FROM THE CREASE with Bruce Berlet

Bruce Headshot

Everyone likes to be wanted.

After two tumultuous seasons in the Big Apple with the Rangers, Wade Redden has that feeling again.

Redden, a 13-year NHL defenseman with the Ottawa Senators and Rangers, got constant harassment from the Madison Square Garden not-too-faithful after signing a six-year, $39 million contract that applied plenty of pressure to produce on the No. 2 overall pick of the New York Islanders in 1995.

The 33-year-old Redden might have had difficulties living up to expectations and demands on Broadway, but not with the Hartford Wolf Pack in the first five minor-league games of his career. Redden is the only Wolf Pack player with at least a point in each game during a 3-1-0-1 start. He’s second on the team in assists (five) and points (six) to center Kris Newbury, whose seven assists and points lead each category.

“It’s always nice to be a part of it and feel like you’re contributing,” said Redden, a two-time NHL All-Star who has played for Canada internationally seven times, winning two gold medals in the World Junior Championships and one in the World Cup of Hockey. “It has been a fresh, really clean slate here and just positive with everyone working together. It had got to the point in New York where it wasn’t going that way, and it didn’t work out, so I’ll see where it goes from here. Obviously I want to play well and get back up (to the NHL).”

Redden admits realistically he won’t ever get back to the Rangers because of cap problems with his $6.5 million salary. But there are 29 other NHL teams that could use the services of a steady, veteran defenseman if several injuries hit, especically in the latter stages of the season.

“There are lots of (other) possibilities that can happen,” said Redden, who had only two goals and 12 assists in 75 games last season but was plus-8, second best among Rangers defensemen. “The biggest thing for me is to take it a game at a time and really see what develops. There could be other chances. I’ve been around a long time, so that’s going to work in my favor. I think I’ll be able to help someone down the road if need be, and we’ll see what’s going to happen that way.”

The Rangers put Redden on waivers Sept. 25, and when he cleared two days later, his $6.5 million was cleared from their $59.4 million salary cap. Redden joined the Wolf Pack two days later and has been a picture of professionalism after playing in 994 NHL games before being sent to Hartford.

Rookie defenseman Jyri Niemi said he can’t believe his good fortune to be paired with the man whom he followed closely while growing up in Hameenkyro, Finland.

“It has been amazing, just great,” said the 20-year-old Niemi, who played alongside Redden the last three games after rookie Tomas Kundratek manned the position the first two games. “I never could have dreamt playing with Wade. I grew up watching him play in the NHL and the World Cup against the Finns. Now I’m sitting next to him in the same locker room and getting to play with him. He has always just stood out, and it’s just an honor to play with him.”

Niemi said he feels he plays a similar style to Redden, which has made it that much easier for them to adapt to each other.

“He has made everything really easy for me,” Niemi said. “He talks a lot (on the ice) and gives me advice from time to time. He’s just so calm with the puck that he does the same thing and is so patient. With his experience, he just makes it look so easy, and that’s the one thing that I’m going to learn from him.”

Redden, who became a father for the first time a week before he reported to the Wolf Pack, said he has talked a lot with Niemi and Kundratek but not any more than he did in the past.

“I’ve always tried to be a good communicator on the ice, and I think that’s important to help each other out all the time,” said Redden, who often is one of the last players to leave practice and enjoys cajoling with his new teammates. “The goalies have also done a good job of stopping the pucks and playing them, which makes it a lot easier in our end to work with each other.

“(Nearly) all the defensemen are young, but they’ve got a lot of ability, so the biggest thing is just being calm for them. They’re obviously excited to be starting as a pro, so the biggest thing is to just try to keep the game simple and good things will happen. That’s kind of been my philosophy, and that’s what we’ve done for the most part.”

No one has benefitted more from the presence of Redden than goalies Chad Johnson and Cameron Talbot, who made 41 saves in his first pro start Sunday in a 3-0 victory over the Providence Bruins, giving the Wolf Pack five of six points in three weekend games. The Wolf Pack starts a five-game homestand, which ties their longest of the season, on Wednesday night at 7 against the Norfolk Admirals (3-0-0-0).

“Our defensemen are almost like NHL defensemen, with Redden leading the way,” Johnson said. “He’s so consistent with the way he moves the puck and is so calm with it. I think the other defensemen are really taking notice of that and sort of playing like he does. Everyone knew that he was going to come here and have a big impact on our team. He’s so confident, so steady and so consistent every day in practice and games.

“It makes a big difference, but that’s kind of what he’s known for, his steadiness. He’s not going to be a guy who goes end-to-end and scores a lot of goals. We’ve seen he has offensive ability, but he makes my job easier and makes a good first pass, which is important for a defenseman to do. … I think the team can feed off his calm, how he makes a good pass or the way a guy handles the puck. Guys can see that confidence, and it’ll carry over. It just takes one guy to sort of make a good play or carry himself a certain way, and guys will kind of feed off that. He’s making a big difference for us.”

Redden said it has been “a pretty good transition” from 13 seasons in the NHL to trying to fit in with new teammates in a new league, even if it’s AAA rather than the majors.

“I’ve been working a lot with (assistant coach) J.J. (Daigneault) and the other guys on the back end and playing a lot, which is something that I’ve been used to for a long time,” said Redden, who is among the team leaders in ice time. “I’ve felt comfortable with that and just want to keep working at it and keep getting better.”

Coach Ken Gernander appreciates Redden’s professionalism, starting with a phone call he received the night before he had his first practice with the Wolf Pack.  Redden has shown similar professionalism to that of defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre, now an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche, who helped the younger players when he played 15 games with the Wolf Pack in 2001-02.

“Wade has done it every night he has been here,” Gernander said. “It’s not like we’ve been begging the guy to play and play hard or anything like that. He has brought his game every night, and that’s what you’re going to get from him.

“You understand going in that he can log a lot of minutes and is a steadying, calming influence on a lot of different people. He’s been giving us a little bit on both ends of the rink.”

Redden and right wing Jeremy Williams are the point men on the Wolf Pack’s No. 1 power play unit. The Wolf Pack have scored at least one power-play goal in four of their five games and are 6-for-23 (26.1 percent), which ranks sixth in the 30-team AHL.

“He’s so composed with the puck, and you can see it in the plays he makes,” captain/left wing Dane Byers said. “He’s able to find those little seams and is a big part on the back end. We’ve got a lot of young defensemen, and with him back there, it just kind of calms everything down. It’s a good asset to the team.”

Redden is such an asset and class act that a Canadian Broadcasting Company camera crew out of Toronto was at the XL Center last Wednesday and then went to his home in New York City to film a feature on him that ran during an intermission of the Ottawa-Montreal game Saturday night. They spent a half-hour with Redden, wife Danica and daughter Leni, who turns four weeks old Wednesday.

“It was about my situation and being down here,” Redden said, “but it was more of a kind of personal-interest type piece. They said since Ottawa was playing there were a lot of fans interested in what was going on with me and wanted to show it to those who didn’t know. They had me, my wife and my new baby on there, so it was more of a personal thing both on and off the ice.”

Redden has been commuting back and forth from New York to Hartford except on nights before games. While Redden and the rest of his new mates are happy with the Wolf Pack’s start, he knows there’s way too much hockey to be played to get too excited.

“The weekend was good for the team (five of six points on the road), but there are some things that we still want to do better,” Redden said. “You don’t always want to look at the result. We’ve got a lot of the season to go, so we don’t want to think that we’ve got things made by any means. There’s no ‘Mr. October’ in hockey.”

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