After watching the Connecticut Whale work through 65 minutes of scoreless, defensive hockey and then score three times out of four in the shoot-out for a 1-0 victory over the Wilkes-Barre-Scranton Penguins Sunday night, the only way to describe it, especially this early in the hockey season is to notice that this group of young men have “guts.”
In fact after watching the contest before 4,133 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza what came to mind was the film “Airplane II” and the late great Lloyd Bridges character, Steve McCroskey. To paraphrase his line in the film, he says drunkenly, “Gentlemen, I don’t find it easy to talk at a time like this, but I got to say something about (Those guys out) there, and I can sum it all up in just one word: courage…dedication, daring, pride, pluck, spirit, grit, mettle, and G-U-T-S, *guts*. Why, (The Connecticut Whale bench’s) got more guts in (their collective) little finger(s) than most of us have in our large intestine, including the colon.”
All joking aside, it was that kind of a game. Chad Johnson made his first start of the 2011-2012 season with one of his best performances in quite a long time with a masterpiece from start-to-finish. Not only did he keep the puck out of the Whale net, he was dominant in stopping three-of-five Penguin shooters which allowed his teammates the ability to focus on their jobs and they came through with three of four scoring goals in the skills competition giving the Rangers’ top affiliate got their first win of the season.
“It was good to get that first win in your first start,” Johnson told Bob Crawford after the game. “We battled hard last night (in a 6-3, season-opening loss at Adirondack) and just couldn’t get the two points there, and I think tonight we just kind of stuck together and got the two points, which is important. Early on, all the points you can get just helps out later in the year. So if in situations like this we can get into overtime or the shootout and then get that extra point, it’s important. I think last year and the year before you could kind of see that, so I knew the importance of getting the shootout win. It’s definitely satisfying.”
John Mitchell, Kris Newbury and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault each scored goals in the shootout, with the rookie forward getting his first career game winner.
Colin McDonald, son of one-time Hartford Whaler Gerry McDonald, started the shootout but Johnson’s positioning led to a miss.
Mitchell’s shootout attempt followed. The Whale centerman’s goal was perhaps the most dramatic shootout attempt in team history as his dekes sent netminder Scott Munroe (22 saves, 0-0-0-1) sailing out of the crease to his right, while the wily veteran went left ending up standing all alone in front of the net with the puck able to tap it into the empty net.
Niko Dimitrakos followed beating Johnson going high glove.
Andreas Thuresson was denied on his attempt. Brian Gibbons responded by going off the post and over Johnson’s glove.
With the score two goals to one, the pressure was amped up on Newbury, who’s clearly established himself as the team’s leader. The Brampton, Ontario native followed with a laser beam from in tight that went right over Munroe’s glove and into the back of the net.
Bryan Lerg missed wide on the Penguins fourth attempt leading to Audy-Marchessault’s first shootout attempt in his professional career. Marchessault followed the game plan and went glove side and beat Munroe for what would prove to be the game winner when his shot beat the Penguin net-minder…
Then it was up to Johnson (1-0-0-0 41 saves) to seal the deal. Simon Despres came to center ice, rushed up towards Johnson and the Whale goalie sold Despres the five-hole…Despres bit and Johnson shut it down to seal the victory.
It was a gutsy total team-effort.
“The guys were doing a good job making sure I could see the puck. They (the Penguins) kind of came with a lot of speed and were throwing everything on net. So for me it was just being square (to the puck) and making sure I was ready for the shots, and just tried to control my rebounds as well as possible, and we just worked together.”
The game’s best chance for the Whale came in the first period with 1:25 remaining as Jordan Owens, alone in front, took a pass from Andre Deveaux, who’d gone past Joey Mormina, and put a backhander on Munroe.
Johnson made two terrific stops to keep the Whale in the game.
At 13:05 of the second, Geoff Walker one-timed a pass on the left side off a cross ice pass from Lerg. Johnson slides left to right to rob him of the goal.
Wilkes-Barre / Scranton had a magnificent opportunity with 2:44. Zach Sill found himself alone on the doorstep right in front of Johnson. Sill went one-on-one with Johnson, challenged the Whale netminder off a feed from Walker, and lost.
The Whale are now off until they travel to Albany on Friday night for a date with the Devils and then return to Hartford for the home opener on Saturday against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. .
For the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton side of the story, you’ll find the coverage at The Times-Leader.
(Standings via theahl.com)
* The Whale defensive core should get considerably stronger by their next game as Brendan Bell was sent to Connecticut by the parent New York Rangers.
* New children’s game: “Where in the World is Sean Avery?” According to a number of hockey reporters Sean Avery hasn’t found any European teams to take him and he will be reporting to Hartford soon.
Hagelin – Newbury – Marchessault
Bourque – Mitchell – Thuresson
Grant – Tessier – Tanski
McKelvie – Owens – Deveaux
Redden – Nightingale
Niemi – Kundratek
Bickel – Parlett
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Sean Avery – Healthy Scratch
T.J. Fast – Healthy Scratch
Pavel Valentenko – Groin – Day-to-Day
Lee Baldwin – Quad – Indefinite
1. CT – K. Newbury
2. ADK – B. Schenn
3. ADK – O. Bartulis
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Francis Charron (46)
Jim Harper (59)
Mike Emanatian (69)
The Whale will have time to regroup and get in practice after an off-day on Monday. The road trip continues on Friday when the Whale travel to Albany for a meeting with the Devils before returning to Hartford on Saturday for the home opener. Bob Crawford will have the broadcast with the pre-game show starting at 6:30 at WCCC.com.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information for all home games, call (860) 548-2000.
Connecticut Whale 1 (SO) at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 0 – Status: Final SO
Sunday, October 9, 2011 – Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza
Connecticut 0 0 0 0 – 1
W-B/Scranton 0 0 0 0 – 0
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Picard Wbs (boarding), 0:14; Newbury Ct (slashing), 4:52.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Redden Ct (tripping), 4:25; Lerg Wbs (holding), 8:46; Newbury Ct (roughing), 15:35; Picard Wbs (roughing), 15:35; served by Audy-Marchessault Ct (bench minor – too many men), 17:08.
3rd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Nightingale Ct (tripping), 4:56; Hagelin Ct (hooking), 7:38; Dimitrakos Wbs (tripping), 11:44; Tangradi Wbs (goaltender interference), 14:40.
OT Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Newbury Ct (tripping), 0:37; Newbury Ct (hooking), 4:47.
Shootout – Connecticut 3 (Mitchell G, Thuresson NG, Newbury G, Audy-Marchessault G), W-B/Scranton 2 (McDonald NG, Dimitrakos G, Gibbons G, Lerg NG, Despres NG).
Shots on Goal-Connecticut 8-4-7-4-1-24. W-B/Scranton 9-18-9-5-0-41.
Power Play Opportunities-Connecticut 0 / 4; W-B/Scranton 0 / 7.
Goalies-Connecticut, Johnson 1-0-0 (41 shots-41 saves). W-B/Scranton, Munroe 0-0-1 (23 shots-23 saves).
Referees-Jean Hebert (43), Ryan Fraser (14).
Linesmen-Matt MacPherson (83), Bob Fyrer (72).