The American Hockey League has announced that the 2019-20 AHL regular season will be paused for the safety of its players, employees, and fans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is often said that successful teams in professional sports have what is called a winning culture.
In the NHL, the San Jose Sharks are a model franchise and a measuring stick for consistency at hockey’s highest level.
San Jose’s success has trickled down to its farm system. The Sharks AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, and their ECHL affiliate, the Allen Americans, are serious threats to win championships this year. For Allen, it would be their fifth straight title.
While the Americans have become a dynasty at the Double-A level, the Sharks AHL success has been stalled over the years because of deadline trades and lack of draft picks. But three years ago, the Sharks shifted their organizational philosophy, rebuilding a once empty farm system, which has created a perfect storm in 2016-17. With the AHL’s second youngest roster, built mostly on Sharks draft selections, the Barracuda claimed the Western Conference and Pacific Division regular season titles and enter the postseason this Friday with home ice guaranteed through the first three rounds.
“Winning breeds winning,” said Barracuda general manager Joe Will. “Our scouts are looking for players from the NCAA, juniors and internationally that have won at different levels and have handled that pressure.”
No one for the Barracuda has benefited more from winning than forward Nikita Jevpalovs who was assigned to the Americans last year just in time to assist in their fourth straight title run.
That experience for Jevpalovs re-instilled confidence and elevated his game to an all-new level. Jevpalovs doubled his goals from a year ago and has played a pivotal role for Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer, moving up and down the lineup throughout the season to fill roles.
“It was really nice to be around guys on a winning team, and I learned so much from going through that experience,” said Jevpalovs when asked about his time in Allen.
“What we enjoy so much about our affiliation with the Sharks is that they truly care,” said American’s head coach Steve Martinson. “Often NHL teams forget about their ECHL affiliates, but they want us to win and they take pride in our success. Last year, they gave us a few players, like Jevpalovs, that gave us a huge boost and played big roles in the playoffs.”
Much like the AHL allows for guys to play top minutes in pivotal situations that they would not get in the NHL, the ECHL provides those same benefits for AHL players who are buried at the bottom of the depth chart.
“Guys go down to Allen and return different players,” said Sommer. They’re more confident and that’s a testament to the culture that’s been built down there.”
Barracuda captain John McCarthy also fits San Jose winning mold. The veteran forward co-captained Boston University to a 2009 National Title and just recently signed a one-year deal to guarantee a ninth season within the Sharks organization.
“We’re all fighting for a chance to play on the Sharks, so when you see those guys have the success they have had it’s only natural to try and hold yourself to the same standards,” said McCarthy. “When I won a National Championship everyone accepted their role, and I see a lot of that with this group, and that’s why I’m so excited to see how far we can take this team in the playoffs.”
The Barracuda have sent nine different players to the NHL this season, and their winning experience in the American League has only made that transition easier.
“It’s been positive for our young guys to learn how to win this season, it’s not an easy thing, or everyone would do it,” said Sommer. “Our organization, especially the big club, has prided itself on getting into the playoffs and it’s almost every year since I’ve been here for 21 years. It’s hard to get there but knowing what to do when you get there, I think that comes from what you learn when you’re below.”