The New York Rangers prospects team felt it had a lot more to do and give Wednesday night after a lackluster effort during most of an overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in their robin-round finale Tuesday afternoon.
The Rangers didn’t consistently have the speed, grit and play making that they had shown in convincing wins over the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars, and there would be no better time to atone for the unimpressive performance than against the Buffalo Sabres in the championship game of the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
The Sabres had the most experienced of the eight tournament teams, including five players who spent last season with the Sabres and AHL’s Portland Pirates. They included center Luke Adam, a 2008 second-round pick and 2011 AHL rookie of the year who had three goals and an assist in 19 games with the Sabres and 29 goals and 33 assists in 57 AHL games, right wing Corey Tropp and defensemen Alex Biega and Nick Crawford. Defenseman Corey Fienhage joined the Pirates after Kamloops was eliminated from the Western Hockey League playoffs.
The Rangers had seven players who had at least a handful of games with the Connecticut Whale, led by defenseman Jyri Niemi, who spent the entire season in Hartford. But one of them, left wing Andrew Yogan, who had two goals and an assist in two games with the Whale, missed the title game and will be out seven-to-10 days with a Grade 1 separation in his right shoulder, which isn’t the one that was operated on last September and caused him to be sidelined until March. But defenseman Blake Parlett, who excelled for the Whale late last season after being called up from Greenville of the ECHL and had team-high five assists in two tournament games, returned after missing the Hurricanes loss with a tweaked knee.
So it was understandable why the young Rangers and Sabres had won the Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe divisions with a combined 4-1-1 record, the losses coming in the last round-robin games after berths in the final had already been clinched. But those setbacks motivated both teams to want to respond as hard as possible in hopes of lifting the championship trophy, with the Rangers having the added incentive of trying to duplicate the 2007 team that won the tournament while led by former Hartford Wolf Pack players Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Sauer and Artem Anisimov, who are now vital cogs on Broadway.
Well, the Rangers started better than against Carolina but fell behind by two goals in the opening 131/2 minutes before rallying to tie and then losing 5-2 as the Sabres scored three third-periods, the first and last coming off fortuitous bounces.
After J.T. Miller and Ryan Bourque got the Rangers even, the Sabres scored the winner at 1:28 of the third period when Jonathan Parker rushed through the neutral zone and made a cross-ice pass that bounced over the stick of Rangers defenseman Lee Baldwin to Tropp, who fired a perfect shot from the top of the right circle that found the near corner behind Scott Stajcer.
The Sabres then iced the game with two breakaway goals in 2:47. First, Shawn Szydlowski intercepted Niemi’s pass in center ice out of mid-air with the blade of his stick and got the puck to Daniel Catenacci, who broke in alone and put a backhander between Stajcer’s legs with five minutes left. Then Matt MacKenzie’s clearing attempt off the boards hit a stanchion and ricocheted to Zack Kassian, who skated in alone and also beat Stajcer also through the five-hole with 2:13 to go.
“The boys played unbelievable,” Adam, the Sabres captain who had a goal and two assists while centering the tournament’s best line with Kassian and Marcus Foligno, told MSG Network’s Dave Maloney in a postgame interview. “It was a total team effort all week, and this really caps it off, so it’s awesome.
“We didn’t know what to expect coming in for the first time in the tournament. But I thought we played really well the first couple of games, and I think we got a lot of confidence from that. We knew if we played well and played our game we’d have a shot at winning, and obviously all the guys played really well tonight and the goaltender (Nathan Lieuwen) played awesome for us and we ended up coming out on top.”
The 6-foot-3, 203-pound Adam said winning the title in the team’s tournament debut set a positive tone for training camp, which opens Friday.
“It’s huge,” Adam said. “I think this tournament was important for all the guys who were here to get the feet wet and get back into the hitting and body checking. That all comes along with the game and what you don’t see in the offseason. We had a change of ownership in Buffalo, and Mr. (Terrence) Pegula has done an amazing job with everyone involved. Everyone is really excited going into training camp and looking forward to the season.”
Adam gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead on their second power play when he picked up defenseman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc’s dump-in along the right boards, outmaneuvered two Rangers and beat Stajcer (17 saves) cleanly from the right circle at 10:17. It was the first time the Rangers trailed in regulation in their four games. The only time they trailed previously was when Justin Shugg scored on a breakaway with 41 seconds left in the second overtime to give Carolina its only victory.
Strong forechecking led to a Parlett turnover to Adam, who got the puck to Kassian for a backhand pass into the slot to Foligno, the son of longtime NHL forward and Sabres star Mike Foligno, now an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks. Marcus Foligno, whose older brother Nick plays for the Ottawa Senators, got inside Christian Thomas and put a shot between Stajcer’s legs at 13:35.
