Worcester Sharks 2006-07 season preview

By Janine Pilkington

It’s been a busy off-season for the San Jose Sharks, who picked up and moved their AHL affiliate from Cleveland, Ohio to Worcester, Massachusetts. Worcester went without an AHL team in the 2005-06 season after the IceCats, affiliated with St. Louis, were moved to Peoria, Illinois. Hockey fans in the Bay State eagerly await the debut of their new team, and the new Baby Sharks are hoping to emerge from their inaugural season with a bang.

“The biggest thing is we want to make sure that we’re one of the harder working teams,” Sharks’ Head Coach Roy Sommer said about the development of his team in the weeks ahead. “We try to outnumber the opposition in every position and every zone, and to do that you’re going to have to work hard in your back-checking and defensive play, and those are the things we’re really trying to strive for right now.”

San Jose’s former AHL affiliate the Cleveland Barons were a struggling hockey team in the 2005-06 season. They finished last place in the North Division, and next to last in the Western Conference with a 27-48-2-3 record. It was a team that head coach Roy Sommer says struggled the most defensively. The Sharks will need increased offensive production from their forwards, reliable goaltending, and an improved blue line to emerge as playoff contenders within the competitive ranks of the AHL’s Atlantic Division during the 2006-07 season.

Goaltending

Sharks prospect Dimitri Patzold will be back for his fourth year in the AHL and looking to improve upon a disappointing 2005-06 season. Patzold had injury troubles that kept him out of play during much of December of 2005, and his performance was inconsistent through out the season. He played a total of 33 games and finished with a 3.69 GAA and .869 save percentage. It was an uncharacteristic year for the 23-year-old goaltender, and he will look to put that all behind him with a successful season in Worcester.

More reason for Patzold to pick up his game is the AHL debut of Sharks prospect Thomas Greiss. Greiss is coming off a solid year in Germany’s Elite League, where he eventually earned the role as starter and in 27 games he had 2.46 GAA and .926 save percentage. The 20-year-old has evolved into one of Germany’s top goaltenders and was a member of the 2006 German Olympic team. This will be his first season playing in America.

“I think it’s definitely a transition period for him,” said Sommer. “But he’s a big kid, he’s got a great work ethic, and I think he’s going to be an outstanding goaltender.”

Defense

On defense, the Sharks will have returning players Garrett Stafford and Brad Staubitz, along with Brennan Evans, Scott Ferguson, Tom Walsh and Mathieu Biron. Sharks prospect Dan Spang, currently beginning his first full professional season, drew compliments from Worcester’s coach.

“He’s got a lot of leadership qualities,” said Sommer. “He sees the ice real well, he’s got a lot of hockey sense, he plays a lot bigger than he is, can shoot a puck, run a power play. He’s going to log a lot of minutes here — I’d be surprised if he was here all year. Some players you say might take a year or so to mature and be ready to play in the National Hockey League, but he’s a kid that I think is on the fast track to get there.”

Spang recently completed a four-year college career with Boston University and played 40 games with the Terriers during the 2005-06 season for a total of 31 points (9 goals, 22 assists) and 14 penalty minutes. He earned a tryout contract with the Cleveland Barons and played eight games with the team at the end of the 2005-06 season.

Forwards

Worcester has a mix of up-and-coming forwards and some experienced AHL vets in camp.

Joe Pavelski has looked real strong,” Sommer said. “He had a real strong rookie tournament, he was about a point a game in the NHL exhibition schedule. Michal Macho, he’s come in here and he’s had a really good camp, but you know a veteran, Mathieu Darche has come in and also been real impressive, so you know, those are three guys we didn’t have last year, that I think can make a big impact for us up front.”

Pavelski is a seventh rounder from the 2003 Entry Draft. He played two seasons with the University of Wisconsin then opted out of his final two years of college to sign a pro contract with the Sharks. He put up 53 points in 41 games during the 2005-06 season in Wisconsin.

Tom Cavanagh will look to improve in his second year as a pro. The Harvard University grad had a late start during the 2005-06 season while he recovered from a knee injury, but went on to put up 21 points in 62 games as a rookie.

“You know he’s looked pretty good,“ said Sommer. “I think the biggest thing for him is to get his confidence going, and to stay healthy, heck if we can get him — you know I don’t like to put points on — but if he scores 15-20 goals for us this year, and is a plus player, that’ll be a big addition for us.”

Other returning players include Lukas Kaspar (LW), Mike Iggulden (RW), Tomas Plihal (LW), Jonathan Tremblay (RW) and Craig Valette (C). Kaspar returns for his second year as a pro after a 76-game rookie campaign with Cleveland, where he had 36 points and 88 penalty minutes. The promising 20-year-old wing was a Sharks first round pick in the 2004 Entry Draft. Iggulden is also entering his second year as a pro. The Cornell University graduate was signed by the Sharks as a free agent in January of 2006. He played 77 games with the Cleveland Barons during the 2005-06 season and had a total of 48 points. Plihal and Valette are both entering their fourth professional seasons, after three seasons with the Barons. Tremblay will look to stick after spending the majority of the 2005-06 season in the UHL.

Former Bruins draft pick Ashton Rome, who went unsigned and was drafted again by the Sharks in 2006, has a new contract and is also beginning his first professional season. The 20-year-old spent the majority of the 2005-06 season with the Kamloops Blazers (WHL). Rome picked up 47 points and 103 penalty minutes in 51 games with the Blazers.

“He’s got a lot of work to do,” admitted Coach Sommer. “His game’s definitely going to have to pick up, get a lot more intense, he’s got to be more focused, but there are some good things, too. He shoots the puck a ton, and he’s a big body. When he wants to go, he can go pretty good, but he’s just got to learn that it’s going to be a grind day in and day out, and he’s got to come to the rink a little bit more focused.”

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.