Sommer talks Sharks prospects, and more


Sommer talks Sharks prospects, and more

When the NHL lockout began more than 100 days ago, several teams with young, improving players still on entry-level deals had the opportunity to keep those players in North America by sending them to their American Hockey League affiliates.

The Sharks had no such luxury, as guys like Tommy Wingels, Justin Braun and Andrew Desjardins weren’t AHL eligible. Despite that disadvantage, San Jose’s top minor league club in Worcester is having a decent season with a 14-10-1-2 record, good for third place in the tight Atlantic Division. The Sharks (31 points) are just three points behind first-place Portland with two games in hand.

Head coach Roy Sommer said: “It’s kind of staying up with the Joneses. A lot of parity in our league right now.”

Although it may not have any household names on its roster, Worcester features a number of players that could have an impact on the Sharks if a shortened season begins in January. While on-ice success is significant, it pales in comparison to the importance of an AHL team developing talent for its parent club.

Front and center among those names is former first round pick James Sheppard, who was acquired by the Sharks from Minnesota in the summer of 2011 for a third round pick. Aside from a brief stint with Worcester in the second half of last season, Sheppard spent the 2011-12 campaign rehabbing his left knee from a serious ATV accident in September of 2010. The Sharks knew that they were taking a risk when they acquired Sheppard, and Sommer suggests that risk could pay off.

“He’s really starting to find his game now,” Sommer said. “The guy hasn’t played in two years, you knew it was going to take awhile. They’ve got something right now.”

Sheppard (7g, 9a in 27 games) currently has a three-game point streak, with four goals and one assist in that span. That includes two goals in a 4-3 win over Hershey on Dec. 15, a game that Sommer says Sheppard won “all by himself.”
“He’s just starting to find his stride, and it looks like he’s almost there. You can see why he was a first rounder,” Sommer said of Sheppard, the ninth overall pick in the 2006 draft.

Sheppard’s 224 games in an NHL uniform give him the most professional experience of anyone on the Worcester roster. Tim Kennedy is second in that regard with 112 career NHL games, and is another guy that Sommer can see potentially contributing to the Sharks if the league and players’ association come to an agreement.

Kennedy has been Worcester’s most consistent offensive threat, and is tied for eighth in the league in scoring with 28 points (12g, 16a).

“He’s real dynamic, kind of a top-six forward guy that moves pucks and is real fast and gritty,” Sommer said. “He’s not real big, but he plays big.”

The 5-10, 175-pound Kennedy played in 27 games with the Florida Panthers last season before San Jose traded for him in late January and assigned him to the AHL.

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While San Jose would have to dig into Worcester’s forward pool in the event of a shortened season, it would likely leave the defense and goaltending alone. The Sharks’ top seven on defense are basically set, as is the goaltending tandem of Antti Niemi and Thomas Griess.

Worcester’s blue line is a young group, and features some intriguing names. Matt Irwin, a 25-year-old who was recalled last season by San Jose but didn’t get into a game is the most NHL-ready according to Sommer, but there are others to keep an eye on.

“Sena Acolatse is another guy that’s really coming along. He’s right up there in defensive scoring in the league,” said Sommer, referring to Acolatse’s four goals and 12 assists in 25 games.

“Matt Tennyson (2g, 12a), I really thought he was a great pickup for the organization. They’re not going to have to wait long for his development. He’s been coming along really nicely.”

There are a couple of high draft picks, too, in 6-8, 230-pound Taylor Doherty (second round, 2009) and 6-3, 230-pound Nick Petrecki (first round, 2007). Doherty, though, is sidelined for at least five more weeks with a sliced Achilles tendon while Petrecki recently returned from a broken hand that kept him out for more than a month.

In fact, Petrecki, who is in his fourth season in Worcester, made his return last Friday in the Sharks’ final game before the Christmas break. Sommer was impressed with the 23-year-old in that game, after Petrecki finished with an assist and a +3 rating.

Although reviews are mixed on Petrecki’s development and skill set, Sommer's opinion is that he could still contribute in the NHL at some point.

“I think he’s on track to what they thought he would be at. He’s a big guy, a monster of a man, and he’s just starting to get things down like keeping his game simple,” Sommer said. “At times he tries to do too much and he gets in trouble, but if he played like he did [Friday] night, he’s not that far away.”

