The internet seems intent on decrying the year that was 2016. Check out any social media platform,
websites like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, or even weekly television programs like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and you’ll find countless repetitions of the same refrain. “2016 sucks.”
Of course, it’s easy to bury a year when you’re only remembering the down times. Negativity can easily cloud one’s judgment and make the good times easy to forget about.
So let’s talk about the good times instead.
The year 2016 was a great one for Penguins fans, as Pittsburgh captured the Stanley Cup, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton entered the calendar year in first place in the Atlantic Division and are poised to be one better, closing out the year in first place in the entire AHL. Team success has been evident, but perhaps no individual has enjoyed 2016 more than the Penguins’ Jake Guentzel.
Let’s take a look back at all the most memorable moments that Jake from State Farm gave us during his meteoric ascent to one of the best players in the AHL.
NCHC Player of the Week – Jan. 18
It’s easy to forget with all of his recent accomplishments that Guentzel started 2016 still in college. He was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week after dominant performances against the then No. 1-ranked team in the country the University of North Dakota.
Guentzel opened the weekend by essentially single-handedly snapping North Dakota’s eight-game winning streak by putting up four points (1G-3A) in a 4-3 overtime win in Grand Forks. The next night, he had an assist as the Mavericks fell to UND, 5-1.
So for those of you who are less mathematically inclined, he factored in on every single one of his team’s goals in a weekend. Against the eventual National Champions. Player of the Week, indeed.
Signs ATO with Penguins, Joins the Pros – Mar. 22
If there was one cloudy day in Guentzel’s great 2016, it was probably the day his University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks were knocked out of the NCHC Tournament and thus, eliminated from the National Tournament conversation. However, the silver lining to the loss was that he could turn pro sooner.
On May 23, Pittsburgh inked its 2013 third round pick to an entry level deal, and Guentzel joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on an ATO to make his pro debut.
First AHL Goal – Apr. 3
In his fifth professional game, Guentzel buried his first AHL goal. It was a long time coming, too, as he was routinely generating scoring chances ever since he arrived with the Penguins.
Guentzel parked himself at the side of the Portland Pirates’ net after dishing the puck off to Tom Kostopoulos. After Kostopoulos’ shot went awry, it took several caroms until it ended up right on Guentzel’s backhand. Pirates goalie Sam Brittain couldn’t get his body across in time, and the puck rode the side of his body across the goal line.
The celebration swiftly began for Guentzel’s first of two regular season goals for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the 2015-16 season. But as we all know, his major contributions came weeks later in the playoffs…
Double Overtime, Series Game-Winner vs. Providence – Apr. 23
The Providence Bruins couldn’t find an answer to Guentzel in the first two games of the Atlantic Division Semifinal, and the third and decisive game in the series was no different. Guentzel had a goals and two assists in regulation, then scored the series-clinching goal in double overtime.
The goal completed the first round sweep for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton against a Providence squad that many had pegged to come out of the Eastern Conference and reach the Calder Cup Final.
Three Points in Do-or-Die Game 6 – May 13
With Wilkes-Barre/Scranton facing elimination down three games to two in the Atlantic Division Final to the rival Hershey Bears, Guentzel came up with a big night to blow away the opposition.
Kostopoulos may have snagged the headlines with his first career five-point night (1G-4A), but not to be forgotten was Guentzel’s contribution of a goal and two helpers. His three points not only brought his scoring totals in the postseason to 14 points in 19 games, but also helped the Penguins force a Game 7.
Four Points and a Diving Goal in 2016-17 Season Opener – Oct. 15
One couldn’t help but wonder if Guentzel would be able to replicate his scoring pace from the previous Calder Cup Playoffs. He erased any doubt with a four-point (1G-3A) effort against the Hartford Wolf Pack in the Penguins’ 2016-17 season opener.
Seriously, it took him just one game to get back to the level he was playing at over four months prior.
The eye-popping stat line was punctuated with a Bobby Orr-like diving goal that whipped the home crowd at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza into its biggest frenzy of the night and even earned him some airplay on NHL Network.
First NHL Game, First Shift, First Shot, First Goal – Nov. 21
There was no way you thought this wasn’t making the list.
First Career Hat Trick – Dec. 27
With 2016 winding to a close, Guentzel put forth one of his most dazzling performances yet. He scored three times against the Springfield Thunderbirds in a mere 21:27 of game time for the first hat trick of his career.
Believe it or not, Guentzel never had a hat trick at any point in his prolific collegiate career, making his feat on Dec. 27 at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza even sweeter.