The new year brought a new experience for Devils right wing Mike Sislo.
On Jan. 3, the third-year pro got his first NHL recall. He played in seven games before being reassigned to Albany on Jan. 16, where he fell right back into a rhythm with his AHL teammates, because at the end of the day, it’s all still the same game.
That attitude helped keep him focused when he drove to Newark, N.J., that day to suit up against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“There were a few different little things that were special that I will always remember,” Sislo said. “Like when I got to the locker room before the game, seeing the lineup, seeing the names of the guys you’re playing against, like Kane and Toews. Also, seeing the names of the guys you’re playing with, like Jagr and Brodeur. That was pretty special. There was really no one moment that stood out. If anything, I remember that, but once the puck dropped and the game started, it was all about hockey.”
Sislo didn’t record any points in his first NHL stint, but he played to his strengths, and Albany coach Rick Kowalsky thinks he must have made a good impression.
“I think they were happy with what he did up there, and I think with Sis, his speed at that level . . . not that he’s going to be quicker at that level, but he’s going to get some pucks into areas with some maybe a little more-skilled guys,” Kowalsky said. “They were able to utilize him, and he used that speed very well up there. He’s an intelligent player, knows the game, knows the system very well.”
Kowalsky and his coaches put an ‘A’ on Sislo’s chest at the beginning of the season and let him know they expected him to take another positive step this year. As an assistant captain, he must set an example on and off the ice, and Kowalsky wanted to see more point production from him.
His response has been 11 goals and 12 assists through 30 games, an average of .77 points per game. That’s an improvement from .43 last season and .46 his rookie year. He also has a plus-10 rating this season, best among the team’s forwards.
As a senior at the University of New Hampshire, Sislo netted 15 goals and 33 assists in 39 games, good for an average of 1.23 points per game.
“I feel like I have taken a step this year, as far as a little bit more of a leadership role and being depended on more to contribute at both ends,” Sislo said. “I think, in that respect, I have taken a step, but I know I have more I can improve on, as well. I can become a better player, and we’re all here, working every day to become better players and grow as a team.”
After skating those seven games for New Jersey with linemates Reid Boucher and Andre Loktionov, he settled in on the third line with Rod Pelley and Tim Sestito upon his return to Albany. He had a goal and an assist in an 8-3 win over Utica last Friday, then scored a goal against Hershey on Sunday.
He and the rest of the Albany Devils return to the ice tonight in Binghamton, then will host Adirondack at 2 p.m. Saturday and Binghamton at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Times Union Center.
Kowalsky said he wasn’t surprised with how easily Sislo transitioned between the two leagues, not when he went up, and not when he came back down to Albany.
“Some guys sometimes come back and don’t think they deserve to be back down here. That’s natural,” Kowalsky said. “In his situation, it’s just a huge confidence boost for him to go up there. It maybe gives him an idea of what else he needs to do, or at least gives him a spark to realize, ‘Hey, I can play in the NHL.’ By no means is he one of those guys who think, ‘I should be up there over somebody else.’ That’s just not in his DNA. But I think it certainly gives him a confidence boost.”