BY: Adam Gavriel
I like to call myself a huge Rangers fan, however words are wind and proving it is another task altogether. Up until yesterday I have only seen one AHL game live, a Wolf-Pack vs. Sound Tigers meeting in Bridgeport during the lockout season to get some sort of Rangers hockey fix. That all changed the other day when my girlfriend surprised me with a pair of tickets to Saturday night’s Connecticut Whale home opener. You might think this a gesture simple, but no. This was a world –class, Animal House-like road trip that took us through three states on the road from my college home in Buffalo, NY all the way to Hartford, Connecticut.
After having now experienced my first road trip to the XL Center, I have to say I was very impressed. It’s possible that it was only because it was the home opener, but at about 70% capacity I’d say, I was glad to see the level of support the Whale have from those in attendance. The area around the XL center was also very nice as was the dinner we had before the game.
Some observations on the game, the players, and a few other odds and ends…
***The crowd at the XL Center absolutely loves Jordan Owens.
During the opening introductions of the CT Whale players the Owens introduction brought an ovation that reached a different decibel level than any of the others on the team. Once the game started, I realized quickly why Owens is such a fan-favorite: the guy just hits everything in sight; he drives hard to the net and certainly isn’t afraid to mix it up after the whistle blows.
***Carl Hagelin is a player to watch.
I’ve been following Hagelin’s progression as closely as I can since his days at Michigan and last night was one of his most impressive performances. Hagelin skates on a different level and can accelerate better than those around him in the AHL. Watching him utilize that speed to score a goal in the third period, despite being hacked in a way that would have made Ogie Oglethorpe wince and then giving the Whale a 4-3 lead on a shorthanded breakaway was something to behold. It was his second of the game, and second of the period with his previous one tying the game at 3 for the home team.
Newbury has been great for the Whale and last night was no different. He definitely deserves this call up he just received. A three point game for Newbury Saturday while he continues to play a tough game in the AHL but this season he’s off to a red hot start as he’s tied for second in the AHL in points with 8 (4 goals and 4 assists) in just 4 games.
*** Wade Redden
Watching Wade Redden in the AHL was a different sort of sight. You can quickly see that players on the other team target Wade as he’s an established NHL guy playing in the AHL. Quickest way to make a name for yourself or test yourself in that league is to go up against the best. The Sound Tigers never hesitated to put a body on Wade or try to dangle him which led Wade to having a very “Wade Redden-esque” night. He was quiet, never too rowdy, took what the Sound Tigers were throwing at him and played a solid all around game finishing with a +1. You can tell right away that Wade is a calming influence on some of the young guys on the team.
*** Refereeing in the Minors
I’ll tell you; if you get frustrated watching the way games are called you should try watching the AHL. There’s a reason a lot of these guys are in the minors, it shows. On one particular play, Andre Deveaux, along with Newbury and Hagelin made up the top line. They were flying all night and all three played very well. On this one particular sequence, Deveaux was handily mugged by three Sound Tigers, including the goaltender, late in the third period that probably should have drawn at least one roughing call and could have been more, but here, no call. The shift after that he took an obvious slash to his hand and again no call. Now I’m ashamed to admit this but I didn’t notice until after I sat in my seat brooding about the no calls that there was only one referee on the ice last night. Is there any excuse about the calls he missed on Deveaux last night? Absolutely not! But it just goes to show you that the two-referee system in the NHL isn’t something to be messed with just yet.
It was some first trip to the XL Center. The 15+ hours I’ve spent traveling since Saturday morning were worth it. I proudly dressed in the CT Whale hoodie I purchased there and I plan on shedding some Whale green during the white Buffalo winter.
Now to think after this entire road trip that I don’t need Bluto to cheer me up or tell anyone that I’d messed up by trusting them…makes me want to go back for a sequel.
(Photo C0urtesy of xlcenter.rockandbus.com)