by Russ Hryvnak || AHL On The Beat Archive
Herb Brooks, the man who coached the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic team, once said, “The legs feed the wolf.”
He meant this in relation to his team digging deeper in the third period of each game to finish strong. You can bet where ever Brooks is now, he is sure to be looking down on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and smiling, as the Pens are now among the leaders of the American Hockey League pack.
The Penguins are off to their best start since the 2010-11 season, when they won nine straight games to begin the year. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton just came out of a three-game weekend with a perfect record, putting the team at 6-0-0-0 overall.
The interesting part is how the Pens have been able to explode with offense in the third period. Outscoring their opponents 15-4 in final frame of each game, the team has found a formula for success.
Alternate captain Zach Sill, who scored the third goal on Oct. 12 against Hershey, says that this starts in the locker room.
“We are gelling pretty well,” Sill said. “We have some good leadership, more so than in the past years.”
With the addition of a lot of leadership and experience this season the Penguins can be ready for any situation. Sill says that this helps to keep the team relaxed.
“The more veteran guys you have, the more calm the locker room is,” Sill said. “We have a good mix of older guys and younger guys that are going to keep our team level-headed.”
Sill, who is in his fifth year with the Penguins, was named one of the team’s alternate captains early this season. “Personally, I feel like more of a mature player,” Sill stressed. “It’s nice to know that your coaching staff and organization believes in you.”
Off to a great start, Sill has a goal and an assist as well as two fights to his credit to lead the team in penalty minutes.
Another player who is on a roll is 25-year old center Brian Gibbons. He has already posted four multi-point efforts in the first six games and most recently assisted on Brendan Mikkelson’s overtime game-winner on Sunday at Manchester. Gibbons not only ranks first on the Penguins with 11 points (4g, 7a), but is among the league leaders in scoring.
“I felt like towards the end of last season was the best I have played as a pro,” Gibbons said. “I just tried to build on that in the off season and continue it into the start of this year.”
Gibbons says that being strong in the third period has a lot to do with conditioning. “Guys are battling every day to get into the lineup, which gets you into game shape,” Gibbons said. “During the game we have such a deep roster that we are able to roll all four lines and all three defensive pairings. When the third period comes, guys are still fresh and we are able to use that as an advantage.”
Often times, success is disguised as hard work; Gibbons says that this team is not afraid to get its hands dirty. “We have a lot of skill players, but everyone really pushes themselves and gives their best effort,” Gibbons said. “It’s kind of contagious.”
As one of the leaders in the locker room, Sill knows closing out games is critical for confidence.
“We managed to have a couple good third periods to pull together a couple wins,” Sill said. “It’s always nice to see, you get that belief real early that you can win a game in the third, which is a good thing to have.”
Both Gibbons and Sill have been with the team for a few seasons now and know it is not how start, but how finish. With the team following suit, the Penguins are sure to continue winning as long as their determination and legs keep carrying them. After all, just as Brooks said, “the legs feed the wolf.”