Redden broke into a wide grin as Ryan Garlock suddenly played the role of interviewer, holding a soda bottle in front of Redden’s face as a Q&A took place with this reporter and Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs.
To Redden’s left, Brodie Dupont lifted his arms and held a hockey stick into the scrum as his makeshift boom mike, which is often used by the large media contingent covering the Rangers.
And in the background, Devin DiDiomete, taking time from extensive workouts after major surgery to his left hip in the offseason, circled his right hand as if filming the proceedings.
Welcome to Hartford and the AHL, Wade.
Three times earlier, Redden had said he wanted to have fun in his new digs, and he certainly got a quick start toward that goal.
“We like doing things like this kind of stuff,” a smiling Dupont said. “And we usually have a few other guys involved, too.”
Eat your heart out, Dale Weise.
But the trio was plenty for Redden, who obviously felt wanted after two years of discontent and constant boos while trying to deal with disgruntled Rangers fans who never forgave him for not fulfilling the expectations of a six-year, $39-million contract that he signed on July 1, 2008. Most seem to have forgotten that Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather offered what many consider the worst contract in NHL history. The Rangers waived Redden on Saturday to clear $6.5 million from their $59.4 million salary cap, and after clearing on Monday, Redden reported Wednesday for his first workout with the Wolf Pack as the highest-paid player in the history of the AHL and probably all of minor-league hockey.
Despite the comedown, sources said the 33-year-old Redden would be a good team player in Hartford, even if he is earning about $81,000 a game while the AHL average salary is $65,000, according to the Hockey News’ Patrick Williams.
Redden quickly proved the source correct. In a classy move, Redden called Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander on Tuesday night, getting the “getting-to-know-you” phase of his first time in the minors out of the way early.
“He’s had a lot happen to him as far as his personal and professional life the past week, but to this point I think he’s handled it with top marks,” Gernander said. “He called just to say hello, that he was on his way (from New York) and wanted to be at right time and place.
“I think he’s ready to get going and be the best player he can be again. Certainly, it has to be tough on him, but it is what it is. It’s a very competitive sport. You play the game with passion, heart and invest so much time and energy into things, so stuff like this is really hard at times. But a big part of the professional game, too, is how well you respond to these things and how well you deal with them.
“People do things differently, but I think he’ll do a little talking but lead more by example. By all accounts, he’s always been a very good professional in his approach to the game, the way he carries himself and the way he behaves away from the rink. I think those are personal traits or qualities that seem to stay with you. Play can go up and down and be cyclical, but I think you carry those character traits throughout the course of a lifetime.”
Gernander was especially impressed with Redden’s proactive move of calling his future coach before he even reported. It made Gernander eager to help in the “hand-in-hand” duty of helping Redden try to get back to where he wants to be while Redden tries to help his new team win games.
“Our job is to develop players for the NHL and a winning atmosphere,” Gernander said. “Everything ties in. You can’t put one player on a pedestal and say he’s the guy we’re going to develop and everybody else is worshipping him. It doesn’t work at the NHL level. Everybody has to pull together and has jobs to do. They do them to the best of their ability within the framework of the team to improve the overall product.
“It’s no different for (Redden) than it is for any other guy, and he’s been very professional and proactive. He hasn’t been reluctant in any areas. I think he really wants to play his best hockey and put his best foot forward. He realizes this is the starting point for this season.”
While the Internet and sports talk radio are full of chatter about Redden being paid so much money to play in the minors, Redden said he probably felt the pressure of greater expectations in New York more than in Connecticut, especially in a salary-cap world.
“With guys making that much, they kind of say you have to do this and this and this,” Redden said. “If you don’t, then it comes down on you. Here, I don’t think it’ll effect how Ken runs his team or how the Wolf Pack do their business. I come here just as a player, like everyone else. Obviously the compensation is going to be more than anyone could ever ask for, but I think that’s a non-issue.”
Except, perhaps, for picking up the tab for some of his new mates. Many of the players in Wolf Pack training camp are more than 10 years younger than Redden, the second overall pick of the New York Islanders in 1995. Redden played against the Hartford Whalers in 1996-97, his rookie season and the last for the Whalers before they moved to North Carolina and became the Carolina Hurricanes.
But Redden never could have imagined he would be playing again at the Civic (now XL) Center 13 years later. Joining only his third professional team ended an eventful week that started with his wife, Danica, giving birth to the couple’s first child, Leni.
