FROM THE CREASE with Bruce Berlet

bruce mug shot 1By Bruce Berlet

Don’t ever say hockey players, or even coaches, aren’t some of the toughest hombres in all of sports.

Getting stitched up and returning to the ice by the next period is common for most players, but Worcester Sharks coach Roy Sommer earned special kudos Friday night.

Sommer, whose 13 seasons in the San Jose organization is the AHL’s longest coaching run, sustained a broken nose when a deflected puck hit him in the face during the first period of a 4-3 shootout victory over the Atlantic Division-leading Manchester Monarchs. Sommer immediately went to his knees and was escorted to the locker room, where he was treated by trainer Matt White. Sommer soon returned to the bench with Q-tips sticking out of his nostrils and a piece of tape across his nose for the rest of the game.

“Never saw it coming,” Sommer told Worcester Telegram & Gazette writer Bill Ballou. “Even if I had, I’m not sure I could’ve gotten out of the way, not with the cat-like reflexes I’ve got.”

Sommer said it wasn’t his worst injury behind the bench. An opposing player once tried to tomahawk one of his players and missed.

“I got El-Kabonged,” Sommer said.

Sommer was back behind the bench Saturday night when the Sharks beat Providence 2-0 behind 20 saves from rookie Carter Hutton, who notched his first pro shutout in his 16th pro game and first of the season for Worcester after serving as Antti Niemi’s backup in the San Jose Sharks’ 2-0 victory over the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon. Hutton was playing because Worcester’s No. 1 goalie, Alex Stalock, is out for the season after his left knee was injured when it was stepped on by Monarchs forward Dwight King with 31/2 minutes left Friday night.

Stalock, who set an AHL rookie record with 39 victories last season, has a sliced nerve that will require surgery. His injury came only five days after he picked up a relief win in his NHL debut, a 5-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. He stopped all nine shots he faced after replacing Niemi midway through the game with San Jose trailing 3-0.

“It’s great to get the win (Saturday night), but a shutout’s always a bit of a bonus,” Hutton told Ballou. “We played a really solid game, I thought, and (Providence) didn’t have many good chances until the third period.”

Sommer, his nose was still scarred from the puck incident the previous night, said, “Hutton handled the puck well, was aggressive challenging the shooters and made some big saves. He deserves his chance to play. He’s worked his (butt) off all year.”

Hutton had Stalock in the back of his mind after Worcester’s fourth straight victory, its longest winning streak since March.

“Before the third period, I said that we should win this one for Al,” Hutton said. “His injury is a big loss for us, but this was a big win for him.”

The doubleheader sweep by the Sharks organization probably isn’t unprecedented, but it must be rare that the NHL and AHL teams play in the afternoon and at night – and only 40 miles apart.

WHALE START TOUGH ROAD STRETCH

The Whale got a much-needed day off Monday and then left at 7 a.m. Tuesday on the start of a stretch of 10 road games in their next 12. They practiced at Cicero Twin Rinks in suburban Syracuse on Tuesday morning and then finished the bus ride to Toronto for a Wednesday game against the Marlies at 11 a.m. The Whale will be trying to avenge a 4-0 loss at home in the teams’ first meeting on Nov. 9, when rookie goalie Jussi Rynas made 33 saves. The Marlies have the most road points in the league (15-11-0-5, 35 points) but rank 27th among 30 teams at home (9-9-0-2). They’re the only team that has neither won nor lost in overtime this season.

The Marlies (24-20-0-7), battling for a playoff spot in the North Division, are led by veteran center Mike Zigomanis (eight goals, 24 assists), who had a goal and an assist in the first meeting with the Whale, left wing Fabian Brunnstrom (14, 13), rookie center Nazem Kadri (9, 16) and defenseman Matt Lashoff (7, 18). Rynnas is 9-13-3 with a 2.79 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and one shutout, but the Whale likely will face Jonas Gustavsson, who began a conditioning stint from the Toronto Maple Leafs by stopping 24 of 25 shots in a 3-1 victory over the Rochester Americans on Saturday night. He had a shutout until Bill Thomas scored with 13:19 to go. The Marlies have killed off 29 consecutive shorthanded situations in the last eight games, lifting their overall penalty to second in the AHL (87.1 percent).

