Eric Lindquist has been the play by play commentator for the Worcester Sharks the last three years, and currently assumes the duties of Director of Public Relations and Broadcasting.
Mr. Lindquist was nice enough to be our resource for all things related to the Worcester Sharks during last year's run through the Calder Cup playoffs, and has returned to shed some light on the state of the San Jose Sharks' AHL affiliate in Massachusetts as they enter their second round matchup with the Manchester Monarchs. You can catch listen to the play by play for all Worcester's games on WTAG AM 580, and visit the Worcester Sharks site for more info on the team.
Plank and TCY would like to thank Eric and the Worcester Sharks organization for making this interview happen. Enjoy.
Al Stalock has been setting all kinds of franchise records down in Worcester this season. Give us some insight as to why Tyler Ennis won the Rod Garret Memorial Award for rookie of the year.
We were obviously voting for Stalock, but Worcester only plays half the teams in the AHL and every team gets three votes-- coaching staff, players, and media. If you don't see him play and just take a look at the stat packs, you see that he's not in the top twenty for goals against or save percentage. I think a lot of the Western Conference teams that didn't see him play looked at those, and therefore didn't give him their votes.
Ennis was the top rookie point-getter, and Stalock kind of got looked over because of that. His numbers weren't awesome but he makes the big save when it counts and was able to pile up thirty nine wins. Perhaps Logan Couture took some of the votes away from Stalock league-wide as well. Worcester had three of the top rookie point getters in the AHL, with McCarthy, Ferriero, and Couture. Ennis was the main guy in Portland, and I think that helped him get noticed.
How has Stalock managed to start all those games and still keep up his performance? He started a lot more games professionally than he was used to in college.
He's been an absolute workhorse, even in games that he isn't playing he's focused and ready. Stalock likes the heavy workload and I don't think he would want it any other way. With the unique goaltending situation we had this season, where Tyson Sexsmith wasn't one hundred percent from the start of the year, Stalock really took the bull by the horns right off the bat. Roy Sommer decided to ride the horse that was running well.
Stalock likes winning, and isn't a guy who is especially concerned with the save percentage or goals against-- he's a team guy, and no matter the score, the Sharks winning is what keeps him satisfied.
After a strong camp in San Jose it seemed as if defenseman Nick Petrecki regressed in Worcester, seeing limited minutes as the season went on-- he also hasn't dressed in the playoffs thus far. In your opinion what's wrong with him and where is he in terms of development?
You know, I get asked that a lot. He's the youngest kid on a team that is the youngest in the American Hockey League. For the majority of the year Worcester dressed eleven, twelve, thirteen rookies. It's one of those things where some players take longer to develop in that situation. Petrecki is a beast trapped in a twenty year old body. If you have ever met him on the ice or off, he's a man child. Not playing in the playoffs can be attributed to kids like Justin Braun stepping up, Nick Schaus who jumped in from the U of Lowell. Those guys have taken the spots of Petrecki and Joe Loprieno.
Again, with Petrecki, he's a young defenseman who is twenty years old. Some guys take some time, and who knows, I've seen some guys whose game wasn't fitted for the AHL, but you put him in the NHL and he fits right in. I don't think there's much reason to worry just yet on how Petrecki is progressing down in Worcester. Over the years the Sharks have done a great job with their young players, easing them into the fold and allowing them to succeed.
Following the AHL for as long as you have, do you think this may be a product of the defenseman versus forward development cycle? It seems like it may take longer for defenseman to progress and reach their full potential.
I think that's exactly the case. When Jason Demers or Nick Petrecki make a mistake it's generally in their own zone, right in front of their goaltender. Using Logan Couture as an example, not that he made too many of these, but if he turns the puck over it's usually in the offensive zone and his teammates have a hundred and eight feet to recover. With defenseman those mistakes can turn into goals real quick, and it's much more magnified.
With defenseman, and especially young defenseman, if they cough the puck up and it ends up in their own net they feel awful. In that aspect I think the forwards can get a free pass in a way.
Speaking of defenseman, Derek Joslin has had a real strong playoffs with three points in five games. How has he played in his own end?
