Amidst injuries and call-ups for several of their top scorers and the announcement that the Worcester Sharks will be part of the American Hockey League’s five-team westward expansion into California, the 2014-15 AHL Sharks’ team is in the playoff picture, currently holding onto the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Sharks have just one player in the top 100 in the league in scoring – the team’s leading scorer Freddie Hamilton (nine goals, 19 assists) ranks 96th in the AHL in scoring – while promising players like Chris Tierney and Daniil Tarasov are in the NHL with the parent San Jose Sharks.
Tierney – San Jose’s second round pick (55th overall) in 2012 – actually began the season in the NHL, posting two assists in 11 NHL games before being re-assigned to Worcester at the beginning of November. While in the AHL, Tierney has been a difference maker, tallying 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 26 games – including 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in his last 14 AHL games in the month of January before his latest NHL recall.
Tarasov had 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 41 AHL games with Worcester before playing in his first NHL game with San Jose earlier this month.
Rookie forward Jeremy Langlois was having an impressive first full season of pro hockey, leading the Sharks with 16 goals and 10 assists before going out of the lineup with a foot injury that has caused him to remain out of the lineup since January 31st.
The injuries and call-ups at the forward position have given younger players like rookie Ryan Carpenter a chance to move up the lineup and see increased ice time.
“It definitely helps when guys get called up,” Carpenter said after a recent Sharks win over Lehigh Valley. “You’ve got to step up.”
Carpenter has done just that, seizing this opportunity of increased ice time and producing down the stretch with Worcester. 10 of his 26 points in his 50-game rookie season to date have come in the last nine games, with Carpenter scoring four goals and adding six assists in those nine games.
“We lost three of our top four scorers so I didn’t know what we were going to be like,” Worcester head coach Roy Sommer said, naming Carpenter’s line with Eriah Hayes and John McCarthy specifically. “That line won us a game the other night against Providence and they weren’t even in the lineup last week,” he added, citing the loss of several players to the NHL.
The depleted roster has not been used as an excuse by Sommer, but instead has motivated him to continue to win at the AHL level with the players that are available to him on a nightly basis. The Sharks’ 4-3 win over Lehigh Valley on February 4th was Sommer’s 600th win as an AHL coach – making him just the third coach in the league’s history to reach that plateau.
“It was good to get it over with I think,” Sommer said on his 600th win, adding, “I haven’t really thought about it to be honest with you. Actually, someone brought it up before the game tonight. I knew it was around there but it’s not something anyone’s really been talking too much about, but it was good to get it here [at Lehigh Valley].”
The AHL Sharks have chugged right along, going 17-3-1 in their last 21 games without several key players who were a big part of the team’s mid-season success.
“We have a lot of depth on our team,” Carpenter said, adding “so I just try to be ready and when your number gets called go out there and make something happen.”
Evan Trupp is another first-year forward stepping into the spotlight in Worcester with an increased role, with six points (one goal, five assists) in his last eight games and 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 51 games with the Sharks this season.
It’s been a long journey for Trupp to get to the AHL level, spending the better part of the last three seasons in the ECHL before playing in 17 AHL games with the Abbotsford Heat last season and grabbing a full-time AHL spot to start this season in Worcester.
It remains to be seen whether or not Worcester can maintain their current pace down the stretch. But the AHL Sharks sit in a decent position to make the postseason, with the least games played of any team in the Eastern Conference and games in hand on both the teams a few points ahead of them as well as the teams chasing them for a playoff spot.
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