It will be a “homecoming” for veterans Kris Newbury and All-Star Jeremy Williams, who played five seasons together in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization – St. John’s and the Marlies in the AHL and the Maple Leafs in the NHL – before signing with the Detroit Red Wings last season and then ending up with the Rangers and Whale this season.

Right wing Dale Weise will return to the Whale lineup after missing three games with an undisclosed illness, but goalie Cam Talbot (high ankle sprain) won’t play, and center Todd White (concussion) and wing Chris McKelvie (foot surgery) didn’t make the trip.

The Whale will complete their only venture into Canada this season with a game at Hamilton on Friday night and then play at Providence on Sunday at 4:05 p.m.

Entering a game against Abbotsford on Tuesday night, Hamilton (28-16-1-4) had lost three of its last four games to fall one point behind the North Division-leading Manitoba Moose, but the Bulldogs were still on a 7-3-0-0 run that included six consecutive wins from Jan. 12 to 26. They won the first meeting with the Whale 7-3 on Jan. 21 at the XL Center as rookie defenseman Brendon Nash had one of his three goals and three of his 30 assists this season. The Bulldogs’ best player has been veteran goalie Curtis Sanford, who is 19-10-1 with a 1.74 goals-against average, second in the league, .938 save percentage and five shutouts. The Bulldogs’ No. 1 and 3 scorers, All-Stars David Desharnais (10 goals, 35 assists) and former New Canaan High-Avon Old Farms standout Max Pacioretty (17, 15), are on recall to the parent Montreal Canadiens. Hamilton’s current top scorer is center Ben Maxwell (9, 24), followed by right wing Aaron Pulushaj (8, 21) and Nash.

Entering a game against Charlotte on Tuesday night, the Bruins (23-23-3-1) had lost their last two games and were tied for fifth in the Atlantic Division with Springfield, five points behind the Whale. The Bruins had lost three in a row on the road and have won five consecutive home games after being 5-13-1-1 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and 13-7-2-0 on the road. The Bruins have won the last two games with the Whale at the XL Center after Talbot backstopped three consecutive Whale wins, including his first pro shutout, 3-0 on Oct. 17. Maxime Sauve has two goals in each of the last two games against the Whale, while none of his teammates have scored more than once.

All-Star center Jamie Arniel (14, 17) leads the Bruins in scoring, followed by center Zach Hamill (3, 25), who is on recall to the Boston Bruins, center Joe Colborne (12, 14), right wing Kirk MacDonald (10, 14) and Sauve (12, 6). Rugged left wing Lane MacDermid, son of former Hartford Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid, has four goals, seven assists and 103 penalty minutes. Matt Dalton (7-5-0, 2.38 GAA, .922 save percentage, two shutouts) has beaten the Whale twice. Veteran Nolan Schaefer is 9-14-1, 3.06, .902, no shutouts.

After four days off, the Whale will make a second trip to Glen Falls, N.Y., to face the Adirondack Red Wings on Feb. 18 before a quick bus ride home for the “Whale Bowl” game against Providence on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. That follows the Army-AIC game at 1 p.m., and celebrities mixing in with the Hartford Whalers legends and Boston Bruins legends at 4 p.m. If the Whale-Bruins game is postponed because of bad weather, it will be played Feb. 20 at the XL Center at 1 p.m.

The Whale is at Portland on Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. and then will play their first two games in Charlotte, N.C., against the Checkers, their former ECHL affiliate, on Feb. 24 and 26. They finally return to the XL Center on March 2 to face the Springfield Falcons. Their ensuing home game is March 11 against the defending Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears, ending the brutal stretch of 10 road games in a dozen.

BALDWINS TO OPEN HOCKEY FEST 2011 ON THURSDAY AT 3 P.M.

Barring any more major weather delays, the historic “Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest 2011” will begin Thursday at 3 p.m. with Whalers Sports and Entertainment chairman and CEO Howard Baldwin and WSAE president and COO Howard Baldwin Jr. officially opening the 12-day event with a ceremonial first skate.

The first of 30 outdoor youth, high school, prep school, college, celebrity, alumni and pro games will start at 5 p.m. as the Simsbury High girls play the West Hartford girls, followed by a cthockeyleague.com game at 10 p.m.

