FROM THE CREASE with Bruce Berlet

Bruce HeadshotBy Bruce Berlet

Four possible future forwards on the Connecticut Whale have been selected to play in the World Junior Hockey Championship Sunday through Jan. 5 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Top prospects Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque are two of eight returnees to Team USA, while Roman Horan and Jesper Fasth will be playing for the Czech Republic and Sweden.

Kreider and Bourque, both 19, will be making their second tournament appearance after helping Team USA win the gold medal last year.

Kreider has five goals and six assists in 11 games with Boston College, which won the NCAA title in April with a 5-0 victory over Wisconsin, which included Rangers center Derek Stepan and Whale defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Kreider led Team USA and was third in last year’s tournament with six goals, including a hat trick against Latvia in the first round. He became the first player to win a World Junior Championship gold medal, conference playoff championship (Hockey East) and NCAA championship in the same season. A native of Boxford, Mass., Kreider was the Rangers’ first-round pick (19th overall) in 2009.

Bourque, the youngest son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, has 20 goals and 19 assists and is plus-10 in 27 games with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He is tied for first on the team and ninth in the league in goals and power-play goals (six), second in points per game (1.44), third in points and tied for sixth in assists. In last year’s tournament, Bourque had three assists and was plus-3 while playing a defensive role. Another Boxford product, Bourque was the Rangers’ third-round pick last year.

Horak, 19, has 15 goals and 38 assists in 30 games with the Chilliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League. He is second on the team and tied for fifth in the WHL with 10 power-play goals and ranks first on Chilliwack in points per game (1.27) and second in goals, assists and points. He also represented the Czech Republic in the 2010 championship, getting one goal and one assist in six games. A native of Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, Horak was a fifth-round pick in 2009.

Fasth, 19, has four goals and six assists in 26 games with HV71 of the Swedish Elite League. He also had three goals and seven assists in six SuperElit games with HV71 J20 before joining HV71. The native of Nassjo, Sweden, the Rangers’ sixth-round pick last year, will be making his World Junior Championship debut.

In 2009, a smaller, less experienced Team USA beat host Canada 6-5 in overtime on a goal by John Carlson, who was on loan from the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Stepan, the team captain, and Kreider also scored Team USA.

2010 IIHF World Junior Championship

The tournament will contribute more than $15 million to grassroots hockey around the world.

WHALE RESUMES SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN BRIDGEPORT

The Whale are off until Sunday at 3 p.m., when they visit the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after a four-day hiatus since a difficult 5-4 shootout loss to the Atlantic Division-leading Manchester Monarchs on Tuesday.

The Whale led 4-0 less than nine minutes into the second period but loss that lead in a little more than 14 minutes and failed on three of four shootout attempts. Despite the disappointing finish, the Whale (14-12-2-5) have a standings point in 11 of their last 12 games (8-1-0-3) to move within one point of third-place Worcester (15-10-2-4) and two of second-place Portland (17-10-2-1), which has three games in hand. But the Whale are only two points ahead of the Sound Tigers (15-13-1-2), who are 5-1-0-1 in its last seven games. This will be the start of the second half of the 10-game GEICO Connecticut Cup series that the Whale leads with a 3-1-0-1 record, including 1-1-0-1 in Bridgeport.

The Whale returns to the XL Center next Wednesday night at 7 when they host Portland, coached by former Hartford Whalers captain Kevin Dineen. Former Wolf Pack assistant coach Nick Fotiu, one of the biggest fan favorites in the history of the Rangers and New England and Hartford Whalers, will sign autographs in the XL Center atrium from 6-7 p.m. The first 3,000 fans will receive a poster commemorating the 1986-87 Adam Division champion Hartford Whalers, who were led by Dineen, Hall of Famer Ron Francis, John Anderson, Ray Ferraro, Dave Tippett, Paul Lawless, Dean Evason, Dave Babych, Joel Quenneville, Ulf Samuelsson, Dana Murzyn, Sylvain Cote and Mike Liut. … Syracuse Crunch goalie Jean-Philippe Levasseur was named Reebok/AHL Player of the Week for stopping 96 of 100 shots in three appearance and going 2-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against and .960 save percentage. He started the week on the bench but came in to stop 22 of 25 shots on Friday night in Binghamton. He then had stopped 74 of 75 shots in wins over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (3-1) and the Whale (5-0). A 23-year-old native of Victoriaville, Quebec, Levasseur improved to 5-6-2 with a 2.81 GAA and .918 save percentage with two shutouts in 17 games. The Whale nominated center Kris Newbury, who had two goals and two assists in three games. Other nominees included Michael Haley (Sound Tigers), Martin Jones (Monarchs) and former Wolf Pack wing Nigel Dawes (Chicago Wolves). … The first 15-game night in AHL history last Friday produced its share of excitement, including Denis Hamel scoring his 299th and 300th career goals in Adirondack’s 3-1 victory over Hershey and the Whale’s Chad Kolarik scoring with 29.5 seconds left in overtime to beat the Worcester, 3-2. Hamel became the fourth of the 19 players in AHL history with 300 career goals to have spent part of his career in Glens Falls, joining former Whalers center Glenn Merkosky and AHL Hall of Famers Jody Gage and Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. There were 85 goals scored by 75 players, with Manchester’s Bud Holloway getting the only hat trick, his first as a pro, in the Monarchs’ 4-3 victory over Portland. There were five shutouts, including the first for Robin Lehner (Binghamton), Jacob Markstrom (Rochester Americans) and Jeremy Smith (Milwaukee Admirals). Goalies stopped 802 of 884 shots, and the 30 teams were 27-for-137 on the power play (19.7 percent) and scored four shorthanded goals. There will be three more 15-game days, the next on Jan. 8.

