By Jim Charshafian
There is an old hockey adage that states, “throw all stats out the window when the playoffs start.” That statement could not ring any truer for the San Antonio Rampage and their power play.
After finishing 28th in the AHL during the regular season with a conversion rate of 14.4 percent, the Rampage have been scorching hot with the man advantage in the playoffs, scoring 13 times and converting at a rate of 36.1 percent. During their current second round series against the Oklahoma City Barons, they’ve connected on six of 14 chances and have scored a power-play goal in each of the first three games of their best-of-seven set.
One of the biggest reasons for the unit’s metamorphosis has been the addition of rookie defenseman Alex Petrovic.
Petrovic, 20, joined San Antonio after completing his fifth junior season with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. In 68 games with Red Deer, he posted 12 goals and 36 assists. The Edmonton, Alberta native was held off the score sheet in five regular season games with the Rampage, but has produced all six of his postseason points (two goals, four assists) while San Antonio has had the man advantage.
Petrovic, who was named the WHL’s Defenseman of the Year last week, believes that those first five regular season contests were instrumental for him as he got adjusted to the pro game.
“In those five games we played a couple of good hockey teams and the amount of ice time I got was perfect,” he said. “The biggest difference coming over from the WHL is that here, everyone’s a lot stronger. I had to get used to that but I got my footing and I think I’m good now.”
Petrovic has either scored or assisted on nearly half of the 13 Rampage power-play tallies in the playoffs. Through his success, he has been able to gain the trust of Chuck Weber and the rest of the San Antonio coaching staff.
“Alex’s best attribute for us so far has been his ability to make plays with the puck and his puck poise,” said Weber. “His ability to make plays with his eyes is pretty special.” The first-year defenseman said that simplicity has been the biggest key for him as he’s moved from the WHL to the AHL.
“You always get nervous preparing for any playoff game, but it’s definitely more nerve-wracking getting ready for an AHL playoff game,” said Petrovic. “I gained confidence here by keeping it simple.” Petrovic has rewarded the coaching staff by helping the Rampage establish the AHL’s number one ranked power play unit during the postseason.
“He’s one of the few right-handed shots we have,” said Weber. “He’s done a good job on the weak side on the power play retrieving pucks and getting it back to our lefties for one-timers. He’s very good at making ‘hockey plays’ out there. Sometimes things break down and you need someone who’s going to make smart ‘hockey plays’ and he’s done that.”
Although Petrovic has added a dimension to the Rampage that they did not have with the man advantage prior to his arrival, he knows he still can improve on his defensive game.
“I think I need to be a lot more physical,” he said. “I’m a tall, skinny kid so I think I’ve got to just get in the way of things out there instead of getting caught up in trying to punish people.”
Weber, who had Petrovic sit out Game 3 against the Barons, concurred with his young rookie but knows the blueliner’s future is very bright.
“He’s got a lot of growing to do in terms of physically maturing and getting stronger and faster,” said Weber. “I think he has a chance to be a top-four NHL defenseman. He’s only 20 years old. He just has to learn the pro game. His top end skills are pretty special and it’s up to him to put the hard work in to get to the next level.”