Hartford, CT – The Connecticut Whale came into Saturday night’s contest with the visiting Worcester Sharks looking to build off a strong win in Providence the night before. Boy did they ever, as 5,060 witnessed one of the grittiest and most stirring come from behind victories in team history. The XL Center was jumping as the Whale put together their best effort of the season overcoming three separate one-goal deficits and went on to win it in an exciting shootout 4-3.
“It was a character win and we’re pretty happy with that,” Whale head coach Ken Gernander said.
Jeremy Williams agreed. “It was a real character win.”
“A game like this has a ton of emotion,” forward Devin DiDiomete said. “There’s a lot of character in the room.”
While they have had a couple of good games this season, it is safe to say that if they do have any kind of playoff run, you will point back to this game as the one where they went from a collection of talent and became a “team.”
The game started off about eight minutes late due to the Sharks team bus breaking down on the way to Hartford. But the late start didn’t slow down Shark Left Winger Kevin Henderson who had an excellent scoring chance denied by Chad Johnson (29 saves, 7-10-3) in just the first minute of the contest.
Mats Zuccarello had a couple of solid scoring chances early and then midway through the first period, Evgeny Grachev found himself some open space off an odd man rush. Both were stoned by an extremely sharp Worcester starting goaltender, Alex Staylock (43 saves, 10-8-2). In fact, had Staylock not been so incredibly sharp in this one, the game would likely have been a Connecticut Whale blowout win as they had an incredible amount of chances throughout the entire contest.
At 9:25, Brodie Dupont’s mistake in his own zone cost the team a goal. Dupont looked to make a cross ice pass in his own zone, a major Bozo no-no. The pass was picked off by right wing Steven Zalewski. The Utica, New York native saw linemate T.J. Trevelyan open going to the net and made a strong pass from the right wing wall that got past Zuccarello and right onto the stick of of the left winger. Trevelyan attacked the Whale net and slid the puck by Johnson for his third of the season.
The tone for the rest of the contest came just after killing off a late Kris Newbury hooking call as the first period came to a close. Just after the buzzer sounded, Chad Kolarik took a shot that whizzed right past Staylock. It’s unwritten code among players that you just don’t do that and the Sharks’ Tommy Wingels took exception, came over to the left wing where Kolarik was and decked the Whale right winger causing a scrum and lots of pushing, shoving and words being exchanged.
The celebration for the rebranding of the franchise may have come on November 27th, but a “team” may well have been born in the second period.
After a couple of close calls early, including Henderson again getting a great chance on a tip-in try in the first minute of the period, but at 2:47 the wheels were set in motion as veteran Jay Leach took a tripping call and put the Whale on the power play.
11 seconds later the score was tied as Kris Newbury sent a pass from behind the right goal line towards the net where Dupont had the inside position on defenseman Sean Sullivan and redirected it past Staylock for his third of the season.
The intensity and hitting from both sides picked up considerably and at 9:54 of the second frame, Grachev inadvertently ran into Staylock behind the net putting the Khabarovsk, Russia native into the penalty box.
It only took eight seconds for the Sharks to take a bite out of the Whale.
In almost an identical goal to the one the Whale scored, James Marcou fed one-time NHL 50-goal scorer, Jonathan Cheechoo a pass in front of the net. Cheechoo had gotten position on Pavel Valentenko in front of Johnson and the veteran knocked the puck into the net. Cheechoo’s eighth of the season came at 10:02.
If those were labor pains, the team’s birth came just over a minute later when the real fireworks began.
The Whale forecheck netted them control of the puck in the far left corner. Zuccarello went after it and dug it loose. When he turned, Henderson tripped him and “The Norwegian Hobbit” went down to the ice. Zuccarello got up quickly and went to the net. The puck meanwhile had made it’s way to the left point where it found the stick of Stu Bickel. The Whale defenseman uncorked a low hard shot that hit Staylock and bounced out in front. Zuccarello picked up the rebound and shot it at Staylock. The puck rebounded again and, using his speed and agility sending his goal total into double-digits with ten.
