Bobby Farnham saw something the other day that he hadn’t seen in weeks.
After Tuesday’s Game 6 loss in St. John’s eliminated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins from the playoffs, players filtered into the locker room at the Toyota Sportsplex one last time to bid farewell and hit the road.
For Farnham, the reality that his season was over hit home when it came time to shave off his playoff beard.
“It was weird to do that - shave the beard and move on,” Farnham said. “This really does sting a bit, even more than last year. The fans, the group of guys we had here, it’s just tough to put it behind you.”
While the beards were shaved, many of the Penguin players still bore reminders of the long playoff run - black eyes, cuts and scars.
Brian Gibbons sported a missing front tooth as a reminder of a season in which he played a career-high 87 games between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-barre/Scranton.
On Thursday, Gibbons admitted he was tired, just like many of his teammates were.
“I feel like I played a lot of hockey,” he said. “Playoffs take a lot out of you and the longer you go on, the tougher it gets.”
While there will be plenty of time this summer to rest and recover, it will take some time for the bitter taste of a playoff loss to go away.
But as bags were packed and players left the locker room for the last time, there was no other choice but to move on.
“Once we got back from St. John’s and you see the packed bags here, it hits you,” said goaltender Peter Mannino. “It’s done, and now we look back on it and enjoy what we’ve been through. But once you hit the road and look in that rear view mirror, you have to move on.”
The somber feelings extended from the locker room into the office of head coach John Hynes, who just wrapped up his fourth season at the helm.
Hynes said the hardest part about ending a season is knowing that many of the players won’t be back next year. It’s the nature of the business, he said, but the finality of it will take some time to sink in.
“It takes about a week. After that last game you have that time when you’re still together as a group and even today there’s players in and out,” Hynes said. “But after you’ve had a few days to unwind and reflect, then you start to look forward.”
Some players have already begun doing just that.
While he said it was tough to miss the last several games due to an injury, Dominik Uher was anxious to get back home to the Czech Republic and see his family for the first time in what seems like forever.
“I have a 3-year-old sister and I’m really excited to see how much taller she got, how many more words she learned,” Uher said. “That will help me to get over this. This was a very special team in this room this season.”
- With a potential coaching vacancy looming in Pittsburgh and other head coaching jobs open around the NHL, Hynes said he is interested if an opportunity presents itself. “It all depends if it’s the right opportunity, but for anyone in the AHL the goal is to get to the next level.”
- The Penguins have several unrestricted free agents that could go elsewhere this summer. Among them is Gibbons, who has spent all three years of his pro career with the Pittsburgh organization. “It’s good to have a good year when you’re going into the situation I am. Hopefully it will help,” he said. “A lot of people who play here want to come back and sometimes you’re able to do that, sometimes you’re not. We’ll see what happens.”
- After suffering an injury and missing the entire Providence series and the first four games against St. John’s, center Andrew Ebbett revealed he had a bit of extra motivation to return for Games 5 and 6. “The hardest part was when the guys were on the road and it was just me going out in the morning skating by myself,” he said. “The guys kept telling me they were going to play long enough to get me back. I was proud of the way they played.”
- Ebbett is signed for next season and he offered his thoughts about coming back amid all the potential changes looming in the organization. “It will be almost like coming back to a new group with a new GM and who knows what else,” he said. “You have to make that first impression again.”
- Harry Zolnierczyk is also an unrestricted free agent and while he can sign anywhere, he said his first choice is to come back to the Pittsburgh organization. “I’d love to be back, but it’s really not my call,” Zolnierczyk said. “I had a great time here, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens with management.”