SPOTLIGHT: AUDY-MARCHESSAULT

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

Whale rookie Jonathan Audy-Marchessault brings some of the qualities of former Wolf Pack right wing P.A.  Parenteau, as Greenville Road Warriors coach Dean Stork noticed before wanting to sign him for his ECHL team. Unfortunately for Stork, Audy-Marchessault played so well as an invite on the Rangers’ team in the prospects tournament in September in Traverse City, Mich., that he got invited to Rangers camp. When he continued to show well, he earned a spot with the Whale and is now the team’s leading scorer, after getting a goal and an assist Saturday night.

Audy-Marchessault’s goal came on a 35-foot laser from the top of the right circle that cleanly beat Jeff Frazee high to the glove side. He later assisted on rookie Carl Hagelin’s goal off a second primary assist by veteran defenseman Wade Redden. Gernander also put Audy-Marchessault in the fifth and final spot in the shootout. He tried a Denis Savard spin-o-rama move that Frazee stopped, but when Matt Taormina hit the post to the left of Cam Talbot (18 saves), the Whale won the shootout on goals by Zuccarello (brilliant slow-moving fake and deke to the backhand) and defenseman Brendan Bell (quick wrist shot). Zuccarello had nearly won the game 1:17 into overtime, but he hit the post for the second time and then looked skyward in disbelief.

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Audy-Marchessault was known for his offensive skills while playing with Whale teammates Kelsey Tessier and Ryan Bourque on the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Quebec Remparts. He increased his goals, assists and points in each of his four seasons playing for Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy, capped by 40 goals and 55 assists in 68 games in 2010-11, when he played right wing for the first time after being exclusively a center.

But Gernander has been impressed by more than just Audy-Marchessault’s offensive talents.

“It was a good shooter’s mentality on the power play, and creating some traffic in front always helps,” Gernander said of Audy-Marchessault’s goal and Hagelin helping screen Frazee. “He’s a skilled guy, but he’s courageous, too, not just a perimeter guy who picks up his cookies on the power play. He battles hard on the wall both offensively and defensively.”
Audy-Marchessault is appreciative of help from his teammates, especially Tessier and Bourque, in getting acclimated to his new surroundings in a new league and the confidence shown by Gernander and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller. After not having a point in his first five pro games, Audy-Marchessault has five goals and six assists in seven games while playing center and right wing with a variety of linemates and getting more and more time on the power play.

“I heard (Pittsburgh Penguins star center) Sidney Crosby say that when you’re on a high and have a good stretch, you have to stay on the high,” Audy-Marchessault said. “I’m new in this league, so I’ve just tried to work hard and learn to play in it. I’m just moving my feet now and do what I do best, skate and produce offensively.

“And the coaches have given me some ice time. At the beginning of the season, you have to make your place a little more and work hard, but when you have your chance, you have to take it. Now they trust me a lot, and I have to keep that going. I don’t mind where I play – left, middle, right, power play – and I think that’s a good quality to have. If you’re able to play all those spots, it’s just going to go in a good way.”

And it has been good so far for the Whale (7-2-1-2), who is in first place in the Northeast Division and has a few days to work out some kinks before heading to Newfoundland on Thursday to play the Atlantic Division-leading St. John’s IceCaps on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The IceCaps (9-2-3-0) completed a nine-day, six-game trip through New England with a 4-0-0-2 record after a 4-3 victory at Bridgeport on Sunday.

The IceCaps, formerly the Manitoba Moose, are the top affiliate of the new Winnipeg Jets, the former Atlanta Thrashers, who visited the Rangers on Sunday night. This will be the Wolf Pack/Whale’s first visit to The Rock since a 3-1 victory on Dec. 1, 2002. Prior to Friday night, the Wolf Pack/Whale last played St. John’s on March 26, 2003, a 7-4 loss in Hartford.

The St. John’s trip is part of the Whale opening the season with 10 of their first 14 games, and 15 of 22, on the road, much like the Rangers started with a team-record seven straight away from Madison Square Garden, which is undergoing a $850 million facelift over three years. The Rangers ended a six-game homestand Sunday night, while the Whale plays eight of their last 11 in 2011 on Asylum Street.

