The San Jose Barracuda had to shake off some rust, but they welcomed home ice with a 6-3 comeback win from Solar4America Ice at San Jose.
Led by Frederik Handemark’s three-point night, San Jose (1-2-1-0) scored six unanswered goals to overcome the early 3-0 Ontario (1-6-1-0) lead. Fresh face veteran Kurtis Gabriel recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick- a fight, an assist and a goal in his Barracuda debut.
The Barracuda were returning from a 13-day break, due to five straight games being postponed, to play in San Jose for the first time since March 7, 2020.
“Texas was a nightmare, with the ice storm down there and everything getting shut down,” head coach Roy Sommer said Saturday morning. “Then we finally get out, we’re ready to play some games here and then a positive test pops up.”
The team’s final game against the Texas Stars was postponed due to the unprecedented winter storm. Their next three games in Tucson were postponed due to COVID-19 protocol affecting the Roadrunners. Most recently, a positive COVID-19 test for San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl delayed both the NHL and AHL games in San Jose.
So it was unfortunate that when the Barracuda finally got to play again, they were trailing early, as Ontario scored three goals in three minutes in the first period.
In his season debut, goaltender Josef Korenar was smothered with shots from the Reign. Korenar hadn’t seen any game time while on the Sharks’ taxi squad, and Ontario outshot San Jose 14-4 in the first period. The flat-footed Barracuda had only one shot on goal through the first 17 minutes.
Before the first period ended, Gabriel and Jeffrey Viel each fought, perhaps looking to motivate the team. And potentially to their credit, the Barracuda turned it around in the second period.
The line that started the game also sparked the comeback. After Lean Bergmann won a battle on the boards, Gabriel set up Handemark’s first AHL goal. According to Sommer, Bergmann and Gabriel had some chemistry from playing together in the preseason, and are complemented by Handemark’s heavy play style at center.
With five minutes left in the second period, Joel Kellman carried the puck end to end to score his first of the season, unassisted. Then Kellman and Nick DeSimone set up Joachim Blichfeld’s fourth goal of the season. The team leader in scoring, Blichfeld has seven points in four games.
Just 30 seconds later, Handemark fought off two of the Reign behind the Ontario net, setting up Gabriel tuck in the eventual game-winner from beneath the goal line. The Barracuda’s four straight goals were scored within nine minutes, all at even strength.
San Jose maintained its momentum through the third period, leading 15-7 in shots on goal. Through the final 40 minutes, Korenar stopped all of Ontario’s 22 shots.
As for keeping the players prepared despite only playing three games this season, Sommer credited strength and conditioning coordinator Marcello Martinelli’s work.
“We’ve actually had to do more of [off ice training] than on ice because of all the cancellations.”
One player that had been waiting was defenseman Christian Jaros. The 24-year-old finally made his San Jose Sharks organization debut after he was acquired from the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 27. Jaros has three seasons of professional experience, 76 games for Ottawa and 79 games for Bellville.
“[Jaros] will bring some grit to the back end for us,” Sommer said. “He plays the game hard and is hard to play against. He moves pucks pretty well.”
While the right shot defenseman didn’t get on the score sheet, Jaros recorded a +2, proved to be a steady hand and able to run the breakout. Jaros’ defense partner, rookie Brinson Pasichnuk, led the Barracuda with six shots on goal.
It seems Jaros quickly earned some trust as he played in important minutes, such as the late game penalty kill when the Reign pulled their goalie for a 6-on-4 man advantage. Antti Suomela and Handemark each added short handed empty net goals to seal the 6-3 win and a sweet return to San Jose.
The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliates play again Sunday at 5 p.m.
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