Albany Devils Familiarity Breeds Success

Continuity. The Albany Devils have plenty of that, as they enter season five of play in the Capital District. Yes, you read that correctly, the Devils have now been back in town longer than their predecessors and this season will mark 18 years of Devils affiliated hockey in downtown Albany, NY. There is swirling optimism abound and the Devils are looking to get right back to where they started from.

In his fifth season at the helm, Rick Kowalsky is once again tasked with shepherding the top prospects of the New Jersey Devils. Joining his staff once again is Sergei Brylin, along with newcomers David Cunniff and Johan Hedberg. That’s a lot of experience in the Devils organization, in both New Jersey and Albany.

The coaching staff will be stocked with a roster of familiar names. Players that were able to finish strong and lead Albany to a franchise high 40 victories and 93 points, good enough for fifth in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14. They’re going to be a deep defensive group once again, with a balanced scoring attack and budding goaltending, a blend of cagey veterans and blossoming prospects.

A lot of that aforementioned buzz stems from capturing a playoff berth last season. While there were a few publications that had the A-Devils as high as perhaps a seventh seed, during the preseason last year, the Devils have certainly raised the bar and heightened expectations for the ensuing season.

Figure this, their defense is stacked to the rafters, right up near the Geordie Kinnear banner and this is with Damon Severson, Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson all having made the big club in New Jersey. What a corp of blue liners they have. Start with a big boy like Seth Helgeson, whom many had penciled in as a replacement for Anton Volchenkov and eventually Bryce Salvador in Newark. Then you’ve got a couple more sizable guys to park in front of the crease, with the likes of Corbin McPherson and Raman Hrabarenka. Add to that some puck rushing players like Reece Scarlett and Brandon Burlon. Plus, there’s the veteran pros like Peter Harrold and Dan Kelly, proving to be heady, gritty blue liners, like the days of yore of Kinnear, Bryan Helmer and Ken Sutton.

Up front there’s a level of intrigue at the maturation of a few kids, who got a taste of the show last season. Given that the parent club revamped their scoring depth, it should allow some of these forwards to take advantage of some big minutes, to hone their sniping craft.

Last season saw a balanced attack of scoring. Nine players registered double digits in goals last year, with Mike Sislo (23), Reid Boucher (22) and Joe Whitney (22), pocketing over 20 markers. Although they lose the 15 goals of Harri Pesonen, they do gain Paul Thompson, who along with lighting it up in the preseason, is just two years removed from a 20-goal campaign with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Albany also has a ton of solid veterans to count on as well. Captain Rod Pelley returns, as does alternate captain Tim Sestito. After resurrecting his career a few years back in Albany, Steve Bernier is back in the fold. So too is the last remaining member of the Devils incarnation of the Albany River Rats on this roster, Cam Janssen. Plus as quality seasoned pros go, Chris McKelvie, Scott Timmins, Darcy Zajac and Kelly Zajac will add that extra edge for Albany.

What will be intriguing to see are some of the young guys like Stefan Matteau, Graham Black, Ben Johnson and Ben Thomson and how much they add to filling up the net. Plus, David Wohlberg and Joe Faust will also have their say on what is quite a crowded roster.

Back between the pipes are the familiar faces of Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood and for the moment Maxime Clermont. Kinkaid looked to be the odds on favorite to win the backup job in New Jersey but should have a chip on his shoulder after a great first half of last season, rounded out by a stellar playoff showing. Waiting in the wings but maybe not for too long is Wedgewood, who had a spectacular second half push for Albany and looks to be even more confident heading into this season.

Should all of the pieces come together, the A-Devils should be primed for another playoff push in 2014-15. Much like the partnership between Albany and New Jersey, a familiar and perfect fit.

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About Michael Gwizdala

Michael Gwizdala is in his first season of writing for the Power Play Post Show. Michael will be covering the Albany Devils and chiming in on all things AHL, around the Empire State. Michael is also an NHL accredited writer, covering the New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers for three years. Michael has also written for the Times Union and has been published on numerous outlets on the web, such as BronxPinstripes.com. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is also a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.

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