After two losing seasons, the Cleveland Barons, San Jose’s AHL affiliate, are looking to provide the franchise with its first winning season in recent history. All but two players (Greg Labenski and Garrett Stafford) on the Barons roster are Sharks property out to score points, win big, and earn their way to San Jose.
Returning to Cleveland this season are left wings Lynn Loyns, and Yuri Moscevsky, centers Patrick Rissmiller and Brad Boyes, and right wings Tavis Hansen, Niko Dimitrakos, Willie Levesque, and Miroslav Zalesak.
Loyns, who started last season with the Sharks, will provide scrappy, physical play with a lot of hits and decent offense. The 5’11” 200-pound native of Naicam, Sask. would like nothing more than to earn yet another call-up, as he also ended the season with the big club.
Moscevsky, a big 6’3” 220-pound winger from Yorba Linda, Cal., will most likely be playing the roll of enforcer in Cleveland, as he is being groomed for the job in San Jose. With improved offense and more ice time, look for Moscevsky to score more than last season’s three points, but continue to bring intense fighting action to the ice.
Rissmiller has continued to improve and impress on every level. At 6’4” and 210 pounds, the 25-year-old from Belmont, Mass. aims to hit a lot more than last season looking to improve his physical game, and possibly double his offensive production as he tries to turn heads and earn the first NHL recall of his career. He was the first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) player to earn an NHL contract, and if recalled, he’d be the first player from the MAAC ever to play in the NHL.
Boyes, who was named to the 2002-03 AHL All-Rookie Team, brings a lot of craftiness and puck-handling skill to the mix. A native of Mississauga, Ont., the 6’1” 195-pound center was viewed as a possible lock for San Jose’s roster, but was beaten out in camp. If he is able to keep his offensive side hot and plays a bit more aggressively, he should be one of the Sharks first call-ups.
Hansen is back for his second season with the Barons, providing much-needed leadership for the Sharks young prospects. At 28 years old, the 6’2” 205-pound right wing from Prince Albert, Sask. still has plenty of offense in the tank. Hansen is a gritty, hard-nosed workhorse who should not be counted out by anyone.
Dimitrakos, like Boyes, was expected to be a possible lock at right wing for the Sharks, but finds himself in Cleveland to start the season himself in Cleveland once more. Very talented offensively, the 24-year-old Sommerville, Mass. native needs to improve defensively if he wants to crack San Jose’s roster. (Editor’s Note: Dimitrakos was recalled by San Jose Oct. 27)
The 23-year-old Levesque, of Oak Bluff, Mass., spent a lot of time on the ice last season despite his injuries, but did not do much offensively, with only nine points. Levesque, a 6’0” 210-pound winger, will spend his second season in Cleveland providing depth at right wing.
Like teammates Dimitrakos and Boyes, the 23-year-old Zalesak was expected to earn a spot on the Sharks roster, but after a lackluster showing at camp, the 6’0” 200-pound winger was assigned to Cleveland, where he will be one of the top scorers and key to the Barons success. Look for him to have one of the first call-ups.
A last-minute addition to the Barons roster was Todd Harvey, a veteran of 561 NHL games who went unclaimed in the waiver draft. Beaten out at camp by 2003 first round draft pick Milan Michalek, Harvey is now expected to lead the Barons team offensively, provide grit, and help Hansen in the leadership department. As noted in The Hockey News, Harvey has a one-way $1.3 million dollar contract, making him the highest paid AHL player ever.
New to the Barons are left wings Tomas Plihal and Ryane Clowe, centers Marcel Goc and Craig Valette, and right wings Jon DiSalvatore and Grant Stevenson.
Plihal, a 6’1” 195-pound Czech center, has good hands and passes the puck well. The 20-year old should have a successful season offensively, having scored 35 goals and 42 assists while with Kootenay of the WHL last season.
Big 6’2” 205-pound Clowe looks to add some feistiness and power to the lineup. Having scored 26 goals and 49 assists last season in the QMJHL, the 21-year-old should also be an offensive spark for the Barons.
Impressive at this year’s inaugural Los Angeles Kings-hosted Rookie Tournament, Goc is a front-runner for a Sharks call-up this season. The 6’1” 187-pound first round draft pick from Germany could find himself in a Sharks uniform before the season ends if he can impress enough at the AHL level as the Barons’ youngest player.
Valette is a scrappy 6’0” 200-pound speedster who can get the job done at center. Having notched 30 goals and 26 assists last season in the WHL, the rookie centerman should be a spark plug in the Barons line-up after a strong training camp for the Sharks.
DiSalvatore, a 6’1” 180-pound graduate from Providence College should provide some offense for the Barons as well as sound defensive play. A Walter Brown Award finalist for the 2002-03 season, DiSalvitore was named Providence College’s team MVP and winner of the Lou Lamoriello Award as the Friar who excelled most at the subtleties of ice hockey.
