Syracuse D Andrej Sustr praised by Crunch general manager
It was a whirlwind of a season for defenseman Andrej Sustr -- going from college to a two-game gig with the Lightning to a prominent role with AHL Syracuse -- and by all accounts he handled it with flying colors.
"You never know until a player is put in a situation how they're going to react," said Julien BriseBois, general manager of AHL Syracuse and the Lightning's assistant GM. "But we knew he was a good player. We knew he would be able to handle this."
The 6-foot-8, Sustr, 22, whom Tampa Bay signed in March as a free agent out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, was solid during the Crunch's playoff run that ended Tuesday with a Game 6 loss to Grand Rapids in the league final.
Suster had two goals, seven points, 25 penalty minutes and was plus-11 in 18 games. He had previously played two games with the Lightning and eight regular-season games with the Crunch.
The pressure of playoff games, though, are a whole different animal, especially when Syracuse fell behind three games to none to Grand Rapids.
"He played really well," BriseBois said. "He contributed and played in all situations. I thought in the playoffs when the pressure started to mount and we were down three games to nothing, our margin for error was very slim. He didn't wilt under the pressure. He kept being assertive on the ice with and without the puck which I thought was a really good sign."
BriseBois wouldn't go as far as saying Sustr showed more than expected, but he didn't disappoint, either.
"He wasn't just a player on the ice," BriseBois said. "He was making plays."
The second straight trip to the finals for the Lightning affiliate -- it won the Calder Cup last season playing out of Norfolk -- was quite an accomplishment considering everything the team went through. As if the relocation wasn't enough, the Lightning in March took coach Jon Cooper and through the course of the season many of the team's top players for various lengths of time.
"A ton of things could have stopped us, but the guys never quit," BriseBois said. "They just kept working and believing and that's why we got as far as we did. We just eventually ran out of breaks and of pixie dust, and we ran into a very good team (Grand Rapids). It was their year."
As for how this season, and last season's Calder Cup run, will affect the Tampa Bay organization, BriseBois was adamant.
"The volume of high-level and highly competitive games that our prospects have been able to play will do two things," he said. "(The players) are going to get to the NHL sooner than they would have had we not had these two runs. I think it's going to turn them into better players. They know how to close out games. They know how to play playoff hockey and win, and in that context, and that experience, from an emotional and psychological approach, translates whether you're trying to win at the NHL or AHL level. If you can compete on the ice in terms of speed and execution and skill at the AHL level, what you learn about how to win will translate to the NHL level. It's an invaluable experience that our prospects went through and it bodes well for the future."
On the injury front, BriseBois said defenseman Radko Gudas' strained medial collateral knee ligament that kept him out of the first five games against Grand Rapids, is close to 100 percent.
The news is not as good for defenseman Brian Lee, who had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament and likely won't be ready for training camp, BriseBois said.
Also, BriseBois said his expectation is goaltender Jaroslav Janus will fulfill the final year of his contract with Slovan HC of Europe's Kontinental Hockey League. There was hope Janus, 23, who was 18-16-13 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 47 games for Slovan would be back in North America.