Last night the Worcester Sharks kicked off their home season and hosted the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. It was only second game of the season for the Sharks when almost every other team in their conference has played 4-6 games. Unfortunately for Sharks fans, the final score was not the end they hoped for.
The Sharks are no strangers to slugging it out game after game. During the 2011-2012 season, they led the league with 120 fighting majors during the regular season. It looks like fans could see a return to that. Although the Penguins are not a team the Sharks see a lot, it was less than two minutes into the game when the first fight broke out. Worcester’s Curt Gogol and Wilkes-Barre’s Reid McNeill broke away from a scrum following Gogol’s hit and squared off. Gogol got an extra two minutes for boarding.
Just 9 seconds later, still within the first two minutes of the game, another fight broke out. This one also started because of a hit, by the Penguins instead, and seemed to take awhile to sort out. Fists seemed to be flying everywhere as the officials struggled to restore order. The end result was a weird mix of penalties. Sharks forward Bracken Kearns ended up with a fight major, an instigating minor, and a 10 minute instigating misconduct for 17 minute in penalties. Penguins forward Brian Gibbons got 5 for fighting while Tom Kuhnhackl got a 10 minute misconduct for continuing a fight.
Those 46 minutes in penalties would be all for the period as the focus shifted to trying to build some offense. It was the Sharks to capitalize first in their home opener. Second year forward Freddie Hamilton put one past Penguins goalie Peter Mannino with assists to Brodie Reid and Rylan Schwartz. Hamilton was one of the last cuts out of San Jose and is looking to get that call up and into his first NHL game. The Sharks took the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
When the teams came back to start the second period, it was clear that tensions were still running high. Veteran enforcers Jimmy Bonneau and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond lined up next to each other on the face-off. Before the puck even dropped, the pair agreed to square off. With the new rule, in addition to fighting majors, each also got two minute penalties for taking off their helmets. Bonneau is back for his third season with Worcester while Leblond is in his first with the Penguins.
Although the scored remained with the Sharks leading 1-0 throughout the entire second period, Leblond was not done fighting. He dropped the gloves again, this time fighting Sharks defenseman Taylor Doherty. Leblond definitely has the edge in fighting experience, but at 6’7, Doherty was able to hold his own.
By the time the teams skated out for the final period, they seemed to have gotten the fighting out of their system. Rookie Tom Kuhnhackl beat Worcester goalie Harri Sateri at 1:48 of the third to tie up the game. But, the Sharks were not tied for long. Defenseman Sena Acolatse skated the puck down, stepping into the action and circled behind the net. He made a beautiful pass to John McCarthy in front of the net and McCarthy was able to put it home for his first of the season.
That was where the luck would run out for Worcester, though. At 12:48, Andrew Ebbett scored to tie the game up at 2. It looked like the Sharks might be able to hold on and force the game into overtime. Sharks defenseman Matt Tennyson went off for hooking at it proved to be too much for the Sharks. Kuhnhackl scored his second of the game at 19:40 while still on the power play giving the Penguins their first lead of the game. Despite pulling their goalie for the extra attacker, the Sharks were not able to come back.
The Worcester Sharks are back in action this afternoon as they host the Portland Pirates at 5pm. They will continue to search for their first win of the season. This is the first of twelve meetings between the Sharks and the Pirates. Being division rivals, tensions can sometimes run high so it will be interesting to see what this season holds.