When Zuccarello looked up he saw a big scrum and a number of the Sharks players attacking Dupont and jumped in.
Things quickly got ugly.
While some players essentially hugged, Newbury and Nick Petrecki went off to the right side behind the net. The 5’10” 205-pound Newbury just absolutely throttled and bloodied the 6’4” 220-pound Petrecki.
Meanwhile, over in the left circle, Dupont and Andrew Desjardins had begun a pretty nasty fight themselves. At one point, Dupont picked him up off his skates. Desjardins then knocked Dupont’s helmet off and put him in a very tight headlock.
What happened next was nothing short of frightening.
As Desjardins tightened his grip on Dupont’s head he did what in professional wrestling is known as a “D.D.T.” Desjardins, with Dupont’s head behind him, intentionally dropped backwards and rammed the Whale forwards head into the ice surface.
Dupont laid out motionless for several moments as trainer Damien Hess ran out to check on him.
“I thought it was a pretty dangerous play,” Gernander said. “Dupont had no helmet (on) and gets driven into the ice, and that’s not part of things.”
Desjardins then celebrated what he had “accomplished” on the ice.
That didn’t sit well with anyone in the arena least of all the players on the Whale bench.
DiDiomete, “Dupont hits his head off the ice, and Desjardins celebrates like he just knocked out Mike Tyson. Obviously that’s not going to fly in our arena, and we made a pretty good point of that.”
What followed can certainly fall on the head, pardon the pun, of referee Jamie Koharski who’s only call on the incident was to send the four players to the penalty box for fighting majors.
Fortunately Dupont came around and headed to the locker room under his own power, but did not return to the contest.
After the smoke had cleared, 43 seconds later the Sharks almost got one past Johnson, but a heads up play by Jyri Niemi clearing the puck from behind Johnson saved a goal for the home team.
Zuccarello, who had one of his best performances thus far as a member of the Whale, continued to get good scoring chances.
But then tensions and tempers began to flare.
At 13:13, Wingels took a roughing call. 1:47 later Williams answered with a roughing call of his own. Marcou was called for an interference that easily could have been deemed a rough as well.
With 2:11 left, Williams hit the post on a hard wrist shot.
And then it all boiled over…
with 1:37 left in the period, Garlock took a faceoff with Desjardins and the puck went behind the net to Trevelyan. Immediately, DiDiomete and Justin Soryal went over to the Sharks center.
Linesman Luke Glavin pushed Soryal away, but Soryal, Garlock and Nightingale crowded around Desjardins as Dan DaSilva joined the mini-fracas.
Nick Petrecki rushed in and grabbed Soryal and the two went at it with Soryal landing a hard right that sent the defenseman to the ice.
Meanwhile, all of the payers squared off.
Jared Nightingale grabbed Henderson and just pummeled him with hard shots. even after the left winger turtled on the ice.
DaSilva immediately dropped to the ice and turtled as Garlock laid on top of him.
Jyri Niemi charged the scrum and grabbed defenseman Nick Shaus and tackled him to the ice. The Whale defenseman held him there.
But the main event was DiDiomete and Desjardins.
“Obviously you want to get a lick on him,” DiDiomete said. “I just grabbed him and let him know (what he did to Dupont) was unacceptable. The next thing I knew we were fighting.”
DiDiomete put a bunch of good shots together and won the bout decisively.
Soryal was incensed after the fight and was going after both Desjardins and Petrecki as they were being escorted off the ice trying to go at them further.
The true disgrace of the job that Koharski did came when the penalties were dished out.
Worcester saw Desjardins and Petrecki just get 5-minute fighting majors. Henderson got a game misconduct for a secondary altercation.
Koharski then called a game misconduct and a fighting major to Nightingale. He hit Soryal with a fighting major, a ten minute continuing the altercation misconduct and a game misconduct for the same call.
