FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1By: Bruce Berlet

Talk about being way off base.

Larry Brooks, longtime New York Rangers beat writer for the New York Post, rightfully took George Laraque to task in his column Sunday for saying the NHL team somehow turned their back on Derek Boogaard in his time of need.

Laraque told NHL HOME ICE on SiriusXM Radio that the Rangers handled Boogaard poorly and criticized coach John Tortorella for his feelings about the left wing/enforcer.

“He was cleared to play at the end of the season and the team just told him to take the rest of the year off,” Laraque reportedly told NHL HOME ICE. “You know how much pressure that puts on a guy? He was ready to play with the contract he had and the team says, ‘It’s OK, just take the rest of the year off.’ On top of that, he told me his coach was not a big fan of him.

“I don’t want to insinuate anything that happened and the cause (of his death) or whatever, but I would have been frustrated if I was in that situation. The fact he was inactive so long and those two incidents happened, it clearly didn’t help him.”

Don’t want to insinuate anything that happened and the cause of death or whatever?

The Rangers signed Boogaard to a four-year, $6.6 million contract last July, so if he was healthy and able to return, the Rangers telling him to stay home makes the signing more questionable. As for why the Rangers might have sent him home to Minneapolis, Laraque said Tortorella did not think much of Boogaard as a contributor on the team.

“He told me John didn’t really like him as a player,” Laraque said. “I don’t know what John thought or what he said. All I know is that Derek told me he was cleared to play, to come back, that he wanted to play and the team told him to take the rest of the year off, to get ready for next year. He didn’t tell me who told him that, he just told me the team said that.”

Making such statements a few days after Boogaard died at the far too young age of 28 is inappropriate at best and classless at worst. Laraque might be hurting after losing a friend, but the Rangers lost a valued member of the organization off the ice. And Boogaard likely wouldn’t have played much, if at all, after being sidelined since Dec. 9, when he sustained a concussion in a fight with Ottawa Senators defenseman Matt Carkner.

So it’s sad for anyone to make such accusations as everyone is going through a grieving process. It’s absurd for Laraque to suggest the Rangers told Boogaard, found dead in his Minneapolis apartment on May 13 and laid to rest Saturday in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, to go home to Minnesota with about a week to go in the regular season so he could work on his conditioning

Maybe the 6-foot-3, 273-pound Laraque became jealous that he was out of hockey, bought out by the Montreal Canadiens last year, while the 6-7, 280-pound Boogaard was still in the NHL.

Before Boogaard left the team, Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather predicted Boogaard would have a positive on-ice influence next season despite being sidelined the last 41/2 months of this season. And Brooks said he learned Rangers management “essentially staged an intervention with Boogaard at the club’s practice rink in late March that resulted in (his) re-entry into the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.” The same day, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported when Boogaard missed most of the Wild’s training camp in 2009 and the first two weeks of the season under the guise of a concussion, he entered Stage 1 of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.

The Hannepin (Minn.) County Medical Examiner’s Office revealed Friday that Boogaard, drafted by the Wild in the seventh round in 2001, died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone toxicity. The native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, had been found in his Minneapolis apartment a week earlier by his brothers, Ryan and Aaron. His death was related to taking medication for pain, oxycodone, which has warnings not to mix with alcohol that could cause severe injury or death. It is also considered an addictive drug, a narcotic pain reliever similar to morphine.

But that wasn’t because of neglect on the part of the Rangers, who did what they could, along with physicians and counselors in the NHL/NHLPA program. So knocking the Rangers is a sorry commentary for Laraque, especially since he has protested animal abuse by the meat industry, does lots of charity work in Edmonton to help local people in response to the earthquake in his native Haiti last year, and in February 2010 was named a “goodwill ambassador” for TekSavvy Solutions, an Internet and landline phone provider in Chatham, Ontario, Canada. And earlier this year, he took part in the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Canada Reads literary competition as the celebrity defender for author Angie Abdou’s “The Bone Cage.”

All that after Laraque struggled as a young black athlete in a predominately white sport. He faced numerous challenges growing up and was always forced to deal with racism, which got so bad and hate-filled that his father pulled him out of hockey for a year when he was 12. But Laraque loved the game so much that he decided to play again despite the fact he was treated poorly by his opponents, who swore and spit at him on the ice. Laraque was known for fighting in the NHL, which he learned out of necessity as he grew up having to defend himself. Laraque dedicated making the NHL to all the people that called him black names and racial slurs growing up.

So, Georgie Boy, shut up about the Rangers and keep doing your own good work.

DAWES GETS BULLDOGS TO GAME 7

Former Hartford Wolf Pack and Rangers wing Nigel Dawes just wouldn’t allow the Hamilton Bulldogs season to die Sunday night.

Dawes scored his second goal of the game at 9:11 of the second overtime to give the visiting Bulldogs a 5-4 victory over the Houston Aeros, forcing a decisive Game 7 in the Western Conference finals Tuesday night at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Jed Ortmeyer, Dawes’ former teammate in Hartford and New York, got the Aeros to overtime when he scored with only 1:56 left in regulation. But Dawes then gave the Bulldogs a chance to join the 1960 Rochester Americans and the 1989 Adirondack Red Wings as the only teams in the AHL’s 75-year history to win three consecutive games in a best-of-7 series after falling into a 3-0 hole. The Amerks and Red Wings completed the comeback by winning Game 7. After three one-goal losses, the Bulldogs, coached by former Hartford Whalers wing Randy Cunneyworth, have won 8-1, 4-2 and 5-4.

