May 31, 2024

About Nolly: Nick Nollenberger aka "Nolly" has been the voice of the Barracuda since 2016-17. Over his time with the team, the Santa Curz, Ca. native and San Jose Jr. Sharks alum, has called over 500 games and made his NHL regular-season debut with the Sharks on Nov. 17, 2024 at Anaheim, filling in for the Hall of Famer Dan Rusanowsky.

Hello, Cuda Country! I hope you are well. Aren’t long weekends the best? It's already Friday. Let’s GO!! While I enjoyed last Sunday feeling like Saturday as much as anybody, it wasn’t lost on me why we had the day off. Thank you to all those who have served, continue to serve, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Living out our dreams could not be possible without you.

A lot has happened since we last spoke. So, let’s dive right into it.  For starters, Will Smith is officially a Shark. The 19-year-old signed a three-year entry-level contract on Tuesday, forgoing his final three years of college eligibility. The longer this dragged out, the more likely it felt that he might be turning pro after all. The fourth overall pick in last year’s NHL draft put together a monster freshman season at Boston College, pacing the NCAA in points (71), points-per-game (1.73), and assists (46). While he could have certainly gone back to school and continued to develop, win a Beanpot, and potentially a National Championship, he proved he was ready to be a pro, and Sharks’ GM Mike Grier certainly agreed.

Smith has been compared to the likes of Auston Matthews, Mika Zibanejad, and others. Some people hate comps because they aren’t fair to the player, but I like them. Lofty or not, they make the potential feel tangible. Smith is an elite playmaker who is a threat to score from all areas of the ice. One player isn’t going to lift the Sharks back to relevance, two probably aren’t either (just ask the Oilers a few years ago), but Smith is a huge piece of the organization’s rebuild and their best current prospect (for now). Whether he plays a minute in the AHL or not, he will help uplift the entire prospect pool and in turn, that’ll help the Barracuda.

Smith, who grew up idolizing BC alum and NHL legend Brian Leetch, will wear No. 2 with Sharks, becoming the eighth player in franchise history to don the number and the first forward. If Smith is to play for the Barracuda at any point, he’d be just the third player in franchise history to wear No. 2 and first forward. Other Cuda players to wear No. 2 were Greg Pateryn (2021), who played just one game with the team during the 2020-21 season, and Anthony Bitetto (2021-22), who skated in 14 games at the end of the 2021-22 campaign following a trade with the New York Rangers that sent Nick Merkley to Broadway.

Smith wasn’t the only Sharks prospect to sign this week. The org also inked 2023 fourth-round selection Luca Cagnoni as well. The 19-year-old will turn 20 on December 21, meaning he is eligible to play in the AHL next season. The undersized defender finished the 2023-24 campaign with 90 points in 65 games with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, becoming the first rearguard in that league to score 90 points in over 30 years. 

The Barracuda also made an addition this week as James Collins was announced as the organization's new President of Business Operations. Collins joins the team after two years outside of sports, but his career includes almost two decades within the industry, including stops in the NHL (LA Kings, New Jersey Devils), NBA (Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, LA Clippers) and AHL (Ontario Reign).

James is an outstanding addition to the team and I’m looking forward to seeing where he can take the organization under his stewardship. Despite the adversity that was presented to the group following the tragic passing of the team’s former Vice President of Business Operations, Frank Torres, in January, my colleagues persevered and managed to not only put on an outstanding AHL All-Star Classic but also finished the season with some of our best-attended games of the year.

We’re officially down to four teams in the Calder Cup playoffs. The Western Conference Finals is a rematch of last season, pinning the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) against the Coachella Valley Firebirds (Seattle Kraken). In the East, the defending Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) are taking on the Cleveland Monsters (Columbus Blue Jackets). While I don’t have a dog in the fight, I’m rooting for the Ads who have three former or current Barracuda players on their roster (Troy Grosenick, Jasper Weatherby, and Ozzy Wiesblatt). On Tuesday, the Firebirds took a 1-0 series lead as they edged Milwaukee 2-1 behind Chris Driedger’s 37 saves. Grosenick was the third star of the game, but he took the loss, allowing two on 30. Weatherby had four PIMS, while Wiesblatt had three shots and a pair of penalty minutes. Admirals GM Scott Nichol is also a former Shark.

