When the Albany River Rats’ trying season comes to a close this weekend, none will be more disappointed to see it end than Jerome Samson.
The second-year right wing has been Albany’s best player of late, on a run that has quietly put him at the top of the team scoring chart.
“He got off to a slow start with some injuries and it took him a while to get going,” head coach-GM Jeff Daniels said. “As he’s gotten his legs under him, he’s gotten an opportunity to play more, and he’s definitely stepped his game up. It’s great to see what he’s doing right now.”
Albany (32-39-3-4) plays at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tonight and hosts Binghamton Saturday in its regular-season finale. For the first time in three years as a Carolina Hurricanes affiliate, the Rats did not qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs.
Samson enters the weekend on a six-game scoring streak (2-7), and has 15 points in the last 16 games (6-9), beginning with a four-game goal streak March 11-16. He missed 10 of Albany’s first 32 games with injuries.
“I’m just working hard every day,” Samson said. “The consistency, it’s tough to get it but once you get on a good roll, you get the confidence up and it gets easier. I’m really happy with the way I’ve been playing lately.”
Samson teamed up with Yannick Tifu and center Cory Quirk to form Albany’s most effective forward line in recent weeks. Tomas Pospisil replaced Tifu on left wing for Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout win over Philadelphia, which snapped the Rats’ eight-game losing streak, their longest in three years.
“This is the best I’ve seen Sammy play. He’s a real force out there right now,” Daniels said. “He does a great job of protecting the puck down low and taking it to the net. He’s a shooter. He wants the puck. He’s really carrying the load up front for us scoring goals, or at least giving us the threat to score goals.”
Samson has 53 points in 68 games, tied with Jakub Petruzalek for the team lead. Samson scored his 22nd goal in a 3-2 loss to Worcester April 3 at the Glens Falls Civic Center, one more than he had in 65 games as a rookie last season.
The 21-year-old Quebec native has two game-winning goals this season and leads Albany with 247 shots, 61 more than runner-up Petruzalek.
“You don’t have to tell him to shoot, that’s for sure,” Daniels said. “Good things happen when you put pucks on the net.”
Samson has thrown pucks and bodies at the net down the stretch. He lost his two front teeth in a collision with goalie Justin Peters during the morning skate prior to the Worcester game, and spent the afternoon at the dentist to get them replaced before playing — and scoring — that night.
“It was mostly bad luck, what happened,” Samson said. “I went to drive the net and kind of lost my balance and fell into Petey head-first and hit his helmet. I guess it’s part of the game. I think everyone has lost a tooth here or there.
“The main thing is just to stay focused. Even if we’re not battling for a spot in playoffs, you can find something else to battle for. Whatever it is that gets you going, you have to find it and just try to do the best you can.”
Injured Rats D Casey Borer was presented with an etched crystal trophy prior to Wednesday’s game in recognition of being voted the team’s Man of the Year for his community and charity work ...
C Michael Kennedy made his pro debut Wednesday night after being signed to an amateur tryout. Kennedy had 53 points (25-28) in 95 games over three seasons at Cornell ...
D Jonathan Paiement left Thursday for ECHL Florida, which opens the Kelly Cup playoffs tonight against Gwinnett. Paiement returned to Albany’s lineup Wednesday for the first time since being injured in the team’s Feb. 19 bus accident ...
Petruzalek had a goal and assist against Philadelphia, after scoring only three points (1-2) in his previous 13 games ... Quirk has goals in three straight and points in four (4-1-5).