Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
The Connecticut Whale looked like they had given away a standings point to the visiting Springfield Falcons after surrendering a Tomas Kubalik game-tying, power play goal with just 41.7 left in regulation.
“We were getting ready for overtime and at least one point,” Falcons coach Rob Riley told reporters after the game.
But then, “it ain’t over until it’s over.”
Defenseman Pavel Valentenko knew time was running out when he received the puck at the center red line in front of his teammates.
“The guys on the bench were yelling, ‘Dump it in, dump it in, dump it in,’” the 23-year old Russian defenseman said.
John Mitchell meanwhile, playing in his first game with the Whale since being acquired for a seventh round draft pick at the trade deadline on Monday, was also on the ice. “I went into the zone earlier trying to forecheck and I thought I kind of poked the puck between the guys legs and I kind of got held up, so I was a little bit choked about that and so I was kind of yelling at the ref going up the ice as the puck was going out,” He said. “Tanker just pounded it in, so I just curled back to go (back) on the forecheck because I knew there wasn’t much time left so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going too aggressive, just play passive not to give up any chances.
“Obviously it was a fortunate bounce right into the middle of the ice, and it was kind bouncing so I had to make sure I timed it just so I could get a shot on net,” Mitchell added. “There was a defenseman (Jonathan Sigalet) coming out of the corner, he was sliding trying to block it, so there definitely wasn’t going to be any time to dust the puck off and try and pick a corner, so I just tried to time the bounce and get it on net as quick as possible. I was fortunate to get a good whack at it and get some pretty good wood on it and it slipped through the pads.”
Mitchell’s good fortune was the fourth goal scored in a dramatic and exciting third period of what had been to that point and extremely dull hockey game.
The first period the Whale and Falcons seemed completely disinterested in doing much of anything. The Falcons managed to put only seven shots on Whale starter, Dov Grumet-Morris (21 saves, 5-3-1) playing in his first game since signing an AHL contract to remain with the team for the remainder of the season. As lame of an effort as the Falcons put forth, the Whale managed only three shots on ex-Wolf Pack goaltender David LeNeveu (18 saves, 16-14-2)
With 5:02 left in the first, Jeremy Williams battled in the left corner of the offensive zone with Steven Goetzen. Williams head got under Goetzen’s arm and was pressed by the boards. Kyle Neuber came across from the right side behind the net to get into the puck battle and when he did, his hip hit Williams solidly on the head. The video showed his head snap back in a very awkward manner leaving Williams down on the ice and almost totally motionless. The right winger was down on the ice for about ten minutes being treated, first by trainer Damien Hess and then by team doctor Brett Wesserhauf, an orthopedic surgeon. The decision was made that Williams should be brought straight to the hospital for further assessment so the Whale’s leading scorer (25g, 19a, 44pts) had a neck brace put on and was secured to a stretcher and brought to St. Francis Hospital Medical Center.
Mitchell and Williams have been close friends for more than a decade and for parts of their eight pro seasons were occasionally teammates with the Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies. Seeing a close friend down on the ice wasn’t easy. “You never want to see someone get carried off on a stretcher, but I think it was more of a precautionary thing,” He said. “(Williams) was talking to us on the ice kind of laughing and having a good time, so I’m sure he’s fine, even if he got carried off on a stretcher. He actually wanted to try to get up and play, but (Hess) took the proper precautions and made sure he was safe getting off the ice. Hopefully it’s a speedy recovery for Willie.”
In the second period team health for the Whale didn’t improve much as Michael Del Zotto, playing in his first game since being sent down to the American League for the third time by the NY Rangers blocked a shot and took it square in the hand. “(I) took a puck, blocked a shot with my finger. (I’m) going to see a hand specialist (Thursday) and we’ll know from there. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the game. Injuries are going to happen, so we’ll know more (Thursday).”
At 6:02 Mitchell was called for a holding call giving the Falcons their second power play of the game. 45 seconds later the puck was in the back of the net as Brent Regner scored off a rebound of a Kana shot firing the puck over Grumet-Morris for his fifth of the season.
