BRUCE BERLET REPORTS – DECISION TIME

BY: Bruce Berlet

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

Connecticut Whale coach Ken Gernander and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller had plenty decisions to make after their team’s preseason finale Sunday, a 3-2 victory over the Worcester Sharks at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell.

Gernander said his staff’s work was made “a little bit dicey” because the parent New York Rangers were on a plane from Slovakia to Switzerland after winning their third straight game in Europe, 4-1 over HC Slovan. And seven players assigned to the Whale on Saturday – defensemen Tim Erixon and Blake Parlett and forwards Kris Newbury, Dale Weise, John Mitchell and rookies Carl Hagelin and Ryan Bourque – were flying across the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday night.

So Gernander had to confer with Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather and assistant GM/assistant coach/Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld before the final Whale cuts and reassignments could be announced on Monday afternoon. The Whale have two goalies, 11 defensemen and 19 forwards, though right wing Chad Kolarik will be out for at least six months after surgery Wednesday in Hartford to repair a torn ACL in his left knee after catching his skate in a rut in the ice in Rangers camp Sept. 20. And Newbury, Mitchell and Weise have to clear waivers so they can join the Whale, but their fates won’t be known until Monday at noon because they were sent down during the weekend.

“We’ll speak to people in New York and all weigh in to make sure everybody is on the same page before we make any transactions,” Gernander said.

Defenseman Pavel Valentenko said he will resume practicing Tuesday after sustaining a groin injury in a game at Philadelphia last Monday. But defenseman Lee Baldwin sustained a pulled oblique muscle while killing a penalty in the first period Sunday. After treatment in the locker room, Baldwin tried to give it a go but had to shut it down.

“It’s not good,” Baldwin said after returning in the third period to watch the Whale win in street clothes. “I wanted to try to play, but the pain was pretty bad.”

There wasn’t much bad about the Whale’s play as they avenged a 2-1 loss to the Sharks on Friday night at the TD Bank North Sports Center on the campus of Quinnipiac University in Hamden to finish the preseason 2-2.

Right wing Scott Tanski, who appears to have earned a free-agent contract on a tryout with his hustle and grit, got the Whale started as he knocked the puck loose from a Sharks defenseman behind the net and scored on a wraparound to the short side only 43 seconds into the game. It was Tanski’s team-high third goal of the preseason to go with one assist while playing all four games with left wing Tommy Grant and center Kelsey Tessier, who had another strong showing.

“I’ve just tried to go out and work as hard as I can,” said Tanski, a late addition to Rangers training camp as he prepared to start a road trip with his Carleton University team in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. “I had a good last season with Brampton (in the Ontario Hockey League) and was looking for a chance to show myself. It was nice to get invited to Connecticut camp, but I was delighted when I got the call to come to Rangers camp. I’ve been fortunate to play with good players such as Tessier and Grant and feel I’ve done a pretty good job, but whether I’m signed isn’t my decision.”

But Tanski got another vote of confidence from one important man who does figure in the decision, Gernander.

“He has made a strong case for himself,” Gernander said. “We had five forwards sent down (by the Rangers), so we’re going to have to move some people, but we’ll discuss the next day. (Tanski) is one who if you give him directions he does the types of things that you want to see as far as showing yourself. These are kind of absolutes that you need to do regardless of how talented or highly touted you might be. He’s done all those little things that as a coach you request them to do.”

Another tryout who seems on the verge of rejoining the organization is wing Jordan Owens, another “straight-line, meat-and-potatoes guy” as Gernander likes to describe players who resembled him in his playing days. Owens played on a line with center Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and right wing Andreas Thuresson and was sent out to help kill off the final 43 seconds with Tessier, Andre Deveaux and defensemen Wade Redden and Jared Nightingale after the Sharks pulled goalie Thomas Heekskerk (28 saves) for a sixth attacker.

“That’s one of his strengths,” Gernander said of Owens, a free-agent signing in 2007 who was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for Newbury on March 3, 2010. “Obviously if a guy is trying to earn a spot on the team, you would want him to play to his strengths. He has never been a perennial power-play guy, so it doesn’t make much sense to give him an opportunity on the power play. But (defense) is an area where he should be a steady constant, so we gave him that ice (time).”

The Whale is likely to carry two goalies, Cam Talbot and Chad Johnson, seven or eight defensemen and 13 or 14 forwards. There is no 23-player limit in the AHL as there is in the NHL, but management never likes to have too many players watching games.

“The farther you go down in the preseason and training camp, the harder the decisions are,” Gernander said. “I don’t care if it’s an ECHL-contracted guy, if they earned their spot up until this time, it’s going to be a tough cut. The first couple of rounds, guys are a little farther from this level or didn’t prepare themselves or show themselves to the point where they merited a look. These guys are the ones that are right there, and it’s the most minute difference between the guys that go and the guys that stay. But unfortunately it’s not an unlimited roster.”

After Tanski gave the Whale their early lead, James Livingston tied it 6:39 into the second period from a scrum in front of a screened Talbot (28 saves).

