Kevin Constantine is an incredible coach. Few would disagree. Unfortunately, even great coaches reach a point where their words no longer effect the team. Like any other job, doing the same drill day in and day out wears on the players. They grow tired of a particular system and cry out for change. That was the case in Pittsburgh. It’s not because KC was horrible. It was simply the right time for change. Herb Brooks is offering exactly that. Labeled the “Miracle Man” for his efforts in coaching the 1980 US Olympic Team and leading them to gold, Brooks is anxious to see what he can do with a potentially explosive Penguins squad. Whether it’s a long-term solution, or not, remains to be seen, but for now it’s nice to see the Pens having fun again. And by fun I don’t mean the practices … Brooks is determined to give these guys a good workout. He would like to see them cover 100% of the ice, with quicker, shorter shifts. What I am referring to is feeling confident and feeling inspired. Removing the harnesses from players such as Darius Kasparaitis and Mathew Barnaby , who are known for their aggressive style, is a good start. They won’t only turn up the intensity, but also make room a potent offense.
A string of injuries, a struggling defense and a tremendous amount of “bad luck” tie the Pens and their affiliates together with inconsistent success. Each of them desperately needs to improve their records if they hope to make it to post season play.
The latest example of bad luck came when goaltender Tom Barrasso was handed a 4 game suspension by the NHL, for carelessly using his stick and breaking the forearm of center Yanic Perreault. Jean-Sebastien Aubin was called up from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to fill the void.
Aubin has been rather impressive this season, but is no match for Barrasso in terms of puck-handling skills. When you’re a team who struggles in the defensive zone, it’s nice to have a goalie that can play the puck. On the bright side however, Aubin did prove himself with 5 solid outings prior to being sent down to the American Hockey League.
It’s uncertain whether Aubin or Skudra will put in the most ice time during Barrasso’s absence, but Aubin is by far the favored candidate.
Pittsburgh’s loss, is now also Wilkes-Barre’s loss. They too have been left without a preferred number one. Statistically speaking however, Aubin has struggled in the American Hockey League this season. Prior to December 1st, he was 0-4. Thankfully, hard work did not go unmerited that evening as 27 saves and a team full of determination inevitably led to an overtime victory.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins may not be the hottest team in the American Hockey League, but they do possess plenty of spirit and the support of a town who has vowed to stand behind them despite a rocky start. Currently playing with a record of 2-13-5, the “Jr. Pens” have a great deal of work cut out for them if they hope to catch up with the opposition. Nothing is impossible however, and it’s still early enough in the season to turn things around. Whether they can do it or not remains to be seen.
Wilkes-Barre does however, have a few things on it’s side: players such as Martin Sonnenberg and Dennis Bonvie, the two leading scorers. Bonvie brings a whole new definition of forceful play to the game. His unique ability to get under the opposition’s skin has earned him the title of “goon.” The truth is however, he’s not a goon. He knows exactly what he’s doing and enjoys frustrating the other team. This year, he’s added something special to the mix. Dennis found the scoreboard and was, for quite some time, the points leader. Amazingly, he managed to do so entirely based on assists.
Martin Sonnenberg is a different kind of player. While Bonvie is a winger with an attitude, Sonnenberg is a winger with a little more patience. He’s not exactly a Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, but he does exhibit a real passion for the game and desire to win. It’s obvious how much he respects his teammates and how much they respect him.
They say “Home is where the heart is.” For the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins a homecoming was long overdue, but well worth the wait. After starting the season off in a slump, and starting the season on the road, the “Jr. Pens” finally had their chance to embrace a town which had been anxiously awaiting their arrival. To say it was love at first sight would be an understatement. The home opening game against Kentucky was sold out within an hour after tickets went on sale (Oct. 22nd). Wilkes-Barre had high hopes for this new team, and the Penguins were not about to disappoint them. Victory was inevitable.
Greg Crozier started off the scoring with a power play goal (assisted by Morozov & Bonvie) at 3:24 of the first period. From that moment forward it seemed as though the hockey gods were playing for the Penguins. At one point Kentucky tried to rally back, tying the game 2-2, but failed to keep Pomichter and Slaney from joining their determined teammate, Crozier, on the scoreboard. What better way to say, “Thank you,” and “Welcome Home,” to the fans, than with a 4-2 victory dance.
Andrew Ference, the feisty young defenseman from Edmonton, has found a home in the heart of Pittsburgh. Still just 20 years of age, Ference is discovering there is much to learn before he can become a key defenseman in the NHL; the defenseman Pittsburgh so desperately needs. Spunk and spirit in tact however, he appears to be up for the challenge. Despite a rash of injuries, Andrew is definitely earning his ice time. Twelve games into the new season, he’s already been made a marked man by the New York Rangers for a hit on Petr Nedved, which occurred October 14th at Madison Square Garden. It’s that attitude and fearless nature that have Penguins fans everywhere taking a second look. This past Sunday (November 7, 1999), Andrew added to his credits by winning the “Fastest Skater” event in the Penguins annual skills competition. It just goes to show you, it’s not always the size of the player that matters. In some cases, a 5’10” defenseman can play like a giant.