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Sharks rookie coming along; Coach is high on Viedensky.

Byline: Bill Ballou


It is an endlessly debatable point as to which first-year player is the best ever to wear a Worcester uniform.

Logan Couture and Al Stalock come to mind for the Sharks, and Barret Jackman went from a season with the IceCats to the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year.

The vote in this space, however, is for Michal Handzus.

It's not realistic to project any AHL rookie's career to match the one Handzus started here with the IceCats in 1997-98, but the Sharks would love it if Marek Viedensky turned into that kind of player, and there are some similarities - size, style and their native Slovakia being three of them.

Viedensky is tall at 6-foot-4 and has a long reach that makes him seem even taller. At 210 pounds, he is wiry, not burly; Viedensky is a little taller than Handzus, but at 201 pounds not as muscular. That could change, though - when Handzus was here, he weighed 203 and plays at 220 these days in San Jose.

While Viedensky and Handzus have several things in common, their personalities are much different, at least in terms of their time in Worcester. Handzus was very quiet and generally let his playing do the talking for him, while Viedensky is a very vocal member of the Sharks.

"He's a great kid," coach Roy Sommer said, "friendly, outgoing - everybody on the team really likes him. Even early in the season, when he wasn't playing that much, he was always there yelling for everybody else."

Viedensky played three seasons in the Western Hockey League, so he had a cultural head start on Handzus, who came directly to Worcester from Slovakia.

"I've been here long enough so I'm comfortable and know the language pretty well," Viedensky said. "Handzus was probably quiet when he was here for the same reason a lot of European players are quiet when they come over. The guys are talking, and you want to join in, so you say something, and then everybody starts laughing because it came out wrong - that can make you quiet."

His training slowed by an ankle injury, Viedensky was not much of a factor at the start of this season. His game really didn't begin to come around until after Sommer began using him regularly as a penalty killer.

"The first part of the year," Sommer said, "from what I saw, I wasn't sure what we were gonna get from him. But he wasn't in shape, and it took him a while to get there. Since then, he's been getting better. He'll turn into a good player."

"That's what he was when we drafted him," Sharks scouting director Tim Burke said. "Penalty killing was how he entered into our thinking. He was a kid improving, and he was a three-zone player, an adaptable player."

In the WHL, Viedensky divided his time between Prince George and Saskatoon. He was dealt by Prince George to the Saskatoon Blades at the trade deadline during the 2009-10 season, going from a last-place team to a first-place team. Viedensky then really blossomed in 2010-11, going 36-52-88 in 63 games and leading the WHL with a plus-60 rating.

"Coming to Saskatoon was the right situation to put him in," Blades coach Lorne Molleken said. "His compete level was always there, and he had the kind of work ethic that pulled everybody up with him. I don't want to say that he overachieved, but offensively I think his numbers exceeded what we expected of him.

"The development process is different for everyone. He's a very smart player, and when you combine that with his worth ethic and his ability, I think he has what it takes to play at the next level."

Viedensky concedes that his first few weeks here were disappointing.

"I had a lot of issues at the start," he said, "with injuries, and especially my ankle. So I did start slowly - my fitness was bad. And the league was faster than anything I had been used to before."

Viedensky was 7 years old when Handzus arrived in Worcester for the 1997-98 season, so he'd have to dig up some videotape to see what that season was like. Viedensky is aware, though, of what Handzus turned into.

"In Slovakia, everybody knows Handzus," Viedensky said, "but I never met him until training camp. I'd like to be a player like him, somebody the coach trusts to put out there any time in the game."

Viedensky is getting to that point with Sommer, who appreciates how well he plays in all three zones.

"I'll put him out there now," the coach said, "in the last five minutes of a 3-2 game."

Seeing as the Sharks only seem to play 3-2 games these days, that's a lot of minutes.

AHL Pop Quiz

1. Who is the only AHL defenseman to score 30 goals in a season?

2. Who holds the Worcester city AHL record for most power-play goals in a season?

3. Who is the last goaltender to win the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL's Most Valuable Player?

Answers below.