St. John’s was the top affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1991 to 2005 before being relocated to Toronto and becoming the Marlies, whose roster has included Whale centers Kris Newbury and John Mitchell, tied for second in the Whale’s balanced attack with nine points, one more than Hagelin and Zuccarello, who has three goals and five assists in seven games since being reassigned by the Rangers. The Moose were based in Winnipeg and played in the International Hockey League from 1996-2001 and the AHL from 2001-2011, after the departure of the original Jets to Phoenix. As the top affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, they won the North Division in 2006-07 and 2008-09, when they reached the Calder Cup finals, losing to Hershey in six games.

The IceCaps have lost five players, including leading scorer Paul Postma, an All-Star defenseman last season, to call-ups because of injuries with the Jets. But rookie head coach Keith McCambridge’s team has hardly missed a beat, showing lots of perseverance and grit while rallying to beat the Whale, who are finally back home again on Nov. 18 to play nemesis Bridgeport. The Sound Tigers twice overcame two-goal deficits this season to beat the Whale, 5-4 in a shootout on Oct. 15 and 4-3 in overtime on Wednesday.

FORMER UCONN STAR, PLAINVILLE TEEN TO BE SALUTED WITH BALDWIN

Former Kolbe Cathedral High-Bridgeport and University of Connecticut basketball star Chris Smith and Plainville’s Abby Negro will be honored by the Connecticut Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation with Whalers Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Howard Baldwin at its Sportscasters’ Super Ball this Saturday at The Club at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The black-tie optional gala from 7 p.m. to midnight honors Connecticut sports stars and community leaders while raising fund and awareness of cystic fibrosis.

Smith, UConn’s leader in career (2,145 points) and Big East (1,140) scoring and three-point field goals (242), will receive the Native Son Award. Smith is one of only two Huskies to score at least 500 points in three different seasons and a member of the UConn basketball All-Century Team. He graduated from Kolbe Cathedral, where he became a high school All-American and played on the U.S. national team. He was Connecticut Player of the Year before playing at UConn and then three seasons with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. He is now the Kolbe boys’ basketball coach.

Negro, 16, will receive the Rookie of the Year Award. She is an honor student and basketball player at Plainville High and will be making her debut as an ambassador for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Baldwin was previously named the Community Leader of the Year Award. Baldwin was the former owner and managing general partner of the Hartford Whalers and then founded Whalers Sports and Entertainment two years ago. WSE assumed business control of the former Hartford Wolf Pack 14 months ago and rebranded the team the Connecticut Whale last Nov. 27.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease affecting the respiratory and digestive systems. Thick mucus blocks the airways, leading to life-threatening infections. The median life expectancy is 37 years.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is consistently rated one of the most efficient health charities in the country and is devoted to controlling the disease. Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., the foundation has more than 80 chapters and supports and accredits a nationwide network of 115 care centers. To advance research for a cure, the foundation has invested nearly $300 million in promising drug research in the biotech industry since 1998. For more information, visit www.cff.org.

The Sportscasters’ gala was established in 2002 by ESPN’s Joe Tessitore and Chris Berman to celebrate Connecticut’s rich sports history. Since its inception, the gala has raised more than $1 million in much needed research funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Dinner, dancing and a unique live auction will highlight the event. For tickets ($200) or to get involved, contact CFF director of special projects Paul Drury at 860-632-7300 or pdrury@cff.org.

WHALE BOWL-A-THON NOV. 27

The Whale’s annual Bowl-a-Thon to benefit Special Olympics Connecticut is Nov. 27 at the AMF Silver Lanes in East Hartford.
There will be shifts at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., with a team of four paired with one Whale player for a minimum donation of $200 for two games. There also will be chances to win prizes, including hockey memorabilia, restaurant gift cards, apparel and more.
To register, call 877-660-6667 or visit www.soctbowlathon.com or www.ctwhale.com

A NIGHT OF THREES FOR PARENTEAU

Threes were wild for Parenteau on Saturday night. He had three points (game-winning goal, two assists) on three shots and was plus-3, as the new-look New York Islanders rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 5-3 victory over the Washington Capitals, ending a six-game losing streak (0-4-2-0).

To try to stop the slide, Islanders coach Jack Capuano changed his four lines, as Gernander did Saturday night after the Whale allowed four third-period goals in a 6-3 loss to the St. John’s IceCaps 24 hours earlier. It helped the Whale end their first losing streak of the season (0-1-1-0) with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Albany Devils.

