(We apologize for the late posting…busy day in the office)
The Connecticut Whale have become more than the blue whale with a hockey stick like their logo suggests and become more like Moby Dick and are just trampling over their competition.
Wednesday night Tim Kennedy’s shot from the right circle just 36 seconds into overtime gave the Whale a 2-1 win over the visiting Portland Pirates. Kennedy’s game-winner came with the Whale on a 4-on-3 power play. The win raised the Whale’s record to 9-1-2 since making the switch from the Hartford Wolf Pack to their present incarnation as the Connecticut Whale on November 27th.
“I’m kind of a pass-first, shoot-second guy,” The one-time Portland Pirate said. “First I looked for (Wade Redden), then I looked for (Jeremy Williams), then I looked for (Kris Newbury) and they were all covered, so I kind of just slipped that I was going to pass and just shot high glove.
“There wasn’t too much (room to shoot at) with (Portland starting goaltender) Jhonas (Enroth). But I mean that’s what you get when you practice with a guy for a whole year, you kind of know where to shoot on him. I’m not saying he’s weak there, that’s just where I can go. He has a great glove hand.
“I don’t think he thought that I was going to shoot because he knows that I look to pass the puck first. I don’t think he was quite expecting the shot either.”
Kennedy started his career with the Pirates under head Coach Kevin Dineen. who didn’t need a reminder on the skill set the Whale center. “I’ve seen that shot before,” Dineen said.
Kennedy had a sparkling rookie campaign with the Pirates. Kennedy was tops among all first-year players in points (67) and assists (49). “He’s a great hockey player,” Dineen said. “(He’s also) a great kid, and we think a lot of him. Obviously he’s a big part of their team and played a lot of minutes, maybe 30 minutes.”
Whale Head Coach Ken Gernander, a top scorer in his days in a Wolf Pack uniform, knows a thing or two about talent. “It was a goal-scorer’s goal,” He said speaking of the team’s winner. “It was obviously pretty fortuitous on the power play, and you want those types of players to have the puck on their stick in those situations.”
The win gave the Whale a 7-0-0-2 record in their last nine division games and they’ve also managed to put a point in the bank in 14 of their last 15 games (11-1-0-3). And on their current 10-1-0-2 run have moved from last to third in the Atlantic Division. While they are only a lone point behind second place Portland, the Pirates have three games in hand. The two teams battle in the back-end of the home-and-home series Friday night at a special 5:30 pm start time.
Since the rebranding, it seems like a light switch went off and the level of play from the entire roster just overnight went from a struggling last place team to the juggernaut that they’ve been for the last month-plus.
Goaltender Chad Johnson (24 Saves, 11-11-3) followed up his 22-shot 4-0 shutout win Sunday against Bridgeport with an even more impressive performance Wednesday.
“I felt good tonight,” Johnson said. “Tonight (Portland) had better scoring chances than (Bridgeport) did so it looked a little bit more like I was on my game…I felt like tonight I just had to make a lot more key saves in the game than I did in Bridgeport.”
Gernander was pleased with the performance of his top netminder. “He had some crucial saves for us there and played a strong game for us.”
Dineen was also impressed by the game’s goaltending. “Goaltending was really good at both ends. It was really good goaltending for sure. It was great saves at both ends of the ice.”
As strong as Dineen felt that the goaltenders had taken charge, he felt strongly that the officials had a major hand in how the game was played.
“I’m unhappy with the level of fairness out there, but what are you going to do?” Dineen said looking down at the floor. He looked up and said, “It was a great game, well-played by both teams with lots of back and forth. The nature of the way it played out though, it turns into in a special teams-type contest. It’s a shame it had to end the way it did.
“I thought our guys executed well. We lost (Gongalsky) early to a nasty concussion, and that puts your lineup short, but you really have to respect how hard our guys played. I’m really happy with the effort we gave. The fans certainly got their money’s worth with a heck of a hockey game, and they got their win, which is probably the way it was written.”
While there wasn’t much in the way of scoring opportunities in the first period, that’s not to say there wasn’t any action.
The Pirates put relentless pressure on the Whale puck carriers. The team was unable to get any sustained effort in the offensive zone and they certainly got very limited chances. In fact the Whale only managed to put four shots on goal, and even those shots were cleared away by the Pirate defense and Portland didn’t allow any second chances to the home team.
