FROM THE CREASE with Bruce Berlet

Bruce HeadshotBy Bruce Berlet

The stunning news out of Providence again emphatically demonstrated how precious life is.

Tom Cavanagh, the all-time leading scorer for the Worcester Sharks (46 goals, 92 assists in 202 games), was found dead Thursday of an apparent suicide inside the parking garage of the Providence Place mall. He was only 28.

Police said Cavanagh’s body was discovered near the garage’s Level C around 11:25 a.m. Later in the day, his car was discovered in another part of the garage with his wallet inside. Health Department spokeswoman Annmarie Beardsworth said an autopsy by the state medical examiner showed Cavanagh died from “multiple traumatic injuries due to blunt force impact.”

In a statement Friday night, Cavanagh’s father, lawyer Joseph Cavanagh, said: “Our son, Tom, was a young man who bravely fought the demons of mental illness for many years. This private struggle far surpassed his public athletic accomplishments. Our family will celebrate and always remember his beautiful but short life. We hope that his friends and supporters will pray for him and for us during these difficult days. We already have felt the love of so many people of our community.”

Cavanagh was a sixth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks in the 2001 NHL entry draft after an outstanding career at Harvard, where he became the first player to play in every game (138) at the school where his father is considered one of Crimson hockey’s all-time greats. Cavanagh, a native of Warwick, R.I., spent four seasons in the Sharks organization with the Cleveland Barons and Worcester and had one goal and two assists in 18 NHL games with San Jose.

“I’m still numb, to tell you the truth,” Worcester Sharks coach Roy Sommer told Worcester Telegram writer Bill Ballou, who has covered the team since Day 1. “He was quiet, but he was the ultimate team guy, and his teammates all liked him. He played with injuries, and every time he went over the wall, you knew what you were gonna get from him. He willed himself to do a lot of things.”

Cavanagh played for Sommer in Cleveland and went to Worcester when the franchise relocated for the 2006-07 season. Ballou wrote Cavanagh was “a quiet but personable and articulate presence in the dressing room.”

The feelings were similar 3,000 miles away in San Jose, Calif.

“I got to know him through hockey at Worcester, and I got the privilege of spending a Christmas together here,” Sharks left wing Jamie McGinn told reporters. “It’s kind of a big shocker. I’m still in shock; it’s really sad. He’s a great guy.”

Defenseman Jason Demers called Cavanagh “a happy-go-lucky guy.”

“He always came in happy,” Demers said. “He never brought a bad mood to the rink. That’s for sure something that he’ll be remembered for, and that’s what I member most about him.”

Cavanagh, who turned pro in 2005, had a memorable first NHL shift on April 3, 2008, when he assisted on Joe Thornton’s goal and set a franchise record by registering a point only 36 seconds into his career. Last season, Cavanagh played for the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs and Springfield Falcons but wasn’t playing professionally at the time of his death.

From this writer and the entire Connecticut Whale family, condolences to the Cavanagh family for someone who fought bravely and died far too soon.

(Editor’s note: We here at Howlings extend our deepest condolences to the Cavanagh family. Nothing could possibly be worse then losing the child that you love so dearly. Bruce is so incredibly on the nose when he talks about how precious our time is. Our candle shines only but for a few flickers before it goes out. This is a terrible tragedy and again we extend our condolences to his family and friends and all those who rooted for him.)

WHALE’S NEW ROAD JERSEYS DEBUT NEXT FRIDAY

The Whale concludes a four-game road trip Friday night at Portland, where their new blue road jerseys will debut. The jerseys are available at the XL Center or The Hartford Store, 45 Pratt Street in Hartford. Prices, including sales tax, are $289 (authentic), $125 (senior replica) and $99 (junior replica).

The Whale returns to the XL Center next Saturday at 7 p.m. to face the Providence Bruins in the start of a three-game homestand that will include former Boston Bruins standouts Rick Middleton and Reggie Lemelin signing autographs in the XL Center atrium from 6-7 p.m. and then dropping the ceremonial first puck. Middleton, who played 12 seasons with the Bruins after two with the Rangers, and Lemelin also will play on the Bruins legends team that will face the Hartford Whalers legends Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. before the Whale plays the P-Bruins at 7 p.m. The doubleheader is part of the “Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest” at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 11-23.

Early commitments for the Whalers team are Jordy Douglas, Ray Neufeld, Gordie Roberts and the Babych brothers, Dave and Wayne. Tickets ($20 to $85) for the doubleheader can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com and the Bushnell box office in Hartford on Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. or by calling the Whale at 860-728-3366. They also can be purchased online and printed immediately at Ticketmaster.com.