“It’s been kind of an up-and-down week, but (Leni’s birth) was definitely a highlight,” Redden said. “Having a little girl now kind of trumps everything. The wife and baby are doing well, so that’s good. And I’m actually learning how to change diapers. I have a few nieces and nephews, but I somehow seemed to miss by passing them off to grandma or grandpa or my mom or dad.
“Obviously coming here wasn’t ideal, but we’ll make a go. My wife’s parents are in town, so that’s good. But things just didn’t work out in New York. After signing there as a free agent and thinking things would be all great, it’s definitely more of a different place to play than I expected. And when things don’t go your way, it’s even tougher. I’m out of that scenario, so that’s a good thing, too, and now I just want to come and enjoy the game a bit.”
The birth of his first child helped start that process and contributed to Redden choosing to come to Hartford rather than look for a job in Europe. He has played 994 NHL games, including 156 with the Rangers the last two seasons after signing the lucrative six-year deal as a free agent from the Ottawa Senators. If he didn’t report somewhere, the last four years and $23 million of his contract would have been void.
“The only option for me really was to come here and see how it went,” Redden said. “Obviously I don’t want to be running around, and this is the logical place to be after being assigned. Going all the way to Europe with a little baby wasn’t the smart thing to do. I don’t want to be running around and not really knowing what to do. I might as well come here and figure things out.
“By all accounts the coaches have been good here; I even played against (assistant coach) J.J. Daigneault (in the NHL). And I know a bunch of the players, so I’m just going to play the game, enjoy myself and take it from there. Down the road, Europe maybe, but it’s hard to say what’s going to happen.”
What happened immediately was Redden got to get rid of some of the rust from not having skated in six days.
“I felt refreshed, coming out and just getting my legs going,” Redden said. “That’s what I want to kind of find, that extra burst. That’s where I am in my career, and I want to come here, play the game and find it.”
Considering the Rangers’ precarious position of being more than $4 million over the cap after signing star defenseman Marc Staal, Redden said he wasn’t shocked he was waived.
“Since I got there, the team didn’t have a lot of success, and statistically, I wasn’t doing what a lot of people thought I should have been,” said Redden, who had five goals and 35 assists with the Rangers. “I think I always tried to play the same game and play the game the way I can, but sometimes it doesn’t fit into what teams are looking for, so I guess I have to accept that and just move on.
“I went there (New York) with good expectations and to try to be on a good team and help that team, but it didn’t work out. You live and learn, I guess, and that’s the way it goes. The salary cap hand-ties teams. Obviously they wanted to go in a different direction. I wasn’t in their plans, so they did what they had to do and I have to live with that.”
Despite trying to be upbeat, following a distinguished career in Ottawa that included 101 goals, 309 assists, two-time All-Star selections, seven appearances for Canada internationally and winning two gold medals in the World Junior Championships and one in the World Cup of hockey with the debacle on Broadway wasn’t easy for the soft-spoken Redden.
“Looking at my time in New York, things didn’t go the way I wanted, so it was tough,” Redden said. “So I’ll come here, play the game and have some fun because I don’t think things were going to change in New York. When I sat down with Glen, he obviously said the same thing and wasn’t willing to go further with it, so I have to come here with a fresh slate.
“You always say a fresh slate every year, but I think it’s really a change in location is going to test me. I just have to come and play and have some fun. That’s when I play my best anyway, so I’ll try to do that.”
Redden pledged to resemble Sylvain Lefebvre, not Patrick Rissmiller, Nils Ekman and Richard Lintner, when they were demoted by the Rangers. Lefebvre was a real professional, working with the younger players, while Rissmiller, Ekman and Lintner pouted and showed almost total disinterest during their stints in Hartford.
“I enjoy being around the guys, and I think half of it is coming in with a good attitude and doing what I’ve done for a number of years: try to work hard every day and show these guys what it takes to stay at the next level,” Redden said.
Then there was a break in the conversation as Garlock, Dupont and DiDiomete became the unexpected “welcoming party.” Redden and his interviewers chuckled heartily, and this reporter temporarily lost his trend of thought before collecting myself.
Redden then said Gernander wants him to play a big role in trying to help the Wolf Pack return to the playoffs after missing for the first time in 13 years in 2009-2010.
“There are a number of young defensemen that I’ll be working with,” Redden said. “And I think J.J. is really good for them and will be good for me, so I’m looking forward to that.”
But Redden realizes his chances of returning to Broadway are slim and none – and you eliminate slim.
“Anything can happen, but to go back there is definitely down the list of expectations,” Redden said. “To be honest, it didn’t go well there. To get out of there, come here and play well is my No. 1 goal and focus.”