In goal, Alex Stalock (10-5-1, 2.66 goals-against average, .909 save percentage) has gotten a bit more playing time than Harri Sateri (4-6-1, 3.11 GAA, .901 SP).

Stalock, who has successfully returned from a year on the sidelines with a career-threatening nerve injury in Feb. 2011, could be on track to be Niemi’s backup in 2013-14 as Greiss will be an unrestricted free agent.

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Stalock reminds Sommer of another successful American-born netminder.

“He plays a lot like Tim Thomas. Real exciting. If you like watching goaltender he’s definitely fun to watch the way he moves the puck and stuff,” Sommer said.

“We didn’t even know if he was going to play again, but he came back and did everything that he was told to do, and more. He kind of started off a little bit slow for us, but at the season has progressed, I think he’s become one of the top goaltenders in the league.”

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The San Jose Sharks’ newly formed coaching staff hasn’t gotten a chance to work together on the ice in San Jose just yet, but they have all taken trips to Worcester to get a first hand look at some of the organization’s prospect pool.

Sommer, in his 15th year behind an AHL bench, welcomes the support.

“All of them have been real positive. The guys love having them down here,” Sommer said. “It’s a different voice when we’re trying to get the same point across.”

The Sharks’ coaching staff of Todd McLellan, Larry Robinson, Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft were in the Bay Area for the San Francisco Bulls’ ECHL game at HP Pavilion on Dec. 17 for a chalk talk with Sharks season ticket holders. If the NHL season is cancelled, they’ll start rotating back into Worcester.

“They’ve all got good insight and have been around the game a long time,” Sommer said. “A lot of times when you’re at ice level you don’t see as many things as they see.”

Regardless of what happens with the NHL, Sommer’s job description won’t change. He’ll continue to work to strengthen the organization from top to bottom, and assist as many players on their path to the NHL as he can.

Sommer said: “That’s the pride you get when you do this. Not everyone can make it, but the ones that put their time in, and listen, they get there. It’s not the problem getting there, it’s staying there. It’s tough. It’s a tough business up there.”

Rewind: Power play paces Sharks in strange night at the Tank

Rewind: Power play paces Sharks in strange night at the Tank

SAN JOSE – First, there was a delay in the Sharks-Blue Jackets game when the lights suddenly went out late in the second period. Another interruption occurred in the third, when the referees decided to spend more time on an offside challenge that overturned a Brenden Dillon goal than the Warren Commission did on the Zapruder film.

In a few months, those occurrences may end up being more notable to many in the SAP Center crowd than the actual game result, a 3-1 Sharks win on Thursday night. Inside the home dressing room, though, it was a pair of goals by the second power play unit and a strong performance by goalie Martin Jones that will be how they remember this one.

Joonas Donskoi’s first period goal with Markus Nutivaara in the box staked the Sharks a 1-0 lead, while Tomas Hertl’s marker in the third period with Jack Johnson serving a tripping minor increased it to 2-0. Hertl added a late empty netter to seal it, after Scott Hartnell brought the Blue Jackets to within one with less then three minutes to go.

It was the second straight game the Sharks didn’t get an even strength goal in regulation (other than the empty-netter), yet found a way. They beat Anaheim in three-on-three overtime on Tuesday, 2-1.

“Right now the five-on-five goals are hard to come by,” Pete DeBoer said. “We're creating chances, but the power play won us the game tonight." 

Hertl said: “Exciting night for us, the second [power play unit], because we scored two goals.”

The newest addition to that unit, defenseman David Schlemko, assisted on each of the first two goals. He spotted Donskoi wide open in the circle on the first, and got a secondary helper on Hertl’s first goal.

Although they were his first two points of the season, Schlemko is quickly proving to be the second-most talented offensive defenseman on the team. He’s managed 20 shots on goal through eight games – exactly half of Burns’ 40, but nearly double Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s 11.

“It's nice to get [the points] of the way,” he said. “I feel like I've been getting lots of pucks to the net, so it's nice to see a couple go in finally."

Donskoi figured Schlemko would spot him all alone standing on the faceoff dot.

“He's pretty good with the puck, so I think he just saw me,” Donskoi said. “It's good to have a guy like that."

It’s also good to have a guy like Jones, who made some key saves early on the penalty kill and preserved the lead while Sergei Bobrovsky was making some potentially game-changing stops on the other end. Jones’ 24 saves lowered his goals-against average to 2.32, and upped his save percentage to .908.

