Penguins and Sound Tigers in the AHL Eastern Conference Semifinals

By Ailyn Diaz

It was the third game of the playoff series and the temperature outside the Wachovia Center in Wilkes-Barre Scranton was 80 degrees Fahrenheit, an unusual hot day for a mid-April hockey game. The Zamboni worked overtime layering the ice to prevent any melting for the upcoming match against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

It was a night depleted of re-runs for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers who found themselves at an advantage at Harbor Yard winning at overtime twice. This was the turning point of the series as Coach Therrien, known for his passionate outbursts pointed out chuckling at the end of the game, “You got to give credit to those guys. We all knew the importance of tonight’s game. It was the biggest game of the season for us. We were trailing by two goals and we never quit.“

In fact, Therrien credits most of this success to the newest member of the line-up, Guillaume Lefebvre.

“We brought this guy, Lefebvre” down from Pittsburgh, “and we want to play him as much as possible. We knew that we had three games in four nights. The way that Gui (Guillaume) is working out on the gym and out on the ice during practice. I felt that he was ready to play and certainly he gave us some depth.”

Twenty-two year old left winger Lefebvre was acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Phoenix Coyotes with Ramzi Abid and Dan Focht in exchange for Jan Hrdina and Francois Leroux in March 2003. Lefebvre never played for the Phoenix Coyotes and he never played for their AHL affiliate, Springfield Falcons.

In fact, he was previously part of the Philadelphia Flyers organization playing 14 games during the 2002-2003 season. At 6’1 and 200 lbs, Lefebvre worked briefly as a role player when called up to the NHL providing the necessary grit and strength to make plays happen. Scouts believe that this notable prospect’s strength lies in his aggressive forecheck. Throughout the series, he challenged the Sound Tiger defensive corps.

Twenty-four year old defenseman Graham Belak is the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ answer to the Wilkes-Barre Penguins’ grit. Although originally drafted 53rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche, this mammoth player signed an NHL contract with the New York Islanders. At 6’5” and 235 lbs, he tends to intimidate the opposition and is not afraid to drop his gloves holding the title in penalty minutes for the Sound Tigers so far this series.

His boxing instructor is Coach Cronin, who still retains the role of director of player development of the New York Islanders and the brain behind their off season conditioning program designing and coordinating the regimen. The regimen includes boxing, one of the coach’s hobbies. This unique program has been profiled throughout the media including the New York Times.

But Therrien is not shy about giving Cronin’s Bridgeport team credit for their strengths especially when it comes to his players.

“Their goalie (Kochan) played fantastic…They got some chances. They certainly gave us the chance to stay in the game, but we never quit.”

It is this no-quit attitude that takes the Wilkes Barre Penguins into Game 7 of the series. With 20-year old prospect Andy Chiodo debuting on goal during Game 5, the momentum changed as he made 18 saves against 29-year-old Dieter Kochan. However, it wasn’t until Game 6 that Chiodo made 23 saves to push Wilkes-Barre to a shut out against the Sound Tigers. He won the first star of the game reaching this ultimate achievement in his rookie playoff season with what he regards his greatest strength, his focus.