FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

By: Bruce Berlet

Former Hartford Wolf Pack coach Ryan McGill is looking for a job.

McGill wasn’t retained by the Calgary Flames, making him the third member of the coaching staff to be let go after the team missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Goalie coach Jamie McLennan and assistant Rob Cookson also didn’t have the option years of their contracts picked up. Dave Lowry is the only assistant to be retained under coach Brent Sutter.

Sutter will be allowed to pick his own staff for the first time since taking over in June, 2003, when he was named coach by then-general manager Darryl Sutter, his brother, after stepping down as New Jersey Devils coach. Brent succeeded a fired Mike Keenan, who guided the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994, and became the third of the seven Sutter brothers to coach the Flames, following Brian and Darryl. Six of the Sutter brothers played in the NHL.

“Now that the evaluation of our coaching staff in Calgary is complete, Brent Sutter will begin the process of identifying, interviewing and ultimately selecting candidates to fill the vacancies on the staff,” said Jay Feaster, who had acting removed from before his general manager title this week. “At the same thing, the ongoing review of all other areas of the hockey operations department including staff, pro and amateur scouting, AHL and player development, etc., will continue in the normal course of business.”

The 42-year-old McGill replaced AHL Hall of Famer John Paddock as Wolf Pack coach on June 27, 2002 and led the team to the regular-season Eastern Conference title in 2003-04, tying for first place overall with a 44-24-12-2 record before losing to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the conference finals in Game 7. The Wolf Pack were 50-24-0 the next season, but after compiling an AHL-best 127-73-24 record for three seasons, McGill wasn’t re-signed and became coach of the Flames’ AHL affiliate in Quad City and then Omaha. After four seasons, he became a Flames’ assistant in June 2009 despite missing the playoffs the last two seasons in Omaha.

A second-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1987, the rugged defenseman played 151 NHL games with the Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers before sustaining a career-ending injury when hit in the left eye by a deflected puck in a game against the Anaheim Ducks on April 5, 1995. He also was a member of the IHL’s Turner Cup champions in 1990 coached by former Flames general manager and coach Darryl Sutter.

Before joining the Wolf Pack, McGill coached 350 games in the Western Hockey League, capping it by leading the Kootenay Ice to the 2002 Memorial Cup.

TWO WSE OFFICIALS AT TRAVELERS CHAMPIONSHIP FUNCTION

Connecticut Whale senior vice president of sales and business development Bob Ohrablo and director of client services Amy Rimmer represented Whalers Sports and Entertainment at the Metro Alliance Rising Star Breakfast on Tuesday at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.

Bubba Watson, who won his first of three PGA Tour titles in 10 months in the Travelers Championship last June, was the featured guest/speaker and did a question-and-answer session with longtime ESPN personality Chris Berman, who has supported Connecticut’s largest sporting event for many years. Watson also did a Q&A with the media before visiting ESPN in Bristol for the first time and doing several interviews.

The Whale will have a booth at the Travelers Championship on June 20-26, and fans will be able to purchase season tickets for 2011-12 and learn about several activities the team has planned this summer to promote its presence as WSE works to continue to revive hockey interest in the area, increase attendance and hopefully have the NHL return to Hartford.

BOOGAARD FAMILY SEEKS DONATIONS

In lieu of flowers, the family of Rangers left wing Derek Boogaard, found dead in his Minneapolis apartment on Friday at 28, requests donations be made to Defending The Blue Line, a non-profit charitable group whose mission is to ensure children of military members are afforded every opportunity to participate in hockey.

Throughout his career, Boogaard tried to make a difference in the communities he played, taking part in numerous charitable endeavors in Minnesota and New York. While with the Rangers, he created “Boogaard’s Booguardians,” hosting military members and their families at home games. He also made numerous appearances with partner organizations of the Garden of Dreams Foundation, the non-profit charity that works closely with all areas of Madison Square Garden, including the Rangers, Knicks, Liberty, MSG Media, MSG Entertainment and Fuse “to make dreams come true for kids facing obstacles.”

