Gulls fly over San Jose, but Barracuda blows them out of the park with a 5-3 comeback

Photo: @sjbarracuda

By Alexandra Evans

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Barracuda players, their families, staff, crowd members, and press were surrounded by canines as the Barracuda (8-8) took on the San Diego Gulls (7-10) this afternoon at SAP Center. Tonight’s crowd, which consisted of both humans and pooches, was the largest the Cuda has had since the season commenced.

Roster update: Forward Spencer Asuchuk was recalled from the Allen Americans and made his first 2017-18 appearance with the Cuda this afternoon. Asuchuk played with the Cuda in last year’s Calder Cup playoffs run. Marc-Olivier “Marco” Roy made his second appearance with the Cuda along with his first win.

After a 4-1 loss the day after Thanksgiving, the Cuda were determined to make a comeback. Since the start of the season, they have shown strength in doing so, coming back to beat the Ontario Reign, Texas Stars, San Antonio Rampage, Cleveland Monsters, and Manitoba Moose in matches following losses.

Offense and defense were strong on both ends in the first 20 minutes. The Cuda outshot the Gulls 10-5, with John McCarthy scoring the first goal just before the 12-minute mark, courtesy of Marcus Sorensen and Rudolfs Balcers. San Jose held San Diego scoreless for the remainder of the period.

Antoine Bibeau stepped in the net for Troy Grosenick at the start of the second period. San Diego amped up their offense. Despite the fact that San Jose exceeded them in shots on goal, San Diego notched three goals within the first five minutes. Julius Nattinen nailed the first one 51 seconds in, followed by Austin Ortega at 3:47 and then Giovanni Fiore at 4:11. The Cuda prevented the Gulls from scoring additional goals, ending the period on a power play, trailing 3-1. 

And then the momentum arose. The Cuda made two comeback goals in under 30 seconds to tie the score 3-3. Rudolfs Balcers notched a power-play goal at 3:57 and Adam Helewka, with his stellar hand-eye coordination, joined in on the action to score his second goal of the season at 4:20. Helewka sniped another one past Gulls goaltender Reto Berra at 10:38, breaking the tie and providing his team and the crowd with some relief. Two minutes later, Olivier Archambault posted an unassisted, game-winning goal. The final score was 5-3.

Bibeau made 14 saves on 17 shots to get the big win, while San Diego netminder Reto Berra had 34 saves on 39 shots.

Both Balcers and Helewka have been known to put up numbers–specifically scoring goals–throughout their careers, but tonight was the first time both of them scored since the season opener.

“I can’t take all the credit,” Helewka, glowing with satisfaction, said of his goals. “[My linemates, Spencer Asuchuk, Jon Martin, and I] had chemistry almost right away. [Instant chemistry] is rare, especially how hard it is to play nowadays, creating offense.”

Balcers proved himself to be a numbers guy last season with the Kamloops Blazers with 40 goals and 37 assists for a total of 67 points. So why did it take 15 games for him to find the back of the net?

“It’s about being patient,” Balcers, who leads the Cuda in assists with 11, contended in a post-game scrum. “I knew goals were going to come, but I didn’t know when… I haven’t had those barriers in my career, where you are right there [beside the net], but the puck doesn’t go in, but you can’t really do anything. Just work hard and be patient.”

One could attribute his goal-scoring hiatus to growing pains, which was discussed amongst Cuda staff and media profusely at the start of the season. Balcers, a rookie, has been improving with each game, and now that he has the monkey off his back, his scoring game should pick up as the season progresses.

Archambault inked a Player Tryout Agreement (PTO) with the Cuda on October 20. He said that he earned his second goal of the season tonight by just sticking and working in tandem with his line-mates, Marc-Olivier Roy and Brandon Bollig.

The Cuda head to Bakersfield for their next match on December 3 to face the Condors, affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.

Also, Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic made an appearance with his pups tonight, and had the honor of making the first puck drop.

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Barracuda Claim Territory, Overthrow Moose 4-1

Photo: @sjbarracuda

By Alexandra Evans

SAN JOSE—The Barracuda retaliated against the Manitoba Moose big time this afternoon, overthrowing them 4-1 after a 5-2 loss the previous day.

The Cuda’s defensive game went up from yesterday in the first period. The Cuda took a few slick shots, but each was a “close but no cigar” type of situation; they just could not make it past Moose goaltender Eric Comrie, who is said to be an NHL starter for Winnipeg in the near future. In other words, the Cuda were strong on defense, not so much on offense despite two power play opportunities. The total of nine shots were comprised of two from Radim Simek, two from Adam Helewka, and one each from Rudolfs Balcers, Brandon Bollig, Danny O’Regan, Jacob Middleton, and Alexander True.

The second period started off strong defensively, and the Cuda took a 1-0 lead after O’Regan scored at the 4:10 mark with helpers from Middleton and John McCarthy. San Jose held on until 16:33, when Manitoba’s Patrice Cormier notched a power play goal to tie the score 1-1 after 40 minutes of play.

“[Comrie] is really good, I think I was just able to get through the defensive zone there have get a point-blank shot, and those are tough [for goalies] to stop,” O’Regan said of his goal.

The third period was the game-maker. The Cuda amped up their offensive game big time and scored three goals in these 20 minutes, despite a no-goal call for O’Regan, who made a shot attempt close to the two minute mark. Marcus Sorensen made a wrist shot at 1:53 after receiving a pass from Balcers (who would put up three assists before the 60 minute mark hit). Rourke Chartier, who was out six months due to injury, notched his first goal of the season “Logan Couture-style,” Coach Roy Sommer described, referring to the Sharks forward who currently leads the team in points with 14. Chartier’s goal was assisted by Balcers and Brandon Mashinter. Balcers also assisted Radim Simek’s empty-net goal at 17:22, as did Sorensen.

“He’s good,” Sorensen said of Balcers. “When he skates hard, he’s creating a lot of space for other people [to score]. It is fun to see him play.”

Balcers, who has one goal and 10 assists this season, added, “I didn’t expect that I was going to struggle with scoring goals this season, but I’m happy that assists come and that the other guys score.” Sommer noted that Balcers, in the past, has been more adept at putting up goals rather than assists.

Tonight’s starting goaltender, Antoine Bibeau, earned his second win with the Cuda. He only gave up one shot in the entire 60 minutes (he had 17 saves on 18 shots, and has above a .925 save percentage overall).

“[Tonight] was probably the best game I’ve played defensively, especially going into the third period,” Bibeau shared following the match. “It felt to me like a playoff game, how we were playing. We played hard, played everything right… We didn’t show up just to be here [today], we showed up to win a game.”

Forwards Kevin Labanc and Brandon Bollig were spot on about the fact that the key to success is playing with a two-way mindset, having confidence both offensively and defensively, though not so much confidence that effort subsides. Bollig added that attitude impacts the game significantly, which few could argue against. The momentum from yesterday’s third period translated well into today’s match, overall.

“We were a lot tighter,” Sommer said after the match. “We took time and space away [from the Moose], which made us play a lot better than last night.”

How can the Cuda carry on this kind of energy, cultivating wins, without becoming overly confident? I asked Adam Helewka, and he answered, “We just have to keep our game simple, not too pretty, and keep making the plays we made tonight, but at the same time, we just want to get pucks and bodies to the net.”

By “pretty,” Helewka suggested that making too many passes, and playing or shooting from the outside of the opposing team’s defense, would convey a “showy” type of game rather than competitive.

 

Barracuda Left Winger Rudolfs Balcers – Profile

Photo: sjbarracuda.com

By Alexandra Evans

SAN JOSE—Would you believe that Rudolfs Balcers, who is remarkably slick and speedy on the ice, once hated hockey? This answer camer as a shocker.

A first-generation hockey player (on both sides of his family), the 20 year-old Liepaja, Latvia native commenced his career at age 3 ½. It was at this age that Balcers, whose then-teammates were older, dreaded lacing up his skates and stepping on the ice.

