BRUCE BERLET REPORTS – PARLETT FOR THE DEFENSE

BY: Bruce Berlet

A year ago, a glut of defensemen and some uninspiring play led to Blake Parlett being a healthy scratch for the Greenville Road Warriors’ first two games of the ECHL season.

“He thought he was a little too good for where he was and hadn’t worked all that hard,” Greenville coach Dean Stork recalled. “I didn’t play him the first game and we won, so I didn’t change the lineup for the next game. When he got in there for the third game, he responded with a Gordie Howe hat trick.”

For those not in the know, that’s a goal, an assist and a fight, a frequent occurrence for the legendary Hall of Famer who finished his 32-year pro career with the Hartford Whalers.

“It was frustrating at the start, but I stayed positive,” Parlett said after a Connecticut Whale practice at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell. “I knew there would be a couple openings with defensemen getting called up, so I just waited for my time, and when I got my chance, I did well and kind of earned my spot.”

Fast forward four months to when injuries continued to plague the Whale defense, leading to Parlett, the ECHL’s top-scoring defenseman, getting a call-up to Hartford. Parlett had two goals, both winners, and 10 assists in 24 regular-season games and added one goal and two assists in six playoff games.

The 22-year-old Parlett signed a two-year, free-agent contract with the Rangers on June 2 and then was part of the Rangers team that lost to the more experienced Buffalo Sabres in the finals of a prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich. Parlett suffered an injury in the second game, sat out the third but returned to the championship game.

Despite not being on skates for 10 days during Rangers camp, skating one day on his own and then having only a practice and a half, Parlett was on the team’s charter flight to Europe on Sept. 26. Though he played in only one of the Rangers’ four preseason game overseas, Parlett was among the final eight cuts on Saturday.

Parlett would have preferred to remain in Stockholm, Sweden, for the start of the Rangers’ season, but Cromwell seemed millions of miles from where he was 52 weeks earlier.

“It was really good,” Parlett said of his time with the Rangers. “We left Traverse City feeling good as a team, and that led to some individual success for me. It was bad timing for an injury going into the main camp, but obviously I must have played well if they kept me around and brought me to Europe with them. Obviously that was a great experience just practicing with those guys. You learn a lot of good habits and have to bring your game up to a higher level with the faster pace.”

And acquire a rewarding feeling, especially when you get strong words of support from Rangers assistant general manager/assistant coach/Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld and coach John Tortorella.

“That’s what they said in my exit meetings (from Europe),” Parlett said. “They said I should be proud from where I was from the start of last year. I’m down here ready to work and hopefully get back up there some time.”

Parlett has been re-paired with Pavel Valentenko, who has recovered from a groin injury sustained in his only preseason appearance in Philadelphia on Sept. 26. Valentenko resumed skating on his own last Friday and with the team on Tuesday and will be ready for the Whale’s 15th season opener Saturday night against the Adirondack Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y.

“We played together the whole time I was here last season, so I’m familiar with him so it’s not too big of an adjustment,” Parlett said.

Parlett’s story is reminiscent of Rangers and former Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman Dan Girardi, who was signed as free agent in July 2005 after helping the London Knights win the Ontario Hockey League title and Memorial Cup that year. Parlett and Girardi both grew up learning to skate and playing hockey in Ontario, Canada, played for winning teams in Triple-A and the OHL, competed for three OHL teams and stayed with the same family when they started with the Barrie Colts, were both undrafted by NHL teams and signed free-agent AHL contracts with the Hartford-based Wolf Pack and Whale, started their pro career in the ECHL, got their first call-up to the AHL because of injuries and worked out together two summers ago with elite skating coach Darryl Belfry in St. Catharines, Ontario.

If that wasn’t eerie enough, both shoot right-handed, play defense and wear No. 5.

Girardi started the 2005-06 season with the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers, but played in only seven games before being called up because of injuries on the Wolf Pack defense. Midway through the following season, injuries in New York gave Girardi a shot on Broadway and he has never returned to Hartford.