The Boogaard family would like to see their son’s legacy live on by supporting military kids and the game he loved. Donations can be made to: Defending The Blue Line, c/o Boogaard Booguardians Memorial Fund, 1206 N. Frontage Road, Suite B, Hastings, Mn. 55033. Donations can also be made at www.DefendingTheBlueLine.org.

The Boogaard family also donated his brain to Boston University School of Medicine researchers who will check for damage that might have resulted from his career as an NHL enforcer. Researchers at the medical school have set up a brain bank to check athletes for degenerative brain disease caused by repeated concussions.

Ron Salcer, Boogaard’s agent, said the player was approached by researchers because he played a similar style as Bob Probert, who died last year at 45. Researchers at the BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy found evidence in Probert’s brain of degenerative brain disease, which is associated with cognitive and behavioral problems and eventually causes dementia.

Boogaard missed the last 52 games of last season after sustaining a concussion in a fight with Ottawa Senators defenseman Matt Carkner in a game Dec. 9. It was his seventh fight in only 22 games with the Rangers, who signed him to a four-year, $6.5-million contract on July 1, 2010 after five seasons with the Minnesota Wild. There is no evidence yet that the injury contributed to his death, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune first reported the family asked the BU center to look into it.

“It’s an amazing thing he did and his family did,” Salcer told The Associated Press. “Hopefully that’ll bring some information. We don’t know exactly the impact that the concussions might have played.”

Results of an autopsy are expected to take several weeks.

WHALERS GREAT RON FRANCIS BACK IN FRONT OFFICE.

Ron Francis, the only Hall of Famer in Hartford Whalers history, has given up his spot on the Carolina Hurricanes’ bench as associate head coach under former Whalers coach Paul Maurice to focus on his front-office job of director of player personnel.

General manager Jim Rutherford said the mutual decision to shift Francis back into the front office was not in response to the Hurricanes missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons after winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. The only time that they made the postseason they reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.

“It was something that is not new,” Rutherford said. “It was something that had been planned over the last couple of years. It’s really what he wants to do.”

Francis, the Whalers’ all-time leader in most offensive categories who won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins and is the fourth-leading scorer in NHL history behind Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Gordie Howe, was promoted to assistant general manager in 2007 and took on coaching responsibilities when Maurice was hired a year later. Rutherford said Francis will relinquish his on-ice duties during practices and behind the bench during games.

Rutherford, who was Whalers GM when the team bolted from Hartford in 1997, said he hasn’t decided who will replace Francis on the coaching staff. Former Whalers forward Jeff Daniels, who led the Charlotte Checkers to the AHL’s Eastern Conference finals, might be a possibility, but Rutherford he likes what Daniels has done in developing younger players and prefers that he stays in Charlotte.

Another possibility is former Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour, who was the team’s director of forwards development in his first year after retiring from the NHL.

Rutherford voiced support for Maurice, saying he “had done a very good job coaching the Hurricanes two out of the last three years.” Maurice took the Hurricanes to the surprise spot in the Eastern Conference finals two years ago, and after taking a step backwards in 2009-10, they finished this season one win from a playoff spot. A 6-2 loss to Eastern Conference playoff finalist Tampa Bay on the final day of the season enabled the Rangers to make the postseason ahead of the Hurricanes.

“We played a very exciting brand of hockey,” Rutherford said. “We obviously have some areas that we want to upgrade. When you look at the whole 82 games, despite the fact that we all agree it’s disappointing and we wanted to make the playoffs, this was a good season in the first year of a transition year.

“We started the year as a 15-handicap and we got our handicap down to 10. As golfers know, it’s a lot easier to get to 15 to 10 than it is to go from 10 to five. … If we can do that this year, we’ll position ourselves to move forward and be a contending team.”

SABRES COULD PURCHASE AMERICANS

The Buffalo Sabres have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to purchase the AHL’s Rochester Americans in Terry Pegula’s latest bid to expand his hockey empire.