Connecticut just seemed to have no life in them. That was until 8:10 into the period when Dale Weise sent a wake up call.
Weise, who had a tremendous game, absolutely leveled Igor Gongalsky with an overpowering hit along the right sideboards that left the Pirate left winger unable to continue in the game. It was learned later that Gongalsky had suffered a concussion and will be out of the Pirate lineup for some time.
After the Weise hit, Tim Conboy, the Pirate enforcer, came charging in and apparently felt that it was Brodie Dupont who had made the hit. Conboy went right after the Whale left winger. Dupont stood up to the challenge and got in a few really strong shots in and dumped the Pirate defenseman to the ice.
Five seconds after the Dupont/Conboy preliminary, and just after the ensuing faceoff, Dennis McCauley, Portland’s third leading penalty minute holder, went after the Whale’s enforcer, Justin Soryal who was more than a little happy to accommodate him and drop the gloves. Soryal threw some very sound punches that landed and knocked his opponent down with strong shots that scored.
Despite being badly outshot 10-4 in the period, the Whale went to the dressing room for the first intermission knowing that they had put in a solid defensive effort and were outworking their visitors in the one-on-one battles.
As the period came to a close, Weise reminded the Pirates of his presence when he threw an elbow at a Pirate player and it sent him to the penalty box to start the second period.
After the game was over, Weise was told that he was heading to the airport Wednesday morning to fly to Tampa Bay for his third career call-up second of the season as a need arose in New York after Eric Christensen sprained his knee in the game against New Jersey. It is unknown a this point the extent of Christensen’s injury or how long Weise will by up with the Rangers.
With the Pirates on the power play to start the second, Johnson came up strong when he turned aside T.J. Brennan from the right point.
After the team successfully freed Weise from his two-minute captivity, Johnson again was called upon to bail out his teammates and did so when Conboy was abandoned in the high slot at 3:26.
Enroth had his share of big stops as well. At 6:44 Evgeny Grachev got around Marc-Andre Gragnani along the right wing side but Enroth rejected Grachev’s backhanded attempt.
At 11:12, Johnson made a spectacular stop when he negated Derek Whitmore’s shot from “dead-red” in front of him.
With the two teams see-sawing back-and-forth in terms of momentum, referee Tim Mayer tilted the ice in Connecticut’s favor by calling back-to-back-to-back calls on the XL Center’s visitors.
With 1:20 to go in the period came the turning point of the game.
The Whale were on the power play thanks to Brian Roloff’s hooking call at 17:12.
Weise had the puck along the left wing side and went to send the puck back to the point to Wade Redden. The puck however sailed by the one time NHL All-Star and Whitmore had a breakaway.
I was just trying to be patient,” Johnson said. “Benny’s (Allaire – The Ranger’s goaltending coach) been talking to me about breakaways…I wanted him to make the first move. I just kind of got a good read on him…I had good depth in my net, wasn’t too far in or too far out and kind of forced him to shoot it and I was in good position.”
If that weren’t enough of a scare for the team in green, with just 5.4 ticks left in the period, Johnson came up huge again when he was attacked in the crease by a couple of Colin Stuart shots from point blank range.
The Whale started the final frame with a 52 second 5-on-3 power play thanks to carry over time from a Gragnani Boarding call with 46.8 left in the second and a Drew Schiestel hooking that came just 22 seconds into the third period.
Kennedy had two chances in front but was denied on both by Enroth.
But Johnson just kept getting stronger as he made a huge stop on Paul Byron at 3:50 when he didn’t bite on a good move by the Pirate center.
At 4:58, the Whale broke through.
Soryal retrieved a puck in the left corner and shot it out to the point where it found Ryan McDonagh. The rookie defenseman then put a laser of a shot low on Enroth. The puck hit his left pad and bounced out to Kelsey Tessier who slammed it into the twine for his sixth of the season.
But the lead didn’t last that long as Portland came right back. Bryon shot the puck from the left circle with Weise going down on one knee in front of it. Johnson may have been distracted by Corey Tropp’s darting across the crease just as the puck was arriving, but all excuses aside, the puck found the inside corner between Johnson and the post and the score was knotted.
Johnson continued to shine stopping an attempt by Mancari at 10:02.
On the other side of the ice surface, Enroth caught a break when Grachev’s shot from the left circle at 14;15 struck the left post, hit the crossbar and flew out of harm’s way.