Girardi, whose OHL teammates included Whale right wing and best friend Andre Deveaux, signed a two-year, $3.1 million contract extension on Feb. 16, 2008 and soon became part of the Rangers’ No. 1 defensive pairing with All-Star Marc Staal. On July 9, 2010, Girardi signed a four-year, $13.3 million deal that has him set for life.

Parlett still has a ways to go to reach such status, but at least he’s on his way. He said his patience with the puck was the key while in Greenville, where he really got a chance to develop his puck skills and work on his passing while getting a lot of time on the power play.

“I did well when I was in the ECHL, obviously, and that’s what gave me a shot here,” Parlett said. “Now I’m just hoping that I repeat that success here and maybe get a shot at that next level some time.”

Whale assistant coach J.J. Daigneault, who works with defense, said he feels Parlett is on his way.

“He played some good hockey for us last year,” Daigneault said. “Kids who are sent down to the ECHL are sometimes disappointed, but it can be the best place for them to start their journey. I’m not saying Blake was disappointed, but Greenville as a good place to start. When we called him up, he was basically the best defenseman in the ECHL, so his game had picked up.

“When I get a young defenseman like Blake, I like to build a relationship to see what their personality is. I think it’s important for me as a teacher to try to push the right buttons, and lots of times that’s by knowing the person. He’s a strong, fast skater who worked on his explosiveness during the summer. He’s good passer who has good poise with the puck and his shot has gotten better.

“But his biggest improvement is his defensive play when he doesn’t have the puck. He still has to be more aggressive, but he has definitely improved. Obviously we’re going to rely on him to get some points on the power play and be a good, young quarterback for us.”

AVERY NOT WITH WHALE; TANSKI, OWENS SIGNED

Left wing Sean Avery did not report to the Whale on Thursday after clearing waivers and being assigned to Hartford on Wednesday.

“The Rangers assigned him but haven’t asked him to report,” Whale coach Ken Gernander said. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Avery was the Rangers’ final cut at forward on Tuesday, losing out to Erik Christensen for the 13th spot. His demotion wiped his $1.9 million contract off the Rangers’ salary cap, and his agent, Pat Morris, has told the New York media that he has already received interest from several European teams but is willing to play wherever the Rangers want him.

Avery’s absence helped assure tryout wings Scott Tanski and Jordan Owens would get contracts two days before the Whale open the season. Tanski signed a two-way (AHL/ECHL) contract after being a late addition to Rangers camp while preparing for his first season with Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Owens signed a 25-game professional tryout contract after not being re-signed by the Detroit Red Wings, who had acquired him from the Rangers for Whale center Kris Newbury on March 3, 2010. Ironically, Newbury was one of Owens’ favorite players growing up in Toronto, where Newbury played for the NHL Maple Leafs and AHL Marlies.

The Whale also signed defenseman T.J. Fast to a PTO and had defenseman Stu Bickel assigned to them by the Rangers, after the parent club claimed Jeff Woywitka off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens.

“Owens has been what we expected,” Gernander said. “He’s a hard-working guy who should be able to kill some penalties for us, play all three forward positions and provide some energy. He’s a little more experienced now, which should help.

“As far as Tanski goes, he’s a pretty good story, a guy who comes in on a late invite and earns a contract. He does a lot of the little things right as far as finishing checks, is pretty responsible and decent on the boards getting pucks out and he has a willingness to go to the net.”

Owens, 25, originally was signed by the Rangers as an undrafted free agent to an entry-level contract on June 12, 2007. He had 25 goals, 45 assists, countless hits and nearly non-stop energy in 160 games with the Wolf Pack before being dealt as the 2009-10 season wound down.

“It’s an opportunity, and I’m just happy to still be a pro hockey player,” said Owens, who is on a line with speedy Chris McKelvie and big, strong newcomer Andre Deveaux. “I think I bring a strong work ethic every day and go to bat for my teammates. Since I had nothing, the motivation was there, but I didn’t really feel pressure. I have a great family and great support, so I don’t have anything to worry about. And there couldn’t be a better place because I still have lots of family and friends here and the fans were good to me.”

So good in three seasons in Hartford that they formed “Jordan’s Corner” and draped a banner over the railing of the upper deck of the XL Center.

“I have a good supporting cast, especially my friends in Jordan’s Corner,” said Owens, who had seven goals and 18 assists in 77 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins before sustaining a season-ending injury in early March. “I’ve been in touch with them since I left, and I hope they’re still around to make it to some games and show the support that they have in the past.”

Tanski was beaming from ear to ear as he prepared to sign the paperwork on a deal that he and his agent had negotiated Wednesday night after Tanski led the Whale with three goals in four preseason games. He had had an invite to Whale camp, but when the Rangers were suddenly short of forwards in main camp, an SOS was sent out that Tanski answered and ultimately earned a contract after a strong showing while playing alongside Kelsey Tessier and Tommy Grant. Tessier was in a similar situation last year and earned a contract after showing well as an invitee to the prospects tournament and then continuing his good work in Whale camp.

“I knew something was probably going to happen, so I’m really happy, but it’s only the beginning,” Tanski said. “I’ve dreamed about playing pro and in the NHL for years, but this is only the first step. And nothing is a given. Just because you have a contract doesn’t mean anything. I do feel like I’m part of the team now, and it’s time to get to business and do what I did in the preseason and get better.

“I’d like to keep scoring goals, but that’s not going to be my role. They’ve got enough guys like Newbury, (John) Mitchell and (Andreas) Thuresson, so I just have to be one of the reliable guys who brings some energy.”

Tanski said people have been calling to congratulate him on his strong play in the preseason, but the reality of what has transpired in only two weeks won’t set in until he steps on the ice in Glens Falls.

“I don’t ever like to get too high or too low, so I’m just going to take this as the first step of something that me and my family worked toward for as long as I can remember,” said Tanski, 21, who played four years with Brampton in the Ontario Hockey League. “It’s funny that my family is in the Caribbean, so I contacted them last night and asked them what they thought about it. It was their decision as much as mine because they have been working toward this, too.”

Tanski also called Marty Johnston to thank his coach at Carleton University for all he had done for him as he embarked on living alone for the first time and having to concern himself with getting things such as a phone, bank account, Social Security card and new license. He’s living in the Homewood Suites in Hartford but hopes to be told soon that he can get his own place.

“(Carleton) is a great organization, and (Johnston) helped me get to where I’m at and obviously I wish them all the best of luck,” Tanski said. “My years in Brampton helped me become an adult, but now I’m basically on my own. But this is where I want to be, and I’m here. I’m just going to try to soak up as much as I can because I know that’ll make me better.”

The 6-foot, 194-pound Fast split last season with the AHL’s Rochester Americans (one goal, one assist in 13 games) and ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones (nine goals, 18 assists in 58 games). Fast, 24, a second-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2005, has two goals and six assists in 113 ECHL games in three seasons with the Cyclones and Alaska Aces, where he played for former Wolf Pack defenseman Brent Thompson and with West Haven native Eric Boguniecki, the AHL’s MVP with the Worcester Sharks in 2002.

Whale right wing Chad Kolarik had successful surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee on Wednesday and will be out at least six months. The Whale assigned defenseman Collin Bowman to Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League, where he will be reunited with Dylan McIlrath, the Rangers’ first-round pick (10th overall) in 2009 who was among the parent team’s final cuts on Saturday.

Forward Ben Holmstrom will miss the Phantoms’ first two games, including against the Whale, after being suspended by the AHL on Thursday as a consequence of his penalty for an illegal check to the head in a preseason game at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday. He also will miss a game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Oct. 14.

RANGERS CLAIM D-MAN; BICKEL ASSIGNED TO WHALE

The Rangers’ carousel on defense took two more turns Thursday when they claimed Woywitka off waivers and assigned Bickel, who played with the Whale last season after being acquired from the Ducks for Nigel Williams.

