The three in three weekend is a concept that every AHL fans is used to. Since crowds are generally smaller, the majority of games fall on the weekend to try and maximize attendance. Many times this results in teams playing Friday and Saturday nights as well as Sunday afternoon. If a team is lucky, they will play all of these games at home, instead of having to travel. This past weekend the Worcester Sharks played their first, and only, home three in three of the season.
The Sharks had been struggling to put together a winning streak and had gone the past seven home games without a win coming into Friday’s game. After Friday, that streak without a home win would extend to eight. The Sharks hosted division rivals the Manchester Monarchs. The Monarchs had also been struggling to win so it was an important game for the two teams with two points up for grabs. However, it was apparent once the second period came around that the Monarchs just wanted it more. At the end of the second frame, the Sharks were already down 5-1 and went on to lose the game 7-2.
It was a disheartening game to watch for the fans, but there were a few highlights. Rookie defenseman Matt Tennyson was able to able to capitalize on a powerplay and score his fourth goal of the season. The Sharks came into the Friday game having gone 11 for 91 on powerplays at home. Despite the fact that the Sharks dropped their first game of the weekend, they had two more games and two more chances to pick up wins. All the fans, myself included, were hoping to see more fire from the team during the rest of the weekend.
On Saturday night, the Sharks hosted the Portland Pirates, another division rival. The Pirates had been on fire of late and it was not the ideal match up for the struggling Sharks to pick up a win. But, Sharks head coach Roy Sommer made a few line-up changes from Friday. Recent addition Adam Comrie, signed from the ECHL, replaced defenseman Nick Petrecki. Coach Sommer also replaced forwards Curt Gogol, Tommy Grant, and Yanni Gourde with James Livingston, Jimmy Bonneau, and Brodie Reid. He also switched up the lines and with the changes, introduced a new team.
The Sharks shocked fans in the first period when Bracken Kearns scored short-handed to put the team up 2-0 and that short-handed goal ended up being the game winner in a 4-1 decision. However, that was not what had everyone talking that game. Jimmy Bonneau, who has made a name for himself in the AHL as a fighter, notched his first goal of the season. That seemed to be the key in the turnaround the Sharks pulled from Friday to Saturday; the Sharks got a lot of help from unlikely sources. Alex Stalock got the start on Saturday after Harri Sateri had registered the loss on Friday. Not only did Stalock make 36 saves on 37 shots, but he robbed the Pirates on a number of chances. Stalock showed fans why he had been named to the All-Star game during his rookie season.
Unsurprisingly, Coach Sommer went with the same line up from Saturday to Sunday. The Sharks hosted the Springfield Falcons who sit atop their division and are a conference rival. But the lineup proved too much for the Falcons who dropped their second straight as the Sharks picked up their second straight win, this time winning 5-1. Once again, Alex Stalock was a star in net, stopping 37 of the 38 shots he saw and coming up with huge saves. Matt Pelech and Marek Viedensky picked up their first goals of the season in the win, with Pelech getting credit for the game winner.
After the game on Friday, few fans thought that the Sharks would end the weekend having taken four out of a possible six points, especially beating the Pirates and the Falcons along the way. Their success can probably be attributed to two things: excellent goaltending from Alex Stalock and goals coming from unusual sources. This team also seems to be very different in their approach to the game. The Sharks had been known as a tough team that was not afraid to hit and drop the gloves. Although they are still out there hitting to create turnovers, they did not have any fighting majors in either of the wins. Additionally, Alex Stalock got his 74th win as a Shark, tying Thomas Greiss for most wins in a Sharks uniform. Stalock reached the mark in 40 fewer games than Greiss.
The Worcester Sharks are back at it this weekend, with another three games. This time, they are on the road for all three games as they take on the red hot Providence Bruins followed by rematches with the Pirates and the Falcons. It will be interesting to see if the fights stay out of the game against such strong rivals. With the season two thirds of the way over in the AHL, every game starts to count more as the push for the playoffs is in full swing. Tensions also start to reach the boiling point between teams like the Sharks and the Bruins, Pirates, or Monarchs as they will have played each other twelve times by the end of the season.