But only 19 later, the Rangers got to 2-1 as Carl Hagelin picked up a loose puck behind the net and made a deft backhand pass that found a wide-open Miller in the slot for a quick wrist shot that cleanly beat Lieuwen (21 saves).
“I was just trying to find a soft, loose area on the ice,” Miller told Maloney during the first intermission. “I think I should have scored earlier, so it was nice to get one.”
Miller, the Rangers’ first-round pick (15th overall) in June who had a team-high five shots, was playing against Sabres coach Ron Rolston, the most decorated coach in United States National Team Development Program history who left after seven years, the last two with Miller, to become coach of the Rochester Americans, Buffalo’s AHL affiliate. Lieuwen, the Sabres’ sixth-round pick in June, was being backed up by Ryan Rondeau, who was a tryout invitee after playing the last four years at Yale and helping the Bulldogs earn the No. 1 ranking in the country for much of last season with a 27-6-1 record and .928 save percentage.
During a televised talk to his team in the first intermission, Rangers coach Ken Gernander made an impassioned plea, asking for more intensity and shots on goal and fewer penalties so they wouldn’t have to rely on another strong third period to try to pull out a win.
As the second period was about to begin, MSG Network announcer Joe Micheletti said, “Do you think the coach wants to win?” Anyone who knows how Gernander played or has coached the last four years would certainly know the answer to that question.
The Rangers did pick up their pace the first few shifts of the second period but also picked up penalties to Sam Noreau and Jonathan Auby-Marchessault. They managed to kill off the Sabres’ two power plays and got even when Bourque forced a turnover in the right circle and beat Lieuwen for his team-high fourth goal of the tournament and extended his goal-scoring team record to nine in 11 games in three tournament appearances. It also was the 12th career point for Bourque, the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, tying Dubinsky’s team record in the tournament.
Play was even the remainder of the middle 20 minutes, but the Rangers turnovers and fortuitous bounces for the Sabres in the third period proved decisive.
In earlier games, the Blues earned third place with a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Anthony Nigro’s unassisted goal at 1:51 of overtime; the Minnesota North Stars scored three second-period goals to snap a scoreless tie and Darcy Kuemper made 32 saves in a 4-1 victory over the Stars for fifth place; and Ryan Sproul, a second-round pick in June, had two goals and an assist as the tournament host Detroit Red Wings beat the Hurricanes 4-1 for seventh place.
After their game, the Rangers’ traveling party took a charter flight back to New York, and most of the players will report to training camp Thursday at the Madison Square Garden training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. Workouts begin Friday, led by coach John Tortorella and new captain and former Wolf Pack All-Star right wing Ryan Callahan. The first of the Rangers’ seven preseason games, four of which will be in Europe, is next Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the New Jersey Devils in Albany, N.Y., home of the Devils’ AHL affiliate.
The Whale open training camp Sept. 24 at the XL Center in Hartford with physicals and testing, and their group will include veteran defenseman Wade Redden, who wasn’t invited to Rangers camp because his $6.5 million salary would count against the cap if he was injured in Greenburgh. Redden, who played 994 NHL games in 13 seasons with the Ottawa Senators and Rangers before making his minor-league debut with the Wolf Pack/Whale last season, will be joined by about 30 other players. They will include the first cuts of the Rangers, who are expected to take 30-32 players to Europe for the start of their European trip, and invitees by the Whale and the Greenville Road Warriors, the team’s ECHL affiliate. The Rangers will make their final cuts after two of their four preseason games in Europe so Gernander and his staff have time to form lines and defensive pairings and have them work together before the Whale open their 15th season Oct. 8 against the Adirondack Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y. The home opener is Oct. 15 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
The Whale’s first of four preseason games is Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. against Albany at the Koeppel Community Sports Center on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford. The game benefits the Ryan Gordon/Connecticut Whale Community Scholars Fund, with donations accepted at the door in lieu of an admission charge. The fund memorializes Gordon, a longtime Wolf Pack fan who died of cancer in 2006 at 19 and asked that the monies set aside for his college education be donated to three charities, including the Connecticut Whale Community Foundation.
DEMICHIEL HAS SUCCESSFUL DEBUT WITH BRUINS ROOKIES
Jared DeMichiel of Avon stopped 10 of 11 shots in the third period, including a spectacular high glove save on Kirill Kabonov’s breakaway, as the Boston Bruins rookies lost 7-2 to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
The 26-year-old DeMichiel, who led upstart Rochester Institute of Technology to the 2010 Frozen Four, is working out with the Stanley Cup champion Bruins rookies before heading to Kalamazoo of the ECHL.
