As we all know, preseason meetings don’t count, and for the Adirondack Thunder, that is a well-known fact. When talking with some players and Head Coach Alex Loh, they spoke on how they’re using their two-game series against the Reading Royals as a good chance to grow and to evaluate players. Adding to that, it seemed like the scoreboard meant nothing to them, which it shouldn’t. This is a new team, who as we saw, still needs some time to find chemistry.
When looking at one of the surprises that arose throughout the series, it’s that we saw Brandon Kasel in the backup role, as opposed to Marek Mitens, who was optioned from the Utica Comets. However, despite dropping both preseason games, there are a few things we learned, and a few questions we got answered throughout the weekend.
Adirondack Drops Preseason Opener Against Reading
The Thunder dropped the first game of a home-and-home by a score of 4-0 against Reading on Friday night. Adirondack looked ok to start the contest, and had a few chances early, but were denied by Kirill Ustimenko, who posted a 26 save shutout after being optioned by Leigh Valley. The Royals got on the board in the final minute of the opening frame, as Jackson Cressey slid one by Alex Sakellaropolous, which put them up 1-0 with 29.8 seconds remaining. As they say, late goals are typically momentum shifters, and that’s exactly the kind of goal it was for the Royals. It would take Reading less than five minutes to double that lead, as Kenny Hausinger would find the back of the net for the first of two goals in the game’s middle frame. His second later followed on the man advantage.
In the third, things started to get chippy, as Frank DiChiara and Robbie Payne began a back-and-forth battle, which persisted through the period, as both agreed to drop the gloves. This proceeded to each being assessed a double minor for roughing. It was a challenging night on the blue-line, as there appeared to be multiple defensive lapses. “I think it just comes down to details,” said Joe Masonius, one of the Thunder’s defensemen. “Keep it simple, and closing gaps.”
Robbie Payne also mentioned that the opener was used as a learning process for the team, allowing them a chance to get familiar with the systems. When asked about the things he took away, Coach Loh, when speaking with the media, mentioned how the preseason games are about evaluating players individually and noted that the team hitting the ice the next night would be a little bit of a different one from Friday’s.
“The team is not where it needs to be,” Loh asserted to the media. Speaking to the preseason meetings, he continued on to say that they’re strictly about guys getting their legs back under them. Friday night was also James Henry’s first game back at Cool Insuring Arena since exiting as the team’s captain in 2019-20. “It’s awesome for James,” Loh said when speaking to the newest face on the coaching staff. “We want a guy who is part of the organization to be successful and I gave a good recommendation about him to Kirk.”
Having not hosted a game since March 18, 2020, the Canadian’s return to Glens Falls was also accompanied by a paid fan attendance, marking 583 days since operations were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thunder Make Strides, However, Fall Short In Rubber Match
A similar theme to their defeat on Friday night, the Thunder lost the backend of the series, as they fell to the Royals on Saturday by a score of 4-2. However, there were more positives to be pulled from the rubber match. Adirondack found the back of the net twice, which for a team is a huge confidence booster, as you don’t want to enter the home opener struggling to produce. Luckily for Adirondack, their fate quickly changed in a second go-around. Forward Ryan Smith, who’s entering his rookie year, provided a helping hand, as he opened the scoring for the Thunder.
We also saw the power play strike for the first time, as Nick Rivera found the back of the net, beating backstop Pat Nagle five-hole. Adding to that, the defence found a way to register a pair of points, as Blake Thompson, Jimmy Mazza and Joe Masonius all tallied assists during Saturday’s contest. One thing that is still somewhat undecided is what exactly to expect as it pertains to the goaltending situation.
At the start of training camp, it was believed that Adirondack would receive two guys from Utica, and have only added backstop Marek Mitens, who didn’t dress for either meeting, as preseason action got underway. When asked to provide clarity on Friday, Coach Loh simply explained that he was in camp as the extra goaltender. That in mind, the big question is did Brandon Kasel do enough to earn a spot on the opening night roster.
On the forward front, we saw Nick Hutchison draw into the lineup in the place of Colin Long. Hutchison, who has since been traded, led the team with four shots, while also adding an assist. He played on a line with Jordan Kaplan and Nick Rivera, who will welcome a new face to fill the void come Saturday’s opener.
As far as line combinations go, we saw a few changes upfront between the two games against Reading, however, there was no Samuel Laberge or Pete MacArthur in the lineup. MacArthur is a sure bet to start on opening night, however, who he plays with will depend on what cuts are made. That said, I think he finds himself skating alongside Alex Carrier once the season begins. Rivera, who also tallied an assist, should be a lock to make the roster as well.
Expectation is that Nick Mangone and Frankie Melton will both start the season being placed on the player reserve. The defensive pair stayed the same in both games against Reading, and with only six defensemen on the roster, I don’t expect much to change ahead of puck drop.
The Thunder will start the season with three straight home games, beginning October 23rd, as they welcome in the Newfoundland Growlers.