Photo Credit: Jessica Kovalcin
With three games on the docket this week, the Knights are focused on keeping their hot streak alive and well as the season winds into February. Winners of nine of their last 10 games, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is the current occupant of third place in the Mid-Atlantic division and fifth place in the South Conference. The top six teams in each of the EHL’s two conferences advance to the playoffs scheduled for just over a month away.
“We have to keep playing with emotion,” said Knights head coach Josh Fusco. “I think the biggest thing is the compete level. We’re coming off a good weekend.”
In a two-game series with the New York Bobcats Royals, the Knights picked up a pair of shutouts and four points to keep pace in a competitive South.
“The biggest thing was the compete level-knowing what was at stake all the time with the standings being real tight, playoff implications on the line every day,” said Fusco. “We played good hockey in all three zones both days. I think the backcheck was the best it’s ever been. Our penalty kill was phenomenal-our power play was much, much better so I think we can see the progress there.”
The Knights defense held the Bobcats Royals to just 26 shots on goal, while increasing their season shutout total from one to three. The team was also a perfect 7-for-7 on the penalty kill while registering two shorthanded goals.
“Overall we’ve been stressing to get the puck to the net, to shoot the puck,” said Fusco of his team’s efforts on the other end of the ice. “I thought our defense did a tremendous job of doing that. Our forwards did a tremendous job getting there, generating rebounds and making chances happen. The biggest thing at the end of the day was that we were able to capitalize on their breakdowns and miscues.”
|Scoring Leaders Over Last 10 Games|
|#11 Jake Fuss, F||9||10||19|
|#27 Nate Chuckran, F||4||6||10|
|#14 Tyler Watungwa, F||6||3||9|
|#2 William Case, D||1||7||8|
|#10 Nick Peck, D||4||4||8|
|#18 Alex Morawski, F||3||5||8|
|#20 Austin Weber, F||2||6||8|
The Knights are just three points behind this weekend’s opponent, New York Applecore for the fourth seed in the South, but will start competition this week with a meeting against the owners of the EHL’s best record, the Philadelphia Revolution.
“We’re excited for this Revolution game,” said Fusco. “It’s another chance for two big points. That’s what we’re stressing in practice, when we’re on the bus, and the second we step foot into their building. It’s a mentality of ‘We’re here to do a job and two points is our paycheck today.'”
The Knights are 0-4 against the Revolution this season, but haven’t met since mid-October. Philadelphia enters play today with an 8-2 record over their previous 10 contests, second only in the league to the Knights 9-1 mark in that stretch. The Revolution boast the EHL’s top-ranked offense (4.94 GPG) and second-ranked defense (1.97 GAPG).
“It’ll be a good gauge of where we’re at against a team like that,” said Fusco. “They’re on a roll, they have the league’s highest winning percentage, and they have one of the league’s most experienced rosters. We feel like we owe them. We played pretty well the last time we faced them, but we had a few too many breakdowns. Now we have a very different lineup. The way we’re competing across the board lately, there’s no reason in my mind that we can’t beat them, so we need to go out there and get it done. I have 100% faith in my team.”
|Goaltending Last 10 Games|
|#30 Thomas Walker||5-0-0||304:34||1.97||133||143||.930||1|
|#31 Jared Stahel||4-1-0||257:00||1.40||95||101||.941||2|
Indeed, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster has gone through several renovations in the time elapsed. It began with Nate Chuckran coming over from the Philadelphia Junior Flyers in the middle of November.
“With Chuck-what more can you say?,” asked his head coach. “He’s hungry, he’s a competitor, he gives 110%. He’s constantly going-the kid’s got a good motor on him.”
The EHL veteran added much-needed experience to the roster while exerting his physical style of play on the ice to the tune of 17 points in the 20 games since his acquisition. His six assists on the power play has helped the Knights man-advantage catapult itself to the league’s fourth-highest success rate at 21.7%.
Unfortunately for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, they will not have him for today’s contest against the Revolution due to a one-game suspension being served for butt-ending. Despite that, Fusco looks forward to leaning heavily on his veteran forward.
“He’s been a great addition,” he said. “He’s got a lot on the line being a ’97. His play’s been showing it and his leadership has been showing it. There’s not a negative bone in his body. He’s going to be a guy who carries a big piece of the workload with the end of the season on the way.”
William Case was added to the blue line just prior to the beginning of December. The 6-4 defender has been an asset to the Knights in his own end as well as on the attack.
“Will Case brings steady, rock-solid defense on the back end,” said Fusco. “He’s starting to find his groove on offense. He’s getting more confident with the puck. He’s making plays, getting pucks going north. He’s stepped up to the plate-the expectations are at a higher level now. ”
|Last 10 Games|
|PP||12 for 37||32.43%|
|PK||33 for 38||86.84%|
|Shorties||5 for, 1 Against|
Like Chuckran, Case’s impact can be seen on the power play, where he has recorded four of his nine assists since joining the team. His ten total points rank him third on the Knights blue line in production despite having only played in just over a dozen games.
