WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Most of the players on the ice for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins preseason opener against the Hershey Bears on Wednesday won’t be with the AHL club when the season starts.
But while many of them will go to Wheeling, or other teams, they all want to leave an impression.
That didn’t go as planned for the most part, as the Penguins suffered a 5-1 loss to the Bears in a game that saw Hershey gain eight power plays and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton muster just 18 shots, including two in the second period.
The penalties stemmed from the Penguins getting beat in one-on-one battles, which in turn was the result of young players getting their first taste of AHL hockey. While Patrick McGrath and Reid Gardiner were the only regulars skating for the Penguins, Hershey dressed several, including Dustin Gazley, Jeremy Langlois, Matt Carey and Garrett Mitchell.
Head coach Clark Donatelli suggested the game was a wake up call for many of the younger players.
“They have to get their feet wet. That group there, I think they have to be in better shape,” he said. “It’s a learning experience for these guys and they realize how hard it is. Some guys will get it, some won’t.”
Going on the penalty kill eight times did limit the chances to make an impression for those that didn’t play on the special teams unit. Also, many of the Penguins players were skating together for the first time, so chemistry was noticeably absent.
“It’s a little challenging, but that’s part of it,” said forward Nick Sorkin, who has one full AHL season under his belt and produced 57 points in 57 games with Wheeling last year.
“Everything is a test and you just want to see where you stand. I thought I did some good things and some things I wish I could have back.”
• Noticeably absent from Wednesday’s game was the Penguins mascot, Tux. The previous “Tux,” Chad Spencer, recently accepted a mascot job with the Edmonton Oilers. The Penguins are working on a replacement.
• The Penguins next preseason game is this Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Donatelli said the lineup will be mainly Wilkes-Barre/Scranton players, as will be the case for the final exhibition game on Sunday. For Saturday’s game, he said, it could be a mix of regulars and new faces.
• Donatelli also said it’s likely that some cuts will be made on Thursday.
• Tom Mele scored the only goal for the Penguins, and Shavertown’s McGrath dropped the gloves in the third period. Defenseman Craig Skudalski, who is from Wyoming, played in his first game as a Penguin and finished with one shot.
• As far as players who stood out, Donatelli mentioned defenseman Dan Milan and goaltender Colin Smith, who stopped 18 of 22 shots.