Koharski then had a field day with DiDiomete. He called him for Instigating, fighting, a ten minute misconduct for instigating and a game misconduct for persisting a fight.
All of that led to a power play for the Sharks.
Nine seconds later the puck was in the Whale net. A faceoff win by Trevelyan got the puck back to the point. The puck was thrown behind the left side of the net. Ryan McDonagh played the puck and sent it further behind the net towards Valentenko, but the pass rose up and hit Valentenko in the chest and dropped to the ice. Valentenko tried to settle the puck, but Trevelyan stripped the Nizhnekamsk, Russia native. Marcou was completely abandoned in front of the net. Trevelyan found him with a pass and the Shark forward knocked in short side past Johnson’s right pad. for the team’s third and final lead.
The Whale were outshot 14-7 in the first period, but rallied back to outshoot the Sharks 19-10 in the second and led 26-23 overall.
Both teams had excellent scoring chances in the first part of the third period including Trevelyan hitting a post at 2:50 and Williams with a strong chance while on a Whale power play at about the 5:30 mark.
But the Whale would get the equalizer at 10:08 when Newbury’s shot from the right point hit the butterflied Staylock. Williams was in front and got behind and he fell to the ice. The puck rebounded in front to Williams. The right winger got in front of Sean Sullivan and put it on Staylock. The Goaltender went down and the puck squirted back to Williams who shot in past the glove of the fallen goaltender to knot the score.
The Whale continued to press for the go ahead goal and had magnificent chances to do so. Zuccarello hit one off of Staylock’s shoulder and newcomer Oren Eizenman had a couple of chances sending one wide and then with just 1:20 to go Staylock made a great glove save on the Israeli center.
As regulation came to a close the shots were 43-30 for the Whale.
In OT, 1:10 in, Newbury was called for a high stick and the defense, particularly McDonagh and Valentenko were magnificent and sent the game into the shootout.
After Kolarik (shot high) and Cheechoo (blockered away) were both denied, Zuccarello came and threw the kitchen sink of moves at Staylock and got him to bite on the last one and put it into the net.
Brandon Mashinter was repelled by Johnson and then Williams took his turn. The Whales leading scorer skated into the left circle and put a wicked wrist shot high over the glove and into the far right corner of the net past Staylock.
Trevelyan extended the contest by beating Johnson stick side.
Tim Kennedy could have ended it for the Whale but shot into Staylock’s pads. Desjardins, who was SOUNDLY booed by the crowd when he came out to shoot was also turned aside.
Newbury, who along with Zuccarello played just about every other shit after the second period melee, was clearly exhausted when he came up to shoot and was pretty easily turned aside by Staylock.
It was then on Dasilva’s shoulders to give the Sharks a chance, but Johnson rose to the occasion and used his pads to keep the puck out and the Whale exploded with joy as the y saluted the fans at center ice for their most important win of the season.
“It was a good gut check, and they battled hard to the end pretty much to the man, and we’re real happy with that,” Gernander said. “I don’t know if you can say this is something we haven’t seen all year, but maybe there was more out there. I think the guys pulled together and stuck up for one another, but maybe just the way things came to a head tonight, it was maybe a little bit more obvious. They’re a pretty tight-knit group and usually have each other’s back.”
Johnson was impressed by the efforts of his teammates. “It was a wild one with some weird bounces,” He said. “Guys battled to come back, got a lot of shots in the second period and guys just stuck with it in the third, got the tying goal and hung on.”
Zuccarello, who is emerging a s a force despite his 5’9” status said that it was “a good win that I think we deserved.”
“They got some easy goals, but I felt we were the hardest-working team, except for the first period, where we didn’t come up to our standards. We played really bad,” the always honest Zuccarello said. “But it was nice to get a win in a shootout for a change.
Going into this game, the Whale were 1-4 in shootouts.
“I think all the guys were tired. I think it was almost too much ice time, and it was rough game with good speed and a lot of hits, so you’re going to need all the guys. But I think Nightingale, Soryal and DiDiomete did a helluva job sticking up for our teammates. We’re happy to have those guys on the team. They’re important players.”