Gronk visit adds interest

Tomorrow night is Rob Gronkowski's visit to the DCU Center, which should bring a larger than normal crowd to watch the Sharks play Providence. That's appropriate, since Worcester's lousy road trip that finished in Syracuse on Tuesday has made the rest of the season's games larger than normal in significance. The Sharks have essentially used up the margin of error they created for themselves early in the season, going just 8-10-3 in their last 21 games. Starting tomorrow night, they have just 25 games left. ... Hamilton defenseman Alex Henry played in his 200th straight game on Sunday, the longest active ironman streak in the league. He is a little more than one-third of the way to the AHL record of 548, set by Billy Dea from 1958 to 1966. ... Bulldogs rookie Joonas Nattinen won Player of the Week honors after going 4-1-5 in three games. Nattinen was 2-6-8 in 36 games going into the week. ... Just a quick word of appreciation to the folks who do the music for Sharks home games: Their musical smorgasbord has something to keep fans of all ages happy. ... This isn't an official hockey stat, but it's worth noting that in the three seasons John McCarthy has been part of the Sharks organization, Worcester is 80-44-15 when he's in the lineup and 28-30-12 when he is not. ... Ex-Shark Matt Fornataro was traded to Rockford after spending parts of three seasons in Norfolk. He joins Carter Hutton (they were not teammates in Worcester) on the IceHogs roster. ... Lost a bit in the aftermath of Stalock's dramatic return to the AHL on Sunday was the fact that Worcester's victory in Springfield provided the 500th and 501st points in franchise history. It took the Sharks 450 games to get to 500 points; it took the IceCats 488 games to get there, and the fact that in 1994-95 there were no points for an overtime loss doesn't make much difference since that IceCats team had only four OT losses.

Quiz answers

1. John Slaney, currently an assistant coach in Portland, scored 30 goals with Wilkes-Barre in the 1999-2000 season.

2. Mathieu Darche had 16 power-play goals for the Sharks in 2006-07.

3. Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Jason LaBarbera won the Cunningham Award in 2003-04 while playing for the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Catching up with...

Some short-timers from last season who are active again this year include Matt Francis, playing in England for Nottingham; Patrick Davis, who maintains a tenuous local connection by playing in Germany for Wolfsburg, which is named after someone buried in Charlton - Grizzly Adams; one-gamer Leigh Salters is in Fort Myers with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL; Nathan Longpre is doing well for the Chicago Wolves with 18 points and a plus-11 rating in 36 games; and David Marshall plays for the San Antonio Rampage.

Also, goalie Frank Doyle from two seasons back is in his second year with Fassa in Italy; defenseman Louis Liotti is on the injured list with Reading of the ECHL; one-time IceCats enforcer Jeremy Yablonski is in Russia with Chekhov of the KHL; and former IceCats defenseman Christian Backman is home in Sweden playing for Vastra Frolunda.

Goal standard

Through the years, the Sharks have employed 15 goaltenders. How they rank in terms of goals against average:

Goalie GP W L T Avg. Pct. SO

Alex Stalock 103 59 36 6 2.61 .908 4

Harri Sateri 28 12 12 1 2.63 .909 2

Thomas Greiss 141 74 60 6 2.70 .904 1

Tyson Sexsmith 44 16 19 7 2.79 .903 1

Daren Machesney 6 2 3 1 2.79 .896 2

Nolan Schaefer 16 5 8 3 2.80 .897 0

Frank Doyle 10 6 3 0 2.94 .899 0

Taylor Dakers 43 18 20 1 2.99 .893 1

Carter Hutton 22 11 7 2 3.01 .902 2

Antero Niittymaki 5 2 3 0 3.01 .890 0

Dimitri Patzold 45 17 18 6 3.11 .893 1

Gerald Coleman 3 0 2 0 3.23 .854 0

Jeff Jakaitis 3 1 2 0 3.41 .893 0

Kyle Jones 3 1 1 0 5.20 .756 0

Riley Gill 1 0 0 0 6.00 .800 0

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 23, 2012
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