The final road trip of the regular season could be a big one for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who can clinch a postseason berth with either a pair of wins or one win and a Norfolk Admirals loss.
The scenario will play out tonight and Sunday as the Penguins stay in St. John’s to play a pair of games against the IceCaps. In the two times that they’ve met this season, the Penguins won both by a combined score of 8-3.
Still, the Penguins don’t feel like a playoff spot is a guarantee.
“Nothing’s set in stone until you see that X next to Wilkes-Barre in the standings,” said defenseman Brian Dumuolin. “Hopefully we can clinch it in St. John’s, but nothing’s guaranteed.”
After knocking the Penguins out of the playoffs in the second round last year, the IceCaps are second to last in the Eastern Conference and won’t be playing past the regular season. While the Penguins know that clinching isn’t a given no matter who the opponent is, there is still a feeling of optimism in the locker room.
Part of that comes from winning their last five games and jump starting an offense that has produced in each of its last two games.
“It would be big to come back with a little peace of mind knowing that we clinched the playoffs, got that accomplished and then we can focus on our last two games at home,” said winger Bobby Farnham. “This is a really important road trip for us.”
Add the fact that the Penguins trail Binghamton by only three points for fourth place in the conference - meaning home ice in the first round isn’t out of the question, and the upcoming weekend could yield big dividends.
Head coach John Hynes acknowledged that home ice is within reach, but he cautioned that it isn’t necessarily the goal this weekend.
“The goal is to just continue to play real good hockey. Whether you clinch or don’t clinch, it’s about your game,” he said. “Even if you get that X, you have to continue to play a certain way. The last two weeks we played some really good hockey, and our focus has to be to continue to build so if and when we make the playoffs we continue to play our best hockey.”
That’s what the Penguins focus will be as the make their first trip of the season to St. John’s.
“I’m excited about it. I’ve never been there and I hear it’s a great spot to play on the road,” Farnham said. “St. John’s is a team that has struggled a bit this year, but right now they’re in our way for clinching.”
D Joey Mormina has been named the team’s winner of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award for his outstanding contributions to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton community during the 2012-13 season.
Mormina, who is the team’s captain, continues to be active in the team’s community involvement and charitable efforts, always willing to participate in appearances at local hospitals and schools and with youth hockey teams. In addition, Mormina has been at the forefront of two major charitable initiatives this season, including “Mormina’s Mustache Mania” in support of the American Cancer Society. This month-long promotion helped raise $2,850 for the ACS, while also bringing attention to the organization’s CPS-3 Study. Through “Mormina’s Mustache Mania”, the ACS was able to enroll 250 participants locally in this country-wide, comprehensive research study on cancer prevention.
Mormina was at the head as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton teamed up with the Palermo Heart to Heart Foundation to support the Beads of Courage program at Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville. Beads of Courage is a resilience-based intervention designed to support and strengthen children and families coping with serious illness. Through the program children tell their story using colorful beads as meaningful symbols of courage that commemorate milestones they have achieved along their unique treatment paths.
Mormina is now one of 30 finalists for the AHL’s 2012-13 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, honoring the overall IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year. The winner of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award will be announced by the American Hockey League on April 18.
No Penguins made the first or second AHL All-Star teams, which were announced by the league on Thursday as voted by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the league’s 30 cities.
Prominent omissions include winger Chad Kolarik, who is tied for second in the AHL with 63 points, tied for fourth with 28 goals and ranks second with 14 power play goals.
Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff also didn’t make either team, despite leading the league with a 1.95 goals against average and ranking 10th with a .920 save percentage, 4th with 25 wins, 7th with four shootout wins and 8th overall in minutes played.