As the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins get ready for Game 1 of the first round playoff matchup against the Charlotte Checkers on Friday, several of the team’s defensemen are preparing for the chance to just play hockey in the postseason again.
Despite having a strong veteran presence on the blue line, many of the Penguins defensemen haven’t seen the postseason in quite some time. The chance to play hockey in the spring enticed many of the veteran players to sign with the Penguins last summer, and now that opportunity is about to become a reality.
“It’s been forever,” said defenseman Chris Summers, whose last trip to the postseason was in 2013 with the Portland Pirates.
Summers, 30, has just three postseason games under his belt despite playing nine years for several AHL and NHL teams. He admitted it’s been tough being limited to three playoff games, and he doesn’t know how many more postseason opportunities he’ll get at this stage of his career.
“Now that I’m a little bit further along, it’s really exciting to be back. It’s a time of year when you give everything you have, and that’s the way it should be played,” Summers said.
Kevin Czuczman, 27, also has just three AHL playoff games on his resume during his four-year career. That was in 2016 with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, although Czuczman did go on a longer run the year before when he appeared in 12 ECHL playoff games with the Florida Everblades.
Like Summers, the lack of experience has made Czuczman hungry for the postseason.
“It’s nice being on this side of the coin,” he said. “All your friends are back home, done for the season, and you’re still playing. That’s a pretty cool feeling.”
While Summers and Czuczman only have three AHL playoff games during their career, Jarred Tinordi has none.
But he did play in five NHL playoff games with the Montreal Canadiens in 2013.
Tinordi, 26, said that experience with Montreal helps him to prepare for his first AHL playoff action with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“Being in the room in Montreal, you could just feel the energy. You feel it just walking into the rink every morning,” Tinordi said. “I just want to carry that to here.”
Including fellow blueliners Zach Trotman, Lukas Bengtsson and Andrey Pedan, none of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s top six defensemen were in the postseason last year. In fact, all six have combined for just 27 AHL career playoff games.
Trotman has the most postseason experience with 17 playoff games as a member of the Providence Bruins, but his last trip was in 2015.
Trotman, 27, acknowledged that it’s been a long wait for the team’s defense corps to get back to the playoffs.
“We all can’t wait. For some guys, it’s their first time getting a taste of it in quite a while,” he said. “It’s intense and emotional hockey.”
Still, despite the long absences, the group of defensemen — who all joined the Penguins via free agency or trades before the season, with the exception of Bengtsson — knew their chances for playoff hockey were pretty high with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
When the team takes the ice against Charlotte on Friday, it will officially begin Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 16th consecutive trip to the postseason, the longest active streak in the AHL.
“It’s an expectation here and that’s why it’s such a good franchise,” Czuczman said. “They expect to make playoff runs every year, and that’s the message they sent to us right at the start of training camp.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky