Despite spending a pleasant summer in picturesque Kelowna, British Columbia, with his wife and young daughter, Wade Redden experienced a bit of an unsettling offseason, proving again that money can’t buy you complete happiness.
First, Redden had a chat with New York Rangers coach John Tortorella, who, not surprisingly, told the 13-year NHL veteran that he didn’t fit into the Blueshirts plans despite a strong finish to his first season in the minors with the Hartford Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale. In fact, Redden wasn’t invited to Rangers training camp because if he got injured, his $6.5 million contract would count against the salary cap, meaning the Rangers would have to release and/or trade other players.
While pondering his future, nothing materialized with other NHL teams for Redden, the second overall pick by the New York Islanders in the 1995 draft, largely because of his contract, and talks with European teams never got past the preliminary stage.
Then came the coup-de-grace, the tragic plane crash Sept. 7 that claimed 44 lives, most of them the Yaroslavl Locomotiv hockey team, including two friends. Former Rangers defenseman Karel Rachunek was Redden’s partner for several seasons in Ottawa, and Brad McCrimmon, who never got to make his head coaching debut after three years as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, was finishing his career as a Hartford Whalers defenseman as Redden embarked on his.
A week ago, Redden was in Farmington, Mich., attending McCrimmon’s funeral along with Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and his entire team and such NHL luminaries as former coach Scott Bowman, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, Toronto Maple Leafs president and general and former Whalers GM Brian Burke and NHL executive Cliff Fletcher.
“It was a tough one,” the 34-year-old Redden said Saturday after his first workout in his second season with the Whale. “My wife told me about it after seeing it on TV. I knew McCrimmon was the coach, but I didn’t know Rachunek was on the team until I saw the list (of those killed).”
Now, only seven days later, Redden and his 994 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers was among 10 players doing tests on and off the ice at Champions Skating Center on Saturday morning before a two-mile run Saturday night starting at St. Joseph’s College, not far from his house in West Hartford. They will be joined Sunday by 21 players assigned by the Rangers on Saturday for the first full-day of Whale camp, highlighted by a scrimmage starting at 9:40 a.m.
Redden worked out in Kelowna with several NHL players and members of the local Western Hockey League junior team, and after the workouts jokingly asked the media, “How do I look?”
The answer was still slim and trim. And he hadn’t changed in the skating tests, working up a good sweat while chatting with players who had to be thrilled just to be cruising around the rink with someone with Redden’s credentials.
Whale coach Ken Gernander again gave Redden “top marks” for a high level of professionalism and willingness to help young players trying to get where he had been for 13 seasons. Redden was especially beneficial to rookie Ryan McDonagh, who struggled the first 15-20 games and then improved dramatically with help from his partner and assistant coach J.J. Daigneault, who handles the defense. On Jan. 3, McDonagh switched places with Michael Del Zotto, who had struggled early with the Rangers after being a member of the NHL All-Rookie Team, never returned to Hartford and finished the season as part of the Blueshirts’ No. 2 pairing with former Wolf Pack defenseman Michael Sauer.
“I don’t know how much more a guy can do (to be a leader), but I don’t think it’s on your to-do list,” Gernander said. “You don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘I’ve got to come to the rink and be a leader.’ It’s just something that you bring with you that’s part of your package. If you see something or an area where you can help, you put that on yourself as far as a leadership role. I certainly expect him to be one of our leaders, but like I said, I don’t think it’s on his to-do list. That’s just something that’s kind of instinctive.”
Gernander will be delighted to know Redden is ready to be an even more positive influence, unlike some demoted players who mope and/or complain before, during and after they arrive. Instead, Redden looked back at “a big number” of coaches and players who helped him when he was learning to become a NHL All-Star and top international competition. The group included former Whalers wing Randy Cunneyworth, Lance Pidlick, a Senators teammate in his first season who played with Gernander at the University of Minnesota, and McCrimmon’s brother, Kelly, who was Redden’s general manager in junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings and “touched so many lives in hockey as far as tutelage and his impact on the game.”
“I feel more comfortable and better this year knowing the situation,” said Redden, who might consider coaching as a post-playing career. “I’m more settled, and I want to help these guys. I remember guys who helped me. I obviously want to take care of myself first, but I want to be there to help my teammates.
“I’ve always been that kind of guy where I tried to be a good teammate, and that’s not going to change. There are some good, young players here, not that they need a lot of direction, but there are the coaches, myself and people with experience who can help along.”
Tomas Kundratek, another defensive partner last season, and Pavel Valentenko were among the Rangers’ first 21 cuts Saturday after being among the final four a year ago and could be prime candidates for Redden’s help.
“You see young guys come in every year, and you see them make another step so hopefully they can keep progressing,” Redden said. “ ‘Tank’ had a solid year all-around, and I’d like to see him keep going.”
Hopefully, Valentenko, who labored Friday night in a 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils, doesn’t keep going back to his homeland. Andrew Gross of The Record and Herald News in New Jersey reported Saturday that there are rumblings that Valentenko will head back to Russia instead of Hartford. He and right wing Chad Kolarik have to clear waivers, and Valentenko was among NHL players placed on waivers Saturday. The list also included Redden and former Rangers and/or Wolf Pack players David Liffiton, Ales Kotalik and Justin Soryal.
Last season, Redden tied for fourth in Whale scoring with 42 points (eight goals, 34 assists) and was their best player during a critical 14-4-0-1 run from early February to late March that assured the team wouldn’t miss the playoffs for the second straight year. But it did little to improve his stock on the Rangers or NHL front.
“After talking with Torts, I knew I wasn’t going to be on the Rangers team, that I was going to be here,” Redden said. “I look back on my time (in New York), and it obviously wasn’t ideal for myself or for them, so hopefully I can take it a year at a time and make the most of this year.
“I have to be honest with myself that I don’t think I’ll go anywhere. It’s a long shot that anybody is going to pick up my contract, so I’ll play and hopefully something will happen where I can be free of it and move on or something happens. Everything is up in the air.”
Redden considered opting out of his contract and playing for less money elsewhere but didn’t think that was possible under the current collective bargaining agreement. But there also was no assurance that another team would sign him.
“All I can do is keep a positive attitude and go from there,” Redden said. “I had some contact with people I know in Europe, but this was a good situation for me last season. I felt good here as far as the hockey and the situation that I was in. As far as my family was concerned, it was a nice area, and I didn’t want to shake things up too much that way.”
Others who tested Saturday after not being invited to Rangers camp were goalie Jerry Kuhn, defensemen T.J. Fast and Dan Lawson and forwards Max Campbell, Chris Chappell, Brendan Connolly, Jeff Prough, Connor Shields and Jordan Owens, who was signed as an undrafted free agent to an entry-level contract with the Blueshirts on June 12, 2007 and played parts of four seasons with the Wolf Pack before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings for center Kris Newbury on March 3, 2010.
Redden and Chappell have NHL contracts, Kuhn and Campbell have AHL contracts and the other six are on tryouts. Chappell, Connolly and Fast played last season with Greenville, the Whale’s ECHL affiliate. Owens had one goal and four assists in 17 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins at the end of the 2006-07 season and then had six goals and 14 assists in 60 games last season before a broken arm in early March ended his season and scared away a lot of teams, according to Owens.
“There’s no better place to be because this is where I started by (pro) career,” said Owens, who didn’t have any place to go until he got a call from the Rangers on Monday. “I’m in exactly the same position as I was coming out of juniors, trying to earn a contract. I was looking for a job, and I still am. I was away for a little bit, but I’m back for the time being. I don’t know if there are any spots, but the only thing at this point of my career is that you can’t really worry about that stuff. I just have to worry about coming and playing to the best of my ability.”
The players assigned to the Whale were goalies Chad Johnson, Jason Missiaen and Cameron Talbot; defensemen Kundratek, Valentenko, Lee Baldwin, Collin Bowman, Sam Klassen, Jyri Niemi and Jared Nightingale; and forwards Kolarik, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Tommy Grant, Jordan Hickmott, Tayler Jordan, Kale Kerbashian, Chris McKelvie, Matt Rust, Scott Tanski, Kelsey Tessier and Jason Wilson.
The Rangers also returned seven players to their junior teams: defensemen Peter Ceresnak (Peterborough, OHL) and Samuel Noreau (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) and forwards Shane McColgan (Kelowna, WHL), J.T. Miller (Plymouth, OHL), Michael St. Croix (Edmonton, WHL), Christian Thomas (Oshawa, OHL) and Andrew Yogan (Peterborough, OHL).
“It was all the Rangers decision, and I’m not going to second-guess anything they did,” Gernander said. “It’s still training camp to some extent, so there might be varying reasons for different players who maybe get a little bit longer look because of experience or whatever the case may be. We’re all one big organization, and our job is to work the guys who are here and get them there.”
The Rangers still have 35 players, 12 more than the opening-night limit, including three goalies, 11 defensemen and 21 forwards. Surviving the first round of cuts were top prospects Dylan McIlrath, Ryan Bourque, Carl Hagelin and Tim Erixon, all of whom played in the Rangers’ first two preseason games. Depending on injuries, the Rangers might assign a few more players after their third preseason game Monday at 1 p.m. in Philadelphia before a flight to Europe for four more preseason games before their opener Oct. 7 against the Los Angeles Kings in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Whale have four goalies, 10 defensemen and 14 forwards, which is several short of what they expected because wing Randy McNaught didn’t report to Rangers camp after the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., Kolarik and Jordan were injured in Rangers camp and center Jordan Hickmott elected to play for a Canadian university rather than report to Whale camp.
After two days of practice and scrimmages, the Whale’s first preseason game is Tuesday at 7 p.m. against the Albany Devils 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 longtime Wolf Pack fan Ryan Gordon, who died in 2006 from cancer and asked that the money set aside for his college education be donated to three charities, including the Connecticut Whale Community Foundation.
The Whale also will play at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Falcons and then host the Worcester Sharks at the TD Bank Sports Center on the campus of Quinnipiac University in Hamden on Friday at 7 p.m. ($5 admission benefits Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford) and on Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. at Champions Skating Center ($5 admission benefits Junior Wolf Pack youth hockey). The entire AHL preseason schedule is available at www.theahl.com.
Here is today’s interviews with Whale head coach Ken Gernander and veteran defenseman, Wade Redden.
STRONG DEBUT FOR RICHARDS
The Rangers made the biggest offseason splash when they signed Brad Richards to a nine-year, $90 million contract that put the former Dallas Stars center on the hot seat in the media capital of the world. Richards was brought in to try to revive right wing Marian Gaborik, who suffered through an injury-riddled 2010-11 season and saw his goal output drop from 42 to 22, and the power play, which struggled most of the season.
Richards provided immediate dividends in his debut Friday night, scoring once on a fortuitous bounce and setting up Gaborik’s power-play goal Friday night in a sweep of the teams’ two games at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.Y. In the afternoon, Ryan Bourque, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, scored twice as the Rangers prospects team beat their Devils counterparts, 5-4.
While Bourque will be counted on by the Rangers in the near future, Richards is expected to be the key for the attack that had to work overtime to score most of last season. Improving the power play would do wonders for the Rangers, whose black-and-blue approach earned plaudits on many fronts but brought loads of frustration because of so many near-misses.
Richards’ first Rangers goal came only 4:22 into his first game on his second shift as he got around David Steckel and rifled a pass from the low left circle intended for Wojtek Wolski on the other side of the crease that deflected off the skate of Devils defenseman Adam Larsson, the fourth overall pick in June, and past Martin Brodeur to tie the score.
“He (Richards) made some good plays with the puck,” said Tortorella, who again watched from the stands. “His passing ability, that’s a big part of his game. So I thought that line created a lot of offense. Hopefully, we’ll see, we’ll try some people along the way here and just see how it goes. I thought Richards played well.”
Richards skated between Gaborik and Wojtek, as they have most of training camp. Richards, Gaborik and new defenseman Brendan Bell each had a goal and an assist for the Rangers, who escaped a potential overtime when Ilya Kovalchuk was denied a fourth point less than two minutes after Bell’s blast from the blue line had given the Rangers the lead. Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists, and his potential equalizer was denied with 2:22 left for Nick Palmieri’s interference on goalie Chad Johnson, who stopped the 10 shots he faced and got the win.
“We played a good first half of the game,” Richards said. “Then we let them back in it, they got momentum and made it a lot tougher. … But we ended up getting a goal when we needed it, and finished it out.”
The Rangers had a two-goal lead thanks to goals by Richards, Derek Stepan and Gaborik after Adam Henrique had scored on a backhand 92 seconds into the game. A series of penalties – Kris Newbury for slashing at 6:40, Newbury for tripping at 14:46, Tim Erixon for hooking at 16:10 and Valentenko for holding at 18:55 – helped the Devils tie the game. Jacob Josefson scored on a 4-on-4, set up by a Richards defensive zone giveaway during Newbury’s minor (evened out by Larsson’s cross-check at 7:03), and Kovalchuk scored with one second left in a 5-on-3 thanks to Newbury and Erixon penalties.
Martin Biron allowed the three Devils goals on 16 shots, giving way after two periods to Johnson, who was 10-for-10 in the third. It was Biron’s first competition since breaking his collarbone when hit by a shot in practice on Feb. 28.
“The timing is what needs to be back,” Biron said. “It felt good the last couple of days. We had real practices – we had 45 minutes to an hour, with 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s, plays down low, that kind of thing – where the first few days of camp, there’s a lot of scrimmages, and then if you have a practice with 14 guys on the ice, it’s a lot of flow and then some conditioning.”
Mike Rupp, who had five hits in his Rangers debut against his former team, got into a fight with Eric Boulton with 2:39 left in the third period and landed several solid shots after Boulton’s helmet came off. Boulton rallied a bit, but it was a win for Rupp – and shortly thereafter for the Rangers.
“Rupp had a good game, not a bad game forechecking,” Tortorella said. “We tried him a little bit killing penalties, see what he can do there. (The fight is) part of his responsibility. I’m not sure how it all started. I thought he stood in there really well, and Boulton’s a pretty good fighter.”
In the “On The Bubble Watch,” the Daily News’ Jesse Spector wrote defenseman Michael Del Zotto played better than he did in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Devils on Wednesday night and earned kudos from Tortorella. Ditto for Erixon, who is battling Del Zotto for a spot on the Rangers roster. Right wing Mats Zuccarello was aggressive throughout, found open ice better than he did a year ago and was plus-2 in 12:37. Newbury, a center, had the minor penalties, and right wing Dale Weise was down from what he showed while scoring the Rangers’ only goal Wednesday and got only 7:11 of ice time. Valentenko was plus-2 but did not particularly stand out, while Bell scored the winning goal on a 50-foot shot with 3:04 left and added an assist.
In his first game as Rangers captain, former Hartford Wolf Pack right wing Ryan Callahan had the primary assist on Gaborik’s goal, tied with Gaborik and Wolski for the team high in shots with four and led all Rangers forwards in ice team with 21:57. He was also part of a unique five-forward power play that also included Gaborik and Rupp up front and Richards and Wolski on the points.
Tortorella said All-Star defenseman Marc Staal might not go to Europe on Monday because of lingering post-concussion headaches from a hit by his brother, All-Star center Eric Staal, in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 22. He didn’t skate Thursday and Friday because he was seeing specialists but could join the Rangers during the week if he’s not on the plane Monday night.
“There’s all different options. It depends,” Tortorella said. “We’re trying to get him straightened out for the regular season. We feel the specialists that he’s seeing now are going to speed that up. So if he doesn’t make the first plane, he could come over the next day. We just haven’t gotten that far. He’s done a lot of testing, a lot of things over the past two days, and is doing it now. So we’ll find out more as we go into (Saturday) and Sunday.”
PACIORETTY, SHANNON SCORE TWICE; GRACHEV, JAGR KEY WINS
New Canaan native and former Taft School-Watertown standout Max Pacioretty showed no effects from the broken vertebra and concussion that ended his 2010-11 season early as he sparked Montreal’s comeback from a three-goal deficit with two power-play goals and then scored in the shootout as the Canadiens won 4-3 in Ottawa on Friday night.
Former Rangers center Scott Gomez tied the game with 36.5 seconds left in regulation when the puck went into the net off Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. The line of Gomez, Pacioretty and prospect Brendan Gallagher combined for 19 shots, nine by Pacioretty.
“It seemed like we were controlling the puck really well every time we had it,” said Pacioretty, a first-round pick (22nd overall) in 2007. “It just shows how good Gomer is because most of the time the puck was on his stick down there and we were just trying to create some space for him.”
Last season ended for Pacioretty on March 8 when his head was bounced off a stanchion by Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, cracking a vertebra in his neck and leaving him with a concussion that had him lying on the ice unconscious for several minutes. The concussion symptoms did not last very long, which Pacioretty feels very lucky about considering the plight of players such as Sidney Crosby and former Wolf Pack and Rangers center Marc Savard, whose career is likely over.
“I don’t think I’m in the clear completely, I know some of these players many months down the road have experienced some symptoms,” Pacioretty said. “So I’m aware of that, and I hope to keep getting as lucky as I have with my situation.”
Darien native Ryan Shannon scored two second-period goals to lead host Tampa Bay to a 5-2 victory over cross-state rival Florida, spoiling the NHL coaching debut of former Hartford Whalers captain Kevin Dineen.
Shannon, a free-agent signee who played with Ottawa last season, beat Jacob Markstrom for a power-play goal at 6:31 and then made it 3-0 when he scored the winner at 12:55.
“Every day, I feel more comfortable,” Shannon said of getting used to coach Guy Boucher’s system. “He tells us exactly what he wants, so it’s our job to do it well.”
Evgeny Grachev, acquired from the Rangers on June 28 for a third-round pick in the draft, continued to make a case for a roster spot with the St. Louis Blues by scoring his third goal in four preseason games in a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
“He’s finding a way to be effective, not only on the score sheet, but in a number of different areas, decisions on the ice with the puck, his defensive play,” Blues coach Davis Payne said of Grachev. “He’s come here to make a statement to our organization after picking him up in a trade this summer and he’s doing a very good job of it.”
Grachev’s power-play goal at 8:06 of the first period was the only score by either team through 40 minutes. Adam Cracknell made it 2-0 at 5:02 of the third period before Colorado rookie Tyson Barie ended Jake Allen’s shutout bid with a shot from the top of the left circle at 12:48. It was Barrie’s second goal and third point in two nights.
Jaromir Jagr, playing in the NHL for the first time in three years after leaving as captain of the Rangers, had a goal and an assist in the Philadelphia Flyers’ 3-1 victory in Detroit.
“It may take me a while to get my timing back,” the highest-scoring European-born player in NHL history told philly.com. “I want to get – how do you say it? – to NHL (level) as quick as I can.”
Late in the first period, Jagr set up James Van Riemsdyk’s goal and then scored 52 seconds later to erase the Red Wings’ 1-0 lead. Jagr’s goal came when he took a pass from Scott Hartnell and wristed a 15-footer past goalie Jimmy Howard. … Several players with Connecticut ties were assigned to AHL teams. Former Wolf Pack wing Ryan Hollweg was sent to Portland, former Wolf Pack goalie David LeNeveu and former Salisbury Prep/Fairfield Prep/Yale forward Mark Arcobello of Milford went to Oklahoma City and Philip Samuelsson, the oldest son of former Whalers and Rangers defenseman and Wolf Pack assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
WHALE KICKOFF SATURDAY IN WEST HARTFORD
The Whale will host its “Whale Blue & Green Block Party” season Face-off event next Saturday from 6-9 p.m. at Blue Back Square in West Hartford. It will resemble a pep rally, with introductions of the Whale players and coaching staff, who will be signing autographs.
The Face-off Fan Experience will feature live music by Hartford hockey legendary national anthem singer Tony Harrington & Touch, food specials available from local restaurants, Whale merchandise showcasing the latest apparel, outdoor movies, “Pucky” joined by other mascot friends in the Autograph Zone, prizes and the introduction of the new Whale Slap Shot Cage sponsored by XFINITY, where fans can test their puck-shooting skills. Fans also can enter to win tickets to the home opener Oct. 15 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers or a Connecticut Whale replica jersey.
Admission is free and be in the area of Blue Back Square known as “The Square” on Isham Rd. next to Barnes & Noble. … Whale season and individual game tickets are now on sale. For information on season seats and all the Whale’s many ticketing options, visit www.ctwhale.com or call the Whale ticket office at 860-728-3366 to talk with an account executive. Individual tickets are on sale at Public Power ticket office at the XL Center. The Whale will play 90 percent of their 38 games at the XL Center on weekends and during vacation and holiday breaks. Tickets, starting at $14 for adults and $12 for youth, are available at the box office Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. or online at www.ctwhale.com and through TicketMasters charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. For information on season seats and mini-plans, call 860-728-3366 or visit www.ctwhale.com.