norfolk Admirals last season, when Norfolk was affiliated with Tampa Bay. The same players who won 28 games in a row to close the regular season, then won the first game of the postseason to make it a 29-game winning streak extending into the playoffs. It’s the longest winning streak in the history of North American professional hockey. Then they went on to win the Calder Cup with relative ease.
Some of those guys are back with the Lightning’s AHL club, which this season is Syracuse. Both Syracuse and Norfolk were unhappy with their affiliation agreements and more or less swapped in the offseason.
“They had a great year last year, and it’s going to be fun to play against them,” said Albany Devils third-year defenseman Alexander Urbom. “We know how good they are, and it’s really going to show us where we stand. We’re looking forward to it.”
After the disappointing first-game, when the Devils had trouble most of the night just gaining the zone, Urbom said the coaching staff has had the players touching up a few details in their game, and transition to the attack was no exception.
“We’ve been working on everything,” he said. “There’s a lot of new stuff we have to learn. I think we just have to get our forecheck going and get some time in the zone next game.”
Urbom was surprised to find out he led the team in points against the Admirals last season (three goals, four assists). Stephane Veilleux, who was traded during the season, led in goals with four.
Urbom’s numbers also included a plus-four rating across the eight games he played against Norfolk. The Devils won the first four of those matchups, then lost the next four, though most of them were pretty close. The only blowout was the final meeting, a 5-1 Albany loss at home.
It was just a small part of Urbom’s sophomore season, during which he showed improved consistency from game to game and was pretty reliable in back.
“I just want to keep improving. That’s the most important thing,” Urbom said. “Work hard every day, and if you work hard, it’s going to come.
“I think it was better than the first year. In the first year, there were a lot of ups and downs. Then last year was maybe more on the same line all the time. So it was better.”
In the first game this season, Urbom skated with Hrabarenka, the new kid from Belarus who I knew nothing about before he signed his tryout contract and parlayed it into an AHL deal with Albany. Aside from my first observation that he’s big (6-foot-3), I wanted to get Urbom’s take on skating with Hrabarenka.
“It was great. I think we played pretty solid,” Urbom said. “He’s a good player, a good skater. It was fun to play.”
NEW CAPTAIN AN EASY CHOICE
Kowalsky has known defenseman Jay Leach for years. Still, their acquaintance has probably run just a fraction of Leach’s career.
The Altamont native has been all over the map in the ECHL, AHL and NHL over a 12-year career. What are the chances a situation will arise this season that will catch him off guard?
“Really, not a hard decision. Experience, age. I know Jay from way back. We played together and against each other for a little bit,” Kowalsky said. “From a respect standpoint, I think what it’s taken him to get to the NHL, then back and forth to the minors, starting in the East Coast league ... he has a lot experiences and has been a lot of places to draw on situations that he can help a lot of young kids with. I think he’s really embraced the fact that maybe he’s only got a year or a couple years left. He’s been playing hurt for a long time, he’s feeling good and keeps himself in great shape. He’s a great pro and a great example for the younger guys. The thing I like about him is he’s not afraid to speak up and hold guys accountable. It’s not to say that every captain has to be that way, but that’s the way Jay is, and I think the guys respect him for that.”