BY: Bruce Berlet
After needing a little more time than usual, the Connecticut Whale got closer to their final roster for the franchise’s 15th season on Monday.
As coach Ken Gernander said Sunday after a 3-2 victory over the Worcester Sharks, all the decision making was made “a little bit dicey” because the parent New York Rangers were traveling in Europe while the seven players assigned to the Whale on Saturday were flying across the Atlantic Ocean to join their new/old team.
But after conversations with several members of the Rangers organization, Gernander and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller decided to assign defenseman Sam Klassen, left wing Jason Wilson and centers Max Campbell and Brendan Connolly to Greenville of the ECHL and release tryout forwards Tayler Jordan and Matt Rust, a four-year linemate of Rangers prospect Carl Hagelin at the University of Michigan.
The moves leave the Whale with two goalies, 10 defensemen and 14 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. Defenseman Pavel Valentenko and Lee Baldwin are also injured and questionable for the Whale’s opener Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Adirondack Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y.
The remaining players include the seven the Rangers assigned on Friday night: defensemen Tim Erixon and Blake Parlett and forwards Kris Newbury, Dale Weise, John Mitchell and rookies Hagelin and Ryan Bourque, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, who should be a frequent visitor to the XL Center, which was the Hartford Civic Center when the Boston Bruins’ perennial All-Star defenseman usually excelled against the Hartford Whalers.
Newbury, Mitchell and Weise have to clear waivers, and Newbury and Mitchell did so Monday. But the Whale won’t know about Weise until noon Tuesday.
“We hope to keep Dale because the Rangers aren’t going to send a player to us who they don’t feel has any potential or is close to being a call-up,” Gernander said. “We’re not here to stockpile players. We’re here to develop them, and Dale is a valuable commodity that we hope will be a New York Ranger.
“Weisie wasn’t sent down because the Rangers have no plans for him. He was sent down because the Rangers felt he needed a little more seasoning. Obviously there’s an onus on the player to give it his all here. I’m sure he’d be a professional so if there’s a need in New York, he’d be ready to go.”
Ditto for Newbury, the Whale’s leading scorer (61 points) last season who often earned kudos from Rangers head coach John Tortorella for his tenacity during 11 games in five call-ups last season, and Mitchell, the Whale’s best player after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a seventh-round pick in 2012 on Feb. 28 who also was cited by Tortorella during the preseason.
The Whale currently have goalies Cam Talbot and Chad Johnson, defensemen Erixon, Parlett, Valentenko, Baldwin, Wade Redden, Jared Nightingale, Tomas Kundratek, Jyri Niemi, T.J. Fast and Collin Bowman and forwards Weise, Newbury, Mitchell, Hagelin, Bourque, Andre Deveaux, Andreas Thuresson, Kelsey Tessier, Chris McKelvie, rookies Tommy Grant and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and tryouts Scott Tanski and Jordan Owens, a free-agent signee who is back with the Whale after being traded to the Detroit Red Wings for Newbury on March 3, 2010.
Gernander said that even though the Whale finished the playing part of the preseason with a 2-2 record, training camp doesn’t officially end until Thursday, so a decision on Tanski and/or Owens won’t be made until then. And Tortorella said the Rangers’ final cut will be one of two forwards, Sean Avery or Eric Christensen, both of whom have had varying success this preseason. Christensen has scored and killed penalties, while Avery played well last Monday in Philadelphia but had to leave each of the next two games with a sore foot from blocking a shot and a cut mouth from a stick to the face and was a healthy scratch Sunday and Monday. Ailing left wing Wojtek Wolski (foot) and former Wolf Pack defenseman Michael Sauer (shoulder) were also scratched.
After the Rangers lost their final preseason game 8-4 to EV Zug in Switzerland on Monday, Tortorella explained why he played Christensen the last two games and not Avery.
“I wanted to see Erik play more,” Tortorella said. “I know what Sean is and what type of player he is, but I wanted to see Erik in different situations. I played (Erik) on the wing (Monday) and I played him at center. He’s won a lot of games with us the past couple years with the shootout. We’ll make our decision heading into the opener.”
With only 13 healthy forwards still on the roster, the fate of Tanski and Owens will be determined by the Rangers’ final cut or a possible trade.
“New York still has a few decisions on what they’re going to do, so this gives us a little more time for evaluation,” Gernander said.
Gernander said Valentenko is scheduled to resume practicing with the team Tuesday after sustaining an injury in a game at Philadelphia last Monday. Valentenko said he hopes to be ready for the opener.
Gernander said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who is battling headaches from post-concussion syndrome and an ailing neck and skated with the Whale on Thursday and Friday, was getting treatments from specialists in New York on Monday and didn’t know if the All-Star would be returning to the team. He said he thought it was “highly unlikely” that Staal would play any games with the Whale to test his recovery, and the Rangers later announced Staal would not play in the team’s first two regular-season games Friday and Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks in Stockholm, Sweden.
