Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Category Archives: Pittsburgh

Sunday Ketchup

Well, things are picking up so may as well bust off a blog post summarizing what’s probably already been summarized elsewhere.

First, there were some questions regarding the arena mandates as far as COVID is involved. Will you need to show proof of vaccination in order to take in a game and all that like some other places in the League are requiring? No, or at least not yet.

Know before you go. Masks recommended, cashless concessions. I don’t really like under $5 transactions on my credit card, so $3 or whatever for a soda or a box of popcorn may be a few and far between idea for me every now and again. What they should do is offer gift cards or reloadable food cards you can use in the arena for those who go to more than just one game like me. Heaven help us if the transaction system ever goes down.

Pittsburgh training camp continues and there have been the usual cuts and what not. A notable name was Matt Bartkowski, a defensemen they invited to camp on a PTO. The Penguins released him Saturday and not long after Coal Street announced an AHL contract for him. Enough of an impression left between both sides that the veteran Bartowski signs an AHL deal with the affiliate. Wilkes-Barre looks stacked on defense.

Training camp opened Sunday morning on Coal Street. Full list of participants here. It’s a group of familiar names plus those released by Pittsburgh’s camp so far. A local name on there is Charlie Spetz, who played for Wilkes University. Coal Street featured him in a story Sunday afternoon. Spetz signed a contract with Roanoke of the Southern Professional Hockey League, which is a notch below the ECHL.

Do I expect Spetz to make the team? No. Wilkes-Barre is stacked at defense, a position Spetz plays. But, like Bartowski, it’s all about making a positive impression with the option that one day he gets a chance to play for the Penguins.

Later, it was announced that Head Coach J.D. Forrest and his assistant Kevin Porter agreed to a two year contract extension. Forrest took a team to .500 in a joke of an exhibition season against three tough opponents (sorry, Binghamton) and the team looks (at least on paper) to be better than last year, so reward the staff with a two year extension and see what 2021-22 brings.

I have the Penguins as a six seed. Hershey, Lehigh Valley and Providence are the class of the field. Hartford I have finishing last and some combination of either Springfield or Charlotte finishes seventh. But that’s today, on the first day of training camp as opposed to 40 or 50 games in, with call ups, trades and injuries and all that.

Anyway, you will get more thoughts on how the rest of the division sets up next week when I roll out my previews. Next up, a Wednesday and Friday preseason home game against the Phantoms Bears, respectively.

Have a good week and we’ll talk to you Wednesday.

TV’s and Taxi’s

Couple things as we head into a weekend.

Pittsburgh did a swap of two forwards and a goalie, reassigning forwards Freddy Gaudreau, Anthony Angello and goaltender Max Lagace to Wilkes-Barre and recalling forwards Jordy Bellerive, Josh Currie and goaltender Emil Larmi in the process.

It’s a cycle that some teams have been doing and something we will have to get used to as we go here. Larmi has been playing his best hockey to date, so the recall is a reward. It will keep him sharp getting in NHL practices and Lagace too seeing AHL live fire. I don’t know what that means for Shane Starrett, who Wilkes-Barre signed in the offseason but who has not appeared yet as backup to Larmi yet.

Gaudreau and Angello are good pieces.

Zach Trotman was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre Thursday. He’s been recovering from knee surgery. Hope to see him in a game soon, as that backline is raw, man.

The other news late Friday was Coal Street’s announcement of six dates where they will broadcast home games. They are:

Wednesday Feb. 24 vs. Hershey 5:00 p.m.
Friday Feb. 26 vs. Lehigh Valley 5:00 p.m.
Wednesday Mar. 3 vs. Syracuse 5:00 p.m.
Monday Mar. 8 vs. Lehigh Valley 5:00 p.m.
Wednesday Mar. 24 vs. Syracuse 5:00 p.m.
Saturday Apr. 10 vs. Binghamton 5:00 p.m.

Two next week, one the week after, another the week after that and then none till the end of March and middle of April. Games will be broadcast on WQMY (MyNetwork TV)

Penguins travel to Hershey for a 1 pm start Saturday. Gameday setup is here bright and early Saturday morning at 9.

NHL Draft Recap – Wait, What Month is It?

Pittsburgh didn’t have a pick in the first round on Tuesday but they were pretty active on Day Two on Wednesday. First, they made a trade.

Gruden’s pedigree is as follows…

Gruden is considering heading back to juniors for what would be considered an overage year.

With the freshly minted pick they obtained from the Senators, Pittsburgh selected…

Backing up a sec, look for Casey DeSmith to back up Tristan Jarry in a shortened NHL season, whenever that starts. That leaves Emil Larmi and Alex D’Orio here on the farm, but look for Pittsburgh to sign a veteran goalie for full time work in the AHL (whenever that season starts) and either D’Orio or Larmi to be the backup in a (likely) even shorter AHL season.