“UConn Day” is Sunday, when the alumni plays at 9 a.m., followed by the men’s team facing Sacred Heart at 1 p.m. and the women meeting Providence at 4 p.m. Two days later, Feb. 15, is “Trinity-Wesleyan Day” as the schools’ women’s teams play at 4 p.m., their alumni teams at 6:30 p.m. and the men’s teams at 8 p.m.

The featured attraction is the “Whale Bowl” on Feb. 19. Hall of Fame defensemen Brian Leetch, a Cheshire native, and Brad Park headline the Bruins legends team. Other commitments are Enfield native Craig Janney, former captain Rick Middleton, who played 12 seasons in Boston and with the Rangers, Reggie Lemelin, Ken Hodge, Don Marcotte, Rick Smith, Bob Sweeney, Lyndon Byers, Cleon Daskalatis, Jay Miller, Bob Miller (no relation) and Ken “The Rat” Linseman, who was a member of the Whalers for a few moments as he passed through in a multi-player trade with Philadelphia and Edmonton that included Mark Howe leaving Hartford for the Flyers. Derek Sanderson will coach the Bruins team.

Commitments for the Whalers team are WHA Hall of Famer Andre Lacroix, John McKenzie, whose No. 19 is retired in the XL Center rafters, Blaine Stoughton, Pat Verbeek, John Anderson, Garry Swain, Bob Crawford, Chris Kotsopoulos, Jim Dorey, Jordy Douglas, Ray Neufeld, Gordie Roberts, Darren Turcotte, Nelson Emerson, Mark Janssens, Bill Bennett, Jeff Brubaker, Fred O’Donnell, Terry Yake, Scott Daniels, Ed Hospodar, Yvon Corriveau and the Babych brothers, Dave and Wayne. Emile “The Cat” Francis, a coach and general manager with the Rangers and Whalers, will be back behind the bench again, and Norm Barnes and former captain Russ Anderson will be assistant coaches.

Celebrities scheduled to play with one of the legends teams include Michael Keaton, Alan Thicke and David E. Kelley, son of New England and Hartford Whalers coach and general manager Jack Kelley and the writer of the 1999 hit film “Mystery, Alaska,” which was produced by Whalers Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Howard Baldwin and his wife, Karen. “Mystery, Alaska” cast members slated to appear are Michael Buie, Scott Richard Grimes, Jason Gray-Stanford and Cameron Bancroft, along with Neal McDonough, Kevin Zegers, Bobby Farrelly, David Henrie and the Hanson brothers – Steve, Jeff and Dave – who played for the Minnesota Fighting Saints and were the comedic linchpins of the classic movie “Slap Shot.”

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 official charity of the Hockey Fest is “Sam’s Race for a Place,” a fund-raising effort spearheaded by West Hartford resident Samantha Udolf that benefits the Ronald McDonald House. Since Udolf, a successful competitive skier, founded Sam’s Race for a Place in June of 2008, it has generated donations of more than $43,500.

The Ronald McDonald House is a non-profit charity operating since 1991 that helps hundreds of families and children enjoy the comforts of home while they await treatment at area medical facilities. Udolf became familiar with Ronald McDonald House and its good works while volunteering there, and she conceived Sam’s Race for a Place after learning it is independently-funded and depends on grass-roots campaigns for nearly all of its support.

For more information about Sam’s Race for a Place, visit www.samsraceforaplace.com. Donations also can be made through that web address. Besides the games, the Hockey Fest will include “Whale Town” featuring exhibitors, games and the Whalers Mobile Hall of Fame.

SOUND TIGERS’ TAKEOVER OF WEBSTER BANK ARENA STILL IN WORKS

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers have a tentative agreement to take over operations of Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport from Centerplate, and it referred to the contracts committee during a city council meeting Monday night. Sound Tigers president Howard Saffan, who is also the senior vice president of operations for the parent New York Islanders, said last week that the tentative agreement had been reached after six months of negotiations.

“With the New York Islanders going into the entertainment business with Nassau Coliseum, which we took over the management of last year, we wanted to take advantage of our relationships and pursue the entertainment industry in Fairfield County,” Saffan told Mike Fornabaio of the Connecticut Post.