“We had quite a few grade-A chances, [Bobrovsky] kept them in it pretty good,” said Joel Ward, who was stopped on an early second period breakaway. “Obviously Jonesy has been there for us since day one. It’s good that he’s feeling the groove, we’ve just got to put some pucks in.”

Neither Jones nor his teammates let the odd circumstances, including Dillon’s apparent goal that was nullified after a seven-minute delay in the third period of a 1-0 game, get to them. 

“There was a couple things there out of our control, but I thought considering that, we stuck with it and found a way,” DeBoer said.

Ward said: “We’ve got a good group and a mature group, and we know how to handle situations.”

The Sharks are also gaining momentum at home with their third win in as many tries, even if their own building doesn’t want to cooperate all the time with pesky details like keeping the ice surface brightened.

“With [the lights going off] and the disallowed goal it felt like a triple overtime type of game,” Ward said. “Haven’t seen that before, but hopefully since we won, maybe it happens again and we can capitalize.”

Schlemko wasn’t here last season, but he heard all about the team’s struggles at SAP Center when it was the only playoff team that didn’t win at least half of its home games (18-20-3).

“I think we wanted to clean up the home record and have teams know it's going to be a tough night coming in here,” he said. “It's been a pretty good start."

Instant Replay: Donskoi, Hertl lift Sharks over Jackets

Instant Replay: Donskoi, Hertl lift Sharks over Jackets


SAN JOSE – Three combined goals from Joonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl, coupled with 24 saves from Martin Jones, pushed the Sharks to a 3-1 win over Columbus on Thursday at SAP Center.

Both of the Sharks’ goals before a late empty netter came from the second power play unit.

In the first period, David Schlemko found Joonas Donskoi wide open in the circle with a cross-ice pass, and Donskoi squeezed a wrist shot through Sergei Bobrovsky at 12:59. The goal was Donskoi’s first of the season.

Hertl increased it to 2-0 with 7:55 to go in regulation, with Jack Johnson in the box for tripping Patrick Marleau. A Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot hit Hertl in front of the net, and Hertl spun around and swept the loose puck through for what stood as the game-winner.

Schlemko assisted on both goals for his first two points in a Sharks sweater.

Scott Hartnell brought the Blue Jackets back to within 2-1 with 2:50 to go, when he redirected a Lukas Sedlak rebound over the line, but that was as close as the Blue Jackets would get. Hertl’s empty net goal with one second left capped the scoring.

The Sharks (5-3-0) improved to a perfect 3-0 at home, and swept the two-game season series with Columbus, including a 3-2 win at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 15.

Bobrovsky kept it 1-0 deficit for his club in the second period. He denied Joel Ward on a breakaway in the first minute of the middle frame after Justin Braun found him wide open at the blue line, and later robbed Brent Burns cutting towards the net when Chris Tierney’s pass through the slot gave the Sharks defenseman a glorious scoring chance with 12:16 to go.

Columbus’ best chance to tie it came with about six minutes left, when Hartnell missed a tap in after Burns gave it away to Sam Gagner in the defensive zone.

The Sharks seemingly increased their lead to 2-0 a little more than six minutes into the third period when Brenden Dillon’s heavy blast from high in the zone found its way in through traffic. A lengthy review showed that Chris Tierney was offside just before Marleau brought the puck over the blue line, however.

With the Sharks up 1-0, the teams went to their dressing rooms with 2:42 remaining in the second period after the lights illuminating the ice surface went dark. Power was restored, and they played the end of the second and the third period after the early intermission.

San Jose is 21-4-2 all-time against the Blue Jackets in San Jose.

Special teams

For the second straight game, the Sharks failed to score an even strength goal into a manned net in regulation, but won anyway. They were a perfect 2-for-2 on the power play.

Columbus was 0-for-3 on the power play. San Jose is 18-for-19 on the PK over its last five games.

In goal

Jones was making his fourth straight start, and has played in seven of the first eight games. He is 4-3 on the season, and 2-2 in his career against Columbus.

Bobrovsky dropped to 5-4-2 in his career against San Jose. The former Vezina Trophy winner has played every game for the Blue Jackets.


Micheal Haley skated in his second straight game in place of Matt Nieto, who was again a healthy scratch.

Up next

The Sharks close out their homestand with Nashville on Saturday. It will be the first meeting since San Jose eliminated the Predators in seven games in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last May.