Albany awaits NHL recalls
Nobody knows with any certainty what exactly will happen in the next couple days.
A few days after that, though, one thing is certain. There will be NHL camps opening around the country to get ready for an abbreviated season.
Any list of players who are likely to be recalled from the AHL to the NHL is speculative, but let's speculate.
From the Albany Devils, it's fairly safe to guess forwards Jacob Josefson, Adam Henrique and Stephen Gionta will be recalled, as well as defenseman Adam Larsson. It's also a good possibility forwards Mattias Tedenby and Bobby Butler will be heading to Newark for the one-week training camp.
Beyond that, it depends on how many guys GM Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey coaching staff want on the ice during the training camp. They could bring up a few extra guys, then send a few back down before the season starts. No decision on that has been reached yet.
Players heard or read the news early in the morning. Larsson said his phone was blowing up with texts and he read the news online.
"I woke up pretty quick this morning," he said.
"I was surprised. It's been dragged out for a long time now, and I kind of expect it's got to start somewhere. It's fun that we can start again."
Gionta got a wake-up call from his wife, who saw it online.
"It was a good wake-up call," he said. "It was nice to see that they had that marathon session and figured it out, and now we can get on to playing some hockey."
Larsson has been in Albany since the beginning of the AHL season, and has found his time here helpful to his continued development.
"It was very important for me. I'm still young, and I'm still learning," he said. "It's been fun down here. I've learned much, and I want to thank everyone down here. It's been really fun. Hopefully, I'll get the call up."
Gionta said his brief return to the Capital region helped get him into game shape and will hopefully have him ready to go when the training camp ends.
He's eager to suit up with his New Jersey teammates who made it to the Stanley Cup finals with him last season.
"We have a lot of returning guys from the playoff run, and I think that will be good," Gionta said. "The chemistry we had was great, so hopefully, we don't miss a beat and get going quickly."
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky spoke to his team right away about putting the news aside long enough to play Sunday's game, a 5-2 win over Binghamton.
"We addressed it right away and just said we had to focus on the task at hand," he said. "We knew this is a good hockey team. I'm sure everybody playing today was dealing with that a little bit. But the guys seemed to be in good spirits, and it showed in the first period. We talked about remaining focused and finishing the job here, and then what happens, happens."
Whatever happens, Kowalsky will have to find some new line combinations this week.
"I don't know how many they're going to take or what they need, and every team's going to be different," he said. "That being said, we've done a lot of stuff in practice and tried to get everyone involved. There's been days when we've ran three power plays, just so guys can understand and know what we're doing. We've spent a lot of time on systems video and making sure everyone's involved, whether they're playing or not. Hopefully, they were paying attention, and some guys are going to step right in and be big parts of this now.
"I just said to them as a group in there, our process of how we've gone about winning games, we've won with everybody in the lineup. We really have. We went on a streak there, and we changed things up a bit. Up to that point, McKelvie had played one game. Now he's in, he had [another] assist tonight. Everybody's been a part of these games up to this point. It's just a matter of filling some holes that are going to be there because of the guys we lose. Are they going to be good players? Yeah. But we feel comfortable that the five/six lines we've had here can all play. The same with the eight to nine D we've had. It'll be interesting to see. I think the biggest thing will be guys are going to get a little more ice and be put in some more situations that they maybe haven't seen yet."
"We seem to have a pretty tight group," Albany centerman Tim Sestito said. "I don't know how other teams have done it, but we kept a lot of guys here. We're pretty tight. A lot of guys have been in and out. We've won with a few different lineups. I think some of those guys who may not have been playing as much are going to be excited to get in. We're a system team, and as long as we do our systems, we should be all right."
Sestito laughed a bit when asked if he was hopeful he'd get the call.
"Hopeful, maybe," Sestito said. "I'm definitely not holding my breath. I know my role. If it comes, I'll give the same effort whether I'm here, there, Kalamazoo, wherever it may be. I'll play my game, try to keep it simple, and whatever comes my way, it happens."
His brother, Tom, has played this season with the Sheffield Steelers of the Elite Ice Hockey League in England.
"He's excited," Tim Sestito said. "I can't speak for everybody, but it's been a long process, especially for him, kind of a tweener, a guy who got locked out and was kind of stuck. He's excited for this year to get going. A lot of guys are champing at the bit, and I'm sure the fans are just as happy as we are to be playing again."
Binghamton coach Luke Richardson was in a similar situation, but sees it as a door opening for so many of the players who, because so many NHL players have been in the AHL this season, have been relegated to smaller roles or even sent to the ECHL.
"We haven't heard too much on that, yet, so we'll sort through that this week," he said. "I'm sure they don't even have it hammered out yet on dates, on numbers and all that. It will effect certain players, moving. It will effect certain players' roles on this team and in this league, and then in leagues below, moving up. It's a great thing for hockey if they gets back to work this week in the NHL. I'm sure there's a lot of inspiration for players in this league to move up and get a shot, and it's been a good first half of a season for them to really show themselves."
Kowalsky said he's been in touch with the coaches and GM in Newark, and they've been keeping tabs on the players in Albany, so they should have a good idea who they need in New Jersey.
"We talk on a fairly daily basis and have had meetings with the higher-ups, all the way up to Lou, on certain game segments," Kowalsky said. "They're watching, they've got nothing else to do. They're coaches, and they've been watching the games, so they have a pretty good feel. But if I'm asked, I'll obviously give my opinion."
Whether the fans flock in droves to the games once the NHL season fires up or some angry fans stay away, Kowalsky said he thinks they will eventually come back to the game they love.
"I think hockey fans are too passionate," he said. "I think people are anxious to ... I think it'll soon be forgotten. I don't know enough to say there might be some markets that suffer a little bit, but I think hockey fans are glad that it's not a full year. Even the ones that may try to avoid it, I think will come back, and it's a credit to the fans, for sure."