I think Joslin has been perhaps our best defenseman in the playoffs. It reminds me of the way he was playing before his first call up to San Jose last year, when he was the top blueliner on the team. Joslin's a real even keel kind of guy, things don't tend to bother him. He's been real good in his own zone.
Worcester had ten rookies dressed in games three, four, and five, playing without their Captain Ryan Vesce, and ended up winning all three of those games. Joslin has been like a veteran out there amongst all these young guys who are wet behind the ears.
With Ryan Vesce out, and discluding some of the veterans, who is a guy that you have seen step into a leadership role and begin to take the reigns?
Ya know, it's funny. I mentioned the ten rookies, and even without Vesce and Joe Callahan in the lineup, I really think it has all started in goal. Guys know with Alex Stalock in net they have a really good chance of winning. It's such a young group, they're loose before games in a real good way and not afraid of making mistakes. It's really been a complete team effort, and besides Stalock, that has started with the Crazed Rats line of Andrew Desjardins, Dan DaSilva, and John McCarthy. They have been the heart and soul in the second half of the season and in the first round of the season. They have been unbelievable.
Tell us about the postseason Dan DaSilva has been having, as well as what inspired the Crazed Rats nickname.
It was Bill Ballou, beat writer for the Worcester Telegram. At the end of last year he called them the "E" line because Desjardins, DaSilva, and at the time Trent Campbell had all started the season in the ECHL. DaSilva and Desjardins didn't really like the name of the line, and when McCarthy was added this season, Ballou started calling them the Crazed Rats. They play like a bunch of rats that haven't eaten in days.
Yeah, they'll fight for each loose puck and loose piece of cheese on the ice. They just about start every game, Sommer will throw them out after every goal scored for and against. They win battles consistently, and we've seen as the season progressed that they'll go up against every team's top line and shut them down. They were a combined +88 this year against the top competition in the AHL.
We saw it in Lowell during the playoffs, on the road at Tsongas Arena, where Devils head coach John MacLean was throwing his checking line out against the Crazed Rats because they had become Worcester's scoring line. Again, they've been the heart and soul of this team. Desjardins of course signed his first NHL contract at the end of this year, and the way he competes each and every night has led some to call him "The Most Hated Player In The AHL" for the way he gets underneath opponents skin. He's the real deal down here.
It's been a real fun line. Every time they're on the ice they get the cycle going, get pucks in deep, win those battles, and score some big goals.
You talk about the Crazed Rats line as the team's top shutdown line as far as forwards go-- what defensive pairing is seeing the toughest competition? Who does Sommer send out there when he needs a big stop?
David Cunniff actually tends to run the defense. Roy will send out the forward lines, and Cunniff will send out the defenseman-- that's been the case as a coaching staff. Cunniff really likes to throw out three sets of pairings, but late in the game, you'll see Mike Moore see a lot of ice time. He's not very flashy, but if he was a forward you'd put him in the same category as the Crazed Rats line. Tough as nails, his face in the playoffs looked like it got in a fight with a chainsaw after he got boarded from behind, but sure enough he came back and played the next game with a full shield. Moore is definitely the guy who you'll see on the ice when all the chips are on the table defensively.
Sometimes you'll even see a guy like Braun or Schaus out there for a final shift-- just this past series when Lowell had their goaltender pulled Cunniff went that route. He does a great job of instilling confidence in these young defenseman all the way down the line.
Logan Couture had some ups and downs this year. He played very well in the AHL before his first call up, but was mostly invisible at the NHL level for the seven games he was here. Then, after being injured in the AHL, he picked back up where he left off, was called up to San Jose and never looked back. As someone who has watched Logan progress, what changed in him between the two call ups?
Logan is a competitor. For such a young kid, he has a great head on his shoulders. Skill wise he’s elite, and for someone of his size he’s not afraid to go into the corners. That speaks to his overall effort in all facets of his game.
But you also have to remember that he’s just 21, and it’s the first time he’s played in this type of environment. He lived with Stalock and Petrecki down here, and he showed up every day with a smile on his face. I’ve seen some post game interviews with him in San Jose and he’s still got that smile. He’s just very even keel and I think he just needed some more time to get comfortable.