Pittsburgh went with another goalie with their 77th pick in selecting Calle Clang.

That makes two of us.

Deeper, Pittsburgh went with Lukas Svejkovsky at 108.

Raivis Ansons was next at 149th overall.

Teddy Blueger has a friend in the locker room now.

And then finally…

If you are a subscriber to The Athletic, Corey Pronman had a summary of Pittsburgh’s picks you can check out here.

I debated doing this again this season, but in a pinch I always go back to the older posts when Pittsburgh had drafts before in the past, so it’s good to carry on that tradition in some regard, even though it is October and we should be gearing up for a season.

On that front, there was a bit of news this week.

That affects the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, where the Penguins play. It’s a 15% max capacity of a venue up to 10,000. The Penguins play in an arena that can seat 8,000, so that is about…checks math….1200 people. Can you make money off of 1200 people? How many other people get turned away? I don’t think it can work, honestly.

Also, Hartford will need to find a new home next season.

It’s the University of Connecticut, but they share the building with the Wolf Pack. Could Hartford play all of it’s games on the road? Will there be an AHL bubble?

Who knows. Wear a mask, please.

Too Far Into the Forrest – J.D. Forrest named WBS Head Coach

It’s all about the pun in the head line because the tweet came down from Pittsburgh Friday which made it official:

Link there in on the meatier details, such as that WBS assistant Jarrod Skalde was not retained and Jason Karmanos named General Manager of Wilkes-Barre. Mike Vellucci had served as both head coach and GM during his tenure on Coal Street last season.

It’s a safe hire. If you go looking for more quotes on the decision you will see tweets like these:

I don’t have a problem with the hire. Promote from within. Forrest served under and learned from some damn fine coaches in Wilkes-Barre.

One other note, from the release, “The Penguins will not make any additional decisions regarding the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaching staff until closer to the start of the AHL season.”

Wear a damn mask and wash your damn hands so we can have some semblance of an AHL season this year. Thanks.

Help Wanted – Captain and Coach

We don’t exactly know when the start of the AHL season will be, targeted for December 2020, but we do know that the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will be in the market for a new head coach (announced September 2) and a new captain (announced last week).

Let’s start with the older news. David Warsofsky was traded with other assets last week to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Kasperi Kapanen. The return, affecting Wilkes-Barre were forward Pontus Aberg and defenseman Jesper Lindgren. Both spent time in Toronto with the Marlies last year but will start their seasons overseas because of the pandemic here in the United States and the uncertainty of if, or even when, an AHL season may occur in the midst of all of this.

Kasper Bjorkvist will also play overseas next season. It’s going to happen a lot with the foreign born players. Development waits for no one.

Today’s news shouldn’t come as a shock, Mike Vellucci was named as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Vellucci was always destined for Pittsburgh. You don’t steal a guy off of a team that just won the Calder Cup without some guarantee baked in that one day he will be behind the bench of your NHL team. It wasn’t a matter of if Vellucci would head to Pittsburgh, it was a matter of when. When the Penguins cleaned house and fired all of their assistant coaches and kept Mike Sullivan on, the writing was on the wall.

I have no idea who Wilkes-Barre has in mind for captain.

Candidates for head coach could include current assistants J.D. Forrest or Jarrod Skalde or the Penguins could go deeper in the organization and hire Mark French, who was recently named as the Wheeling Nailers head coach. If the name rings a bell, French coached the Hershey Bears when they won 60 games in 2009-10. I mean if you had to ask me now who the front runner is or would be, it would be French. He’s familiar with coaching in this neck of the AHL woods and is already under contract in the organization. It’s a no-brainer.

We don’t even have a schedule yet and have no idea if we will even have AHL hockey this season, so a new head coach may be a low priority thing at this point in time. The next blog post (whenever the hell that may be these days) may be introducing the new head coach after the announcement comes down from Coal Street on who that man or woman may be.

Stay tuned.

Wear your mask, wash your hands, stay six feet away from people and for god sakes, stay home if you are sick.

2020 NHL Trade Deadline Recap(ish)

On a day like today, the NHL trade deadline, there are winners and losers. That also will trickle down to the AHL farm clubs. Let’s take a look at some of the contending Atlantic Division teams.

In sum, the losers in the race for Atlantic Division playoffs appear to be the Charlotte Checkers.

This is coupled with losing both goalies to recall yesterday and the trades from last week.

That trade would come at a cost, again directly affecting Charlotte.

The winners appear to be the Springfield Thunderbirds.

Djuse has 29 points with the Texas Stars.

It’s a direct blow to the Charlotte Checkers by the team pursuing them for the final spot in the playoffs that the Checkers currently occupy in Springfield. Here’s a look at the standings real quick.

