(Photo credit: Heather Stebbins, The Pink Puck)
Worcester Sharks fans would probably like to forget many chunks of the 2013-14 season, especially some of the losing streaks and missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season. But, it’s a new season and there are some pretty noticeable changes for the team. The big question will be whether or not these changes make enough of an impact.
Of course, in the AHL, players often come and go. It is unusual for a team to have as many returning players as the Sharks had over the past couple seasons. This season, Worcester still had a decent number of players return, including some that were expected to make a push for the San Jose roster, such as Eriah Hayes, Freddie Hamilton, and Matt Tennyson. Hamilton is in the final year of his entry level contract and Tennyson is in his first year of a new two year contract. Worcester also has goaltender Troy Grosenick back for his sophomore season as he looks to build on his rookie season.
However, with the familiar faces come some new faces that are sure to make an impact. Some of the new faces are veterans that will bring their own set of experiences with them to this new team. The first is a familiar face, although he’s been someone Sharks fans have cheered against over the years. Micheal Haley joins the Sharks in his 9th professional season. He has primarily played in the Rangers and Islanders organizations. With 163 penalty minutes in 52 NHL games and 940 penalty minutes in 370 AHL games, he promises to provide a level of grit that will benefit the Sharks. Also at forward, the Sharks added Bryan Lerg. Lerg is in his 7th professional season and has been known for his scoring. Although he has not been able to play a full season for the past two seasons, in his last full season, he scored 27 goals. He could be the offensive player the Sharks need.
In addition to the two veteran forwards, Worcester has two new defensemen with that bring their own set of experiences. During the offseason, Taylor Fedun signed with the San Jose Sharks and will be in Worcester, at least for now. Fedun is only in his 3rd year as a pro, but he had 38 points in 65 games with Oklahoma City last year and is looking to build on that. Matt Taormina comes to Worcester with 5 years of pro experience under his belt across a few different organizations. He has already notched his first goal as a Shark, making AHL history as the first player to score a goal in the new 3-on-3 overtime.
The Shark have also added some rookies. Petter Emanuelsson and Melker Karlsson, who is currently injured, join Worcester after having played last season on the same team in the Swedish Hockey League. Ryan Carpenter will be joining the Sharks full time this season from college. He joined the team at the end of last season and recorded his first professional goal in the season opener this year. It will be interesting to see how the returning players and veterans can help the rookies adjust. With one game, a win, under their belts, fans should also watch to see how the new roster gels.
But the changes to the roster were not the only changes that the team saw. Long time Associate Coach David Cunniff parted ways with the organization. This season, Ryan Mougenel will serve as the new assistant coach. Mougenel played junior hockey in the OHL before making an attempt to jump into the pros. In 2005, he found his way to coaching. From 2005-2009, he served as an assistant coach in the ECHL for the Fresno Falcons. Then, he spent the next four seasons, 2009-2013, as the Head Coach of the Las Vegas Wranglers. Last season he made the move up to the AHL as an assistant coach with the Hershey Bears. It will be interesting to see what he brings to the Sharks and if he will make an noticeable changes.
The big question still remains, though. Is this enough to solve some of the problems the Worcester Sharks have seen over the past few seasons? It is true that the Sharks won both their preseason games and then won their season opener. But the season is still young. Worcester faces off with the Providence Bruins this weekend first in Providence on Friday, then comes back to Worcester for their home opener on Saturday. Over the years, the two teams have seen a lot of each other and this season will be no different. It is a series that is always interesting.