A block of Albany Devils happy to take one for the team

There are few better ways, if any, to bring a team together than encouraging and getting contagious,
Albany defenseman Seth Helgeson (2) and the Devils have limited their opponents' shots on goal this season with some X's and O's, as well as some bumps and bruises with a team-wide dedication to blocking shots.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Albany defenseman Seth Helgeson (2) and the Devils have limited their opponents' shots on goal this season with some X's and O's, as well as some bumps and bruises with a team-wide dedication to blocking shots.

There are few better ways, if any, to bring a team together than encouraging and getting contagious, selfless play.

Blocked shots, players putting themselves in harm’s way for the good of the team, have played a big role in the Albany Devils’ four-game winning streak and in the 13-4-3-0 record they’ve compiled so far this season.

“Obviously, it’s never fun catching a shot in a sensitive area, but guys are buying into our system and our team goals and how we want to represent our team,” Albany defenseman Seth Helgeson said. “You can see guys are blocking shots and making the sacrifices to win.”

The Devils will look for their fifth straight win tonight at 5 against Rochester. They also host Syracuse on Sunday at 5 p.m.

Albany has allowed fewer than 25 shots on goal 12 times this season — including all four in the current streak — going 10-1-1-0 in those games (9-0-1-0 with Yann Danis in net).

Helgeson also pointed to the team’s play in the defensive zone, keeping things simple by staying between the faceoff dots and forcing opponents to shoot from outside. The transition back to the D zone, rush defense and backcheck of the forwards, also have played a part, he said.

Albany coach Rick Kowalsky pointed to back-pressure, tracking the play in transition and forcing the opposition to dump the puck. But mention blocked shots, and Kowalsky beams while talking about dedication instead of X’s and O’s.

“With good teams and the way we’re playing right now, it’s contagious,” Kowalsky said. “If you’re not blocking a shot, you’re the odd guy out.”

“It gets the bench fired up,” Helgeson said. “You recognize a guy blocking a shot, and the guys are fired up, you want to go out there, and you don’t want to be the guy getting out of the way, not blocking it.”

It can come with a price, though, as rookie forward Joe Blandisi found out Nov. 25 against Bridgeport, the first game of the four-win stretch.

Blandisi blocked a shot off the inside of his right foot, just below his ankle, and missed the next three games. He said, though, it was worth the pain.

“For sure,” Blandisi said. “You take a couple days off. We’ve won every game [I’ve been out], so it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Forward Chris McKelvie blocked a shot Nov. 14 in a 2-1 overtime win at Lehigh Valley, breaking his hand in the process. He’s now skating with the team again, but is still in a cast. Captain Rod Pelley blocked one in Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime win over St. John’s on a 5-on-3.

These gestures do more than keep pucks off the net. They bring a team together and make each player want to reciprocate the sacrifice made by the others.

“You get a blocked shot, it’s one of those things that goes a long way and brings a team closer together,” Blandisi said. “The guys are playing in pain for the guys beside them, and that has an effect on the whole team.”

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