4. Charlotte (64 points, 53 games played)
5. Springfield (62 points, 56 games played)
6. PENGUINS (62 points, 56 games played)

I’m kind of burying the real lede here and that’s what happened today with Pittsburgh and how it directly affects Wilkes-Barre. First, the direct impact.

Agozzino was placed on waivers Sunday at noon. That was for purposes of having him able to be assigned to Wilkes-Barre after the NHL deadline. Always a risk and there is always a possibility that a guy gets claimed when put on and now it has happened twice to the Penguins with Agozzino now and Stefan Noesen earlier in the season.

Out the door, no direct impacts to the Wilkes-Barre roster. In fact, there was this later Monday afternoon…

Lafferty and Angello were straight up assignments. With those two coupled with Phil Varone and Riley Barber, the Penguins are shaping up to be a solid team. But a contending team or a playoff team? Anyone’s guess.

Zach Trotman will likely be back down at some point, most likely after the Penguins California trip, which is later this week.

Barring any injuries, of course.

Our friends about an hour south with a splash of their own as well.


The Big Bear Machine, already warm and leading the Atlantic Division, getting hot.

That’s all really. Lehigh Valley made a few moves with TJ Brennan going to Chicago in exchange for a guy that they assigned to ECHL Reading. Brennan hasn’t played in a while and worked his way out of the locker room in Lehigh Valley. Again, a Phantoms team that stockpiled talent still only has one puck on the ice for the players to access. All of those players on that team is bound to have problems and you are seeing that with how far back the Phantoms are (in seventh place) in the standings.

More Wednesday unless there are notes for an entry Tuesday.

Blandisi and Lucchini Traded for Phil Varone and Riley Barber 2/20

We have seen this fish before.

If you have been around this blog long enough have been a fan of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins then you remember the names vividly, Barber with Hershey and Varone with Lehigh Valley. Varone was AHL MVP in 2018.

So proven goal scorers and point producers at the AHL level. Barber with Laval this season has 31 points in 39 games and nine NHL games (Montreal is the NHL affiliate of Laval) this year. He had 31 goals for a stacked Bears team last season. Barber is also an automatic 20 goal scorer.

Phil Varone had 70 points with Lehigh Valley in ’17-18 in his MVP season and was a point off Chris Terry of Laval that year for the point race. Varone this season with the Rocket has 27 games played, 4 goals and 10 assists. No NHL games this season.

Laval was in Providence Sunday and Mark Divver, one of the hardest working guys in the AHL and in Rhode Island, tweeted this…

So a clash in styles between two players who get shipped out to greener pastures in return for an NHL yo-yo in Blandisi and an unproven young commodity in Lucchini. I don’t know how anyone on this side of the aisle sees this as anything but and upgrade for the Penguins and winners of the trade. On the Laval side you get rid of two guys who look like they didn’t want to be there if Divver’s suspicions are true for a serviceable NHL piece in Blandisi and a good player in Lucchini with upside.

But we have been here before.

Mattias Plachta. Spencer Machacek. Danny Syvret. Ryan Parent. Derek Nesbitt. Colin Smith and Joseph Cramarossa. Chris Wideman.

Sure, Varone and Barber have great numbers and should, by rights, have an instant impact for the Penguins who are fighting for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. But history is an indicator (eight names isn’t an outlier, it’s a downright pattern and that is only some of the names) that these names may pop a few eyes here and there now and be the talk of the AHL going into and through this weekend, but the applications of the players putting in the work and producing remains to be seen.

By no means am I ruining this and saying that the trades are bad and you should expect to finish seventh in the Atlantic Division and miss playoffs for a second straight year. No, I am not saying that. Just take these trades with a guarded optimism that yes, they are massive upgrades over what you lost, but the history of pouting and clashing with management that comes with the trade is not something to be ignored and not just a young prospect thinking he should be in the NHL. Varone is 30, Barber just turned 26.

As to the immediate availability of the assets acquired…

In other news, Ryan Scarfo is up from Wheeling this week and Brandon Hawkins was sent back down. Zach Trotman went up to Pittsburgh on an emergency recall while John Marino recovers from facial surgery.

I was told this week that Kevin Czuczman was a full go in practice this week and Tyler reported that Dustin Tokarski practiced without limits too and also added that Thomas DiPauli won’t be available this weekend.

Also this, which happened Thursday at 5 right after my post went up…

I would assume that with DiPauli not available and Varone sorting out his visa issues, the recall of Knott was needed.

Around the division, Lehigh Valley and Hartford swapped backup goalies, J-F Berube to the Wolf Pack for Tom McCollum. Charlotte’s third leading scorer Julian Gauthier was traded to Hartford for their fourth leading scorer Joey Keane. The Wolf Pack look like they are going to go for a playoff berth this season.

Springfield too…

Same goes for the Penguins, and that applies to what you just read above.

Gameday setup is here Friday at 3 when Riley Barber squares off against his former team the Hershey Bears, provided Barber gets here in time.