Tonight, the San Jose Sharks’ American Hockey League affiliate San Jose Barracuda open their season at home against their Pacific Division rivals the Ontario Reign, affiliates of the Los Angeles Kings. The Barracuda split their preseason series at a win apiece against AHL newcomers the Colorado Eagles (affiliates of the Colorado Avalanche), and look to take a win home on opening night against a team they’ll be matched up against eight times in the regular season.
Antoine Bibeau likely starts in net for the Barracuda, having wrested the starting job away from longtime Worcester Shark and now-Milwaukee Admiral Troy Grosenick last season. Bibeau posted a .919 save percentage and a 2.37 over 43 appearances last year, as well as an appearance at the AHL All-Star Game. Behind Bibeau on the Barracuda’s goaltending depth chart this year are Josef Korenar and Austin Lotz. Korenar will likely serve as Bibeau’s backup tonight, after starting both contests against the Eagles.
The Barracuda will be missing Ivan Chekhovich and Alexander Chmelevski on opening night, as both have been assigned to their respective Canadian Hockey League clubs. Chekhovich and Chmelevski made their AHL debuts last season after the conclusion of their respective CHL seasons and galvanized the team into a playoff position. However, there is an agreement in place between the NHL and the CHL which states that NHL-drafted CHL players under 20 years of age are ineligible to play in the AHL or ECHL during the course of their respective CHL club’s season, preventing Chekhovich and Chmelevski from returning to the Barracuda until their CHL clubs are eliminated from playoff contention.
What’s the points?
For the first time, the AHL’s Pacific Division will be playing a balanced schedule, which means our lives are easier and we don’t need to write strange articles with lots of math on how the Barracuda could still, by some miracle, make the AHL postseason. The San Jose Barracuda will play 68 regular season games and attempt to qualify for the playoffs against the other six Pacific Division clubs, primarily on points. In previous seasons, Pacific Division standings were determined based on win percentage.
The other four divisions of the league all play a 76-game schedule, and there is no cross-conference play and limited cross-division play in the AHL. This unfortunately means that Troy Grosenick is unlikely to make a return trip to the Tank this season, nor will the Barracuda play the Admirals on the road.
Thanks to the preseason, we do have some idea of how the Barracuda’s lines and pairings are expected to start out this year.
Projected lines for tonight’s tilt in Colorado ⬇️— San Jose Barracuda (@sjbarracuda) September 29, 2018
There are two rostered players who were sent down from the Sharks after the Barracuda preseason — Lukas Radil and Dylan Gambrell were assigned to the Barracuda, alongside Bibeau, on the eve of the NHL regular season and as such, made no appearances in the Barracuda’s preseason match-ups. The two skaters will likely slot into the Barracuda top-six, after serving as extra skaters toward the end of the Sharks’ training camp.
Reign on their Parade
The Ontario Reign are not an AHL club to be taken lightly. The team has made the AHL playoffs in each of the last three seasons, and made a run to the Western Conference Final in 2016 before being swept by the eventual champions, the Lake Erie Monsters. Notably, the goaltender from the Reign’s 2015-2016 campaign was called up the following season before being flipped to Tampa Bay, but now—
Back in net for the Reign will likely be Peter Budaj, who was reacquired by the Kings organization in June of this year. Having split his last couple of seasons between the Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning organizations, it is notable that one of Budaj’s most accomplished seasons was his 2015-2016 campaign with the Reign, where the AHL All-Star received the Aldedge “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award for best AHL goaltender and the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award for lowest AHL goals against average, having posted a 1.75 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. The Barracuda will need their best shooters against this goalie, to say the least.
Long Beach Native and right winger Emerson Etem is also suiting up in the Reign’s black and white uniform this year. A familiar face in the NHL Pacific Division, Etem has previously played for the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks, as well as the New York Rangers. Previously on a professional tryout agreement with the Los Angeles Kings this preseason, Etem will be playing for the Reign under a professional tryout agreement.
New to the Reign this year are defenseman Kale Clague, center Brad Morrison and center Drake Rymsha, who all join the team after the conclusion of their CHL careers. The three are Kings draftees who may prove to be long-term threats to the Sharks at the NHL and AHL levels.
The Ontario Reign had a very successful preseason against Pacific Division opponents the San Diego Gulls, winning both games, albeit one on shootout, and one in the dying minutes of the contest. The Reign did not out-shoot their opponents in either game, but were moderately successful on the power play. The Barracuda will need to keep an eye out for high danger shots and either avoid penalties or be prepared to play hard on the penalty kill tonight.
The Barracuda will also be debuting new uniforms with an altered crest adorning a slightly updated jersey. While CCM remains the AHL’s official jersey supplier, all clubs are now outfitted with all-new CCM Quicklite jerseys, which made their debut at the 2018 AHL All-Star Challenge. Due to the altered primary mark, the Barracuda’s new uniforms are more distinct from the previous iteration than other clubs, but the striping and primary colors do remain the same.
I must also say that Bibeau has a new mask this season…just when you thought it was safe to get back on the ice.
While the Barracuda do not have a distinct ECHL affiliate this season (their affiliation with the Allen Americans came to a close during the off-season), Joe Will announced earlier this week that four Barracuda skaters would be loaned to the Orlando Solar Bears, who ended their affiliation with the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer and are now part of the Tampa Bay Lightning Organization. While this is not a solid indicator of things to come, Barracuda players in need of some time in the AHL might come to expect to be loaned to Orlando.
It’s the start of a long season, but if there’s anything the Barracuda proved last season it’s that the regular season runs until the final game.
The puck drops for the San Jose Barracuda’s 2018-2019 season tonight at 7:00 PM at SAP Center. The game will stream on the AHL’s new streaming service AHLTV, which is offering a free trial weekend for the season opener.