by A.J. Atchue || for NHL.com
Worcester Sharks rookie forward Benn Ferriero grew up on Massachusetts’ North Shore and played four years of hockey at Boston College.
So it was only fitting, albeit completely unexpected, that the Bay State kid would spend most of his first professional season right in his backyard.
Ferriero was originally drafted by Phoenix in 2006, but after completing his senior season at BC in 2008-09, he went unsigned by the financially unstable Coyotes.
Enter the San Jose Sharks.
Ferriero inked a deal with the teal and black, and after breaking camp as a member of the NHL club, he was assigned to the American Hockey League in early November to get more ice time.
That meant a trip to San Jose’s AHL affiliate in Worcester, which is conveniently located only an hour west of Boston and roughly 90 minutes from Ferriero’s hometown of Essex, Mass.
“It’s not a bad thing,” he said. “I’m somewhat close to home, so my parents get to come in and see some of the games. I didn’t really expect that I’d be in Worcester. I thought all along that I’d be somewhere in the Phoenix system.”
Even once Ferriero settled back in Massachusetts, he still had to make more than a couple long trips cross-country on what came to be known as the “Worcester-to-San-Jose shuttle.”
Following his initial assignment to Worcester on Nov. 8, the 23-year-old Ferriero was recalled back to San Jose on five separate occasions and returned to the AHL within four days each time. In one 13-day stretch, he was called up and sent back down three times.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really traveled that much before in my life,” he said. “It was different.”
Aside from maybe a little jet lag, you certainly won’t get a complaint out of Ferriero, who in his rookie year has managed to get a taste of the National Hockey League while using his time in the AHL to better acquaint himself with the professional game.
“I just wanted to come here and work hard to get better,” Ferriero said. “There’s not really much you can do about (getting sent to the AHL), so you have to make the most of the opportunity. I’ve gotten the chance to play a lot here and in just about every situation, and I just try to improve each night.”
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Ferriero sure made the most his AHL opportunity from the outset.
Once his late-November travel odyssey ended, he registered a point in 10 of his next 13 games for Worcester. During a two-month period from Dec. 26 and Feb. 26, Ferriero led the Sharks with 15 goals and 33 points in 25 games, and he never went more than two consecutive games without tallying a goal.
“When he has the puck, he makes a lot of things happen,” said Worcester head coach Roy Sommer, who is completing his 12th season at the helm of San Jose’s AHL affiliate. “He draws people to him, he seems to know when to give the puck up, and he’s got a really deceiving shot. It’s quiet, but he gets it off and goaltenders seem to have a lot of trouble picking it up.”
“I just try and play fast, both with and without the puck,” Ferriero said. “I’m not the biggest guy, so I always have to be skating, working hard, and try to find those open areas in the offensive zone.”
Ferriero wasn’t going to go through his entire rookie season without a little adversity, however, and he endured his fair share over the last month and a half of the campaign.
When the right winger recorded a goal and two assists on Feb. 26 vs. Abbotsford, little did he know that it would mark his last goal and last multiple-point performance of the regular season.
After that night, Ferriero totaled seven assists and was a minus-4 in his final 21 outings. It was as if someone had taken note of his two-month hot streak and placed a giant stop sign in front of the net.
Looking back, both player and coach were pretty quick to identify what went wrong.
“I wasn’t shooting the puck as much, and I might have been trying to make plays look too pretty,” Ferriero said. “But then I got back to playing a more simple game, and things started to turn around.”
“He wasn’t shooting the puck like he had been, and he was trying to get too fine,” Sommer echoed. “There’s a fine line with the confidence thing. You start doubting yourself, you start passing it instead of trying to shoot it, you start trying to get too fine, and things fall apart.”
Ferriero finally got back on the board with a power play goal in Game 3 of Worcester’s first-round playoff series against the Lowell Devils on Apr. 20, and it seemed to re-energize his offensive touch.
He scored twice more in Game 4 and is now tied for the Worcester postseason lead with four goals (4-2-6) in nine tilts overall, helping the Sharks to an Atlantic Division Finals date against the Manchester Monarchs.
“Playoffs are a completely different game than the regular season,” he said. “Everything’s a lot tighter and a lot faster and a lot more physical. When you get an opportunity, you’ve really got to bear down.”
Many observers would look at Ferriero’s decline in the regular season’s home stretch and point to the proverbial wall that some players experience after going from a 40-game college schedule to an 80-game marathon in the pros.
While not blaming his slump on the increased workload, Ferriero says it definitely required an adjustment period.
“It’s not like I was too tired or worn down, but I’ve never played this many games before, so it’s obviously a lot different than it was in college,” he said. “You don’t get as many workouts in, and you don’t feel as good for every single game.”
As with most young forwards, Sommer says developing consistency and avoiding defensive breakdowns are paramount if Ferriero hopes to eventually land a full-time NHL job.
For his part, Ferriero took his early-season stints in San Jose to heart, and he’s better able to appreciate what it will take to make it back.
“The speed and the strength in the game is a lot higher in the NHL,” he said. “I definitely have to try and put on a few more pounds and get a little bit stronger and quicker. If I can do that, I think I’ll be all right.”
Sommer has watched numerous future NHL stars pass through his AHL teams, including Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Dan Boyle, Mikael Samuelsson, Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Pavelski. You could say he knows a talented prospect when he sees one.
“When he’s playing really good, he makes those around him better,” Sommer said of Ferriero. “Those guys don’t come down the road all that often.”