By: Ben Leonard
SAN JOSE, Calif. —
Fans wearing t-shirts saying “I was there” in bold print were lining up outside the SAP Center again, but not for the Sharks. Why, might you ask?
The new kids on the block, the San Jose Barracuda, gave their fans a chance to witness history on Friday night, writing the first page of their franchise history book while falling 4-2 to the Rockford IceHogs. Tanner Kero and Jeremy Morin each had three points for Rockford in the victory.
Formerly the Worcester Sharks of the AHL and the Sharks’ highest minor league affiliate, the Barracuda moved to San Jose after last season as part of a flurry of AHL relocations.
Watch these games closely, Sharks fans — you’re witnessing the future. Last season the Sharks had 27 players on their roster who played for Worcester in the American Hockey League, including Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Tomas Hertl.
But in the early going, they didn’t look much like the squad that went 41-29-4-2 and finished seventh in the Eastern Conference. Penalties, miscues, and sloppy play put the Barracuda in a hole while most fans were still finding their seats. Tanner Kero scored the first goal of the Icehogs’ season after just 61 seconds, beating Barracuda goalie Troy Groesnick on his glove side.
Penalties plagued San Jose, getting called for three penalties in the first eleven minutes, including a high-stick, hooking, and a cross-check. However with plenty of practice, the Barracuda did a good job on the penalty kill, neutralizing Rockford’s advantage all three times — but not stopping them when they had full strength. Kero assisted Dennis Rasmussen in beating Groesnick again, this time going shortside, giving Rockford a 2-0 advantage after just 14:43 in the first period.
Left winger Micheal Haley on what went wrong in the first period:
It was the first time we had seen some of these teams. We have a lot to work on, but we’re going to get better from here. In this league, there’s always some young guys who just became pros with some nerves.”
But San Jose didn’t give up, wanting to give their fans something to cheer about in their first-ever game, storming back to tie up the game with two power play goals just twelves minutes later. Haley was the first to light up the lamp for the Barracuda, going up the five hole of Rockford goalie Michael Leighton, assisted by right winger Nikita Jevpalovs and center Scott Timmins just 12.1 seconds before the end of the first period. After he had a good chance on a penalty kill that he missed, Haley thought it felt really “good to bounce back” with the goal.
Fittingly, emotional leader, 2014-15 team MVP, and captain Bryan Lerg tied up the game with a goal of his own just six minutes later, assisted by Mirco Mueller and Haley, who picked up his second point of the night with the assist. Lerg took the media through the goal, quick to laud his teammates: “I got a good pass, and their guy was in the shooting lane so I kind of shot off the side a little bit. Haley set a good screen up front, so that’s the most important thing. If he doesn’t do that, it doesn’t go in.”
Lerg, who led Worcester with 41 points in 68 games last season, had the fans chanting “BARRACUDA, BARRACUDA” for the first time. Haley lauded the “great” crowd, noting how “they got behind us and lifted us up during the game.”
But the energy didn’t last long. Their comeback was eventually to no avail, as the IceHogs looked comfortable on the shoddy ice, taking a 4-2 lead after 8:47 in the third. Kero just added to his stellar night with a second goal, right in front of Groesnick with 15 minutes left in the third period, and Morin became the second IceHog with three points on the night with another wide open goal, effectively sealing the Barracuda’s fate.
Overall, the Barracuda was very good on the power play, converting on two of their four attempts and killing all five of the IceHogs’ power plays, but as Lerg said, “five-on-five, [they’ve] got some shaping up to do.” They struggled to get quality shots off at times, getting out-shot 41-32.
Coach Tom Sommer also chalked up the loss to the hype surrounding the home opener: I don’t see anyone really winning home openers.I think there’s a lot of anxiety….it’s almost better to start off on the road.”
Another reason the Barracuda didn’t look anything close to cohesive on Friday night: they haven’t played together much before. With the rookie games and exhibition games, Sommer noted that the other players were still up.
Notes: The ice was noticeably wet after Chuck-a-Puck took too long in between the second and third periods, not leaving sufficient time for it to dry….With the loss, the 17-year veteran Barracuda coach Sommer remained 19 wins shy of tying all-time AHL coaching wins leader Fred “Bun” Cook, sitting at 617…