Parenteau broke a 3-3 tie with 1:46 left when he crashed the net and stuffed home the rebound of Milan Jurcina’s shot after it trickled between Tomas Vokoun’s pads. John Tavares added an empty-net goal with 1:01 left.

“P.A. played determined,” said Capuano, the former Bridgeport Sound Tigers coach. “He played well with Johnny and Matt Moulson, and he played well tonight with Frans (Nielsen) and (Brian) Rolston. No matter what line he’s on, he continues to play hard.”

Parenteau, named the game’s No. 1 star, said, “I think a little change never hurts, and we had a little more jump. New lines were the way to go, mix it up a little bit. It worked out tonight; hopefully we can keep it going for a while.”

It was the Islanders’ first victory since beating the Rangers 4-2 on Oct. 15 and ended a six-game losing streak against Washington, which lost for only the third time in 12 games. It was the Islanders’ first win over the Capitals in regulation since Oct. 18, 2004, and Washington left Nassau Coliseum without at least one point for the first time since March 10, 2007.

“I knew we’d get out of this,” Capuano said. “It was just a matter of time and a relief for the guys. We believe in one another. It was a good win. Everybody’s giving more.”

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Former Hartford Whalers center Dave Tippett always prided himself in his defense, so it seemed appropriate that he became the fastest coach to reach 100 wins with the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night, thanks to an aggressive, defensively responsible effort by his team.

Daymond Langkow and Adrian Aucoin scored second-period goals, Mike Smith made 24 saves and the Coyotes’ defense throttled the young and speedy Edmonton Oilers for 2½ periods in a 4-2 victory. Oilers rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins spoiled Smith’s bid for his first shutout as a Coyote with his sixth goal in his first 13 NHL games with 10:33 left. But 2:09 later, Boyd Gordon completed a nifty tic-tac-toe sequence with linemates Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney to end any hopes of an Oilers rally.

In typical fashion, the soft-spoken Tippett treated reaching the milestone as if he was having a root canal without Novocain. He was more concerned with Saturday night’s win than how many he had compiled in two-plus seasons working for general manager Don Maloney, the former New York Rangers assistant GM/Hartford Wolf Pack GM, and alongside former Whalers John Anderson and Sean Burke. Not to mention former Whalers wing Doug Sulliman, who was in the desert for three years before being replaced by Anderson, and defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, who left after last season to become coach of famed MoDo team in his native Sweden. That’s where Connecticut Whale wing Mats Zuccarello played two seasons ago when he won the Guldhjalmen (Golden Helmet) as the MVP of the Swedish Elite League, as decided by a vote of the players, before signing a two-year, $3.5 million deal with the Rangers.

“It is what it is,” a smiling Tippett told the media after No. 100. “I like to win, so I have no problem with that I guess. I thought our first 40 minutes was very good, we played the game fast and we knew had to start better. I liked the way our guys hung in there and we got two big points for us.”

The Coyotes are 5-1-1 in their last seven games, the regulation loss being a 3-0 defeat to Nashville in their previous start Thursday night. But Tippett reached the 100 wins in only 177 games (100-55-22), and he now has 371 wins in his NHL coaching career in Dallas and Phoenix. He is the fourth coach in franchise history to reach 100 wins, following Bobby Francis (165), Wayne Gretzky (143) and John Paddock (106), who guided the Wolf Pack to their only Calder Cup title in 2000 with Whale coach Ken Gernander as his captain.

“We got the puck on net early, we got it behind them early and we’ve shown when we don’t do that we struggle, Aucoin said. “It was a textbook Dave Tippett game. He implements such an easy game for us to play. We don’t have the big names or the superstars, but we find ways because of our system and the way he demands that we play.”

The Coyotes held the high-flying Oilers, who entered the game with six straight wins and having allowed just 12 goals in their first 12 games, to only 14 shots in the first two periods and used puck control and a swarming forecheck to keep Edmonton hemmed in their own zone.

Former Springfield Falcons goalie Devan Dubnyk, subbing for the red-hot former Coyotes goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, kept his team in the game with several highlight-reel stops among his 26 saves, 14 in the first period. But he couldn’t stop them all, as the Coyotes beat the Oilers for the seventh time in eight meetings and gave their coach a memorable win, no matter how much he tried to downplay it.

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