The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins accomplished a lot in 2013. They experienced a playoff comeback for the ages, but not before one of their goaltenders broke a team record and they participated in the first outdoor game in franchise history. Furthermore, several talented players got the call to Pittsburgh, and the team started the 2013-14 season in style with one of its best starts in 15 years.
Here are the moments that stand out above the rest as the Penguins close the book on 2013.
10. Penguins Defeat IceCaps for Season-Best Winning Streak
The Pens won their season-high seventh game in a row by beating the St. John’s IceCaps 5-4 in overtime on April 14. Forward Chad Kolarik had a hat trick, while winger Trevor Smith and defenseman Alex Grant had two points apiece. Brad Thiessen took the win in goal by stopping 19 of 23 shots.
9. Brad Thiessen Denies Phantoms on Award-Winning Day
On February 1, the same day he was named the AHL Goaltender of the Month for January, Thiessen made 20 saves to help the Pens defeat the Adirondack Phantoms 3-0 and earn his 17th career shutout in Wilkes-Barre, which set a new team record. He received offensive support from Warren Peters and Grant as WBS won its second straight game.
The losing goalie for Adirondack was Scott Munroe (26 saves on 29 shots). Munroe played with Thiessen in WBS during the 2011-12 season.
8. “Mr. Penguin” Returns (Twice)
Tom Kostopoulos, arguably the most popular player in Penguins history, signed a professional tryout deal with the team on January 23. While he did not play the team’s game against the IceCaps that night, he received a standing ovation when re-introduced to the fans and signed autographs prior to puck drop. He suited up two nights later against the Rochester Americans and had an assist in WBS’ 4-2 loss.
However, Kostopoulos went on to entertain Pens fans before he was claimed off waivers by the New Jersey Devils. He scored his 100th AHL career goal on March 1 against the Hershey Bears and tallied seven points in 17 games overall.
He opted to return to Wilkes-Barre again for 2013-14, signing a one-year AHL contract on September 3. He is the Penguins captain this season and currently has 19 points in 25 games.
7. Penguins Make History Despite Tough Losses
Harry Zolnierczyk converted just the second successful penalty shot in Penguins history in a 3-2 loss to the Springfield Falcons on December 11. It marked his team-leading 10th goal of the season as well.
The Penguins again accomplished the feat on December 20 against the Worcester Sharks. Nick Drazenovic’s successful attempt was the only goal in a 4-1 defeat.
6. Pens Open Playoffs With Sweep of Senators
On May 2, the Penguins defeated the Binghamton Senators 3-2 for a third consecutive Eastern Conference quarterfinals game to send the Sens packing. Zach Sill, Jayson Megna and Riley Holzapfel scored for WBS, and Thiessen saved 19 of the 21 shots he faced. Holzapfel had also scored in Game 2 of the series in Binghamton.
5. Penguins Pile on IceCaps in Five-Goal Comeback
The Penguins went into the third period on November 23 down 1-0 and were being outshot 26-9. It looked like they would lose a second straight game to the IceCaps, who had topped the Pens 2-1 the night before.
But WBS got goals from five different players (Kostopolous, Sill, Megna, Bobby Farnham and Andrew Ebbett) to pull out the 5-2 victory. Overall, the Pens got the win despite registering just 18 shots, and rookie goalie Eric Hartzell won his AHL debut with 29 stops on 31 shots.
4. Penguins and Bruins Throw Punches in WBS Playoff Victory
The Penguins’ Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with the Providence Bruins was the first postseason meeting between the two teams, but that didn’t mean fans witnessed boring hockey.
In Game 5 on May 18, Bruins players—notably former Hershey Bears forward Graham Mink—took out their frustrations on Penguins players like Thiessen, and a line brawl erupted. Mink jumped Thiessen following a WBS goal, and the two teams exchanged punches. When the dust had cleared, Mink was penalized for attempting to injure Thiessen (and subsequently suspended), while Grant and Providence’s Trent Whitfield received 10-minute misconducts for continuing the altercations.
By the time the final whistle blew, nearly 120 penalty minutes had been handed out, with 62 minutes (17 penalties) going to Providence and WBS receiving 55 minutes on 15 infractions.
The Pens had the last laugh, though, cutting the Bruins’ series deficit to 3-2 in a 4-0 win. Thiessen made 30 saves, while Brian Dumoulin led the way with three points (1+2). Paul Thompson, Trevor Smith and Adam Payerl also scored for WBS.
3. Pens Steal Bears’ Thunder in AHL Outdoor Classic
On January 20, the Penguins took on their biggest rivals, the Hershey Bears, in the AHL Outdoor Classic in Hersheypark Stadium. The Bears were playing outdoors for the second years in a row, having done so against the Phantoms in 2012, while the Pens were in the first game of that kind in their 15 years in the AHL.
But they couldn’t be stopped by a crowd largely made up of Hershey supporters. Just 1:19 into overtime, Thompson scored his 13th goal of the season to give WBS the 2-1 win on the Bears’ big day. Holzapfel had evened the score 7:47 into the third period to force the extra period.
2. Penguins Set Team Record to Start 2013-14 Season
The Pens were on a roll this past October, and they further showed they would be tough to beat this season when they won their sixth straight game on October 20 against the Manchester Monarchs, 4-3 in overtime. That gave WBS a 6-0 start to the year, its best since the 2010-11 season when it finished as the best team in the AHL.
Manchester had an answer for everything WBS did that day, equalizing the game around 10 minutes after the Penguins had twice tried to take off with the lead. But Brian Gibbons played hero with his second goal of the game 22 seconds after the extra period started. He finished with four points on the day, while Jeff Deslauriers made 31 saves in goal.
1. Penguins Finish Improbable Playoff Comeback Against Bruins
Going into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 22, only three teams in AHL history had come back from a 3-0 series deficit in the playoffs. The Penguins had stunned everyone by even getting to this point, but the team believed in itself as it won Games 4, 5 and 6, and the fans stood behind their Penguins every step of the way.
On that Wednesday night in Providence, the Pens became the fourth team to earn a very special place in AHL lore.
Behind another solid performance from Thiessen (34 saves), WBS pulled out a 5-0 win, chasing Bruins starting goalie Niklas Svedberg after two periods in the process. Trevor Smith (1+1) and Chris Collins (0+2) led the offense with two points apiece, while Peters, Sill, Payerl and Chad Kolarik also put goals on the board.
Four of the Pens’ five goals came in the second period, and Smith erased any small chance of a Bruins comeback with his fourth of the postseason with 4:35 remaining in the third.
Even though it lost in the conference finals to the red-hot Syracuse Crunch, it was hard to say that the season was a disappointment given that it had accomplished what so few teams had done before.
Alison is currently covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL for The Hockey Writers after writing about the NHL’s New Jersey Devils from 2011-2012. She is currently employed for the fast growing sports website Bleacher Report as a quality editor and hopes to one day have a media relations career with a professional hockey team. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonM_110.