“He’s the go-to-guy on the power play,” said Fusco. “He’s finding ways to get the pucks through. He’s scored, but more importantly he gets the puck somewhere around the cage where we’re driving home rebounds or keeping pucks hemmed in the zone. He’s a great locker room guy. I think he’s been a great addition in that aspect. He’s a ’99, but he plays like he’s a veteran hockey player.”
The Knights next addition was one that Fusco admits he wasn’t overly familiar with initially, with forward Tyler Watungwa. The Ottawa native had spent previous seasons in the EHL before coming over to the Knights from the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League in mid-December.
“I’ll be honest and say I didn’t know a whole lot about Tyler before we picked him up,” said Fusco. “One of the reasons we added him was because he was a ’97. He was a veteran of junior hockey and we needed that in the lineup. He’s got a bigger body, he likes to muck and grind, he’s kind of a meat and potatoes guy, but he’s brought the scoring touch as well.”
The beginning of Watungwa’s Knights career couldn’t have gone much better, as he scored in six of his first seven games, recording two game-winning goals in that span. The gritty forward has been an asset to special teams as well, especially on the penalty kill.
“Tyler is probably one of the hardest working guys because he doesn’t stop, said Fusco. “He’s constantly back-checking and constantly playing the position the correct way. He moves the puck, he’s got silky hands-ever since he’s been here he’s been finding the back of the net.”
Mick Heneghan has has bounced his way back and forth between the Knights NAHL and EHL roster, but when with the latter, he’s produced well.
“Heneghan’s received some time with us from the NAHL team, said Fusco. “When he comes in for us, he steps in and fills a role. He’s a great addition. Obviously he’s had a lot of NAHL experience and he has that talent in his game. He’s another guy who’s good with the puck, plays up on the rush, and generates plays.”
In three games in January, Heneghan’s notched a game-winning goal and two assists and has played with a physical edge to accompany his puck-moving ability from the blue line.
“A guy like that who’s willing to come and help out the affiliate team, that’s big,” said Fusco. “It’s not always easy. He’s come in, worked hard and has a great attitude. He brings a lot to the table. He’s been positive the whole time. I commend him for that.”
The final acquisition and newest Knight is forward Bryan Whelan. Picked up from the Bobcats Royals in the middle of January, Fusco is happy to no longer have to scheme against a former nemesis.
“I’ve gotten to know Bryan coaching against him last year and this year,” he said. “He’s another ’97 we brought in. I compare him to a Jake Fuss and Anthony Starzi. He’s speedy, he’s got hands, he can shoot, and he’s got a knack for sticking with the puck.”
The right-handed forward came to the Knights with an already impressive 15 goals and eight assists in 29 games on the season. He’s scored in every game he’s worn a Knights sweater, picking up an additional four goals and two assists in six contests.
“He and Jake Fuss are tic-tac-toe out there,” said Fusco. “I’ve been talking to college coaches. I say ‘I know you’ve been looking at Fuss and Starzi. Well Bryan’s the same way.’ He’s a similar guy. With him, you’re bringing that speed and go-to-guy factor to the lineup. He’s another one that doesn’t stop. He’s been a welcome addition. His junior career is winding down and he wants to win a championship. That’s the mentality we want around here.”
After taking on the Revolution today in what is sure to be a measuring-stick contest, the Knights will head to back to New York to take on the team just ahead of them in the South Conference playoff seeding. Entering Wednesday, the New York Applecore are three points ahead of the Knights in the standings, good for fourth-place in the South Conference.
“Like I said, we know what’s at stake,” said Fusco. “For awhile now we’ve figured that this Applecore weekend would be a telltale sign of what’s going to shake out here at the end of the regular season. We can’t take our foot off the pedal against them. They’re a good team.”
In two prior meetings with New York, the Knights are 2-0, having won both games played between the pair at the Revolution Ice Centre in the first few weeks of the season. Still, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won’t be content to rest on the laurels of their previous results.
Like the Revolution, the Applecore are 8-2 over their past 10 games. Like the Knights, New York will have one contest to play this week before meeting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. After traveling to Connecticut to take on the Oilers Friday, Applecore will host the pivotal two-game Saturday-Sunday series that could play a large role in deciding the first round of match-ups in the South Conference with playoffs set to begin in March.
With their game as good as it’s been the Knights will be ready for the fights ahead.
Today’s 2:00 pm EST contest against the Philadelphia Revolution will be broadcast on hockeytv.com. You can also follow the Knights EHL twitter at @WBSKnightsEHL and visit www.easternhockeyleague.org for in-game updates. Stay tuned to www.wbsknights.com for all the latest happenings in the Knights kingdom!