A confident Logan Couture is something you have to look out for. I think he’s had it in him but it’s just taken a few games for him to adjust. Bill Ballou, our beat writer, has seen a ton of hockey and ranks Couture near the top of the players who have ever played in Worcester.
It's impressive that a team can lose three of it's best players in McGinn, Demers, and Couture, and still be so effective. How has this been the case for Worcester?
Well, again, it’s like a broken record. It’s the Desjardins, DaSilva and McCarthy line. Vesce probably played two shifts in game two because he was injured, and even though he got the game winner he hasn’t played since. We certainly miss Logan Couture on the powerplay. I think the powerplay numbers with and without him swung about ten percent.
Benn Ferriero hadn’t scored in 24 games, but he scored a goal in game four and two more in game five. So, we’re hoping Benny puts some pucks to the net more frequently.
TJ Trevalian was very quietly our top goal scorer (28). Zalewski was hovering around the top twenty goal scorers this year, and again I give Roy Summer and David Cunnif a ton of credit. We’ve had so much movement between Worcester and San Jose all year. We’ve had big injuries, but we’ve found a way to score more goals than the other team and win the Atlantic Division title.
Jonathan Bernier put up some amazing numbers this season for the Monarchs, but the Sharks had some success against him this year winning 5 of the meetings and averaging 41 shots a game. Are the Sharks forwards too much for the Manchester defense to handle?
We were tops in the AHL in shots per game (36). From the top down, we fire the puck from all over the place, and we score more dirty goals than any other team. I was watching the Kings-Vancouver game last night, and my fingers were crossed that LA would call up Bernier for the next game. If not, it’s going to be a battle between the two best young goaltenders in the AHL.
I talked to Stalock this morning about battling with Bernier, and he’s excited about it. Bernier beat out Al for the best goaltender award, and Al wants to beat him. Stalock is a competitive guy and it’s just another reason that the Sharks feel so good heading into the next series. Stalock wants to show that he can beat Bernier.
Worcester and Manchester have both had some success in the playoffs over the last three years, and this will be their second playoff meeting together. Can we expect some bad blood in this series?
Not really. I say that because in the Lowell series, we had four pregame skirmishes; their M.O. was to run Stalock. If you just look at the box score, it doesn’t show how nasty the series was. We had Frazer McLaren pound Brad Mills to the ice, there were dirty checks, and at one point we had assistant coach David Cunniff try to climb the glass to get to John McLaney. Manchester doesn’t play that style.
We were joking that the Portland – Manchester series was more of a figure skating exibition while Lowell and Worcester beat each other up for five games. Joslin is the only player left from that series two years ago, but who knows, there could be a dirty check in the first five minutes which carries over to the next five or six games. The Sharks expected a hard fought series against Lowell and they got it. This next series should be more of a battle between goaltenders.
San Jose just got out of a physical series against the Avalanche, and that style of play has appeared to wear down the young Colorado team. Even though the Worcester Sharks came out on top in this match up, do you see the physicality of the series affecting them in the long run?
It was a great learning curve for the rookies-- we had 10-11 guys who had never played a professional playoff game before and they learned real quick. Game one featured a skirmish in the warm-ups. Frazer McLaren, much like he did last year, has picked up his game big time.
I know you guys saw Frazer this year, how tough he is, and when he flexes his muscles other teams take notice. There aren’t many players who want to go against him, and that gives Worcester confidence.The Sharks aren’t the type of team that is going to initiate the nasty play but when they respond to it they can certainly hold their own.
If Manchester wants to play the rough and tumble game, give the advantage to Worcester. If the Monarchs come out and try to play the run and gun style, the Sharks can do that as well.
Your prediction for the matchup, and who scores the series winner.
You know what, I think it’s going to be a low scoring series. I feel a lot more confident this year heading into round two than I did last year. Worcester has not won a game one in their four tries and I think they need to get the series lead in this one. Vesce should be coming back soon, along with Joe Callahan.
If I’m a betting man, it’s Stalock’s talk that gives me the most hope. He wants this. We also have some championship experience-- Ferriero and Petrecki won with BC, while McCarthy won with BU. I like the pieces we have here.
I think it’s going to be long series, but when it comes to series winning goals you have to go with Ryan Vesce. He just finds a way to score the big goals in the big games. Getting him back will be huge for the team.