BALDWIN TO SPEAK TO EAST HARTFORD CHAMBER

Whalers Sports and Entertainment chairman and CEO Howard Baldwin will be the guest speaker at the East Hartford Chamber of Commerce breakfast series sponsored by AT&T Connecticut on Jan. 11 at 8 a.m. at the Sheraton Hartford Hotel on East River Drive in East Hartford. Baldwin will be speaking about his efforts to bring the NHL back to Hartford, the Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 on Feb. 11-23 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford and other economic development opportunities.

“I am very excited to have a man of Howard Baldwin’s experience, energy and commitment to Connecticut and the Hartford area speaking at our Chamber event,” Chamber president Ron Pugliese said. “I invite anyone who has the desire to see the Hartford area grow and prosper economically to join us on January 11.” … Howard Baldwin Jr., the new president and chief operating officer of WS&E, has a new Twitter account that is accessible to Whale fans at howardbaldwinjr. … Fans can give the gift of Whale hockey during the holiday season. The Whale Hockey Pack of six dark green undated flex tickets and one Heritage Connecticut Whale hat is $122, a savings of $38. Six yellow undated flex tickets and one hat are $74, a savings of $14. Holiday packages are available through Jan. 3 at the Fan Center behind Section 101 in the XL Center or by calling 860-728-3366 or visiting www.ctwhale.com. … The Whale has moved the starting time of their Jan. 1 game against the Providence Bruins from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. so it doesn’t conflict with the University of Connecticut football team playing Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, which starts at 8:30.

CALLAHAN LOSS COULD BE WORSE THAN GABORIK’S

While the loss of high-scoring Marian Gaborik early in the season wasn’t good for the Rangers, it did force them to reinvent themselves into a more aggressive all-for-one, one-for-all contingent. But the loss of gritty Ryan Callahan, a former Wolf Pack right wing who scored the winner in an AHL All-Star with seconds left, could prove more troublesome, as longtime Rangers beat writer/columnist Larry Brooks of the New York Post stated so well in a Tuesday column. Here’s the lead section of another tribute to a player that it’s hard not to root for:

“Yes, the Rangers were able to overcome Marian Gaborik’s early-season, 12-game absence by reinventing themselves as an in-your-face squad with a pack mentality dedicated to hunting opponents as well as pucks.

The loss of the sniper forced the Rangers to abandon their dependence on their singular goal-scoring talent and become inter-dependent, much to their benefit and to the delight of the fan base that has been starving for this kind of a blue-collar team.

But the broken hand sustained last week by Ryan Callahan that is expected to sideline the winger for up to two months is an entirely different matter.

This one strikes at the Rangers’ very essence. For it is Callahan, relentless and reckless, indefatigable and indomitable, who had evolved into the heartbeat of the team and whose absence has already created a significant tear in its right ventricle. It’s obvious already.

The Black-and-Blueshirts are different without Callahan, and this isn’t a good thing. The energy level is down. Their attack-and-pack philosophy is compromised. Their ability to generate momentum from shift to shift and to go from one hard cycle to the next has been diminished since No. 24 went down a few minutes into last Wednesday’s match in Pittsburgh.

Now they’re trying to become more of a patient, counter-punching team. That’s what they tried to be for a lot of last season.

The Rangers can’t change who they are this time with this injury. Do they need Gaborik to become the omnipotent threat he was into the Olympic break last season? They most certainly do.

To that end, John Tortorella, who has done an outstanding job in coaching this overachieving group, needs to identify linemates for Gaborik and stick with them.”

I’ve always considered Callahan the all-time productive grinder in Wolf Pack history who seemed destined to become a NHL captain, and this only solidifies those sentiments.

