FROM THE CREASE with Bruce Berlet

bruce mug shot 1By: Bruce Berlet

WHALE BOWL WILL BREAK AHL ATTENDANCE RECORD

More than 22,500 tickets have been sold for Whale Bowl, the highlight of the “Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest 2011” at Rentschler Field, assuring the Whale will break the AHL attendance record. A record 21,508 watched the host Syracuse Crunch beat the Binghamton Senators 2-1 at the New York State Fairgrounds on Feb. 20, 2010.

“It’s a great tribute to the people of the state of Connecticut, but we have to get 38,000 because we want to sell the place out,” said Howard Baldwin Jr., president and COO of Whalers Sports and Entertainment, which runs the Whale’s business operations and is handling the 12-day event. “Everyone else, the NHL, college and AHL, has sold out, and if Connecticut wants to be back on the (hockey) map again, which I know it does, everybody needs to come out and celebrate this.”

Before Whale Bowl is played, “Trinity-Wesleyan Day” is on Tuesday 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. High school and prep school games fill most of the schedule the remainder of the week until the Whale Bowl at which about a dozen celebrities will mix in with the Hartford Whalers legends team and Boston Bruins legends team as they face off at 4 p.m., followed by the Whale-Providence Bruins at 7 p.m. The day’s activities begin with the Army-American International College game at 1 p.m. All tickets for the event are general admission except for 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, 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, 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 and Gary Doak 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 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 chairman 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.”

Famed former NHL referee Paul Stewart will officiate the game. Stewart, a Boston native, refereed more than 1,000 NHL games in a 13-year career. On March 15, 2003, he refereed his 1,000th game, becoming the only American-born official to accomplish the feat. He also officiated during the Canada Cup in 1987 and 1991 after an eight-year playing career with teams in the NAHL, AHL, NEHL, CHL, WHA and NHL.

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.

A complete schedule of games can be found at www.ctwhale.com. There will be a free public skate on Feb. 22 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to thank the sponsors and fans who supported the event.

UCONN DAY AT THE HOCKEYFEST

Cole Schneider started learning to play hockey at 2 on a rink his parents built behind their house in suburban Buffalo.

Schneider, a freshman from Williamsville, N.Y., also had outdoors experience in juniors while playing for the Topeka Road Runners of the North American Hockey League in a game at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, so playing outdoors Sunday in the opener of “UConn Day” in the Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest 2011” wasn’t all that new.

“We used to just go out and have some fun with friends,” Schneider said of his early days in Williamsville. “Every winter we’d build a rink, go out in the backyard, shoot around and have a little fun.”

Schneider enjoyed himself a lot Sunday after Sacred Heart’s Matt Gingeira scored a power-play goal to tie it at 1 at 7:17 of the second period. But only 60 seconds later, Schneider tipped Rui Encarnacao’s shot past Steven Legatto and then added a third-period goal on a laser from the slot off a pass from Brant Harris to lead UConn to a 3-1 Atlantic Hockey Association victory before 2,000 at Rentschler Field.

“That was a huge shift,” Schneider said of the one that followed Gingeira’s tying goal. “Every time they score a goal, you want to get out there and work hard the next shift, not only to score a goal but to get the momentum back on your side. I was fortunate enough to get the tip.”

In the second game, junior forward Laura Veharanta of La Verne, Calif., who never skated outdoors until last year, scored two wraparound goals 2:06 apart late in the second period, and the ninth-ranked Providence College women’s team held on for a 4-3 Women’s Hockey East victory.

Both games were intense from the outset, with the Sacred Heart men and Providence women controlling territorially in the early going.

The UConn men were outshot 17-12 in the first period but escaped with a 1-0 lead on Andrew Olson’s deflection of Justin Hernandez’s shot with 31.6 seconds left and stout goaltending from Garrett Bartus, who had 17 of his 29 saves in the opening 20 minutes.

Gingera got the equalizer just past the midpoint of the second period, but Schneider’s 10th and 11th goals increased his team-leading point total to 27 and gave the Huskies (10-16-4, 10-11-2 Atlantic Hockey Association) their third win in four starts, including 4-2 at Sacred Heart on Friday night, after a 0-7-1 slide. Sacred Heart (4-21-5, 4-14-5) has lost eight nine games.

“Cole has that ability to score big goals,” Marshall said.

Both teams gushed about playing outdoors for the first time and looked forward to making it an annual occasion.

