Best is yet to come for Superior’s Sislo
By Kevin Zalaznik
When Albany Devils forward Mike Sislo was three years old and just learning to skate, he had enough. He was sick of pushing a chair around and nearly called it quits. No wonder, because he was born to have a stick in his hand, not a chair to keep his balance.
Grasping a piece of lumber, the 26-year-old Sislo has been on a tear lately, posting eight points in his last eight outings. His production throughout the year has led to his recent success: In 48 AHL games, he is a goal shy of his first 20-goal season. He has already reached a career-high 34 points, and he made his NHL debut with New Jersey on Jan. 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think it’s just confidence,” said Sislo’s linemate Tim Sestito. “He’s been in the league for a few years now and obviously he’s played well enough to get a call-up and he played great there. Ever since he’s been down, he’s been going just as hard. He has all the tools of an NHL player and it’s only a matter of time before he’s there full-time.”
Until he gets that next call to New Jersey, Sislo, who serves as one of Albany’s assistant captains, is committed to helping the AHL Devils reach the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season, leaving him no time for nostalgia of early-season memories.
“I’ve enjoyed some of the success I’ve had so far, but I’ve been focused on trying to get better every day and keep working with the ultimate goal of getting into the playoffs,” Sislo said. “The offseason is really the time to reflect and look back. Right now it’s all focus on taking care of business.”
Entering Friday’s game against the Springfield Falcons, the Devils occupy the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference — just two points out of fifth place. With 17 games remaining, Albany will rely not only on Sislo’s proven shot, but also on his two-way play.
The numbers don’t lie when evaluating the third-year-pro’s play at both ends of the ice. He ranks second on the team in goals and points and is tied for fourth with a plus-7 rating. Additionally, he leads the club with six power-play goals and is tied for first with two shorthanded tallies.
For his career, the third-year pro from Superior, Wis., has totaled 87 points, including 41 goals and 46 assists, in 171 contests.
“For me, it’s his complete game,” said head coach Rick Kowalsky. “He’s probably one of our ice-time leaders up front and he’s a major part of the penalty kill because of his speed. He’s on the power play because of his shot.”
His shot is something he has honed over the years and is the ultimate compliment to his speed, according to Sestito.
“It’s one of those things, like a lot of different areas, I continue to work at every year,” Sislo said after Wednesday’s practice at Times Union Center. “I’m always working on getting stronger, getting faster and having a better shot — a quicker release. I think slowly over time I continue to work at it and develop it.”
Unfortunately for Sislo, none of his 11 shots during a span of seven NHL games this season found the back of the net, but he has enjoyed two stints in Newark this year between Jan. 3-16 and Jan. 31-Feb. 1. Kowalsky and Sestito both believe it is only a matter of time before he is playing at the Prudential Center.
“Just keep doing what he’s doing and realizing that it’s going to be very small steps up the ladder,” Kowalsky said. “Skill-wise, mentally, physically, everything is there for him to be an NHL player. It’s just taking that next step and sometimes those little intangibles are the things that get you over the hump.”
When asked his favorite all-time hockey moment, Sislo jumped to his first NHL game, but followed with winning the Wisconsin state tournament in high school with his best friends. But what about in the AHL?
“It’s hard to say one moment,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of fun here and a lot of great experiences, but I’m hoping the most exciting and memorable moments are shortly to come.”
NOTES: Sislo scored twice in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Syracuse Crunchto help Albany improve to 32-20-3-7, helping their playoff chances. The Devils are four points ahead of ninth-place Hershey. … The Devils will try and push their winning streak to three games when they host the Binghamton Senators at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Times Union Center.