In late 2020, the president of the San Jose Sharks was displeased with the conversations between he, Google, and the city of San Jose. The proposed development of the Diridon area, the location surrounding SAP Center, threatened the future of the organization in Jonathan Becher’s eyes.
Becher voiced his frustration in a statement directed toward Bay Area natives. At the conclusion of the statement, he wrote that recent “discussions have yielded limited results and the planners of these projects appear intent on moving forward in a manner that could force the Sharks out of San Jose.”
Fast forward about a year-and-a-half later, and the future of hockey in Silicon Valley looks better than ever, as there is now full certainty the Sharks will remain in San Jose for the distant future. Now, the organization has doubled down in the Bay Area, making massive investments in their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda.
Barracuda Opening TechCU Arena
Over the last seven seasons, the Barracuda have been housed in the nearly 17,500-seated SAP Center. Unfortunately, they were unable to fill this stadium and would usually close the upper bowl of seats altogether for home games.
Then, when conflicts arose, the minor league club was pushed to Solar4America Ice, the Sharks’ practice facility which also houses youth hockey leagues for local youngsters. This made for extremely limited capacity and broadcasting of games.
Now, a 10-minute drive away from SAP Center, the Barracuda will open TechCU Arena. As the team’s Twitter account pointed out, their new home will be around the same size as the Arizona Coyotes future home as the 4,200-seat stadium will be adjacent to Solar4America Ice.
That stadium will see plenty of use. The Sharks will use the venue to host the 2022 Rookie Faceoff, a showcase for six Western Conference teams to test their prospects against other top youngsters. In early 2024, TechCU Arena will play host to the AHL All-Star Weekend, which will include the All-Star Game and skills competition.
Per Corey Masisak of The Athletic, the Barracuda are also intent on having a portion of their upcoming season televised as they will also be putting on an outdoor game in the future. The Sharks organization is intent on showcasing the future of their franchise in the upcoming AHL season.
New Core of Players
The Barracuda had a woeful 2021-22 season, ending the campaign on a 15-game losing streak and comfortably missing out on the seven playoff spots given to the nine Pacific Division teams. Next season, they will be full of already proven AHL talents in addition to top prospects in the Sharks organization.
Brandon Coe, a nominee for the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Most Valuable Player Award, will look to build upon the success he produced in his 101-point over-aged season. The 2020 fourth-rounder will be helped by 21 year-old Mitchell Russell, who recently signed an entry-level deal with the Sharks as the leading OHL playoff scorer entering the final round of postseason play.
Fellow OHLer Daniil Gushchin will see his goal-scoring ways tested at a higher level. Putting up 41 goals in 51 games, he emphatically carried the offensive load for the Niagara IceDogs. In the Western Hockey League (WHL), Tristen Robins was also an offensive force who put up 33 goals and 78 points in 62 games.
Ozzy Wiesblatt, in a season heavily impacted by injury and a poor supporting cast for the Prince Albert Raiders, besides team captain Kaiden Guhle, who was traded after just 17 games, was the only other player near a point-per-game. However, 10 goals and 41 points in 43 games are under the expectations set for a 2020 first-rounder.
That new core of Coe, Russell, Gushchin, Robins, and Wiesblatt will be joining a solid group. Sasha Chmelevski, Joachim Blichfeld, and Barracuda 2021-22 Most Valuable Player John Leonard are all restricted free agents eligible to return next season. Sophomores Jasper Weatherby and Scott Reedy will also make an impact down the middle if not called up to the NHL.
On the backend, I would expect a signing or two. Key 2019 draftees Santeri Hatakka and Artemi Kniazev will continue to take on large roles and contend for NHL spots. Ryan Merkley could also rejoin the minor league club after a stellar start in the AHL that prompted multiple call-ups. The only other defenseman on a two-way contract is Nick Cicek.
In net, Strauss Mann has been brought in from Skelleftea of the Swedish Hockey League and United States Olympic Team to the Bay Area. The 23-year-old will likely join Zachary Sawchenko in a competition for the starter’s crease, with Zachary Emond becoming the third goalie or loaned to the ECHL.
Barracuda Coaching Changes
Roy Sommer, the winningest coach in AHL history has been moved to a management role. As an adviser to Joe Will, he will still have a massive role on the Barracuda. Now, the Sharks are focusing the coaching staff of their AHL affiliate on player development.
John McCarthy, a former Barracuda captain, will become the new head coach. In 2019-20, he was forced into retirement due to medical issues during the 2019-20 season, as he held a developmental coaching position the last two seasons. The organization, according to Will, “felt John is the best teacher we could have in place for our incoming prospects.”
The remainder of the assistant coaches have yet to be named, but will all be focused on player development according to the 35-year-old head coach. Will bluntly pointed out that the changes were “about a new voice and a fresh approach” for the Barracuda.
Barracuda’s Next Season
The Barracuda will be looking toward becoming a much more successful season in 2022-23. The minor league club has made the playoffs in five-of-seven seasons since the move from Worcester and the Sharks organization is intent on returning to the postseason.
Establishing a winning culture for key youngsters is incredibly important to the success of NHL clubs. The Barracuda will look to do just that starting next season with a new arena, core of talent, and coaching staff.
Josh is a young writer from the Bay Area, who now studies journalism at San Diego State University. In addition to covering the Sharks and Gulls for THW, Josh is a crossover scout at FCHockey and covers his school’s hockey team at TheDailyAztec. When not obsessing over hockey, Josh loves blasting music with friends, theatre, and playing with his dog. Follow Josh on Twitter for his latest takes on the Sharks, Gulls, and NHL Draft!