“It was a good atmosphere, and I thought we got better as the game went on, after the first period,” Marshall said. “All in all, it was a successful day for both teams, though Sacred Heart wanted the two points, but as far as the kids and the memories for their lifetime, it was a home run.”

Marshall said his team was hootin’ and hollerin’ more than usual, and while the Huskies didn’t do a good job of challenging their emotion in the first period, he said it was a good learning experience for the playoffs.

Then as the Huskies prepared to go out for the third period, senior forward Chris Spicer, “a fourth-liner grinder type who plays with emotion,” asked Marshall, “How are we going to remember this moment?”

“They were focused in on our once-in-a-lifetime chance and to make sure we ended up on the plus side of it,” Marshall said.

“I think we were looking forward to this game ever since it was announced in the summer,” said forward Andrew Olson, who scored UConn’s first goal. “As a senior, it was great for me. I only have four or five games left, so there was more incentive. I was talking to a couple of other seniors, and we were definitely excited. A lot of guys will get to do it a couple more times, but, yeah, it was a great experience. There a little more hype (in the locker room), people were talking more, so it was pretty exciting.”

The loss epitomized the season for 2010 AHA runner-up Sacred Heart (3-20-5, 3-13-5), as Schneider scored the tie-breaking goal after the Pioneers missed the net on a rush the other way.

“That was the turning point,” Pioneers coach C.J. Marottolo said.

But Marottolo, a former assistant and associate coach at Yale, would love another shot at playing outdoors.

“When I saw the sun come out (in the second period), I said, ‘Well maybe that sun’s going to shine on us a little bit,’ ” Marottolo said with a smile. “We’re looking for any little positive that can kind of catapult us and get some momentum for the playoffs. Everybody in our league makes it, and we all know there are a lot of Cinderella teams that do great things in playoff runs.

“That’s what we’re trying to capture as the guys continue to work hard. We’re still having fun even if our record isn’t what we would want or hope to be. But that doesn’t diminish what they’re still trying to accomplish. UConn played really well, and the atmosphere was terrific. I think both schools did a good job promoting it, and the event was awesome. We’ll sign up for it right now again. They’re talking about every year or every other year, but we feel privileged to be a part of it.

“Hockey is great in Connecticut, from the youth level to high school and prep school and Division I to a lot of great players who played in the NHL. So what they’re doing from all the youth hockey all the way the minor pro (in Hartford) is great. It’s a great event, and as it goes, I think as it goes, it’s going to build. Hopefully in 10 years we’ll be sitting here saying, ‘Gee, look how much this has grown.’ ”

Pioneers captain Patrick Knowlton, who set up Gingera’s goal and was one of many Sacred Heart players wearing eye shadow, also grew up playing outdoors in Minnesota and wanted to see a continuation of the outdoor festivities.

“It wasn’t much different (from indoors). It’s an ice hockey rink,” Knowlton said. “But it was such a different atmosphere, and you couldn’t have asked much more out there today. It was kind of cool looking up at the lights and all the fans and all the oohs and aahs throughout the game, but we came to play to the end. I think UConn kind of came out doing a little headhunting, and our guys said we had to come back with something because this is a good rivalry.”

The day started with 50 UConn alumni playing in a fun game, then nearly 200 alumni took part in a family skate. Marshall, who is in his 24th year in the program as a player, assistant coach and coach, didn’t play in the alumni game, just acted as a greeter.

“It was fantastic,” Marshall said. “There was even a guy here from California from the Class of 1962. A lot of the guys on the bench were saying everyone wants to play outdoors because it’s the chic thing to do, but no one wanted to come watch us when we were outdoors. There were a lot of little twists like that going on all day.”

The “UConn Day” finale had plenty of twists and turns. Jennifer Friedman, on a power play, and Ashley Cottrell gave the Friars a 2-0 lead as they outshot UConn 10-2 by 2:26 of the second period.

“Everybody was a lot more pumped, but I don’t why it didn’t translate into the first period,” said UConn freshman Taylor Gross, who had two assists. “It seemed like everybody was ready to go, but when we got out there, it just didn’t translate.”

But the Huskies righted the ship and got even when sophomore Maude Blain scored from Gross at 3:31 and freshman Jenny Saxon put a shot between Genevieve Lacasse’s leg off a left-wing rush at 9:40.

But Veharanta put the Friars back ahead to stay at 15:33 and scored the winner with 2:21 left.

“I’ve been practicing (wraparounds) for quite some time, and it worked today,” Veharanta said.