Between periods, Whale coach Ken Gernander let his team know what they needed to do to bring home a victory.
“He didn’t exactly give us an ear full, but he spoke in a matter like, ‘Hey, boys, let’s get going here,’ ” Mitchell said. “He did his job as coach and got the guys fired up. He said we need 15 shots this period. If we get 15 shots, we’ll win the game. He’s a successful coach for a reason.”
They certainly were enthused as the Whale came out hard in the third period.
2:23 in, Dale Weise had an excellent scoring chance in front of the net only to be denied by LeNeveu.
But 2:01 later, the tying goal would come from a highly unlikely source.
Mitchell took an Evgeny Grachev feed on the left side and gave it to Stu Bickel. The Whale defenseman shook off Kana with a nice deke and opened up space for himself in the left circle. He fired the puck which hit LeNeveu’s shoulder and went into the short side of the net. The goal was Bickel’s first of the season and obviously first since joining the Whale earlier this season in a trade for the disgruntled Nigel Williams.
Grumet-Morris then kept he game tight with a magnificent save in close on Wilson at 6:27
It was starting to look a lot like this game was heading to overtime, but with 5:43 remaining, Weise gave the Whale their first lead in the game.
“Starting in our zone the puck rimmed to their d-man; just kind of bounced off the board and off of me,” Weise said. “He kind of bobbled it. I just kept skating through him and saw Dupont come up behind me and he hit me.
“Coming down, I was originally looking to pass, but their D-man was over with Tessier and I knew he was going to slide because I saw him do it earlier,” The Whale’s top right winger said. “The toe-drag is kind of my go-to, so I just kind of out-waited him, the goalie went down and got a lucky one when it ticked off his glove.”
To their credit, the Falcons didn’t quit and kept on coming after their hosts looking for the equalizer. With 1:33 left, and LeNeveu on the bench, Grumet-Morris made a tremendous stop on Kana to preserve the lead.
But it wouldn’t be a Whale game this season if they didn’t have some drama.
With 1:08 to go, Weise took a high sticking call that would cost them.
“I didn’t think my stick was very high,” Weise said. “I connected with the puck and followed through, and I thought I hit him in the chest and thought he might have embellished it a little bit. But late in the game, you know the refs are going to make those calls, and I’m a guy around the league that’s known to maybe taking things a little too far in the last couple minutes, and obviously the ref called me on it.”
It was then Kublik’s chance to be the hero…even if it was short-lived.
“(David Savard) got a pretty good shot off from the point and I went down and it was coming right into my gut so I went down to cushion it and to receive it almost like a basket so there wouldn’t be a second chance and right before it got to me (Kublik) tipped it down and back and it went into the open net.” Grumet-Morris said on the late game tying goal. “It was a great tip. (Kublik) was in perfect position and it was a great hard shot. But I was very, very, very excited when we scored the third goal.
“The first two periods were a bit more quiet. The third was a bit more frenetic both offensively and defensively, which led to more opportunities. So when you have slower game where the pace picks up in the third period, as a player, whether you’re a goaltender on a defenseman, you want to be able to execute your job to have a bit of a contribution to the win.
“So it felt good that I was able to make a couple of saves in the third to either keep it tied or close. And it felt good to keep us ahead when he had the lead.”
Understandably Weise was relieved that his late error didn’t end up costing his team. “Obviously when you go from giving them a goal and tying the game and going and getting the two points, it’s huge against a team on our heels. It’s a big two points for us.”
“We had so many guys just coming in, and some didn’t even have a practice, just a pregame skate,” Gernander said. “Maybe it took a little time to jell, and if you watched Mitchell, I thought he got better and better as the game went on, so that’s encouraging. Center is a position where we’ve been a little depleted, and he gave us a little bit of a boost.
“After they tied it on kind of a fluky bounce, it wasn’t like we quit and just laid it in the corner and didn’t forecheck. They stayed right with it to the final buzzer. It was big goal at the end, a little bit fluky, but we’re going to take it. It was a big game and a big two points, so we’re pretty pleased with that. Now we have to go back to work for the next two day and prepare for a big weekend (at Springfield and Worcester) on Saturday and Sunday.”