“I thought (Talbot) played a real strong game,” Gernander said. “There was some saves that were not necessarily easy saves through traffic, with people crashing the net, and I thought he fought hard to find pucks and to make the save.”

The Whale regained the lead for good on a power play at 9:49 of the second as defenseman T.J. Fast took a pass from Tessier and fired a shot from the blueline that beat Heemskerk thanks largely to Tanski screening the Sharks goalie.

Chris McKelvie got the winner on the game’s niftiest play, taking a pass from Jason Wilson and racing through the slot and shoveling a rebound of a bouncing puck past Heemskerk with 5:41 left in the second.

The Sharks got to 3-2 when Mike Connolly deflected Taylor Doherty’s shot past a helpless Talbot with 5:07 left, but the Whale was strong down the stretch and ended with a 31-30 shot edge.

“It was good start, and it was nice to see a goal on the power play,” Gernander said. “I think there were times when we spent a little too much time in our zone when a chip-out of the zone would have relieved some of the pressure. But for the most part, I thought there was some pretty good forechecking pressure.”

The Whale is off Monday and then will begin four days of preparation for their 15th season opener Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Adirondack Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y. They play at Wilkes-Barre, Pa., next Sunday and at Albany, N.Y., on Oct. 14 before their home opener Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Gernander said he and his staff haven’t decided who might become the Whale’s first captain since Dane Byers was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Kolarik on Nov. 13. Redden, Nightingale, Newbury, Weise and traded Brodie Dupont and Tim Kennedy were among the assistant captains last season.

“We’ll see how things transpire in the next couple of days as far as what we have for personnel and go from there,” Gernander said.

Information on Whale season tickets and all of the ticketing options can be obtained by calling 860-728-3366 or visiting www.ctwhale.com. Individual tickets are on sale at Public Power ticket office at the XL Center. The Whale will play 90 percent of their 38 home games 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.

RANGERS WIN PENULTIMATE PRESEASON GAME

The Rangers sure are enjoying their working European “vacation.”

Mats Zuccarello and Brian Boyle, who worked on their skating this summer with former Olympic medalist and skating guru Barbara Underwood, scored 59 seconds apart as the Rangers rallied from an early deficit for a 4-1 victory over HC Slovan on Sunday in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Marian Gaborik returned to his native land and recorded an assist on Zuccarello 5-on-3 power play goal that tied the game at 1 at 6:03 of the second period. Boyle scored less than a minute later off a nifty pass by Dan Girardi, and Artem Anisimov notched a shorthanded goal with 2:18 left in the second after strong work by Brandon Prust. Ryan McDonagh capped the scoring 10:11 into the third period and Henrik Lundqvist had ?? saves for the Rangers, who have won three in a row overseas and are 4-1-1 in the preseason.

Gaborik wore an A on his sweater, led the Rangers onto the ice ahead of Lundqvist and had a No. 38 for Pavol Demitra on his helmet for his close friend and former national team teammate who was among the 44 people and 35 members of the Yaroslavl Lockomiv hockey team killed in a plane crash Sept. 7. Gaborik received a rousing ovation from a sellout crowd at Slovnaft Arena each time his named was announced before the opening faceoff, much as the fans welcomed Lundqvist on Saturday when the Rangers scored a 4-2 victory over Frolunda, his former team in Sweden.

“It was pretty exciting and special to come back here and play,” said Gaborik, playing about an hour from his hometown of Trencin. “The atmosphere was unbelievable.”

Gaborik predicted it would be an emotional pseudo-homecoming for him both because of all the friends and family he had in the stands but also because the last time he played in Slovnaft Arena, it was Demitra’s final game with the Slovakian national team. Gaborik and Demitra were close friends, and the Rangers’ right wing couldn’t help but see the memorial to his buddy above the concourse entrance in section B10 of the arena. It’s a blown-up portrait of Demitra with “R.I.P. #38” written across his chest.

Gaborik also paid tribute by wearing the No. 38 helmet decal, and the in-house scoreboard camera focused on him during the U.S. and Slovakian anthems as he had his head down and was breathing heavy. It clearly looked like he was overcome by the emotions.

“I was thinking about (Demitra) during the anthems,” Gaborik said. “It was an emotional moment.”

Ivan Svarny gave Slovan a 1-0 lead 8:42 into the game with a power-play goal, but Zuccarello tied it off passes from Gaborik and Brad Richards. Boyle’s goal gave the Rangers the lead for good. Captain and former Wolf Pack right wing Ryan Callahan’s rush down right wing set up McDonagh’s insurance goal. It was fitting goal for McDonagh, who played for Team USA with Rangers center Derek Stepan in the 2011 World Championship at Slovnaft Arena.

“We played only one game in this building,” McDonagh told BlueshirtsUnited.com. “The others were played elsewhere. We faced the Czech Republic here, and the crowd was really against us. But it was a really cool atmosphere.”

The Rangers end the preseason Monday in Zug, Switzerland, and coach John Tortorella said veterans Sean Avery and Erik Christensen are battling to be the 13th and final forward. Avery played well last Monday in Philadelphia but had to leave each of the next two games due to a sore foot and cut mouth and was scratched Sunday.

The Rangers also kept eight defensemen in case All-Star Marc Staal (headaches from post-concussion syndrome) and former Wolf Pack blueliner Michael Sauer (sprained shoulder) can’t go in the season opener Friday night against the Los Angeles Kings in Stockholm, Sweden.

“(Sauer) is getting better, and we just want to get him completely healthy before we put them into some action,” Tortorella said. Sauer skated Friday for the first time since injuring his shoulder and told NHL.com after his workout that he is still sore but is hoping to play before the season opener. … Former Wolf Pack wing Alexandre Giroux was placed on waivers Saturday and will join the Springfield Indians if he clears Monday. Giroux was the AHL’s MVP in 2009, when he had 60 goals and 39 assists in 69 games with the Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears. Giroux, who signed a two-way contract with Columbus on July 3, had 50 goals and 53 assists in 69 games as the Bears repeated in 2010. Others assigned to the Falcons were forward Tomas Kubalik and former AHL All-Star Martin St. Pierre and defensemen John Moore and Nick Holden. … The Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins reassigned forwards Lane MacDermid and Max Sauve to the Providence Bruins, reducing their roster to 25. MacDermid is the son of former Hartford Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid, part owner of Owen Sound of the OHL whose assistant coach is former Wolf Pack defenseman Terry Virtue.

A CHAT WITH FORMER WOLF PACK BRENT THOMPSON

Former Wolf Pack defenseman Brent Thompson was hired as coach of the Sound Tigers on June 28 after leading the Alaska Aces to the ECHL regular season and playoff titles in his second season as coach. He won the John Brophy Award as ECHL Coach of the Year and beat a Kalamazoo team coached by former Hershey Bears teammate Nick Bootland in the Kelly Cup finals.

Thompson, the recipient of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as AHL Man of the Year in 1998-99 while with the Wolf Pack, will face the Whale 10 times this season, starting with his return to Hartford on Oct. 15. He was always a tough competitor and straight shooter as he demonstrated in a question-and-answer session with Tim Leone of The Patriot-News in Hershey, Pa.:

Question: What are your thoughts on taking over as head coach in Bridgeport?

Thompson: I’m just very, very excited about being part of a great organization. The [parent] New York Islanders are giving me the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do. Hopefully, I won’t disappoint. This is my eighth year. I think the timetable always takes care of itself. I would like to think I was ready for a head coaching job in Peoria when I was an assistant, but I know after looking back that I think I needed that experience at the ECHL level. I was just fortunate enough to have two really good teams that I got to work with in Alaska, a lot of young kids that I got to develop and work with. I think that just helped me in being prepared for the AHL.

Question: How would you characterize your Alaska teams?

Thompson: We were on Olympic ice in Alaska, so I had a team that was very, very fast. I like to think of our team as very aggressive, good speed, good transition. We really focused heavily on the defensive zone and defense.

Question: What was it like to win the Kelly Cup?

Thompson: That was obviously a very special ride. I enjoyed every minute of it. I enjoyed being part of a group of guys that were committed to a common goal. It was a special time. The feeling was fantastic.

Question: What was travel like for a team based in Alaska?

Thompson: It was set up a lot like a baseball series, where you go three games here, three games there. So when you go somewhere, when you actually play a road trip, you’re going to that place for three games. You’re not really stuck going three games in three nights in three different cities. You get in a hotel, you’re stabile there, and then you’re home for two weeks. And we fly everywhere for most of our stuff.

Question: You played in Winnipeg in the NHL (1994-96). What are your thoughts on the city’s return to the NHL?

Thompson: I love it. I think it’s fantastic. I think Winnipeg’s a great city. I think the organization was always great. They definitely deserve it. It’s a hockey city. I’m glad to see them back up there in Canada. It’s kind of neat they’re calling them the Jets. It’s not only good for the city of Winnipeg but the country of Canada.

Question: Bridgeport is scheduled to visit Hershey on Nov. 13 and Dec. 17.

Thompson: It’s going to be weird. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to coach against such a great franchise. Obviously, Hershey has a reputation for being the best in the league every year. I’m aware of a lot of the players on the team. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Doug Yingst and that organization. It’s going to be a great honor. It’s also going to be exciting. Obviously, we want to come in there and beat them. If you’re an ex-Bear, you want to come in and play your old team and do your best.

Question: You were in Hershey during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. What are your recollections of that day and the subsequent ceremony at Hersheypark Arena, where you helped unfurl a giant U.S. flag on the ice for the season opener against Worcester on Oct. 6, 2001.

Thompson: I remember the whole day that it happened. Obviously, that’s a tragedy. We shut training camp down. I remember (head coach) Mike Foligno coming in and talking about the whole situation that happened. We flipped the TV’s on. We were all sitting around the locker room huddled together as a team watching. I couldn’t believe it.

When we had the ceremony and we had everybody holding the American flag, it was an emotional time. Ten years on from that point, it still touches home. As a matter of fact, I was just in Manhattan [on Labor Day]. I took my kids down to that area. They asked me where was I. I said I was in Hershey and it was the first day of training camp. It’s something we’ll never forget, and I don’t think anyone should ever forget.

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