Kale Kerbashian joined the New York Rangers organization literally over a cup of coffee and a vanilla milkshake.
The smallish (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) but quick forward was interviewing with Rangers scout Rich Brown at a Starbucks in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, when he got an offer to play for one of the NHL’s Original Six teams.
“He had watched me all season, and I guess he liked what he saw so they gave me a chance,” Kerbashian recalled. “I loved coming down (to Hartford) and staying in the Homewood Suites. It was great.”
Kerbashian got a three-week taste of pro hockey in April after he signed AHL and amateur tryout contracts after completing his junior career with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League. He had 63 goals and 81 assists in 126 games in two seasons in Sarnia and chipped in two goals and one assist in four games with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers in 2010.
Kerbashian celebrated his 21st birthday in Connecticut but was scoreless in four regular-season games and then watched as the Whale were eliminated by the Portland Pirates in six games in the first round of the playoffs.
“It would have been nice to step right in and help the team, but the experience helped me a lot as far as understanding the dedication it takes toward the game,” Kerbashian said. “On the ice, not that much stuff is different (from juniors), but off the ice, there’s the preparation before the game. It’s paying attention to detail. It’s your job, not something you do for fun or for something to do. You’re signing up for it, so it’s your job, and we’re pretty lucky it’s something we love.”
Kerbashian spent the summer in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and returned to play in the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., where the Rangers lost 5-3 in the final to the more experienced Buffalo Sabres. Kerbashian then participated in the Rangers’ main camp in Greenburgh, N.Y., before being among the first 21 players assigned to the Connecticut Whale on Friday.
“I didn’t have a very good camp in New York,” Kerbashian said. “I was very uptight, thinking way too much, and they told me that in my exit meetings.”
A meeting with Whale assistant coach Pat Boller, who works with the forwards, immediately helped Kerbashian, though he said it wasn’t anything resembling Einstein’s theory of relativity.
“I just basically told him to just play his game,” Boller said Tuesday. “He was trying to overdo things a little bit, trying to worry about putting the numbers up, and I just told him to do the little things like stopping and starting, going to the net, shoot the puck. I just told him to relax, play hockey and do the little things.”
It might have been simple advice, but Kerbashian knew exactly what Boller was talking about.
“I’m better off when I relax and keep it simple,” Kerbashian said. “And they want me to shoot it more. I know I’ve got a good shot but I wasn’t much of a shooter, and they brought it to my attention. It can be one of my assets if I use it, so I took that as a confidence builder. You don’t have as much time and space as you do in juniors, so if you’ve got a shot, you’ve got to take it.”
Kerbashian proved an excellent listener Monday when he had three goals and an assist in the Blue’s 6-4 victory over the Red. His last two goals were nearly identical shots from the left circle off nice passes from Kelsey Tessier and Scott Tanski that beat 6-8 Jason Missiaen high to the near corner. Though the forwards have to constantly rotate in scrimmages because of a shortage of players, Kerbashian was especially dangerous on a line with Tessier and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, former teammates with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Though each is on the small side, they have good speed and obvious skills.
“(Kerbashian) is a good skater with a pretty good shot,” Whale coach Ken Gernander said, “but he’s going to have to learn the professional game a little more in terms of some attention to detail and managing the puck. Sometimes when you don’t have a play, you can’t force it. And on the defensive side, you have to pick up your reads. Nobody can get by just on offense. He had some points in juniors, but there are no one-way offensive players any more, especially at the AHL level because you have to be a solid, all-around player. The more numbers that you can post offensively will obviously help, but you have to be diligent in both areas.”
Kerbashian got that chance again Tuesday night and delivered with another goal off a pass from tryout center Matt Rust, but that was the Whale’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to the Albany Devils in their preseason opener at the Koeppel Community Sports Center on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford. It was Kerbashian’s latest connection to the Insurance City, where his uncle, Ron Busniuk, played for the New England Whalers and Ron’s younger brother, Mike, was an assistant to coach John Paddock with the Hartford Wolf Pack for three seasons, including in 1999-2000 when the team won the only Calder Cup in franchise history. Ron is now a retired coach who guided the Thunder Bay Twins senior hockey team to two successive championships in 1983 and ’84 and was later inducted into the Northern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and the University of Minnesota Duluth Athletic Hall of Fame. Mike is in his second season as the assistant coach of the Lakehead University hockey team in Thunder Bay.
“My mom’s sister married Ron, so Ron is my first uncle, and Buzzy is like my uncle,” Kerbashian said. “I talked to him on the phone when I was struggling.”
Buzzy always specialized in talking and enjoying himself, and Kerbashian has to hope his words and those of Boller continue to sink in.
RANGERS SEND TWO TO WHALE
After losing 5-3 in Philadelphia and before boarding a chartered flight to Europe on Monday night, the Rangers assigned forwards Andre Deveaux and Andreas Thuresson to the Whale, leaving them with 33 players, 10 over the opening-night limit. Thuresson, John Mitchell and Brian Boyle scored for the Rangers in a game that included three fights, the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds yelling a homophobic slur at Sean Avery and the Flyers’ Tom Sestito hitting Deveaux hard from behind, driving him face-first into the glass and setting off a melee. All this just hours after Rangers and Flyers players and officials were playful during the official announcement that the 2012 NHL Winter Classic between the teams would be at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Jan. 2. Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather even guaranteed his team would win the game and Stanley Cup and the New York Yankees would win the World Series.
Simmonds, who is black, didn’t deny using the slur toward Avery, who publicly supported gay marriage in New York State this summer. It came only four days after being hailed for using restraint and showing dignity after being the target of a banana being thrown on the ice during a preseason game in London, Ontario. Simmonds spoke with NHL senior vice president and director of operations Tuesday and is expected to be fined.
The slur at the agitating Avery was hardly dignified, just like Sestito’s hit on Deveaux. Stu Bickel, who played for the Whale last season, immediately came to Deveaux’s defense and pummeled Sestito, who was given a five-minute major for boarding, five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct. Sestito is almost certain to be suspended by former Rangers and Hartford Whalers All-Star wing Brendan Shanahan, the new NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety who has been doing videos to explain why he handed several recent suspensions to try to prevent hits from behind and to players in a defenseless position. On Sept. 18, Shanahan suspended Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley for 10 games for hitting Toronto Maple Leafs center Darryl Boyce from behind, and Sestito’s hit was even worse.
“Well, Shanny should have a field day, as far as the hits from behind; he should have a field day,” Rangers coach John Tortorella told reporters after the game.
Even Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, the former Whalers coach and GM, said he expected to hear from the league office about Sestito.
“Overzealous,” Holmgren said. “It’s unfortunate for him. I haven’t heard anything yet. I expect to get an e-mail or a call.”
Deveaux said he didn’t appreciate the hit but took the high road when if Shanahan should suspend Sestito, who has always had a reputation for questionable hits, including with the Falcons.
“Obviously I have a problem with (the hit),” Deveaux told the media. “We just watched (Sunday) with Shanahan. That was pretty much everything that they want us not to do. … All I’m going to say (about a possible suspension) is that was pretty dangerous. I’m in a pretty defenseless position. I’m sure they’re going to look at it.”
Deveaux and Thuresson were placed on waivers Tuesday for the purpose of having them be part of the Whale as of noon Wednesday. If they clear, Gernander said he wasn’t sure if they would play Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield against the Falcons. If Devenaux does play, it will be a homecoming for the rugged right wing, who played parts of three seasons with the Falcons, getting 11 goals, 15 assists and 353 penalty minutes in 140 games. Thuresson was acquired from the Nashville Predators for Brodie Dupont on July 2.
The Whale completes their preseason when they 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.
Besides the likely addition of Deveaux and Thuresson, the Whale released defenseman Dan Lawson from his tryout, leaving them with 31 players: goalies Missiane, Chad Johnson, Jerry Kuhn and Cameron Talbot, defensemen Lee Baldwin, Collin Bowman, T.J. Fast, Sam Klassen, Tomas Kundratek, Jyri Niemi, Jared Nightingale, Wade Redden and Pavel Valentenko and forwards Deveaux, Thuresson, Tessier, Kerbashian, Audy-Marchessault, Tanski, Max Campbell, Chris Chappell, Brendan Connolly, Tommy Grant, Tayler Jordan, Kale Kerbashian, Chad Kolarik, Chris McKelvie, Jordan Owens, Jeff Prough, Matt Rust, Connor Shields and Jason Wilson. Valentenko, Kolarik and Jordan are injured, haven’t been skating and are doubtful for any of the preseason games.
Nearly lost in Simmods’ racial slur and Sestito’s dangerous hit Monday night was former Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr scoring two power-play goals and assisting on Braydon Coburn’s winner in his home preseason debut for the Flyers, who signed the Czech star to a one-year, $3 million in the offseason. It was Jagr’s first game in Philadelphia since March 21, 2008, when he played for the Rangers. Flyers fans quickly have taken to Jagr, giving him a rousing ovation when he was introduced as part of the starting lineup. Henrik Lundqvist had 26 saves for the Rangers, newcomer Ilya Bryzgalov 17 for the Flyers.
The Rangers players traveling to Europe were goalies Lundqvist, Martin Biron and Scott Stajcer, defensemen Bickel, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, Brendan Bell, Michael Del Zotto, Steve Eminger, Tim Erixon, Dylan McIlrath and Blake Parlett and forwards Avery, Boyle, Mitchell, Bourque, captain Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Carl Hagelin, Marian Gaborik, Kris Newbury, Brandon Prust, Brad Richards, Mike Rupp, Derek Stepan, Dale Weise, Wojtek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello.
Sauer sprained his right shoulder only 3:41 into the game when hit into the boards by rugged Zac Rinaldo, who bloodied Weise in a fight later in the first period. The oft-injured former Wolf Pack defenseman will not practice for at least a week, but Tortorella said Tuesday in Prague, Czech Republic, that he hopes Sauer will play in some of the Rangers’ final four preseason games and be ready for the regular season opener Oct. 7 against the Los Angeles Kings in Stockholm, Sweden.
“My adrenaline was going so I tried to gather myself,” Sauer told reporters after the game. “But then the pain just kept coming. It’s frustrating because you never want to come out of a game like that, especially before this trip we’ve got going. The good news is that the X-rays came back negative. I’ll just treat it and get going soon.”
The Rangers were already without All-Star defenseman Marc Staal, who wasn’t on the charter flight but is expected to rejoin the team Thursday or Friday after missing most of training camp with headaches related to a concussion from being hit by his brother, All-Star center Eric Staal, in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 22. Staal met with specialists on Thursday and Friday, had acupuncture treatment Sunday and more unspecified treatment Monday.
Avery also didn’t practice Tuesday at the Tesla Arena in Prague because of a sore right foot from blocking a shot in the third period Monday night. He did not return in the midst of a strong game and later displayed a big right toe that had its nail ripped completely off and saying, “It’s not broken, but it’s not pretty.”
On Tuesday, Tortorella said, “I’m not sure where he’ll be tomorrow” as far as practicing with the team.
The Rangers will remain in Prague through their first European preseason game against HC Sparta Prague on Thursday night and then head to Gothenburg, Sweden, where they will face Lundqvist’s former team, Frolunda, on Friday night. … Other players placed on waivers Tuesday included former Wolf Packers Dane Byers (Columbus), Francis Lessard (Ottawa), Brian Fahey (Chicago) and Corey Locke (Ottawa), who was the AHL MVP last season with the Binghamton Senators, Nick Bonino of Farmington and Avon Old Farms (Anaheim), Kevin Quick of Salisbury Prep (Carolina) and former Yale goalie Alec Richards (Chicago).
WHALE KICKOFF SATURDAY NIGHT IN WEST HARTFORD
The Whale will host their “Whale Blue & Green Block Party” season Face-off event 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 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.
ST. JOHN’S TAKING TO ICECAPS
When the Whale visits Newfoundland for games on Nov. 12-13, they can expect to play before a full house at One Mile Centre. Yes, the folks of St. John’s have quickly shown their appreciation for the new IceCaps, buying enough season tickets to fill more than three-quarters of the 6,275-seat arena.
“We’ve sold over 5,000 season tickets and our suites are almost all gone,” IceCaps COO Glenn Sanford said Monday. “We haven’t even put our single-game tickets on sale yet. It looks like we’ll be sold out for the whole year, too.”
The IceCaps are the new affiliate of the new Winnipeg Jets, who are back in the NHL thanks to several years of strong support for the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Now, the return of the AHL to the picturesque seaside town in Newfoundland after a six-year hiatus is being touted as Winnipeg East or Mini Winnipeg.
It was demonstrated Monday night when a sellout crowd sang and wielded thundersticks as the Jets beat the Ottawa Senators 3-1 behind second-period goals by Mark Scheifele and Troy Bodie and the 27 saves of Ondrej Pavelec.
“It kind of reminded me a little bit of a packed junior game,” said Scheifele, 18, a Jets rookie and training camp hopeful who leads the team in preseason scoring with three goals and three assists. “It was fun to play in St. John’s.”
“The whole country got caught up in the return of the NHL to Winnipeg and we got to join that ride and momentum,” Stanford said. “We’re happy to be known as Mini Winnipeg right now because it fits. Winnipeg got the NHL back, and then they made a tough decision and brought the AHL back to St. John’s.
“The buzz here has been the same as in Winnipeg. It’s amazing the energy here and the talk about the AHL coming back. Now, to have our parent team here to play an NHL game just two weeks before our home opener, it’s really kicking things off for us.”
The AHL left The Rock in 2005 after a 14-year run as the top affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1991 to 2005. Hopefully local hockey fans take a lead from the Newfoundlanders and help bring the NHL back to Hartford.
THIRD AHL OUTDOOR IN PHILADELPHIA
The Adirondack Phantoms will host the Hershey Bears at Citizens Bank Park on Jan. 6, 2012 in the third outdoor game in AHL history as part of the NHL Winter Classic in Philadelphia.
“This is an extremely exciting day for the Phantoms organization and Phantoms fans everywhere,” Phantoms president Rob Brooks said. “A hockey celebration and atmosphere unlike anything the AHL has ever seen will happen at Citizens Bank Park. We are extremely grateful to (Comcast Spectacor President) Peter Luukko for helping make this truly great event a reality.”
The Rangers-Flyers game at Citizens Bank Park on Jan. 2 is the fifth NHL Winter Classic but the first to also feature an AHL outdoor game as part of the festivities. The Phantoms and Bears will wear specially designed jerseys honoring the significance of the game, similar to the jerseys the NHL teams have worn in their Winter Classic games.
“The American Hockey League has a strong following in the region and it will be a terrific experience for Pennsylvania hockey fans as the historic Phantoms-Bears rivalry is renewed outdoors at Citizens Bank Park,” AHL president and CEO David Andrews said. “We are thrilled to join with the Philadelphia Flyers in adding AHL hockey to their outdoor showcase.”
This will be the third outdoor game in AHL history. The Syracuse Crunch hosted the Binghamton Senators on Feb. 20, 2010, at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse before 21,508 fans, setting a single-game AHL attendance record. Last season, 21,673 fans saw the Whale host the Providence Bruins at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 19. The Hamilton Bulldogs and Toronto Marlies will also be playing outside this season, with a game at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., on Jan. 21, 2012.
Citizens Bank Park is the Major League Baseball home of the Philadelphia Phillies and will have a seating capacity of approximately 40,000. Details on how to purchase tickets for the game will be available soon. One way to be guaranteed a ticket is to become a Phantoms season ticket holder
WISNIEWSKI SUSPENDED EIGHT GAMES
Shanahan is taking his new job seriously. He has suspended a handful of players in the past few weeks, capped by Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski having to sit the remainder of the preseason and for eight regular-season games for an illegal check to the head of Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck.
Wisniewski will forfeit $536,585.36 for his fourth suspension, which Shanahan said factored into his decision. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Wisniewski forfeits his salary based on the number of games in the season (82) rather than the number of days (185). The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
Wisniewski was disciplined for delivering a blow that targeted Clutterbuck’s head and made it the principal point of contact at the end of the third period. Wisniewski, who was assessed a minor penalty for illegal check to the head, missed preseason games against Buffalo on Sunday and Washington on Monday and will also sit out Thursday against Minnesota and Friday at Carolina. He also will miss regular season games Oct. 7 vs. Nashville, Oct. 8 at Minnesota, Oct. 10 vs. Vancouver, Oct. 12 vs. Colorado, Oct. 15 at Dallas, Oct. 18 vs. Dallas, Oct. 21 at Detroit and Oct. 22 at Ottawa. He will be eligible to return Oct. 25 vs. Detroit.