The homestand also will include visits from the AHL-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Jan. 16 and the Hamilton Bulldogs on Jan. 21, which is a special Family Value Night at which New Britain Rock Cats mascot Rocky will be on hand with Whale mascots Pucky and Sonar. There will be a giveaway, a table setup and autograph session, and the New Britain High School marching band will perform the national anthem and during the first intermission. Tickets in the lower level are $16 and include a soda and pizza slice or hot dog. Visit www.ctwhale.com.

DISCOUNTED TICKETS AVAILABLE TO WHALE FANS

Whalers Sports and Entertainment, in association with the XL Center, is offering a discount for the “Disney On Ice” show Sunday at 4:30 p.m. to Whale fans. For the special tickets, use the discount code WHALES and save $4. Discounted tickets start at $11 and can be purchased at the XL Center box office, online at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000. For groups of 15 or more, contact the XL Center group sales office at 860-548-2000.

WS&E chairman and CEO Howard Baldwin will be the guest speaker at the East Hartford Chamber of Commerce breakfast series sponsored by AT&T Connecticut Tuesday at 8 a.m. at the Sheraton Hartford Hotel on East River Drive in East Hartford. Baldwin will speak about his efforts to revive the local hockey market, the Whalers Hockey Fest 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.”

The Whale’s eighth Tip-A-Player Dinner and Sports Carnival, presented by Aetna, will be Jan. 23 at the XL Center from 4-7 p.m. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for children, and proceeds benefit Gaylord Specialty Healthcare at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford. For more information, contact Lori Lenihart at 860-728-3366.

Howard Baldwin Jr., the new president and COO of WS&E, has a new Twitter account accessible to Whale fans at howardbaldwinjr.

ALL-STAR VOTING ENDS TODAY

On-line fan voting for the AHL All-Star Classic Jan. 30-31 at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., runs through midnight Sunday 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 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 are entered to win a grand prize of a team-signed All-Star jersey. Ten more winners will receive an official All-Star Classic T-shirt.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2011, to be inducted Jan. 30 at 11 a.m., is Mitch Lamoureux, Larry Wilson and the late Harry Pidhirny and Maurice Podoloff, who grew up in New Haven and graduated from Yale. AHL Hall of Famer Bruce Boudreau, former coach of the Hershey 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. … Rookie head coaches John Hynes of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Jared Bednar of Peoria have been named co-coaches of the Western Conference All-Star team. Hynes and Bednar earned the honor because their teams will have the best record in their respective conferences as of the pre-determined deadline, the end of play Sunday. The Penguins are tops in the Eastern Conference (29-8-0-0, .784), and the Rivemen lead the Western Conference (24-10-2-1, .689). By virtue of winning the 2010 Calder Cup, Hershey Bears coach Mark French and assistant Troy Mann will coach the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the second consecutive year.

Tickets for the All-Star Classic, which includes admission to the skills competiton (3 p.m., Jan. 30) and All-Star Game (7 p.m., Jan. 31), are nearly sold out. Tickets remain for the post-skills party (6 p.m., Jan. 30) and Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony (11 a.m., Jan. 31). For information, contact the Giant Center box office at 717-534-3911.

WOLF PACK/WHALE GRADUATES JUST KEEP ON HELPING

Former Wolf Pack/Whale players continue to make major contributions for the parent Rangers.

The littlest Ranger, wing Mats Zuccarello, again made the biggest impression with a second consecutive extra-time winner Friday night when he scored the only shootout goal to give the Rangers a hard-hitting, come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Pacific Division-leading Dallas Stars, extending their NHL high for road wins to 14. Zuccarello scored his first non-shootout NHL goal with 1:51 left in overtime Wednesday night for a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Zuccarello – with help from omnipresent goalie Henrik Lundqvist – got a chance at his second winner in his seventh NHL game after former Wolf Pack center Artem Anisimov tied it at 2 with a perfect snap shot just under the crossbar and inside the post at 8:04 of the third period, ending an 0-for-13 drought on the power play. Lundqvist set the play in motion with his career-high third assist of the season and second in as many games, a 125-foot headman pass to center ice to former Wolf Pack defenseman Marc Staal, who found Anisimov racing into the right circle for his brilliant finish.