Veharanta and many of her teammates skated outside for the first time last year when they went to Eaton Park in Shrewsbury, Mass. But Veharanta had been to Connecticut five times as a member a Southern California travel team that played in the Polar Bear Tournament, the largest girls’ hockey event in the world.

“They were afraid they were going to fall through the ice,” Friars coach Bob Deraney said with a chuckle.

“I grew up in Colorado, but I’m scared of skating on a pond,” Gross said with a smile.

But Gross, the Pro Ambitious Rookie of the Week last week, got her second assist when she set up sophomore Kelly Horan’s power-play goal that got UConn within a goal at 4:44 of the third period. But the Huskies couldn’t get to their fourth consecutive overtime game, having lost to the Friars 2-1 on Saturday.

“Another close game and no reward,” said UConn coach Heather Linstad, a 1989 graduate of Providence. “Obviously I respect Providence and the experience I had as a student-athlete that I tried to build off of the things I liked and disliked. Certainly I have great respect for my alma mater, but I certainly don’t appreciate losing to them. Kudos to them, but it’s more that we’re not playing for (45) minutes. I thought we came out really flat and kind of got back on our heels. It’s something that we have to change in our locker room. It’s something we need to fix.

“We played well in the second and third periods, but while she has been fairly consistent all season, but our goalie (Alexandra Garcia, three-time AHA defensive player of the week) got up a couple of soft goals, and that hurt us. But the spirit and intense in the second and third is something that I’d like to see them play with every game and every shift. But it’s hard to lose third place to Providence right now.”

Friars coach Bob Deraney said he and his team had been fortunate to play in the Whalers Hockey Fest after competing in The Bog Game the previous Sunday against Northeastern at the Bog Ice Arena in North Kingston, Mass. The Friars (20-11-1, 11-8-1 Women’s Hockey East) tied that game 2-2.

“It’s great to get the communities involved, and this game was a different atmosphere being in a giant football stadium,” Veharanta said, alluding to Rentschler Field being the home of the football Huskies.

“To play games like this in different environments gets your team ready for anything and everything, and we’re pleased to do that because it allows them to grow as people and hockey players,” Deraney said. “It’s a huge benefit, and we’ve been very privileged to be asked to play in The Bog Game and then to be asked to be the guest of UConn.

“I don’t think you could ask for better conditions. The ice surface was good, the weather was perfect and it wasn’t too bright (on the ice) for the players. It was a wonderful job, and UConn does a wonderful job when they put on an event. It’s always first class, and we’re proud that we were asked to participate.”

After growing up in California, Veharanta called Sunday “definitely a great experience.”

“We had decided we would take what it took to win, and it was a lot of fun,” she said. “Walking from the locker room was kind of cool to look up and see everything. It just kind of pumped you up more and put you in game mode. I had never played under lights before, so I didn’t know if it would make that big of a difference. There wasn’t any glare, and everyone liked the way it looked the way it looked on a football field. It’s kind of exciting. You see it in all the NHL Winter Classics.”

Gross was unhappy with the result but enthused about the experience because she is one of eight freshmen on the team.

“It was really exciting and definitely a great opportunity,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to be able to participate. Obviously the seniors who are graduating would have like to win, so it just kind of (stinks) that we didn’t get the win. But I really appreciate the opportunity that I actually got to be in it.”

The Friars finished 3-0-1 against the Huskies (12-19-2, 8-19-2), and this win basically clinched third place and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

“We were talking last night that this is a Big East rivalry, even though UConn has had a program for only 11 years,” Deraney said. “There was a rivalry between Providence and UConn long before women’s hockey started because it had been played in many sports. Coach Lindstad has done a wonderful job with the program, and it’s always nip-and-tuck, one-goal games that bring out the best in each other, and I hope they feel the same way.

“It’s really neat for women’s ice hockey to have that unique rivalry, and so it’s always exciting when we get together. It’s always going to be a dogfight.”

Especially when it’s in such unique surroundings in the largest event in Connecticut hockey history.

Would Deraney want to come back?

“Absolutely,” he said.

Linstad was even more emphatic.

“Like now we’re defeated in the building, and we’d like to even up our record,” she said. “Last year we got to play in the Igloo (in Pittsburgh), and then they tore it down, so we’re the last women’s team to ever win in the Igloo. So, really, we need to come back to The Rent to win one or two more games, so we can always say we had a winning record.”

After nearly 12 hours of skating in many shapes, forms and speeds, the memorable day ended at 8:47 p.m. with the Springfield Pics beating the Junior A Hartford Wolf Pack, 4-2.

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