Sharks swim in sea of youth

by Ryan Holt || AHL On The Beat Archive 

The Worcester Sharks’ youthfulness is starting to show and it has nothing to do with their play on the ice.

You can see their youth on their faces.

As the Sharks progress deeper and deeper into the Calder Cup Playoffs, the traditional playoff beards are absent from a few of Worcester’s rookies and it is not because they’re shaving regularly.

Worcester boasts the youngest team remaining in the playoffs and was the youngest team in the AHL for much of the regular season, but you would not realize it with their play on the ice. The Sharks feed off the youth.

“We’re lucky to have young guys on this team,” said one of 10 starting rookies, John McCarthy. “You come to the professional ranks and it’s easier to look around and see a bunch of guys in the same spot.”

Whether its call-ups, losses or injuries, nothing seems to faze this young group. Just ask Benn Ferriero. The rookie from Boston College was stuck on 19 goals over the last 21 games of the regular season leading to questions of whether he had hit the proverbial rookie wall.

Ferriero has put those questions to rest with a tremendous playoff campaign thus far with four goals, two assists and six points through the Sharks’ first nine games.

“You never want to end the regular season like I did,” said Ferriero. “But I knew that the playoffs were a different season, and I looked at it as almost a fresh start to get going again.”

Head coach Roy Sommer, the longest-tenured coach in the AHL, sees Ferriero’s turnaround as just another example of the maturity of his young team.

“He was just as frustrated as we were at the end of the year, but he kept at it,” Sommer said. “The goal that got him going was just a high redirection off a point shot and sometimes that is all it takes to get a guy like that going. We need him in the playoffs.”

Worcester finished the regular season as Atlantic Division champions and was led by AHL All-Rookie goaltender Alex Stalock, who paced the league with 39 victories on the season.

However, the playoffs were a different story for the Sharks as they came out flat against Lowell and lost Game 1 on home ice.

“Losing to Lowell in Game 1 in the first round was definitely a learning experience for these guys,” said Sommer. “They were nervous and played like they hadn’t all season. But they quickly learned that the playoffs were a different animal and it showed the rest of that series.”

McCarthy and Ferriero have experience in college making long playoff runs with Boston University and Boston College respectively on their way to winning national championships. But for McCarthy, professional playoffs have been a different game.

“I’m used to having a one-and-done scenario,” said McCarthy. “The seven-game series is new to me and it is different preparing for this type of series than it was in college.”

Brandon Mashinter, who capped the regular season with 22 goals and 13 fighting majors, earned a reputation for being a difficult forward to play against in a very short time. He too recognizes how special it is to have the youth that Worcester enjoys in the locker room.

“We’re getting stronger as a team as we advance in the playoffs,” said the Bradford, Ont., native. “I think the first game against Lowell for whatever reason we were tentative and that is not who we are. We’re not letting slow starts affect our game.”

Even without arguably their best rookie in Logan Couture — who is with San Jose for their playoff run — the Sharks continue to find production from the rookie squad. In their recent Game 1 victory to start the Atlantic Division Finals against the Manchester Monarchs, Ferriero, along with fellow rookies Cory Quirk and Dean Strong, tallied to lead the Sharks to a comeback victory. Rookie Dennis McCauley, a Northeastern product, was a catalyst for the Sharks with two assists.

Kevin Henderson, Nick Schaus and Justin Braun round out the 10-pack of Worcester rookies in the lineup with Schaus and Braun being late additions to the Sharks roster after completing their collegiate seasons. Schaus and Braun, both defensemen, each have played in all nine of the Sharks’ postseason games thus far and have contributed to a strong Worcester defense.

“I think what people don’t realize about these two (Schaus and Braun) is that they’re older guys who played a lot of minutes for their college teams,” remarked Sommer. “They have been tremendous for us down the stretch and into the playoffs. It’s pretty remarkable considering they’re playing at such a high level at the toughest position (defense) to learn in this league.”

With every game this season, there was a learning lesson. After a seven-game losing streak in November, Stalock commented how the team needed “that adversity in order to succeed.” In late January and February, the talk turned to the dog days of the season and staying committed to playing consistent night in and night out.

Now, at the end of April, the talk is about bringing their best game to every playoff series and winning every battle.

The young Sharks hope their willingness to win those battles and learn those lessons will prove big in their quest to swim even deeper into the Calder Cup Playoffs. Maybe by then, the beards will be in.