The Bakersfield Condors have gotten reinforcements just in time.
Look no further than Wednesday’s home game against Tucson.
Bakersfield (40-21-3-2, 85 points) came in on a four-game losing streak. Enter right wing Josh Currie, who buried a hat trick in the 4-2 win over the Roadrunners, which moved the Condors one game closer to clinching first place in the Pacific Division.
After a two-month promotion to the Edmonton Oilers, Currie rejoined the Condors this past week after the NHL regular season came to an end. And he wasn’t alone.
Brad Malone — a veteran center who’s played in 199 NHL games and 334 AHL games during his nine-year professional career — is also back after a two-month stint in Edmonton. Ditto for left winger Joe Gambardella, who was called up to the big club on March 14. Both were in the Bakersfield lineup Wednesday.
Patrick Russell has also returned from a seven-game hiatus due to injury.
That contingency is a huge part of the team — essentially four of the top six forwards on the Condors. Statistically, Gambardella and Currie are tied for the team lead with 27 goals apiece.
“It feels good. It’s always nice to be back here,” Currie said following Friday’s practice. “I love the fans, the city. And especially to be back with the guys. That’s the main part.”
Other Condors have gotten callups at different points this year — Caleb Jones, Cooper Marody and Russell all made their NHL debuts in 2018-19.
With that said, Bakersfield was ultimately their home team. In many cases, it’s where they started the season and where they anticipated being when it's said and done.
That core helped guide the Condors to their first AHL postseason berth along with a likely high seed in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Now some of those key pieces return with a fresh perspective. They’ll rejoin an already formidable group and continue getting valuable experience in games down the stretch and into the postseason.
“Everybody down here is really geared up. We’ve got a goal from Day 1 of training camp — getting into the playoffs,” Gambardella said. “Not just getting in but making a really big push, and that’s what we’re ready to do.”
Currie and Gambardella said life in the NHL provided a more strenuous schedule, with games generally played every other day. They added many NHL players have a tremendous sense of awareness regarding their bodies and physical conditioning.
"That’s the biggest thing up there, guys sleep right, they eat right," Currie said.
It also reinforced hockey values both players already possessed — coming to the rink ready every day, supplying a solid work ethic, and approaching each shift as if it's their last.
“That’s my role no matter where I am,” Gambardella said.
Currie, 26, scored two goals and had three assists in 21 games with the Oilers. Gambardella, 25, had three assists in 15 games while Malone, 29, suited up in 16 games and recorded four penalty minutes.
“The whole experience was surreal. It’s a dream to play in the NHL,” Currie said, referencing games in Las Vegas and Toronto as particularly memorable. “To be up there as long as I was and get to play in games, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Woodcroft said that experience should whet a player's appetite.
“The mystery behind what it takes to be an every-day NHL player is removed for them. They know what it takes, they lived that life,” Woodcroft said. “They understand what the schedule is like, what the grind’s like. How the best players in the world not only play at a high level for one day or one game. It’s an every-day thing. Their experience at the highest level — along with everyone that’s been called up this year and experiencing that — has been eye-opening for them personally.”
Woodcroft added that Condors such as Luke Esposito, Tyler Vesel, David Gust, Cameron Hebig and Logan Day have gotten valuable experience down the stretch of the season. With the influx of contributors now rejoining the roster, roles have to be reestablished.
That process continues Saturday with a 7 p.m. home game against Ontario and in Sunday's regular-season finale at Stockton. Then the Calder Cup Playoffs begin.
“To get everybody back up to Condors speed, to our way of playing the game, to finding a rhythm with the players that we do have and getting people used to the minutes being redistributed,” Woodcroft said. “That’s what these last (two) games are about. So that we can play our best hockey.”