Things looked bleak for the 7,913, the second largest crowd of the season, when Ryan Garlock took a hooking call with just 3:32 left in regulation. Exactly one minute later, Johnson turned aside yet another golden opportunity for the Pirates when he rejected a Mancari attempt from the left point.
With 28.4 seconds left in regulation Gragnani would take a tripping call that would end up putting the Whale on the power play that leads to the goal that wins it for the locals.
“It seems to be the theme of our team; we’re just finding ways to win games,” Weise said summing up his team’s efforts. “It’s an ugly way to win. I don’t think we played our best hockey, but at the end of the night we’re closing the gap on a team ahead of us. It’s a big win.”
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
* Wednesday’s 7,913 attendance was the second highest of the season topped only by the 13,089 November 27th first night of the Whale.
* Whalers Sports & Entertainment announced today that WTIC NewsTalk 1080, CBS Radio’s 50,000-watt AM powerhouse, will carry the Connecticut Whale’s game this Sunday, January 2 vs. the Atlantic Division-leading Manchester Monarchs.
The game between the Whale and Monarchs faces off at 3:00 PM, and the WTIC NewsTalk 1080 broadcast will begin with the pregame show at 2:30. Whale play-by-play voice Bob Crawford, and color commentator Mark Bailey, will be joined by veteran WTIC NewsTalk 1080 sportscaster Scott Gray for the game broadcast, which will reach the entire Northeast via WTIC NewsTalk 1080’s 50,000-watt signal.
Sunday’s game is one of several Whale contests throughout the season that will be featured on WTIC NewsTalk 1080, and each and every 2010-11 Whale game can be heard live in HD on WTIC’s 96.5 HD 2, and on-line at www.wtic.com.
* The Whale reported that there were nearly 5,000 walk-ups for the game which is a Hartford hockey record. “We never had a walkup like this in the 70’s or 80’s.” Howard Baldwin, Sr. said. “It just shows you that it’s building. It’s not going to happen overnight, you know what I mean? It just takes time. It’s all starting to come together nice…the market is here.”
Dupont – Newbury – Weise
Grachev – Kennedy – Jeremy Williams
Kolarik – Eizenman – Tessier
Soryal – Garlock – DiDiomete
Redden – Nightingale
Valentenko – Kundratek
McDonagh – Niemi
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Todd White – Healthy Scratch
Jason Williams – Healthy Scratch
Stu Bickel – Healthy Scratch
1. CT – T. Kennedy
2. CT – C. Johnson
3. POR – J. Enroth
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Tim Mayer (19)
Luke Galvin (2)
David Spannaus (8)
The Whale finish their sixth home-and-home as they travel to Portland to play the Pirates battle at the Cumberland County Civic Center Friday night. Bob Crawford and the pregame hit the air at 5pm on New Year’s Eve.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information call (860) 548-2000.
Portland Pirates 1 at Connecticut Whale 2 (OT) – Status: Final OT
Wednesday, December 29, 2010 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Portland 0 0 1 0 – 1
Connecticut 0 0 1 1 – 2
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Conboy Por (fighting), 8:10; Dupont Ct (fighting), 8:10; McCauley Por (fighting), 8:15; Soryal Ct (fighting), 8:15; Ellis Por (hooking), 15:13; Weise Ct (roughing), 20:00.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Williams Ct (cross-checking), 6:00; Persson Por (high-sticking), 13:42; Roloff Por (hooking), 17:12; Gragnani Por (boarding), 19:13.
3rd Period-1, Connecticut, Tessier 6 (Soryal, McDonagh), 4:58. 2, Portland, Byron 11 (Stuart, Biega), 6:09. Penalties-Schiestel Por (hooking), 0:22; Garlock Ct (hooking), 16:28; Gragnani Por (tripping), 19:31.
OT Period-3, Connecticut, Kennedy 5 (Redden, Williams), 0:36 (PP). Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Portland 10-7-8-0-25. Connecticut 4-10-14-1-29.
Power Play Opportunities-Portland 0 / 3; Connecticut 1 / 6.
Goalies-Portland, Enroth 9-9-1 (29 shots-27 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 11-11-3 (25 shots-24 saves).
Referees-Tim Mayer (19).
Linesmen-Luke Galvin (2), David Spannaus (8).