ALL-STAR VOTING CONTINUES

On-line fan voting for the AHL All-Star Classic Jan. 30-31 at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., runs through midnight Jan. 9 at theahl.com and facebook.com/theahl. Players receiving the most votes by position will earn berths in the starting lineups of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference All-Star teams. A committee of AHL coaches will select the remaining All-Stars, and all 30 clubs must be represented. By completing the official ballot, fans will be entered to win a grand prize of a team-signed All-Star jersey. Ten more winners will each receive an official All-Star Classic T-shirt.

Tickets for the AHL Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony and post skills party during the All-Star Classic are on sale. The induction and awards ceremony will take place at the Hershey Theater on Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. when the Hall of Fame Class of 2011 – the late Maurice Podoloff, who grew up in New Haven and graduated from Yale, Mitch Lamoureux, Harry Pidhirny and Larry Wilson – will be enshrined. AHL Hall of Famer Bruce Boudreau, former coach of the Bears and now coach of the Washington Capitals, will be the keynote speaker, and AHL graduate and 2008 Foster Hewitt Award winner Mike Emrick will be master of ceremonies.

The post-skills party will be at the Hershey Lodge on Jan. 30 from 6 to 10 p.m. It will feature a tailgate theme while watching the NHL All-Star Game with a buffet-style menu of food and drinks. Ticket packages for the two events are $75 and can be purchased at the Giant Center box office or by calling 717-534-3911. Availability is limited, and there is a six-ticket limit per person.

Also, an exclusive All-Star Classic VIP package for $199 includes Club Section tickets, parking vouchers for the skills competition and All-Star Game, a meal voucher for the All-Star Game, tickets for the post-skills party and Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony and a gift bag. There are only 50 packages available, and they also go on sale after Saturday night’s game. Tickets for the skills competition Jan. 30 at 3 p.m. and the All-Star Game on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. are nearly sold out. Contact the Giant Center box office for information.

The AHL is mourning the death of Harry Pidhirny, who was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Pidhirny died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 82.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, there was no player in our league who was as consistently reliable and productive as Harry Pidhirny,” AHL president and CEO David Andrews said.

A native of Toronto, Pidhirny played 1,071 games over 17 AHL seasons with the Philadelphia Rockets, Springfield Indians, Syracuse Warriors, Providence Reds and Baltimore Clippers. He scored at least 20 goals in 12 consecutive seasons (1949-61), and on he tied an AHL record by scoring six games in a game on Nov. 21, 1953. He played in five All-Star Games in the 1950s and won the Calder Cup with Springfield in 1960 and 1961.

Pidhirny ranks third in AHL history in games played, sixth in goals (376) and seventh in points (829). He was a member of the first class of inductees into the Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.

In lieu of flowers, the Pidhirny family requested that donations be made to the Canadian Cancer Society in Harry’s memory.

SETBACK FOR YALE’S MANDI SCHWARTZ

Sad news out of New Haven. After the results of a recent biopsy indicated her cancer has returned, Yale women’s hockey player Mandi Schwartz has begun more chemotherapy in an effort to get back into remission.

Schwartz has started treatment under the supervision of doctors at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash. She is scheduled to return home at the end of December to continue the treatment at the Allan Blair Cancer Centre in Pasqua Hospital in Regina, Sastkatchewan.

It has been more than two years since Schwartz, a center on the women’s hockey team, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia while in the first semester of her junior year. She and her family have been living in Seattle, about 1,000 miles from their home in Wilcox, Sastkatchewan, for the five months while she had treatments at the Hutchinson Center. The latest biopsy results came less than three months after Schwartz received a stem cell transplant that was designed to give her the new blood and immune system she needs to survive.

The birth of Schwartz’s new immune system after the transplant, known as “engraftment,” was confirmed in mid-October, and she was in remission. The results of the recent biopsy indicate she has relapsed, her third relapse this year. This after she recently overcame graft-versus-hope disease, a potentially fatal in condition in which the transplanted cells attack the recipient’s body.

The latest biopsy was performed Dec. 13, and the results were a serious setback for Mandi and her family.

“The results caught us off guard because we had hoped to be done with this part of the battle,” said Carol Schwartz, Mandi’s mother. “Mandi remains committed to fighting this disease, and were are going to continue doing everything in our power to help her. We are so grateful for all the support we have received throughout this ordeal. We know how many families have been affected by cancer, and we know that the efforts to raise awareness of this cause that have been made on Mandi’s behalf are making a difference for her and for so many other patients in need. This gives us strength to go on.”

Mandi and her family continue to encourage all adults to sign up as bone marrow donors and for expectant mothers to sign up as umbilical cord blood donors. Yale has held two bone marrow donor testing drives in Mandi’s honor in the last two years, and those drive have identified at least four genetic matches for patients in need, including Lexy Adams of Lancaster, Pa., a sophomore on the Yale field hockey team.

The Yale team and teammates and Quinnipiac University have helped raise funds for the cancer causes. In this holiday season, everyone who can possibly help should help. Remember, giving is always better than receiving, especially at this time of year.

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