by Matt Collamer | AHL On The Beat Archive
Worcester fans have waited five long seasons for the return of playoff hockey to the DCU Center.
With six games left in the regular season, the Sharks sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, looking to advance to the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Worcester’s head coach Roy Sommer, who is second all-time AHL wins (616), is excited at the chance of reaching the postseason again. The 2009-2010 was the last time Sommer and the Sharks took part in AHL playoff action.
Sommer thinks this year has the playoff feel to it.
“Eight of our last 10 games have been wins, so I’d say we’re clicking on all cylinders right now,” Sommer added.
Worcester’s captain Bryan Lerg has been a force for the Sharks during the second half of the season with 41 total points. The 5-10, 175-pound forward was called up to San Jose on Monday, and he awaits his NHL debut.
Although the Sharks’ left winger Micheal Haley is close with 18 goals, Worcester doesn’t have a 20-goal scorer so far this season, as they have spread out the goal-scoring across their entire roster. The team has shown that all four lines can create scoring opportunities.
”We’ve ended up in the top 10 in the AHL in total scoring,” said Sommer. We have good team chemistry, and we’ve won a lot of close games.”
Worcester defenseman Dylan DeMelo is getting geared up for this weekend, which could give the Sharks a playoff berth. The 21-year-old from London, Ontario, Canada has 22 points (5 goals, 17 assists) in 61 games played in his second season with the team.
“We’re in prime position to move up in the standings,” said DeMelo. “Nothing is guaranteed for us yet, so we need to keep pushing. Every game we’re playing is against a playoff team, so it’s a battle. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
In addition to the potent offense, Worcester has enjoyed solid goaltending all season.
Rookie netminder Aaron Dell has been superb, boasting a 15-5-0-4 record, a 1.80 goals-against average, and a .935 save percentage. Wisconsin native Troy Grosenick has been a major contributor to the outstanding goaltending with a 19-11-1-1 record in 33 games this season. Their depth in goaltending could prove to be a key factor in the Sharks’ playoff push.
Coach Sommer weighed in on the goalie performances this season.
“The goaltending has been excellent. Both guys have been great,” Sommer said. “Dell has really stepped up this past month.”
With San Jose out of the playoff picture, Worcester will look to the NHL squad for extra postseason skaters.
“We’ve heard [Chris] Tierney, [Barclay] Goodrow, [Taylor] Fedun, Lerg, and [Karl] Stollery,” said Sommer on who would likely join Worcester in the postseason. "It will probably be about five players who make the trip.”
The Sharks have a good mix of veterans and rookies for a playoff run.
Worcester’s veteran forward John McCarthy is in the midst of his sixth season with the organization. Back in March, McCarthy surpassed Dan DaSilva (144 points) for the franchise record in points—the Andover, Mass. native now has 159 points in 301 games with Worcester. McCarthy has had success with postseason hockey in the past; he earned the Hockey East title and a 2009 NCAA Championship in his final season with Boston University before joining the Sharks.
As mentioned by Coach Sommer, a Worcester playoff run may bring rookie center Chris Tierney to the east coast to strengthen the squad. The 20-year-old from Keswick, Ontario, has accumulated 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in 41 games with San Jose this season.
The Sharks head into a 3-in-3 weekend with a home-and-home against the Atlantic Division rival Providence Bruins, who currently sit in the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference, just one point behind Worcester.
“This weekend is a four-point swing against Providence,” said DeMelo. “We’re going to prepare in practice and watch some video so we’re ready to bring our A-game. Hopefully we come out on top.”
This marks the final few games for the AHL Sharks in Worcester, before they head out to the west coast to be nearby the NHL team.
“It’s tough for the Worcester fans to lose a team. Many fans have put a lot of time, money, and effort into this team,” said DeMelo. “It would mean a lot to give them a good playoff run. A Calder Cup would be an amazing accomplishment.”
After 9 seasons and 338 career wins in Worcester, Sommer hopes to go out with a bang.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to leave, but you never know—maybe we can give the fans a Calder Cup.”