“It’s never easy coming off the bench. Obviously you’d like to start,” DeMichiel told bostonbruins.com. “But when you get an opportunity like this, you want to make the most of it. You just have to run off adrenaline out there and hopefully make some big saves to get involved early. The guys did a great job getting me involved talking to me and making me feel comfortable, so I was really excited to get out there, play hockey, have some fun, make some saves and hope for the best.”
DeMichiel’s eye-popping save on Kabonov had people still talking after the game.
“I just read a little bit of a 2-on-1,” DeMichiel said. “I thought the guy who made the pass was looking pass the whole way and had to stay on it on the blocker side just in case he went short side. I just tried to extend and get over there as much as possible. I was pretty sure he was a right-handed shot, so I knew he wouldn’t be able to get it up too early so I just threw my body over there, flicked a little glove save and hoped to flash a little bit of leather.”
It wasn’t the first visit to Nassau Coliseum for DeMichiel, who watched family friend and former Hartford Whalers wing/forcer Jim McKenzie play for the Phoenix Coyotes, meeting him at the same hotel where the Bruins rookies stayed this week.
“I’ve definitely come full circle,” DeMichiel said. “Being a kid from New England, it’s definitely special and a great honor to wear a B’s jersey. I grew up a Hartford Whalers fan and those Bruins were the rival, but the next best team in New England is the Bruins, so it’s definitely a privilege to wear that sweater. It feels great.”
DeMichiel said he hoped to spend the remainder of the week continuing to work hard and feel better.
“I feel early on that I was shaking off a little bit of rust from the summer, but I guess that’s to be expected,” DeMichiel said. “You want to come in clicking on full cylinders, so hopefully I can continue to get better every single skate. Hopefully they like what they see and I can work hard and have a smile on my face.”
Ryan Strome, the fifth overall pick by the Islanders in June who played on a line with Rangers prospect Jason Wilson with Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League last season, had two goals and an assist to lead the rout. The Islanders’ victory avenged an 8-5 loss to the Bruins on Monday night, when DeMichiel didn’t play.
DeMichiel, the Atlantic Hockey Association first-team All-Star and MVP of the NCAA East Regional in 2010, was 17-13-2 in his rookie pro season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears and ECHL’s South Carolina Stingray and Elmira Jackals. He signed a one-year contract with Kalamazoo.
A POSSIBLE POSITIVE OUT OF THE WRECKAGE
Perhaps one positive can emerge from the horrific plane crash on Sept. 7 that claimed 44 lives, including 28 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl players in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.
KHL president Alexander Medvedev said the collective grief shared throughout the hockey world could improve relations with the NHL.
“I would like very much for this to beg no mere surge of emotion, but that we move in step with each other,” Medvedev said.
Medvedev plans to meet soon with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss how the two leagues can cooperate better.
“This was a tragedy for the entire family of hockey,” Medvedev said in a statement on the KHL website. “Now we will consider our differences with the NHL in quite a different light. Through cooperation, we will ensure that hockey is made better than is possible when we are divided or in isolation.”
The crash of a chartered Yak-42 jet in western Russia took the lives of 28 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl players, two coaches and seven other staff members. Alexander Galimov, the only team member to initially survive the crash, died Monday of his injuries in a Moscow hospital.
Relations between the NHL and KHL have been strained in recent years by a competition to sign the best players. Growing prosperity among KHL clubs means they are more often able to hold onto homegrown players and lure others back from the NHL.
Medvedev also said the KHL was preparing proposals to create a centralized system of flights using modern Russian and foreign aircraft.
“The league is willing to pay two months in advance for teams’ flights and then settle up later,” he said.
The Yak-42 that crashed in Yaroslavl belonged to a small Moscow-based charter company. Many KHL teams tend to rely on such companies to carry them on their long flights.
Until Lokomotiv’s forced pullout, the KHL had 24 teams across Russia, Belarus, Latvia, Kazakhstan and Slovakia. Lokomotiv was a leading force in Russian hockey and came in third in the KHL last year. It was a Russian league champion in 1997, 2002 and 2003.
The KHL also said the withdrawal of Lokomotiv from the league meant the total number of games to be played in the first half of the season had been revised from 672 to 621. Each team will play 54 games.
MCCRIMMON FUNERAL SATURDAY
Former Hartford Whalers defenseman Brad McCrimmon, who was among those killed in the crash before he was able to make his Lokomotiv coaching debut, will be buried Saturday.
Funeral services will begin Friday as The Archdiocese of Detroit says visitation is 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in the Detroit suburb of Farmington, Mich. A funeral Mass is scheduled for noon Saturday. The Red Wings rescheduled their first day of training camp to allow players and team staffers to be in Farmington for the funeral.
McCrimmon played in 1,222 NHL games with the Whalers, Boston, Philadelphia, Calgary, Detroit and Phoenix and had been an assistant coach with the New York Islanders, Calgary, Atlanta and Detroit. He was 52 years old.