“I’m on a streak,” Lundqvist, whose ability to move the puck has improved, joked to reporters after the game. “The last thing (president and general manager) Glen (Sather) told me before I went home for the summer was that I have to be better around the net (handling the puck). I don’t know if I’m betting passing the puck, but I’m better the way I place the puck for the defense in our own end. I’m not always great, but I have more confidence.”

Zuccarello, the “Norwegian Hobbit” and scoring leader and MVP of the Swedish Elite League last season, scored the winner with a brilliant deke and forehand finish in the bottom of the second round before Lundqvist stopped Mike Ribeiro’s backhand attempt in the top of the third to seal the victory. Zuccareallo is now 2-for-2 in NHL shootouts in his first season in North America, injured Erik Christensen is 3-for-3, and the rest of the Rangers are 0-for-14, including four misses by rookie center Derek Stepan. But the Rangers are 5-9-3 when trailing after two periods, the best record in the NHL in terms of points (13) and percentage (.433).

“I practice against the world’s greatest goalie, so if you can score on him, you’ll be able to score on other goalies, too,” Zuccarello said. “I try and make up my mind, but I also want to see how the goalie reacts. He was patient, so I had to make a quick read. It was great feeling to help the team secure a win, but when you have Henrik at the other end, everyone knows, well, I think he’s the best in the league. Hank saved the three shots so he’s the key for us. And all of the other guys who played a helluva road game, and grinded it out for 65 minutes, helped us get these two points.”

Anisimov, who somehow was named the game’s No. 1 star ahead of Lundqvist, also credited the man who had 28 saves in regulation and overtime and was 3-for-3 in the shootout.

“Hank made some big saves and gave us confidence,” said Anisimov, who scored his 10th goal but first in nine games. “We are a team, and everyone helps each other, and everyone can make big plays and score big goals at key times. Tonight it was me.”

With his secondary assist on Zuccarello’s winner on Wednesday, Lundqvist is the first Rangers goalie with a points streak since backup Wayne Thomas had assists on Oct. 25 and Dec. 5, 1980. He also is the first Rangers goalie with points in back-to-back games since the Original Six era.

Zuccarello’s shootout winner kept a Wolf Pack/Whale streak intact. The Rangers’ three overtime winners this season have come from Anisimov, fellow Wolf Pack grad Ryan Callahan and Zuccarrello. And terrific plays by former Wolf Pack forward Brandon Dubinsky led to the winners by Callahan and Zuccarello.

Rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh held his own in his NHL debut after being called up from the Whale on Monday in a switch of personnel with Michael Del Zotto, a member of the NHL all-rookie team last season. McDonagh was hung out to dry on the Stars’ first goal by Brian Sutherby when Lundqvist failed to get the puck behind the net and Anisimov then got beat to it by Brandon Segal in the corner. As McDonagh scrambled to get back in position, Sutherby took a pass from his fourth-line partner, outreached McDonagh’s futile effort to get the puck and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer to the short side for his first goal in 25 games.

McDonagh played 21 shifts for 12:03 as a replacement for veteran Michal Rozsival, who sat with a rib injury sustained Wednesday.

“He can skate in the National Hockey League,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “I think early he was a little tentative, he had a couple good shifts, held in there on the blue line, kept a couple pucks in offensively. But I want to look at the tape.”

McDonagh didn’t get a lot of ice time because Staal played 37 shifts and a staggering game-high 33:06, with defensive partner and former Wolf Pack blueliner Dan Girardi (37 shifts, 31:31) not far behind. They were matched up against Stars star center Brad Richards, who played for Tortorella in Tampa Bay, has been mentioned in trade talks with the Rangers and was shut out Friday night. If the Rangers are to deal for Richards, who is on pace for 94 points and is an unrestricted free agent this summer, they would have to clear substantial cap space to sign the crafty center long-term because he is making $7.8 million this season. He also has a no-trade clause, though that shouldn’t be a problem because he usually spends a lot of his offseason in the New York area.

Rozsival wasn’t able to go again Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues, so McDonagh played his second NHL game, paired again with former Wolf Pack blue liner Matt Gilroy.

Dale Weise, on his second recall of the season, fought Steve Ott 7:25 into the game, took a solid left to the jaw that wobbled the right wing and then responded with blows to the ribs that doubled up the Stars agitator. But Weise had only six shifts, played a game-low 2:53 and didn’t get off the bench after the first period.

Forward Vinny Prospal had offseason knee surgery, hasn’t played this season, had a second knee surgery Oct. 18 and is expected to resume skating Sunday at the Rangers training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. He should be joined by former Wolf Pack right wing Ryan Callahan, who is likely will be out about another month with a broken left hand.

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