Michael Gwizdala The Hockey Writers
The Last Great Albany AHL Playoff Run
The Albany Devils are set to embark on their 2015-16 Calder Cup postseason run. The last time an AHL Devils club made it out of the first round, let alone made a deep run, was the 1997-98 Albany River Rats. Under the tutelage of second year bench boss John Cunniff, Albany won the Empire Division, going 43-20-11-6 (103 points). Those Rats reached the Conference Finals for the second consecutive season, sweeping the Adirondack Red Wings (3-0) and Hamilton Bulldogs (4-0) along the way. Ultimately the River Rats would fall in six, at the hands of the eventual Calder Cup champion Philadelphia Phantoms.
As great as those Phantoms were, I still contend that if the Rats had been able to keep Peter Zezel and Sergei Brylin and Jay Pandolfo were both playoff eligible, that squad would’ve raised a Calder Cup banner.
While Albany would reach the playoffs in each of the next two seasons, a run of that magnitude for the Devils was done. Can these Devils hang the next banner next to their predecessors? We’ll find out. For now, we take a look back at the last great run of AHL Devils hockey from 1997-98.
Brendan Morrison (F) –
Fresh off winning the Hobey Baker Award at Michigan, Morrison led the River Rats with 35 goals and 84 points and was tied for first with 49 assists. During the postseason, Morrison registered seven points in eight contests.
Steve Brule (F) –
A member of the 1995 Calder Cup winning squad, Brule was in his fourth season in Albany. Brule tied the club lead in games played with 80. Brule’s 34 goals, 43 helpers and 77 points ranked second on the squad. His 20 power play goals and seven game-winning tallies were first on the club. In the playoffs, Brule led all River Rats players with eight markers and totaled eleven points in 13 games.
Bryan Helmer (D) –
Also a member of the ’95 Calder Cup title team, Helmer was in his fifth and final season with Albany. Helmer tied for the team lead with 80 games played. Helmer led all River Rats blueliners with 14 goals, 49 assists and 63 points. Helmer’s 49 helpers were tied for first overall on the team and his 63 points were third on the team overall. During the postseason, Helmer tied for second with 13 points across 13 games.
John Madden (F) –
From University of Michigan free agent to a fixture in the Devils lineup, Madden excelled regardless of his role. Madden led all River Rats in postseason points, notching 16. During the regular season, Madden netted 20 goals, dished out 36 helpers and accumulated 56 points. Madden was a club best plus-35.
Vadim Sharifijanov (F) –
Another member of the Calder Cup club, “the Sharif,” enjoyed his finest season in a Rats sweater. Sharifijanov recorded 23 goals and 50 points that year. In the postseason, Sharifijanov’s 13 points were tied for second best on the club.
Eric Bertrand (F) –
In his third season with Albany, Bertrand potted 20 goals and totaled 49 points. Bertrand also tied Rob Skrlac with a club high 256 penalty minutes. During the playoffs, Bertrand registered ten points through 13 games.
Vlastimil Kroupa (D) –
In his first season with Albany, Kroupa recorded 34 points in 71 contests. Kroupa chipped in three assists in 12 playoff games.
Sergei Vyshedkevich (D) –
An offensive minded defenseman in his second season with the River Rats. Vyshedkevich netted 12 goals during the campaign. In the postseason, Vyshedkevich led all Albany blueliners with ten helpers across 13 contests.
Jeff Williams (F) –
The River Rats swept the Red Wings 3-0 in the Empire Division Semi-Finals, capped off by a 3-2 overtime winner by Williams, at the Glens Falls Civic Center. The second-year Rats forward, netted 13 rallies in the regular season. Williams notched eleven points across 12 postseason contests.
Richard Rochefort (F) –
In his first campaign with Albany, “Rocky” Rochefort posted 21 points during the regular season. Rochefort notched one goal in 13 playoff games.
Jiri Bicek (F) –
In his rookie campaign with the River Rats, Bicek netted ten regular season goals. Bicek registered seven points across 13 postseason contests.
Dody Wood (F) –
In his first season with Albany, Wood posted 185 penalty minutes in 34 games. Wood netted two goals, across 13 playoff games.
Colin White (D) –
In his rookie campaign with the River Rats, “Whitey” was a plus-10, with 235 penalty minutes across 76 contests. White totaled 55 penalty minutes in 13 playoff games.
Geordie Kinnear (D) –
Also a member of Albany’s Calder Cup winning squad, “Champ” was in his fifth season with the club and the team captain. Kinnear was a plus-21 and racked up 206 penalty minutes across 78 regular season games. Across 13 postseason contests, Kinnear notched a goal and an assist, along with 68 penalty minutes.
Dan Ratushny (D) –
In his lone season with Albany, Ratushny notched 13 points in 39 games and was a plus-10. Ratushny registered three helpers across nine playoff appearances.
Sasha Lakovic (F) –
In his first season with the River Rats, Lakovic posted 13 points in 30 games and 158 penalty minutes. Lakovic’s 84 penalty minutes across 13 playoff outings were a team high. Lakovic also registered seven points in those playoff games.
Bryan Muir (D) –
In his first season with Albany, Muir totaled 13 points and 67 penalty minutes across 41 games. During 13 postseason games, Muir potted three goals, all three were of the game-winning variety.
Zdenek Skorepa (F) –
In his second season with Albany, Skorepa notched four points across 28 games. Skorepa appeared in one playoff game.
Richard Shulmistra (G) –
In his second campaign with Albany, “Shuey” posted a ledger of 20-8-4, coupled with a goals-against average of 2.31 and a .918 save percentage and two shutouts. Shulmistra carried the load in the playoffs. In 13 playoff outings, Shulmistra went 8-3 with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. Shulmistra also recorded a postseason shutout in a 2-0 Game 2 victory against Adirondack.
Peter Sidorkiewicz (G) –
In his fourth and final campaign with the River Rats, “Sid” led the club with 43 games played, 21 victories and three shutouts. Sidorkiewicz also appeared in two playoff contests, going 1-1.
(Note: There were many more players who contributed to the River Rats that season. Those who played with the club during the regular season but did not appear in the postseason, are listed here: Zezel, Brylin, Pandolfo, Bobby House, Ken Sutton, Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias, Paul Traynor, Rob Skrlac, Kevin Dean, Josh DeWolf, David Cunniff, Judd Lambert, Frederic Henry, Brad Bombardir and Sheldon Souray).
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