Stevenson finds himself playing pro hockey for the Barons after signing with San Jose last April, foregoing his junior a senior seasons for Minnesota State University-Mankato. A WCHA First-Team All-Star, the speedy and scrappy forward should have an impressive AHL rookie season. The 5’11” 170-pound Spruce Grove, Alberta native also has hockey blood in his veins, as he is the grandson of Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall.
Cleveland’s returning veteran defensemen this season are Matt Carkner, Robert Mulick, David Cloutier, and Jesse Fibiger.
After missing much of last season due to an ACL injury, Carkner, who hails from Winchester, Ont., is looking to redeem himself in the Sharks eyes. The 6’4” 230-pound defenseman will be battling to earn a call-up behind Christian Ehrhoff and Rob Davison, both of whom earned roster spots at Sharks training camp.
Mulick, who missed most of the 2002-03 season with shoulder injuries, will not only provide leadership defensively, but will also provide some depth at the blueline as the 6’2” 215-pound Toronto native spends this season with Cleveland.
Cloutier, who lead all Barons defensemen in scoring last season, needs to improve in his own zone. Having scored 10 goals and 17 assists in 80 games (the only Baron defenseman to play all 80 games last season), the 6’1” 200-pound Quebec City native should lead the Barons defense in points for the second straight season and will look to improve last season’s –30 rating.
At 6’3” and 220 pounds, Fibiger is another defenseman looking to redeem himself. After earning a call-up last season, he should be looking at another late-season call-up, should injuries plague San Jose. One should note that while he was not given a lot of icetime while up with the Sharks, the 25-year-old Fibiger was called upon by Team Canada to represent his nation at the 2003 Sweden Games.
The new Shark defensive prospects to join the Barons roster this fall are Doug Murray and Christian Ehrhoff. Murray, a big 6’3” 240-pound blueliner from Bromma, Sweden, helped Cornell University reach the Frozen Four last season and looks to be a solid addition to the Barons defensive lineup. Hopefully, he should be able to add some offense from the point as well.
Just three games into the Barons season, rookie blueliner Christian Ehrhoff, a 6’2” 194-pound German, was assigned to the team by San Jose. In the three games Ehrhoff played with the Sharks, he failed to tally any points, but was impressive nonetheless. With Brad Stuart returning from injury reserve, room needed to be made on the roster, which resulted in Ehrhoff’s assignment to the Barons. An excellent skater with a rocket of a slap shot, the 21-year-old DEL veteran of three seasons should be a force to be reckoned with in Cleveland’s defensive zone while chipping in a few points as well.
Rounding out the Barons defense this season are Greg Labenski and Garrett Stafford. Labenski, who played in 10 games with Cleveland last season, scored no points and received 15 PIMs. Stafford, a former star for the University of New Hampshire, played for the Los Angeles Kings in the Rookie Tournament and impressed Coach Roy Sommer enough to earn himself a Barons contract after being released by the Kings.
After several impressive outings, Seamus Kotyk was thrown into the starting role when starter Vesa Toskala was recalled by San Jose late last season. The 5’11” 180-pound goalie from London, Ont. needs to build up his confidence and follow his instincts between the pipes in order to step out of Toskala’s shadow and claim the starting role for himself in Cleveland.
Dimitri Pätzold, who looks to challenge Kotyk for the No. 1 spot, has a definite advantage over Kotyk as he makes his North American debut. Having played the past two seasons in the German Elite League, the 20-year-old has faced many former NHL, IHL and AHLers in the DEL. The competition between the two netminders should provide Cleveland with competent goaltending and an interesting storyline.
Just a few games into the 2003-04 season, the Barons found themselves in need of a few roster changes.
After undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from his knee, right wing Willie Levesque was assigned to Johnstown of the ECHL on Oct. 22. Levesque has yet to play a game with the Barons this season.
Greg Labenski was assigned to Kalamazoo of the UHL on Oct. 22 in order to make room for Christian Ehrhoff. Labenski tallied no points and 4 PIMs in three games with the Barons.
On Oct. 9, netminder Nolan Schaefer was assigned to the Fresno Falcons of the ECHL. The 6’1” 180-pound Providence College graduate has appeared in three games with the Falcons and has won two, with no losses or ties. On what turned out to be Shark Shutout Night, Schaefer managed to blank the Bakersfield Condors Oct. 17 in his first professional start. After three games, Schaefer had .958 save percentage with 68 saves on 70 shots. Goaltender Terry Friesen and forwards Kris Porter and Brad Mehalko are teammates of Schaefer’s who have had ties to the Sharks.