“Marc Staal continues to work with his people (in New York), and he’s not coming on the trip, he will not be (in Stockholm),” Tortorella said after Monday’s game. “He continues to work with the doctors out there, so we thought it was best to leave him alone right now. So he won’t open the season with us.”
Staal’s problems began Feb. 22, when he was hit by his brother, All-Star center Eric Staal, in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes. With Staal out, former Wolf Pack defensemen Dan Girardi, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, along with veteran Steve Eminger, will have to carry more of the load. And Stu Bickel, who played with the Whale last season, and newcomer Brendan Bell will get more ice time unless the Rangers add someone off the waiver wire.
Finally, happy birthday to Nightingale, the 2011 Whale Man of the Year who turned 29 on Monday, an off day. He should be getting a card from my grandson Ryan, whose favorite player is No. 27 and always has time for him and anyone else looking for an autograph and a smile. One of the real class acts in all of sports.
ROVING RANGERS FINISH PRESEASON WITH LOSS
Things were especially hectic for the Rangers on Sunday, when they woke up in Sweden, flew to and won a game in Slovakia, to the delight of native son Marian Gaborik, and went to sleep in Switzerland.
The Rangers beat HC Slovan 4-1, as Gaborik assisted on the first goal by Mats Zuccarello on a power play while wearing No. 38 on the back of his helmet to honor his friend, Pavol Demitra, one of 44 people killed in the Sept. 7 plane crash that claimed the lives of most of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. Gaborik, who played with Demitra on the Slovakian national team, gave one of the eulogies at his memorial service in mid-September that was attended by Rangers and former Hartford Wolf Pack center Artem Anisimov, who played for Yaroslavl. Anisimov scored the winner against Slovan.
“I think our players are tired and still trying to get used to the time change, as well,” Tortorella said after Sunday’s game. “But (the start of the regular season) is close. Next Friday is close. I’m really looking forward to using the two practice days we have next week to prepare us.”
But here’s a rundown of Sunday’s amazing series of events by Jim Cerny of BlueshirtsUnited.com:
7-9 a.m.: All luggage to be stowed on the team’s charter plane had to be dropped off in the hotel lobby in Gothenburg, Sweden, for early transport to the airport (all equipment had been checked through earlier).
9:45 a.m.: The first of two buses leaves for the airport.
11:30 a.m.: After clearing nearly 70 members of the traveling party through security, the team’s charter plane takes off for Bratislava, Slovakia.
1:05 p.m.: The Rangers’ charter arrives in Bratislava, and the traveling party gets on two buses to head into town. The bus carrying the players is the team transport for the HC Slovan hockey club, the Rangers’ opponent Sunday. It is decorated on the outside with signage celebrating the 90th year of the Slovan team.
1:30 p.m.: The Rangers arrive at a downtown Bratislava hotel for a pre-planned team meal. A host of local fans and media are awaiting the arrival of Gaborik. After eating the players walk around the corner to Slovnaft Arena.
5: 10-7:30 p.m.: Just a few hours after arriving in another country, the Rangers are on the ice to play a preseason game against HC Slovan. After a to-be-expected sluggish start, the Rangers come alive and dominate the final 40 minutes of play en route to a 4-1 victory.
8 p.m.: The two buses begin to roll back to the airport, leaving the players just 30 minutes to undress, pack up their gear, handle interview requests and shower.
9:30 p.m.: Facing a local liftoff curfew, the Rangers charter is wheels up after all passengers clear security and all equipment is finally loaded on to the plane. In total, the Rangers spent only 81/2 hours in the country of Slovakia.
10:15 p.m.: The Rangers land in Zurich, Switzerland, site of Monday’s game against HC Zug.
So the Rangers pulled off three countries, two flights and one game in little more than 11 hours with precision and then closed the European portion of their preseason at 3-1 and 4-2-1 overall.
On Monday, all the travel caught up with the Rangers, who fell behind 2-0 after only 5:32 on goals by Esa Pirnes (power play) and Duri Camichel, before captain Ryan Callahan converted his own rebound off a shot by former Wolf Pack linemate Brandon Dubinsky. Josh Holden scored shorthanded to give Zug a 3-1 lead, but Mike Rupp deflected in a shot with 1:13 left in the first period and Anisimov made a terrific move to tie it 13 seconds later.
Former NHL players Glen Metropolit and Josh Holden (shorthanded) scored 41 seconds apart in the second period to regain a two-goal lead for Zug, but Ruslan Fedotenko banged in Anisimov’s rebound with 1:12 left to get the Rangers within a goal at the second intermission. But Zug broke it open when Pirnes and Swiss League leading scorer Damien Brunner scored only 81 seconds apart in the opening 4:01 of the third period. Fabian Schnyder added an empty-net goal with 4:05 left to close the scoring.
