To paraphrase former Albany River Rats head coach Robbie Ftorek, there’s no practice tomorrow because there are no games left to play. In the case of the AHL Albany Devils, this goes twofold. After bowing out to the Toronto Marlies (3-1) in the Calder Cup playoffs for the second consecutive season, the Devils, after seven years and 13 more if one counts the affiliation with the River Rats, will no longer call Albany home, shifting operations to New York’s Southern Tier as the Binghamton Devils in 2017-18.
Albany will not house an AHL club for the first time in 24 seasons and will have to hope another club comes calling in 2018, in an ever-changing AHL landscape.
As for this past season, head coach Rick Kowalsky’s summation was spot-on in an interview on the A-Devils website. The squad finished the season third in the North Division, going 39-32-2-3, with 83 points and a .536 win percentage. It was a tremendous year development-wise but left something wanting in the end.
The A-Devils got off to an Albany AHL-best 5-0 start and concluded the month of October with a ledger of 6-2-0-0. From there the club would hang around second place in the North Division for a good bulk of the campaign.
Upstate Grows the Garden State
From a player development standpoint, it was a good year for prospects looking to impress New Jersey Devils management, staff, and coaches. There were 16 players who spent time in both Albany and New Jersey. Blake Coleman, John Quenneville, Kevin Rooney, Nick Lappin, Ben Thomson, and Ken Appleby all got their first taste of the NHL.
The flashy rookie forward known as “Kid Q” displayed why he was a first-round selection in the 2014 draft. The Edmonton, AB native posted a team-high 32 assists and 46 points and tied defenseman Vojetch Mozik with nine power-play tallies. Named an AHL All-Star, Quenneville also got off to a fast start, hit a bit of a wall in January, but then flourished with three goals in four postseason contests.
Rebounding from a season lost to injury, Coleman provided the A-Devils with fire, feistiness and tons of energy. His 19 markers tied the incredibly clutch Ben Sexton for the team lead. The A-Devils rookie center also posted a team-best plus-21 rating. The Plano, TX native plays with an edge for sure.
Gibbons was solid all around for the A-Devils. The veteran left wing could set up, handing out 20 helpers and score, notching 16 tallies. Along with Rooney, Gibbons was relentless, playing a vital role on the A-Devils’ penalty kill during the Calder Cup playoffs. He was a big part of why Albany ranked tied for fifth in the league with an 84.0 percent penalty kill during the regular season.
Best Regular Season Game
From a nostalgic point of view, the Nov. 26 River Rats throwback night with a 4-2 victory over the Rochester Americans might top the list. Yet, a 4-0 victory on Feb. 17 over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who finished with a league-best .704 win percentage, appeared to cement the Devils as legitimate Calder Cup contenders.
After their statement win against the Pens, the team unraveled for a combination of reasons. With the parent club sputtering and having traded some of their journeymen stopgap players for draft choices, the A-Devils were too good for their own good, and many were called up. Hence the club had issues scoring consistently until those players were sent back down gradually in April.
While the team ended February by losing three of its final four contests, it was only a precursor of what was to come in March. The A-Devils lost eight of 11 contests in March, including a seven-game winless stretch. The Times Union Center hosting the MAAC Tournament didn’t help matters either, as the club went from Feb. 20 to March 17 without the benefit of a home game.
If you’re an Albany fan, you look to 2018 and hold out hope for the best and another franchise. Meanwhile, the Devils will undoubtedly continue to test out what they have in the pipeline. Along with the current crop of young players, Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastien, Joey Anderson, and Alex Kerfoot are on the way. Plus, possessing the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft isn’t too shabby either.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 30, 2017
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.