“History has to be written,” Cunneyworth told the Hamilton Spectator. “So if you have to go through it, you might as well make some history in a positive way.”

Dawes, who also scored in the second period to give Hamilton a 3-2 lead, scored the winner off a 2-on-1 with Aaron Palushaj. It was the 14th playoff goal for Dawes, setting a Bulldogs record and tying him with the Binghamton Senators’ Ryan Potulny for the league lead this spring. The Senators await the Bulldogs-Aeros winner after never trailing while sweeping the Charlotte Checkers in the Eastern Conference finals.

“This loss really stings, obviously, but there were still a lot of great things that happened in the game,” South Windsor native/Aeros captain Jon DiSalvatore told the Houston Chronicle. “We controlled, dictated most of the game, but it just goes to show you that one play – and I am not blaming any one guy – can really, really be the difference in situations like this.”

DiSalvatore, who had an assist, alluded to the Aeros having a 61-38 shot advantage, including 19-3 in the third period and 32-10 in the last two periods.

Andreas Engqvist also scored twice for the Bulldogs, with his unassisted shorthanded goal 27 seconds into the third period giving Hamilton a 4-2 lead and seemingly putting the Bulldogs on their way to a regulation victory. But defenseman Nate Prosser got the Aeros to 4-3 with his first career playoff goal at 11:02 and then Ortmeyer tied it. Ironically, Sunday was the seventh anniversary of Ortmeyer’s third-period goal helping the Wolf Pack to a 3-2 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals. But the Penguins came back to win the series in overtime of Game 7.

Dustin Boyd had a goal and an assist, and Bulldogs goalie Drew MacIntyre made an AHL playoff-high 57 saves to improve to 10-2 lifetime when facing Calder Cup elimination.

The winner of Game 7 will have home-ice advantage against Binghamton in the finals. The Aeros beat the Milwaukee Admirals in Game 7 to reach the conference finals.

THOMPSON GUIDES ACES TO SECOND ECHL TITLE

Chris Langkow scored two goals as the Alaska Aces, coached by former Wolf Pack defenseman Brent Thompson, won their second ECHL Kelly Cup championship on Saturday night with a 5-3 victory over the host Kalamazoo Wings.

Alaska outscored the Wings 21-14 in winning the best-of-seven final series 4 games to 1 and joining the 2005-06 Aces as ECHL champions. The Aces went 12-1 in the playoffs, setting an ECHL record fewest losses in a postseason. The previous record was two by Greensboro in 1990, Hampton Roads in 1992 and Toledo in 1994.

The Aces became the sixth team in the ECHL’s 23-year history to win multiple titles, joining Hampton Roads (1991, 1992, 1998), South Carolina (1997, 2001, 2009), Cincinnati (2008, 2010), Idaho (2004, 2007) and Toledo (1993, 1994). And the Aces became only the fourth team to win both the Kelly Cup and Brabham Cup as regular-season champions in the same year. They’re the first to accomplish it twice (2006).

“The character oozed out,” Thompson said. “There was never a time when they doubted themselves, doubted this team or second-guessed me.”

It’s funny the second-year coach would say that. He came under fire from fans in his rookie season when the Aces were eliminated in the first round for the first time in their eight-season ECHL history. But Thompson put together a winner thanks to tireless offseason recruiting and several acquisitions that really panned out. He was named ECHL Coach of the Year, and Aces closed the season on a 35-5-1 run, an .866 winning percentage. And the team from the 49th state finished 49-0-0 when leading after two periods.

“I think he (Thompson) vindicated himself, don’t you?” Terry Parks, one of three owners present for the clinching win, told the Anchorage Daily News.

Aces captain Scott Burt joined Jared Bednar as the only individuals to win three Kelly Cups, and Burt is the first to do it as a player. Bednar won titles as a player with South Carolina in 1997 and 2001 and was the Stingrays coach in 2009.

Scott Howes was named playoff MVP after getting seven goals and 12 assists in 12 games. Brian Swanson, who played his first four pro games with the Wolf Pack in 1999, had two assists in the clincher and finished with three goals and eight assists in the Aces’ 13 playoff games.

Swanson joined the Aces after six seasons in Germany because he and his wife, childhood sweetheart Lynn, wanted to bring their three kids back to Alaska full-time and because, like linemate Wes Goldie, he had never won a title.

“When you ask why I came home, it’s to play for this organization and win,” said an emotional Swanson, a former NHLer with Edmonton and Atlanta who had a broken left toe, sprained left ankle and sore neck that slowed him in the finals and made him feel older than 35 years. “I’ve been second so many times – midget, junior, college, pros even. It finally happened. I won. To win, that’s what it’s all about it. If you don’t sacrifice, you’ll never win anything.”

In the finale, the Aces trailed 1-0 on Brian McGuirk’s goal at 2:58 of the second period, but Steve Ward responded only 32 seconds later with his first goal of the playoffs. The Aces took their first lead on Langkow’s power-play goal at 13:54, then the Wings tied it on A.J. Thelen’s goal with 4:09 left in the period.

The Aces regained the lead again on Chad Anderson’s tally with 1:07 to go, and Langkow got the winner with 5:31 left in the third period. Trent Daavettila got Kalamazoo to 4-3 with 3:59 to go, but the Aces clinched it only 28 seconds later on Curtis Fraser’s goal.

Former Springfield Falcons goalie Gerald Coleman had 27 saves for the Aces and finished the playoffs with an 11-1 record, 1.73 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Aces won the ECHL regular-season title with a 47-22-2-1 record for 97 points, one more than the first-year Greenville Road Warriors, who are affiliated with the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.

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