Woywitka, 28, was a first-round pick (27th overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2001 and had two goals and nine assists in 63 games with the Dallas Stars last season, when he played with new Rangers center Brad Richards.The 6-foot-3, 227-pound Woywitka, who has eight goals and 41 assists in 251 NHL games with the Stars and St. Louis Blues, then signed a one-year, unrestricted free-agent deal with the Canadiens on Aug. 15 for $650,000, which will count against the Rangers’ salary cap.

Woywitka’s addition is the Rangers’ latest attempt to try to compensate for the loss of All-Star defenseman Marc Staal, who was put on injured reserve Wednesday for at least a week while recovering from lingering headaches from post-concussion syndrome. Staal hasn’t skated since he had more headaches after working out with the Whale on Friday and Saturday. Earlier last week, he went to the University of Buffalo Sports Medicine Institute for nearly the same treatment for post-concussion headaches that had bothered the Sabres’ Tim Connolly and Patrick Kaleta. Connolly, who missed almost all of the 2006-07 season with post-concussion symptoms after missing the entire 2003-04 season for the same reason, has credited treatment at the Sports Medicine Institute for his recovery. Staal also received a cortisone shot in his neck on Sept. 26, the day the Rangers left for Europe tour. And he’ll have more frequent acupuncture treatments next week.

With Staal out this weekend, the Rangers will have three new blueline pairings. Ryan McDonagh, who started last season with the Whale, has been moved up to Staal’s spot on the No. 1 pairing with Girardi. Michael Del Zotto, who switched places with McDonagh on Jan. 3 after struggling early last season, will take McDonagh’s spot on the No. 2 pairing with former Wolf Pack defenseman Michael Sauer, recovered from a sprained shoulder sustained in a game in Philadelphia on Sept. 26. And Swedish rookie Tim Erixon will make his NHL debut in his homeland alongside veteran Steve Eminger.

Tortorella said he decided not to keep the successful McDonagh-Sauer pairing together and using that combination as the team’s matchup pair because he does not want to have Girardi on the bench while the opposition’s top line is on the ice.

“I don’t like breaking them up, but I need to have Danny out there,” Tortorella told reporters in Stockholm.

“We haven’t really heard how Marc’s doing other than the fact that he’s not coming here, so I don’t know if it is long-term or not,” McDonagh told reporters. “But you can’t be worried about adding another piece when he’s the piece that we want. We want to get him back as soon as possible because he’s part of this team.”

Tortorella also broke up his No. 1 line, moving former Wolf Pack wing Brandon Dubinsky alongside Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, replacing Wojtek Wolski, who missed the last two preseason games with a groin injury. Ruslan Fedotenko moved into Dubinsky’s spot with former Wolf Pack players Artem Anisimov and captain Ryan Callahan.

“I know I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Tortorella said. “It’s something I’m still trying to settle in my mind, because I really believe in balance, and if someone other than Dubi could step up in that role, I’d move him back with Artie and Cally because I know that line works and has chemistry.”

FORMER WOLF PACK D-MAN REJOINS SOUND TIGERS

The Whale’s opener Saturday night is the first of three road games to start the season before their home opener Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. against the Sound Tigers. The New York Islanders sent forward Trevor Frischmon and former Wolf Pack defenseman Dylan Reese to the Sound Tigers to reach their season-opening 23-man roster. The Sound Tigers have three goalies, seven defensemen and 12 forwards for their opener Saturday night against Portland Pirates before playing three in a row on road, ending with the stop at the XL Center.

Center Jeremy Colliton, who is expected to be named the team’s new captain, skated Wednesday for the first time since sustaining a groin injury a Sept. 23 game with the Islanders but is doubtful for the opener. West Haven’s Joe Periera, who played 10 games with the Sound Tigers last season after finishing his career at Boston University, signed with South Carolina of the ECHL.

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