All in all it was a pretty good opening weekend of American Hockey League play for Bakersfield Condors.
Especially for second-year pro Kailer Yamamoto, who was clearly the best player on the ice in both games as the Condors secured three out of four possible points in a pair of games at Mechanics Bank Arena.
The Condors opened with a 2-1 win over San Diego on Friday night and battled back from a 2-0 second-period deficit to Ontario on Saturday night before falling 3-2 in overtime.
“It’s a good opening weekend for us,” Condors coach Jay Woodcroft said. “When it comes to the film there’s a lot of learners and a lot of confirmers. Lots of good stuff and then some stuff that has to improve. We’re a new group with some new players that are getting used to how we want to play the game. We like a lot of what we see but there’s room to improve, too.”
Yamamoto had a goal in each game (as did veteran Josh Currie) and Yamamoto’s play stood out from his first shift on Friday night to his last on Saturday night.
“Kailer has been so impressive this entire training camp,” Woodcroft said after Friday night’s win. “He’s just been working, he’s come to the rink with an enthusiasm and an energy about him.
“I felt good when he was on the ice tonight. He made plays, he finished plays, he played in every situation: power play, penalty kill. He was important to our win.”
For his part, Yamamoto, 21, was just happy to be healthy and playing hockey again.
Yamamoto started last season with the Edmonton Oilers, was sent down to the Condors in November, recalled to Edmonton in late December then sent back to Bakersfield in mid January. A wrist injury, which ultimately needed surgery over the summer, allowed him to play just 17 games at the NHL level and 27 with the Condors.
“It feels really to be back on the ice with the guys,” Yamamoto said after the Friday night win. “It was tough last year going through that injury.”
There was no let up for Yamamoto in Saturday night’s game. He fired a team-high six shots on goal, including a potential game-winner in overtime which red-hot Ontario goaltender Cal Peterson stopped. But Yamamoto did all the things he did on Friday night — created offense, won some board battles, made some steals and backchecked hard to break up plays.
He even added a little more. The smallest player on the ice for the Condors (5-8, 158 pounds) delivered one of the biggest hits on the night as he crushed a Reign defender behind the Condors net.
“He’s been on fire,” said Condors General Manager Keith Gretzky. “I think it’s good that he came down here focused that he’s down here instead of worrying about going up and down. He’s healthy and he’s having fun. He’s playing with two older guys (Joe Gambardella and Brad Malone) that can help him out. He’s counted on to be a big part of this club.
“Missing the playoffs (hurt his development) but he had a serious injury. He got healthy, he’s on fire and chomping at the bit. That’s how he has to play to be effective.”
The Condors might have had a better fate on Saturday night if it were not for Peterson, who stopped all 41 shots he saw in a win over San Jose on Friday night and stopped 42 against the Condors.
“Full credit to their goaltender who turned in a heck of a performance,” Woodcroft said. “We put it on our players to make sure we weren’t going to be outworked by a goaltender, that we had to find a way to get one or two past him which we did in the third period.
“That’s a hard fought point for our group. I’m proud of the way we responded when all wasn’t going our way.”
Shane Starrett stopped 26 shots in the win on Friday night and Stuart Skinner stopped 22 in Saturday night’s loss.
The Condors will have a full week of practice as they do not play again until Sunday in San Jose.
“It’s an oddity of the schedule, for sure,” Woodcroft said. “We’re going to use the next few days to develop our personal skills. We’re going to use it as a development week for our team, just so we’re not doing the same thing day in and day out tactics wise.
“We’re going to invest in ourselves as players. It should be a good week.”