In the Stanley Cup playoffs, there are still a handful of Sharks/Cuda connections. In the East, Barclay Goodrow and Johnny Brodzinski remain for the Blueshirts, while Jonah Gadjovich is the only Team Teal alum on the Panthers, although he has yet to appear in a playoff game. In the West, the Stars have the biggest ties left to the Sharks with Joe Pavelski, Pete DeBour, and Mason Marchment. Mason is the son of the late Bryan Marchment who spent roughly 20 years with the Sharks as a player, scout, and development coach. Miss you, Mush!

The Stanley Cup playoffs have been incredible this year. There is no question it has been one of the best playoffs in recent memory. The final four teams are all outstanding and would make for a great storyline if they were to hoist the ultimate trophy. It feels like any of the four could win it, too. There are no slouches. The Rangers (1993-94) won their last Stanley Cup the same season the Panthers came into existence. Edmonton hasn’t won a Cup since 1990 and the Stars last won it in 1999.  Like the AHL, I'm not rooting for a team per se, but I find myself pulling for Pavs to get a ring. He’s a Hall of Famer with or without it, but it would put the cherry on top of one of the best careers for an American player in NHL history. A young Nolly could have never imagined rooting for the Stars, but since they moved to the Central in 2013, the rivalry with the Sharks doesn't burn like it once did.

Now for some AHL-Pacific-Division bookkeeping. The Tucson Roadrunners are officially sticking around in Southern Arizona. The team announced it will play 30 home games out of the Tucson Convention Center next year, its current home, and six at Mullet Arena in Tempe, the home of the Coyotes the last two years and ASU. This is great news! Tucson has really become an outstanding AHL market and to keep pro hockey in Arizona, while playing games in an area the NHL hopes to re-occupy in the near future is a win-win. As an Arizona Wildcat alum, I’ve always loved going back to my old stomping grounds. A big congrats to Adrian Denny the voice of the Roadrunners and Jonathon Schaffer, my old intern, who is now the coordinator of communications and broadcasting for the team. Job uncertainty is scary, especially in our business because there are so few jobs, so I feel great for those guys. They deserve to be in the league, and I look forward to many more trips to the Old Pueblo.

Even though the Firebirds are still playing, the Kraken officially announced the hiring of Coachella Valley bench boss Dan Bylsma as their next head coach earlier this week. Bylsma made the Firebirds an instant juggernaut in the AHL last year and is three wins away from reaching the Calder Cup Finals for the second consecutive season.  The 53-year-old was last a head coach in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres from 2015-17. He won a Stanley Cup behind the bench of the Penguins in 2008-09 and won the NHL Coach of the Year (Jack Adams Award) with PIT in 2010-11. I mean this in the most respectful way, but good riddance. Get him out of the division ;). Versus the Bylsma-led Firebirds, the Barracuda went just 1-10-2-3 over the last two years.

In other divisional news, the Bakersfield Condors announced the signing of Seth Griffith for two more years. The veteran forward has been one of the most prolific in the AHL since he joined Bakersfield in 2020-21. He is the team’s AHL franchise leader in scoring with 231 points (72g, 159a) in 243 games and of those 231 points, he has 38 (20g, 18a) against the Barracuda in 33 games. Griffith finished 2023-24 tied for eighth in the league scoring race with 63 points (15g, 48a) in 68 games. In 2021-22, he became the first Condors player to hit 30 goals in a single season en route to being named to the AHL’s Second All-Star Team. So, in other words, darn it! He’s back in the division. Condors’ captain Brad Malone retired this summer so Griffith will likely wear the “C” next year.

We wrap up this week’s edition of Nolly’s Notes by sending our heartfelt condolences to the family of the legendary Bill Walton who passed away on May 27 at the age of 71. When I was in college, my journalism class at the UofA was offered a chance to sit in on an intimate discussion with him. I sat only feet away as he told his life story and answered questions from students. Even at 6’11, he was larger than life. I didn’t know much more about Walton than he was a star at UCLA, had a great start to his NBA career before it was derailed by injuries, and was a broadcaster. I left that discussion a lifelong fan. He was articulate, intelligent, profound, and incredibly kind. He was a lover of life and did what made him truly happy. That’s inspiring and commendable. I’ll never forget that experience. He was one-of-one. RIP, Bill Walton.

That wraps up this edition of Nolly's Notes. Thank you for reading and I'll talk to all before the draft. 

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