Since the beginning of March, the Barracuda have had 29 roster transactions due to the San Jose Sharks recalling and reassigning players. It’s the second most roster moves of all AHL teams this month, behind the Ontario Reign’s 48 transactions.
“We haven’t had the same lineup, I don’t think, for two games in a row all year,” head coach Roy Sommer said.
The trend continued into this week’s back-to-back games. Last night, Stefan Noesen and Joel Kellman returned to the Barracuda. Tonight, Steenn Pasichnuk made his AHL debut, replacing Jake McGrew.
The constant cycle of players through the San Jose Sharks’ system has created unique situations for Sommer. He’s played a non-traditional lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen five times this season. He’s even gone with the rarely-seen 10-8.
“With eight [defensemen] in the lineup, we were kind of short on forwards,” Sommer said. “We had guys that were kind of banged up, guys called up, and some guys that aren’t quite ready yet to go in.”
On Mar. 5, Robbie Russo played on the second line and Karlis Cukste made his AHL debut on the fourth line. While neither defenseman had any professional experience playing forward, Russo added two power play assists and Cukste tipped in a goal.
“It just gave them an opportunity to go in and get some ice time,” Sommer said. “That’s what it’s all about right now. It’s just playing.”
Defenseman Karlis Cukste scores first goal in Barracuda debut while playing as a forward. Tipped in Christian Jaros' shot. pic.twitter.com/U6tw7icdpl
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 6, 2021
The constant line shuffling led to an error that left the Barracuda short a player on Saturday. The game was paused 15 seconds in and after discussions between the referees and coaches, Brinson Pasichnuk had to leave the eventual 4-3 overtime loss. Sommer said they had forgotten to add the rookie defenseman to the roster.
“This new app [the AHL] sent out, you don’t do paper [rosters] anymore,” Sommer said. “We thought we had him on the app, and I guess we didn’t.”
Digital lineup submissions seems like one of the relatively small changes prescribed for playing through a pandemic. Sommer mentioned that he missed the feeling from meeting and talking with players face-to-face.
“We don’t have a lot of meetings, because it’s all done on Zoom,” Sommer said. “The only time we really see [the [players] is on the ice, as a coaching staff.”
Sommer, known for his bolo ties and cowboy aesthetic, also couldn’t take the Barracuda on his usual team-bonding camping trip this season. He’s had to settle for making the most of the limited time he gets with the team.
“I think the biggest thing is just going to the rink in a good frame of mind and being positive,” Sommer said. “Not really getting down on guys, but make it into a fun experience, because that’s the only time we really see them.”
“[Sommer] is realistic and honest,” Ryan Merkley said. “He keeps it pretty loose, but he lets us know when it’s time to get going.”
Merkley brought up Sommer’s calm reaction to the Barracuda’s lackluster first period performance on Feb. 28. Returning from a 13-day break due to five straight games being postponed, the Barracuda helped the Ontario Reign to score three goals in the opening period.
“I really liked how he came into the room,” Merkley said. “He came in, ‘It’s been two weeks off, boys. So obviously it’s been a little rough. Now it’s time to get to work.’ And that’s when we came back and won, which I think was massive.”
Barracuda finally beat Condors
After losing their previous four matchups against the Condors (9-6-0-0), the Barracuda (6-4-4-0) never trailed in a 4-3 win inside SAP Center Wednesday night.
Goaltender Josef Korenar made 37 saves, denying many high-danger chances to snap Bakersfield’s league-leading nine-game winning streak.
The Barracuda got out to a second period 2-0 lead with goals from Kellman and Jeffery Viel.
Bakersfield scored early in the third period, but Jacob Middleton retrieved his blocked shot off the boards and tucked in his first goal of the year.
oh my god Jake Middleton what even pic.twitter.com/xDsCOsn0IB
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 18, 2021
Set up by crisp passes from Kellman and Russo, Joachim Blichfeld scored his team-high ninth goal for a 4-1 lead with 9:36 left in the third period.
But just like the previous two games, Bakersfield threatened to overturn the third period lead. Within a minute of Blichfeld’s goal, the Condors scored two goals in 28 seconds to cut the Barracuda lead to 4-3. The Barracuda survived a late barrage by the Condors, earning their first win over Bakersfield this season.
Korenar is now 3-0-2-0 with a 2.75 GAA and 0.918 save percentage. He and Alexei Melnichuk have been splitting time starting for the Barracuda and sitting on the San Jose Sharks taxi squad.
The Barracuda travel to play the Henderson Silver Knights for back-to-back afternoon games Saturday and Sunday.
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