By Matthew T.F. Harrington
sjbarracuda.com photo: The San Jose Barracuda center Rourke Chartier (60) looks for the puck as the Bakersfield Condors goaltender Laurent Brossoit (31) who struggled all night looks to defend with defenceman Ben Betker (5) Saturday night at SAP Center
SAN JOSE, Calif. – The buzz heading into the San Jose Barracuda’s home opener Friday night was all about top prospect Timo Meier making his regular season debut. When all was said and done, Barracuda fans had plenty to be happy about, it just didn’t include Meier. 7 players had points for San Jose as the Barracuda downed the Bakersfield Condors 4-0 in a second period offensive explosion for their first regulation win of the season Troy Grosenick made 28 saves for the shutout win in game one of a two game weekend series against the Condors (1-3-0-0).
“He was the difference,” said Barracuda coach Roy Sommer of his netminder. “That was the Troy Grosenick I saw three years ago. I haven’t seen a game like that from him for a while. He was the story.”
Meier finished the night with 0 points and two penalty minutes, firing two shots on goal. While the youngster didn’t have the breakout performance off the bat, a number of returning Barracuda did.
“I thought he was alright,” said Sommer. “He wasn’t one of our better players but he’s a big part of our future. It’s going to take a while. It’s not an easy league. He did some good things, he’s just out of whack.”
The reason he’s off his game is that the forward missed five weeks battling mononucleosis. He’s now trying to get back to being game-fit.
“I’m a guy that has high expectations for myself,” said Meier. “Going into a game like that I set the expectations high. I just have to be patient. If it’s going to take one game, two games, I just need to help the team win.”
While the youngster didn’t have the breakout performance off the bat, a number of returning and new Barracuda (2-1-0-0) did, doing just what Meier hoped to do: Win.
First up was returning defenseman Joakim Ryan. Ryan opened the four-goal second on a toe drag snipe from just inside the faceoff circle 5:57 into the period. Ryan received a perfect cross-cage pass from another returnee Nikolay Goldobin for his 2nd goal of the season, matching his total from all of last season.
Next up for San Jose was a strong single-handed effort on the penalty kill from rookie Kevin Labanc. Labanc attacked the puck carrier Kyle Platzer just outside of San Jose’s blueline. Labanc lifted Platzer’s stick, taking the puck the other way for a breakaway and ultimately a 2-0 Barracuda lead 8:22 into the second.
“In my 19 years coaching Labanc probably has the most accurate hard shot I’ve ever seen,” said Sommer. “I’ve had (Jonathan) Cheecho, a lot of other guys, but this guy can hammer a puck. You get him the puck in a good spot it’s either going in the net or a good chance.”
With an even strength and short-handed goal in hand, the Barracuda added a power play goal later in the period with rookie Rourke Chartier lighting the lamp for his first professional tally. Chartier sniped a shot past Condors keeper Laurent Brossoit with 7:03 left in the period. Linemates Labanc (1 g, 1a) and Goldobin (2a) picked up their second points of the game each on the man-advantage marker.
“That’s a fun line,” said Sommer. “They’re all kids and they’re all having fun. They like watching video, watching themselves. They’ve worked hard so it’s good to see them get rewarded. The sooner they start feeling confident the better off we’re going to be as a team.”
Though the game could be described as a complete performance as a team, San Jose’s fourth goal was due to a determined efforts from forward Colin Blackwell and John McCarthy with 3:40 left in the period. After Alex Schoenborn dumped the puck behind the Bakersfield net, Blackwell pursued the puck, beating Brossoit for the puck in the trapezoid behind the net.
Brossoit slid back into the crease as Blackwell chipped the puck to the mouth of the cage, but Barracuda Captain John McCarthy was waiting for the puck. The experience McCarthy took a stab at the puck, but Brossoit’s split pads stopped the first bid. McCarthy never gave up on the play though, sliding the second-chance shot five-hole for his first goal of the year.
The Barracuda didn’t light the lamp in the third, but they didn’t need to. Instead, they continued their strong special teams play by killing off two Condors power plays to finish the night 5 for 5. They also went 1 for 6 on the man-advantage.
After opening the season with two road games, the Barracuda continue a four-game homestand with a second contest against the Condors Saturday afternoon at the SAP Center. After that, the San Antonio Rampage come to town for a pair before a six-game, four-city road trip for San Jose. It’ll be trial by fire for the Barracuda and their more than a dozen rookie players who all seem to be converging upon a breakout season for the club.
“This is by far the youngest team in the AHL,” said Sommer. “We have 14 first-year guys. They didn’t all play tonight. The next closest is one team with 5. It’s been a while coming. The organization didn’t give away draft picks. They held onto them and now you’re seeing it come to fruition.”