If the Sound Tigers win approval, they would take over the original lease, which runs until 2021. Mayor Bill Finch’s office said Centerplate will continue to provide food and beverage services while the team will book the arena. A 4-1 loss to the Falcons on Saturday night was the Sound Tigers’ sixth in a row and dropped them to 1-11-2-1 in 2011. … The Springfield Falcons postponed their scheduled game Tuesday night against the Sound Tigers to Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. It was rescheduled to allow crews time to remove snow and ice from the MassMutual Center roof and the surrounding area. The rescheduled date also gives the crews more time to completely execute the changeover from the Disney on Ice Show that occupied the building last week back to the original ice surface. … Former Wolf Pack goalie Al Montoya relieved Matt Climie in the third period, made 13 saves in regulation and overtime and then stopped all five Lake Erie shootout tries to lead visiting San Antonio to a 5-4 victory Saturday night. Defenseman Garrett Stafford scored the only shootout goal as the Rampage won their fourth consecutive game and are on a 6-0-1 run to tie the Milwaukee Admirals for first place in the West Division. … Rookie center Nick Bonino, who excelled at Farmington High and Avon Old Farms, scored twice as Syracuse beat league-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 4-2 Saturday night. … Former Wolf Pack wing Nigel Dawes scored his 23rd goal and Stratford native Jaime Sifers had two assists to help the Chicago Wolves beat Peoria 4-2 Saturday night. … The Monarchs (31-16-1-4), who got 26 saves from rookie All-Star Martin Jones in a 4-0 victory at Albany on Saturday night, are 11-1-1-0 against the two Connecticut teams (5-0-1-0 vs. Bridgeport and 6-1-0-0 vs. the Whale) and 20-15-0-4 against the rest of the league.

THREE WHALE PLAYERS AMONG PROSPECTS TRADING CARDS

Two Connecticut Whale players, goalie Chad Johnson and forward Evgeny Grachev, and former Whale defenseman Ryan McDonagh, now on recall to the Rangers, are in the 150-card Heroes and Prospects trading card set by In the Game.

The three have all played with the Rangers, though Johnson’s five-game stint was last season. They are pictured on those cards in the uniform of the Hartford Wolf Pack, which was rebranded as the Connecticut Whale on Nov. 27.

In the Game has been making its Heroes and Prospects hockey set since losing its NHL license after the 2003-04 season and it’s become a must-have for many hockey fans. This year’s 150-card set includes seven Hockey Hero cards, three international prospects, 90 Canadian major junior hockey league players and 50 AHL players. Many of the players have already been drafted, while others are expected to be early picks in upcoming NHL drafts.

There is a lot of memorabilia, autograph, jersey, game used emblem and AHL 75th Anniversary cards, including the one of AHL Hall of Famer John Paddock, who coached the Wolf Pack to their only Calder Cup title in his first of three seasons, 1999-2000.

Other notable player cards are Stalock, Logan Couture (San Jose-Worcester), P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens-Hamilton Bulldogs), Tyler Ennis (Buffalo Sabres-Portland Pirates), John Carlson (Washington Capitals-Hershey Bears), John Moore (Columbus Blue Jackets-Springfield Falcons), Blake Geoffrion (Nashville Predators-Milwaukee Admirals), Jared Staal (Carolina Hurricanes-Charlotte Checkers) and Linus Omark (Edmonton Oilers-Oklahoma City Barons), as well as Calder Cup champion cards Alexandre Giroux, Chris Bourque, Keith Aucoin, Andrew Gordon and Mathieu Perreault; non-memorabilia insert cards such as Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler and Eric Wellwood; and 75th Anniversary cards Billy Smith, Brett Hull, Bruce Boudreau, Doug Harvey, Eddie Shore, Emile Francis, Gerry Cheevers, John Slaney, Carey Price, Jason Spezza, Larry Robinson, Les Cunningham, Martin Brodeur, Milt Schmidt, Patrick Roy, Pelle Lingbergh, Terry Sawchuck, Mitch Lamoreux, Willie Marshall and Zdeno Chara.

The card sets cost $94.99 and are available at www.theahl.com. All-Star Game jerseys and merchandise are also available.

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