“We are two-three days into our due diligence,” a person familiar with negotiators told The Associated Press. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a confidentiality agreement this is in place.

A formal sale would be months away and require clearing numerous hurdles, starting with the Sabres’ affiliation agreement with the Portland Pirates, which runs through the 2013-14 season. The contract with Portland doesn’t include an out clause for the Sabres, meaning they would have to ensure the Pirates have another affiliation deal with an NHL team.

Buffalo’s interest in the Americans comes three months after Pegula bought the Sabres fro $189 million. A 60-year-old Pennsylvanian with an estimated worth of $3 billion, Pegula is a longtime Sabres fan who has injected new life into the franchise. He’s also an avid hockey fan who, in September, donated $88 million to Penn State, his alma mater, to fund a new multipurpose arena and help upgrade the men’s hockey program.

The purchase of the Americans would reunite the Sabres with their former AHL affiliate after the two broke ties after the 2007-08 season. It also would make it easier for the Sabres to make roster changes as Rochester is about a 90-minute drive from Buffalo.

Americans president Lewis Staats had no comment but did acknowledge in The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that the team had been approached by more than one NHL team this year. A sale would have to be approved by the AHL board of governors.

SENATORS SWEEP CHECKERS; DAWES HELPS BULLDOGS STAY ALIVE

Captain Ryan Keller’s goal at 13:05 of overtime gave the Binghamton Senators a 4-3 victory over the visiting Checkers on Wednesday night and a sweep of their Eastern Conference finals.

The Checkers got to overtime when Chris Terry scored his second goal of the game with 1:24 left in regulation. But Keller scored his eighth goal of the playoffs on a one-time shot from the top of the right circle off a faceoff win by Zach Smith to send the Senators into the Calder Cup finals against the Houston Aeros or Hamilton Bulldogs. Former Wolf Pack and Rangers wing Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd each scored twice as the Bulldogs remained alive in the Eastern Conference finals with an 8-1 rout of the visiting Aeros.

Binghamton led 2-0 after the first period on a power-play goal by Ryan Potulny, his league-leading 14th of the playoffs, and Kaspars Daugavins’ shorthanded tally, his 10th of the postseason. But the Checkers got even on goals by Terry and Casey Borer in the final 2:40 of the second period.

Andre Benoit’s power-play goal at 4:44 of the third period regained the lead for the Senators, but Terry’s sixth goal of the playoffs sent it to overtime.

Robin Lehner had 42 saves for the Senators after making 37 in a 7-1 romp on Tuesday night. The Senators outscored Charlotte 21-8 in the series as they won the Richard F. Canning Trophy and became the first Binghamton AHL team to reach the finals since the 1982 Whalers. The Senators, the top affiliate of the Ottawa Senators, finished fifth in the East Division with a 42-30-3-5 record but crossed over to the Atlantic Division playoff draw and ousted the Manchester Monarchs (4-3) and Portland Pirates (4-2) under first-year coach Kurt Kleinendorst.

Meanwhile, Ryan Russell, the Rangers’ seventh-round pick in 2005 who never played in the organization before being traded to Montreal Canadiens for a seventh-round pick in 2007, scored a shorthanded goal only 1:03 into the game to give Hamilton a quick lead. The Aeros’ Casey Wellman tied it with a power-play goal at 2:25, but Aaron Palushaj and Gabriel Dumont scored in the final 4:01 of the first period as the Bulldogs took the lead for good.

The Bulldogs had a whopping 40-15 shot advantage, and Drew MacIntyre had to make only 14 saves for Hamilton, which will try to stay alive again Friday night when it hosts Game 5. If necessary, Games 6 and 7 would in Houston on Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night.

The Aeros had got within a win of the a sweep as South Windsor native/captain Jon DiSalvatore scored two goals, including the winner, in a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night. DiSalvatore doubled his playoff output after leading the Aeros with 28 goals in the regular season. Houston is seeking its first title since 2003.

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