Former Rangers goalie Jussi Markkanen, who has been in Zug for three seasons, had 41 saves as the Rangers had a 45-28 shot advantage.
NHL rosters have to be down to 23 players before each team’s first game, but because the Rangers open in Europe, they are allowed to keep a third goalie, Scott Stajcer, who does not count toward that number. Stajcer backed up Martin Biron on Monday as Lundqvist got a day off for the first time.
Despite the hectic schedule and fatigue, Tortorella said he’s looking forward to two strong practices in Stockholm on Wednesday and Thursday after the team arrives on Tuesday and has a day off.
“With a big rink it’s just a different game, it really is,” Tortorella said. “We’re going to try to do the best we can to prepare. That’s why I’m really looking forward to the two practice days we have. I think that’s going to be an important part toward the end of this camp.”
Tortorella plans to work on all facets of the Rangers’ “concept”, including the power play, which was so-so in Europe.
“It’s OK. It’s OK,” Tortorella said of the power play. “But, again, I’m looking forward to the two practice days. We’ll work on that and we’ll work on a number of different things, and go from there.”
Lundqvist said the travel/rest day Tuesday and the practices scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday will be keys for him because while he’s feeling better and better with each passing game, he still has some fine tuning to do.
“I have to have a good week with some hard practice to work on all the details,” Lundqvist said. “It’s important to get a good week in with some solid practice, and to rest up a little bit. It’s been a busy schedule the last couple of days. When we get to Stockholm we’re going to take a deep breath and then have Wednesday and Thursday to really work on all things to get ready.”
The Rangers announced Monday that individual tickets for the season go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. on Ticketmaster via newyorkrangers.com, Ticketmaster outlets and Ticketmaster charge-by-phone at 866-858-0008. Fans will be limited to a maximum of four tickets per game.
BRUINS BEAT ISLANDERS IN BRIDGEPORT, BEGIN CUP DEFENSE THURSDAY
NHL hockey was back in Connecticut Saturday night when a sellout crowd of 8,489, the largest hockey gate in the 10-year history of the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, saw the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins rally from an early two-goal deficit for a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders in the teams’ final preseason game.
Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg’s goal with 8:07 left in regulation won it for the Bruins, who got 25 saves from playoff MVP goalie Tim Thomas, including a stick stop on Franz Nielsen’s bad-angle shot during a late power play that could have tied the game.
Al Montoya, the Rangers’ first-round pick (sixth overall) in 2004, stopped all 14 shots he faced in his first appearance in Connecticut since his days with the Wolf Pack before being traded to the Phoenix Coyotes with Marcel Hossa for Fredrik Sjostrom, David LeNeveu and Josh Gratton on Feb. 26, 2008. He was replaced by Evgeni Nabokov, who had 17 saves but allowed goals by David Krejci (on a 4-on-4) and Tyler Seguin 86 seconds apart in the second period before Seidenberg got the winner.
Montoya and Nabokov are vying for playing time behind starter Rick DiPietro, the first overall pick in 2000, who is one of the first stars produced by the Sound Tigers but has been injured much of the last few seasons. The Islanders took a 2-0 lead on goals by John Tavares, the first overall pick in 2009, and Marty Reasoner.
“Al made some good saves. I thought Nabby made some great saves,” said Islanders coach Jack Capuano, who coached the Sound Tigers for four seasons before moving to Long Island to replace Scott Gordon on an interim basis last Nov. 15, and then had the interim removed April 12. “Obviously the second period was a period we didn’t play extremely well, and he had to stand tall for us. (Boston had) a great shot inside the post and in and again, coverage on the 4-on-4, there was another good shot, so I thought both goaltenders played real well. They both gave us a chance to win the hockey game.”
The Bruins begin their title defense at home against Philadelphia on Thursday night, when they will raise a championship banner for the first time since 1972. The Islanders open at home Saturday night against the Florida Panthers, led by first-year coach and former Hartford Whalers star and captain Kevin Dineen. Defenseman Mark Streit, who missed all of last season after he tore his shoulder labrum and rotator cuff after being checked into the boards by Matt Moulson during a scrimmage, has been named the first Swiss-born team captain in NHL history. The alternates are Kyle Okposo and former Wolf Pack right wing P.A. Parenteau. … As expected, All-Star center Sidney Crosby won’t be available for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ opener Thursday night in Vancouver. Crosby, the team captain, will be placed on injured reserve to start the season because of post-concussion syndrome. … Ray Emery won the backup goaltender job with the Chicago Blackhawks, signing a one-year, $600,000 contract on Monday. Emery, 29, entered training camp battling Alexander Salak to back up incumbent starter Corey Crawford. Salak outplayed Emery in the preseason, allowing four goals in 124 minutes compared to Emery’s nine goals in 159 minutes, but the Blackhawks went with the more experienced goalie. Salak was assigned to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs.