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COVID-Battered Barracuda Grapple Through “Chaotic” Week



Credit: San Jose Barracuda

It has been a whirlwind of a week for the San Jose Sharks organization.

Positive COVID-19 cases, same-day cross-country flights, and postponements are just a few of the wrinkles within the Sharks and Barracuda.

The mayhem stemmed from Saturday morning when Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer found out that forward Noah Gregor and goaltender Zachary Sawchenko tested positive for COVID-19, in addition to the seven Sharks players ahead of their game against the Winnipeg Jets.

Furthermore, the Barracuda were already without three players, lost to lower-body injuries, in defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk, forward Timur Ibragimov, and forward Adam Raska.

“In the morning, they had some issues, but when they tested more and more guys positive, they just started recalling guys from us one by one,” Sommer said. “It is what it is. We were right next door luckily. If we would have been out east in Worcester, it would have been pretty hard to get them a full Sharks roster. I don’t think they would have been able to launch the team.”

Sommer couldn’t compare this to anything over the course of his 24-year tenure as head coach of the Barracuda.

“Just losing 10 or 11 guys like that has never happened to me before, so it’s a surprising first,” Sommer said.

The San Jose Sharks recalled Ryan Merkley, Nick Merkley, Jaycob Megna, Artemi Kniazev, and John Leonard from the Barracuda, forcing the AHL affiliate to call up four players from the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL and sign three players to professional tryouts – defensemen Adam Parcells, Alec Rauhauser, and Patrick McNally.

This made it difficult for Sommer and his staff to implement any systems and structure with the roster shuffle.

“It was hard at first because we hadn’t practiced much,” Sommer said. “We had guys that just got right off the plane and jumped right onto the ice. We got test results 45 minutes before games so they needed to be cleared. Now we’ve got 10 new guys from the ECHL playing on our lineup.”

Forward Joel Kellman, who was recalled to the San Jose Sharks and re-assigned to the AHL club twice this week, described the week as chaotic.

“I was shocked at first, but it’s the virus. You never know what to expect,” Kellman said. “It’s been chaotic. We haven’t had many guys at practice this week, so it’s been kind of hard, but we have to deal with it.”

Part of that roster reconstruction saw forwards playing on the blueline, which has brought a tough transition for Joe Garreffa and Connor McDonald.

“It’s really challenging for a forward who’s played up front most of his career to go out on the backend,” Sommer said. “It’s a huge adjustment.”

Even on the power play, the Barracuda have been forced to put all forwards on their top unit, which consisted of Joel Kellman, Jayden Halbgewachs, Joachim Blichfeld, Sasha Chmelevski, and Noah Gregor. The power play scored twice tonight, including this beauty by Sasha Chmelevski for his first goal of the season. San Jose topped Texas 7-5 in a comeback win thriller.

“We worked on it on Thursday,” Kellman said. “It’s been good. I’m on a new spot on the blueline, but it’s fun. You get to touch the puck a lot and move it around more freely.”

Barracuda Close Out Homestand on High Note After Blowout Losses

After last Sunday’s postponement of the road contest against the Stockton Heat, the Barracuda (2-3-1-0) brought the Heat to SAP Center on Wednesday, where Stockton’s three-goal first period dashed the hopes of the short-handed Barracuda from bouncing back in a 4-1 loss.

Heat forward Adam Ruzicka picked up a pair of goals and now has five tallies over his last three games, which ranks eighth in the American Hockey League. Heat goaltender and Gilroy native Dustin Wolf turned aside 23 of the 24 shots in his team’s win.

The Barracuda welcomed in the Texas Stars for their first out-of-division two-game slate over the weekend to wrap up their four-game homestand. San Jose was stifled by the high-scoring offense of the Stars’ top line in the opener, dropping the contest 7-3.

Noah Gregor collected a career-high three points with a goal and two assists on Saturday after coming off the AHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. He leads the Barracuda with eight points in six games. Defenseman Mark Alt notched his first goal in a San Jose uniform, breaking a 15-game goalless drought.

On Sunday, the Barracuda responded with a flurry of goals to close out the homestand with their largest win of the season, 7-5.

Dillon Hamaliuk, Jake McGrew, Sasha Chmelevski, Joachim Blichfeld, Joel Kellman, and Evan Weinger each picked up their first goals of the season. McGrew netted a pair of goals for his first career multi-goal performance in the AHL.

The Barracuda power play, which ranks top-10 in the AHL, went 3-for-8 on goals by Chmelevski, Blichfeld, and Kellman.

Zachary Emond made 33 saves on 38 shots in his first career AHL start.

San Jose travels north of the border to face the new affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks in Abbotsford on Saturday.

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