Sunday notebook: Love of the game still fueling Cracknell

Darren Francis Photography

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Adam Cracknell is still going.

Why? Because he can, and he wants to.

The Henderson Silver Knights forward is the oldest player in the American Hockey League this season at 38. He logged his 700th AHL game on Nov.3, and has skated in 1,166 regular-season and playoff games since beginning his pro career in 2006. Part of a rapidly shrinking group of 1980’s-born players, he signed up for his 18th pro season on a one-year deal with Henderson in July.

“I think it’s the love of the game,” Cracknell said of grinding away in a variety of roles at the NHL and AHL levels.

From a ninth-round draft pick just trying to stick in the AHL, to becoming a top NHL-AHL swing player, to sticking in the NHL, to trying out the game overseas, to transitioning to an AHL mentor, Cracknell has experienced the business in all types of roles.

“I think that’s why we play. I still love the game. My body has held up. I enjoy going to the rink, and I’m very, very lucky to keep getting opportunities to keep playing the game I love.”

Like several teams before, the Silver Knights brought Cracknell in for his leadership. He has a long-standing reputation around the league as a glue player who can bring a dressing room together. He captained Tucson last season and is wearing an “A” with Henderson. With Ryan Craig taking over behind the Henderson bench, Cracknell provides another measure of help for a first-year head coach. And Craig, a former teammate of Cracknell’s in Springfield back in 2014-15, knows leadership: he served as a captain in nine of his 14 AHL seasons and helped the Lake Erie Monsters to a Calder Cup championship in 2016.

Off the ice, Cracknell and his wife, Teresa, have been able to settle in with their three daughters. With its warm weather, a state-of-the art rink, and a new practice facility, Henderson is an easy fit on and off the ice.

But Cracknell still can produce as well. Coming off consecutive 21-goal seasons with Bakersfield (2021-22) and Tucson (2022-23), Cracknell has seven goals and seven assists through 20 games this season going into today’s visit from the Calgary Wranglers at Dollar Loan Center.

Signing with the Silver Knights has Cracknell back to Las Vegas, where he spent most of his first two pro campaigns (2006-08) with the ECHL Wranglers. He didn’t become an AHL regular until his third season, and he did not play his first NHL game until Dec. 15, 2010, with the St. Louis Blues.

Cracknell has gone on to put in 210 NHL games with St. Louis, Columbus, Vancouver, Edmonton, Dallas, the New York Rangers and Anaheim.

“I’ve always wanted to have a long professional career,” Cracknell said, “and trying to get to the NHL is the main focus. I think a lot of it has to do with patience, with trusting the process to get to the NHL, the coaches, the management. I’ve gotten to play with a lot of great players to learn from. My experiences, I like to pass them to the younger guys.”

A scorer coming out of the Western Hockey League, Cracknell was able to fashion himself as a useful role player to stick in the AHL and eventually fit into an NHL lineup. That adaptability has served him well; he can think the game, he possesses an excellent shot, and he has been able to keep up with today’s speed-oriented game.

“I think you just have to be patient,” Cracknell acknowledged. “You’re going to go through trials and tribulations as a young prospect, and you don’t want to rush into the NHL. You have to develop your overall game and find your niches within the game and how to be a consistent pro.”

Now as he has moved through the back half of his pro career, Cracknell has been able to cross off several life experiences. He spent a year crisscrossing the map in the Kontinental Hockey League with the Beijing, China-based Kunlun Red Star in 2019-20. He represented Canada at the storied Spengler Cup tournament back in 2018, and again at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. He even spent some time playing in Denmark in 2020 before the AHL returned to action following its COVID-19 shutdown.

Cracknell is eyeing a move into coaching when this playing journey does reach its end. Until then, he continues to earn himself new contracts as he continues to chase a Calder Cup championship.

“I think you have to love what you do, and I still do.”

Any concerns about a post-Calder Cup letdown can be put to rest for the Hershey Bears, who have the AHL’s longest win streak this season at nine games after completing a two-game sweep at Charlotte with last night’s 5-2 win. The victory has the Bears atop the AHL at 18-4-0-0.

Second-year forward Ethen Frank stepped forward as the latest hero with a hat trick last night, while Clay Stevenson made 34 saves. And when the Bears do stumble, they can still keep their footing: On Wednesday at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Hershey trailed 3-1 in the first period before rolling off four second-period goals in a 9:20 span and outlasting the Penguins, 7-5.

After leading all AHL rookies with 30 goals last season, Frank has scored 11 times in 22 games and is tied for the league lead with six power-play markers. Stevenson has more than capably handled the start of his first full AHL season, going 8-3-0 with a 1.73 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Hartford Wolf Pack, meanwhile, are doing their best to keep pace with their Atlantic Division counterparts. The Pack won their sixth game in a row last night, rallying from 2-0 down to defeat Lehigh Valley, 5-4 in overtime, last night at the XL Center. Rookie Brennan Othmann’s second goal of the night was the game-winner, and gives him six goals in his last five outings after going 14 games without finding the net. The New York Rangers selected Othmann 16th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Hartford remains six points behind first-place Hershey but have pulled six points ahead of third-place Springfield in the Atlantic.

The AHL transaction wire was a give-and-take situation for the Cleveland Monsters going into this weekend’s two-game home affair with Utica.

On Thursday, the Monsters lost forward Kent Johnson to recall by the Columbus Blue Jackets after the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft had put up 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 10 games with Cleveland. But Columbus provided some help yesterday, sending goaltender Daniil Tarasov to Cleveland on a long-term injury conditioning assignment. Tarasov made his season debut last night and stopped 22 shots as the Monsters won their fifth game in a row, 4-2.

The early returns are promising for Peter Abbandonato in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Acquired on Monday in a trade with the Chicago Wolves, the 25-year-old forward has four points in his first three games with the Penguins, including scoring two goals in last night’s 4-3 overtime loss to Springfield. His tally with 1:39 to go in regulation helped the Pens pick up a standings point.

Abbandonato helps to fortify a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster that has had to deal with early personnel losses up front. Vinnie Hinostroza started the season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton only to be recalled by the parent Pittsburgh Penguins after five games, and Jansen Harkins has been in and out of head coach J.D. Forrest’s lineup amid multiple NHL recalls.

Iowa goaltender Jesper Wallstedt is looking every bit the player that the Minnesota Wild envisioned when they made him the 20th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Wallstedt, who turned 21 on Nov. 14, made 40 saves in Iowa’s 5-1 win at Colorado on Friday. For an encore last night, he provided a career-high 43 saves as the Wild edged the Eagles, 3-2. On a Colorado 5-on-3 power play, Wallstedt shut down Brad Hunt and Ben Meyers on consecutive strong chances. Then with Iowa trying to hold a late lead, he denied the Eagles on five shots in the final 4:14 of regulation.

Wallstedt’s .937 GAA leads the AHL and his 2.03 GAA is fourth-best overall as he has gone 8-4-0 through 12 appearances.

Coming into this weekend, Tucson ranked 29th in the league in scoring, with just 44 goals in 18 games.

Then in a span of 27 hours, the Roadrunners scored 12 times and earned back-to-back wins over the San Jose Barracuda. Both victories featured four-goal first periods for Tucson.

Rookie Josh Doan’s two goals led the Roadrunners in Friday night’s 5-1 win. Travis Barron picked up a hat trick while Hunter Drew supplied a pair of goals and an assist as Tucson outlasted San Jose in the rematch last night, 7-5.

The sweep comes at a particularly good time for Tucson, which opens a run of 10 of 14 games on the road with a visit to Colorado next week.