Williams said. “When you go down guys, you know you have to do a little more, and guys really stepped up.”
With so much going on, there’s nobody better at reporting it than Bruce Berlet. His story can be found at CTWhale.com. For the Worcester story there’s always the ever-charming Bill Ballou at Telegram.com.
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
Grachev – Newbury – J. Williams
DiDiomete – Eizenman – Kolarik
Dupont – Kennedy – Zuccarello
Soryal – Garlock – Tessier
McDonagh – Bickel
Valentenko – Kundratek
Nightingale – Niemi
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Wade Redden – Groin – Day-to-Day
Dale Weise – Finger – Day-to-Day
Lee Baldwin – Healthy Scratch
1. CT – M. Zuccarello
2. WOR – A. Stalock
3. CT – J. Williams
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Jamie Koharski (84)
Paul Simeon (66)
Luke Galvin (2)
The Whale will have a week off now to relax…recharge their batteries and get healthy. Since they’ve played the most games in the American League to this point, they have 5 games in hand on some teams, it would be a good thing and well deserved. Next Saturday they will battle at home with Manchester at 7pm. Bob Crawford and the pregame go on the air at 6:30pm.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information call (860) 548-2000.
Worcester Sharks 3 at Connecticut Whale 4 (SO) – Status: Final SO
Saturday, December 4, 2010 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Worcester 1 2 0 0 – 3
Connecticut 0 2 1 0 – 4
1st Period-1, Worcester, Trevelyan 3 (Zalewski, Cheechoo), 9:25. Penalties-Mashinter Wor (roughing), 2:17; Newbury Ct (hooking), 17:41.
2nd Period-2, Connecticut, Dupont 3 (Newbury, Zuccarello), 2:58 (PP). 3, Worcester, Cheechoo 8 (Marcou, Trevelyan), 10:02 (PP). 4, Connecticut, Zuccarello 10 (Bickel, Dupont), 11:00. 5, Worcester, Marcou 4 (Trevelyan), 18:32 (PP). Penalties-Leach Wor (tripping), 2:47; Nightingale Ct (roughing), 3:26; Grachev Ct (goaltender interference), 9:54; Desjardins Wor (fighting), 11:00; Petrecki Wor (fighting), 11:00; Dupont Ct (fighting), 11:00; Newbury Ct (fighting), 11:00; Wingels Wor (roughing), 13:13; Williams Ct (roughing), 14:59; Marcou Wor (interference), 15:36; Desjardins Wor (fighting), 18:23; Henderson Wor (fighting, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 18:23; Petrecki Wor (fighting), 18:23; DiDiomete Ct (instigating, fighting, misconduct – instigating, game misconduct – persisting a fight), 18:23; Nightingale Ct (fighting, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 18:23; Soryal Ct (fighting, misconduct – continuing altercation, game misconduct – continuing altercation), 18:23.
3rd Period-6, Connecticut, Williams 14 (Newbury, Niemi), 10:08. Penalties-Bickel Ct (cross-checking), 0:57; Leach Wor (cross-checking), 5:11; Bickel Ct (high-sticking), 10:55; Quirk Wor (tripping), 16:32.
OT Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Newbury Ct (high-sticking), 1:10.
Shootout – Worcester 1 (Cheechoo NG, Mashinter NG, Trevelyan G, Desjardins NG, DaSilva NG), Connecticut 2 (Kolarik NG, Zuccarello G, Williams G, Kennedy NG, Newbury NG).
Shots on Goal-Worcester 14-10-6-2-0-32. Connecticut 7-19-17-3-1-47.
Power Play Opportunities-Worcester 2 / 8; Connecticut 1 / 6.
Goalies-Worcester, Stalock 10-8-2 (46 shots-43 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 7-10-3 (32 shots-29 saves).
Referees-Jamie Koharski (84).
Linesmen-Paul Simeon (66), Luke Galvin (2).