Redden didn’t play Wednesday night in the Wolf Pack’s preseason opener against the Albany Devils at Koeppel Community Sports Center on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford. But Gernander said he hopes Redden can play in two of the three remaining games, likely Friday night against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Sunday afternoon against the Worcester Sharks.
“Talking with my agent and family, this is really the first step of what I have to do, which is obviously getting back to the NHL, but I can’t look down the road,” Redden said. “I’ve kinda just have to do this now and see what happens.”
Daigneault a Proud Papa
After the Wolf Pack completed practice Wednesday morning at the Champions Skating Center, Daigneault pulled a copy of The Hartford Courant out of his back pocket and pointed to the Girls Swimming Notebook on Page C3.
The fifth paragraph mentioned Hall-West Hartford freshman Gabrielle Daigneault having set two of the team’s four school records in just over a week of competition. The 14-year-old Daigneault, youngest of the Wolf Pack coach’s three daughters, set records in the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley and could have more coming with the season barely underway.
Dad said Gabrielle has been swimming since she was 8, when the family lived in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“She swam a lot, like five or six times a week,” J.J. said. “She was swimming recreationally and then got better and got into a competitive club.”
While the Daigneaults were in Arizona, Gabrielle won the 10-and-under state championship. Since the Daigneaults moved to Connecticut in 2007, Gabrielle has won state championships in the 12-and-under long and short course.
“Now she’s tall and really enjoying the environment, coaching and camaraderie,” J.J. said. “And on top of that, she’s doing well.”
Gabrielle also runs the mile and 800 meters in track and field.
“The mile is a perfect distance for her because she’s going to do a 500 freestyle or 800 freestyle in the long course season,” J.J. said.
J.J. got special delight from Gabrielle and younger sister Valerie, 12, starting to play golf this summer at Wampanoag Country Club in West Hartford, where the Daigneaults are members. Youngest daughter/sister Juliette, 3, rode in the cart with dad.
“I think Gabrielle has a little bit of skill in golf, too,” J.J. said. “She hasn’t had any lessons, just kind of picked it up. We just play for fun. Wampanoag is family-oriented, so we play best-ball and the Juliette follows us around. It’s fun, and I’d like Gabrielle to play more golf since the course is only a block from our house.”
Wampanoag has produced past women’s champions Liz Janangelo and Natalie Sheary, so a Daigneault might not be far behind.
Game Raises Money for Gordon
In lieu of an admission charge, $5 donations were collected at the door Wednesday night for the Ryan Gordon/Hartford Wolf Pack Community Scholars Fund. The fund is a memorial to young Wolf Pack fan Ryan Gordon, who died in 2006 and asked that a portion of the monies set aside for his college education be donated to the Wolf Pack Community Foundation.
Whalers Sports and Entertainment founder Howard Baldwin, the former owner and managing general manager of the New England and Hartford Whalers, met with the Wolf Pack Booster Club before the game and pledged that everyone in his organization will work to get the Wolf Pack and Whalers booster clubs, which have majored in friction for years, to merge for the common cause.
“This isn’t Wolf Pack hockey or Whalers hockey. It’s Hartford hockey,” Baldwin told 25 members of the booster club. “I’d like to see the two groups come together and become the Connecticut Whale Booster Club. And (Wolf Pack mascot) Sonar will be involved with everything, just like (The Whale mascot) Pucky. They were together at a press conference last week, and they’ll be together at every game.”
The Wolf Pack’s next preseason game is Friday at 7 p.m. against Bridgeport at the TD Bank Sports Center at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, where center Brandon Wong excelled the last four seasons. A $5 admission charge will benefit Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford. The Wolf Pack and Sound Tigers have a rematch Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Rinks at Shelton.
The Wolf Pack wraps up preseason play against Worcester on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Champions Skating Center. A $5 admission charge benefits Junior Wolf Pack Youth Hockey.
A “Whale of a Season” begins Oct. 9 at 7 p.m., when the Wolf Pack open the regular season against the Charlotte Checkers, their former ECHL affiliate and one of the AHL’s two new teams. The next day, the Wolf Pack hosts the Sound Tigers at 4 p.m., and special ticket prices for the opening weekend are on sale for only $15 for both games. The first 5,000 fans to the opener will receive a free commemorative poster and a static cling schedule courtesy of “Click It Or Ticket.”
Tickets for home games are available at the XL Center box office, through Ticketmaster charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000 and on-line at www.hartfordwolfpack.com. For ticket packages, group sales and VIP packages, call 860-728-3366