“If I didn’t see my mom or dad in the stands, I would cry,” Balcers shared. Thankfully, it was only a few days later that he acclimated to the hockey surroundings and began picking things up.

Balcers went on to play in Norway for the Stavanger Oilers, where he was the youngest player. In 38 career games with the team, he put up 22 points (eight goals and 14 assists) and a plus-15 rating, and also helped lead them to a championship win two years in a row.

The 5 foot 11 inch, 175 pound left winger kicked things into overdrive when he joined the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL in 2016-17. In a single season, he appeared in 66 games and put up 77 points (37 goals and 40 assists) and a plus-26 rating.

The speedy and well-coordinated (in regards to hand-eye movement) Balcers was drafted 142nd overall in 2015 by San Jose, the fourth Latvian player in history to be selected by the franchise, one of whom, Karlis Custke, was selected 130th overall the same year. Balcers signed an entry-level deal with the Sharks in July.

Balcers wasn’t an avid supporter of any single hockey team growing up, though he followed the Sharks as, when he was growing up, the first two Latvian players to be drafted by San Jose’s franchise were active on the ice (Sandis Ozolinsh was drafted in 1991, Victor Ignatje in 1992).

“Being here [in San Jose] and representing Latvia is a big deal,” Balcers responded when I asked him what it means to be a member of San Jose’s franchise. He spent a majority of the preseason training with the Sharks players, which seemed to have benefitted him.

“That was a fun time, getting to see what they do. I learned some stuff, got sent down here [to the Barracuda]. My goal was to make the team here, just try to do my best to stay with the Barracuda, and show them that I can play,” Balcers remarked.

Off the ice, Balcers has enjoyed exploring the South Bay and San Francisco, while relishing the idyllic, snow-free California weather.

Texas Stars Outshine Cuda 3-2 In Shootout

Photo credit: @sjbarracuda

By Alexandra Evans

CEDAR PARK, TX—The Cuda held on tight for an entire 60 minutes and an overtime period, but could not outshoot the Texas Stars, who took home a 3-2 win in a shootout. Close, but no cigar.

John McCarthy, Filip Sandberg, and Oliver Archambault started in the forward position; Jacob Middleton and Nick DeSimone started on defense; Troy Grosenick started in goal (though he ended up allowing two goals on 26 shots, and one in the shootout). The first period remained silent, ending with no score.

Sandberg has been working on getting faster since arriving in San Jose for his United States hockey debut. The Stockholm, Sweden native’s hard work translated on the ice tonight as he notched San Jose’s first goal of the game fifteen seconds into the second period (assisted by Archambault and Middleton), evening out the score 1-1. Later on in the period, Texas came back when Matt Mangene snaked his way passed San Jose’s defensive zone and scored at 8:25. San Jose held up until the 18:58 mark when Roope Hintz’s shot struck the left post before entering the net.

McCarthy scored his first goal of the season on the power play, tying the game 2-2 at 6:42 into the third period. Rudolfs Balcers and Adam Helewka assisted McCarthy’s goal. Helewka, who has been playing very much in sync with Danny O’Regan the past few games, recently shared that he feels his playing style works in sound with McCarthy in addition. It most certainly appears so.

The score remained 2-2 after 60 minutes, leading both teams into an overtime match. It was still 2-2 after the OT interval, and so the shootout began.

O’Regan, Balcers, and Mike Brodzinski were all given chances to score during the shootout, though they were unable to make it past Texas goaltender Mike McKenna (who made a total of 26 saves out of 28 shots). The Stars took home the 3-2 win after Travis Morin notched the only goal of the shootout.

This may have been San Jose’s second consecutive loss in two days, but it’s not over yet! The Cuda (now 3-4) will travel to Southern California to face the Ontario Reign (the AHL affiliate of the Sharks’ cross-state rivals, the Los Angeles Kings) on November 1.

Random fact: Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon played for the Texas Stars from 2010-2012. He also made his NHL debut with Dallas during this stint.