So bottom line is Yogi Berra made his point while Charlie Sheen summed it up best, “Winning!” Two geniuses.
Bruce Berlet is back and looks all tan and rested from his vacation. You’ll find his unedited posting here at Howlings. As for Springfield, the great Frank Sypek has the story at MassLive.com. Sypek told Howlings after the game that Micky Ward, who was played by Mark Walhberg in the Oscar nominated film, “The Fighter” will be appearing at the Falcons and Whale game on Saturday night in Springfield signing autographs.
(Standings via theahl.com)
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
Michael Del Zotto:
* Bickel’s goal at 4:24 of the third ended a 112:45 scoreless drought and a 185:20 drought at even strength.
* Three shots on goal in the first tied a season low for shots in a period with the first period of the then Wolf-Pack on Oct. 10 game against Worcester. That game was a 4-3 home loss.
* Weise’s goal ended a six game goal-less streak, the longest of his season.
* Tomas Kundratek’s illness has cost him six games. He’s been out since getting a helper in the “Frozen” Whale Bowl.
* Whale penalty killing is running hot over the past 11 games. The team is 41 of 47 for a very strong 87.2%. For the season they are at 84% which ranks them 11th overall.
* The Whale power play is ranked 4th, that’s right Rangers fans 4th, in the AHL with a 20.9% conversion rate.
Grachev – Mitchell – Williams
Dupont – Tessier – Weise
Soryal – Lemieux – Couture
DiDiomete- Eizenman – Imbeault
Del Zotto – Bickel
Redden – Nightingale
Valentenko – Parlett
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Chad Kolarik – Hamstring, 1-2 Weeks
Tomas Kundratek – Flu, Day-to-Day
Jyri Niemi – Separated Shoulder – Four – Six Weeks
Chris McKelvie – Foot Surgery, Season
Todd White – Concussion – Undetermined
Ryan Garlock – Leg injury – Day-to-Day
Lee Baldwin – Healthy Scratch
1. CT – J. Mitchell
2. CT – D. Grumet-Morris
3. SPR – B. Regner
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Chris Brown (86)
Terry Koharski (10)
Derek Wahl (46)
Kevin Redding (16
Back to the road again for the next three to finish out the 10 of 12 run the team is enduring. Saturday night it’s up to Springfield for the back end of the home-and-home with the Falcons. The puck drops at 7pm with Bob Crawford will have Chad Kolarik helping out with the play-by-play with the pregame a half an hour before game time.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information for all home games, call (860) 548-2000.
Springfield Falcons 2 at Connecticut Whale 3 – Status: Final
Wednesday, March 2, 2011 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Springfield 0 1 1 – 2
Connecticut 0 0 3 – 3
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Dupont Ct (kneeing), 1:41; Kana Spr (tripping), 4:59; Neuber Spr (interference), 14:58.
2nd Period-1, Springfield, Regner 5 (Kubalik, Kana), 6:47 (PP). Penalties-Neuber Spr (fighting), 2:20; Soryal Ct (fighting), 2:20; Mitchell Ct (holding), 6:02; Imbeault Ct (tripping), 7:52; Mitchell Ct (hooking), 13:05.
3rd Period-2, Connecticut, Bickel 1 (Mitchell, Grachev), 4:24. 3, Connecticut, Weise 12 (Dupont), 14:17. 4, Springfield, Kubalik 20 (Savard, Wilson), 19:18 (PP). 5, Connecticut, Mitchell 2 (Valentenko, Bickel), 19:52. Penalties-Weise Ct (high-sticking), 18:52.
Shots on Goal-Springfield 7-5-9-21. Connecticut 3-5-15-23.
Power Play Opportunities-Springfield 2 / 5; Connecticut 0 / 2.
Goalies-Springfield, LeNeveu 16-14-2 (23 shots-20 saves). Connecticut, Grumet-Morris 5-3-1 (21 shots-19 saves).
Referees-Chris Brown (86), Terry Koharski (10).
Linesmen-Derek Wahl (46), Kevin Redding (16).