SPOTLIGHT: JORDAN OWENS

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

Jordan Owens’ style and demeanor has hardly changed since his first stint in Hartford, but he has seen one major improvement in his second go-around.

“I like the new uniforms,” Owens said with a smile. “There’s no specific reason. I like the colors, I guess.”

Yes, many of his teammates are different as Owens is into the green, blue and white of the Connecticut Whale, who were the Hartford Wolf Pack when he first signed with the New York

Rangers organization on June 12, 2007.

In a strange twist of fate, Owens’ stay in Hartford ended on March 3, 2010, when he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for center Kris Newbury, one of Owens’ favorite players while growing up in Niagara Falls, Ontario after being born in Toronto. Owens had seven goals and 18 assists in 77 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins before his 2010-11 season ended because of an injury sustained with 20 games left.

“It’s weird because I used to watch the Maple Leafs, and (Newbury) was one of my favorites,” Owens said. “When I got traded for him, it was kind of cool and weird at the same time. I didn’t know him, but I liked the way he played a lot.”

It’s a lot like the way Owens plays.

“He plays a pretty straightforward game, so the consistent effort and hustle are kind of a constant in his game,” said Whale coach Ken Gernander, who displayed similar qualities in his distinguished 14-year pro career. “So if he plays a simple, straightforward game and is giving the energy and the work, it’s not going to deviate much. He creates pretty good forechecking pressure and finishes his hits. And when it gets a little nasty, he can scrap a bit. He brings a lot.”

Owens brought enough in the Whale’s first 12 games that he was given an AHL contract on Monday to replace the professional tryout deal he signed on Oct. 6, two days before the season started.

“There was a general consensus that everybody appreciates what he does, what he brings, his versatility,” Gernander said. “We’re not extremely deep up front right now, and Jordan is doing well in his role.”

Owens has been on a checking/defensive line with Scott Tanski and either Andre Deveaux, Chris McKelvie or Jyri Niemi. He has played center and wing, is one of the Whale’s key penalty killers and rather adept at face-offs.

“There are all kinds of ways to get it done,” Gernander said. “I think if someone were to watch Jordan, if you’re maybe bringing up a young kid and don’t know what their skill set is going to be, but if you want someone who is going to be doing the right things and a good role model as far as work ethic and things like that, he’d be a pretty good example.”

And Owens is appreciated by more than just his coaches and teammates, as fans still drape a banner saying “Jordan’s Corner” over the railing of the upper deck of the XL Center. He remained in touch with many of them during his hiatus to Grand Rapids.

“I have a good supporting cast, especially my friends in Jordan’s Corner,” Owens said.

Owens also gets to see his relatives in Ludlow again, which made his return that much more enjoyable.

“I’m happy to be here,” Owens said. “It feels like my home away from home. I spent a lot of time in the area when I was younger, and I came to camp this year not being on a high, so I’m pretty happy about that.”

Though he wasn’t with the Wolf Pack/Whale for nearly 18 months, Owens said he feels like he never left Connecticut after arriving from the Mississauga IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League.

“It’s been a blur, it’s been five years since I’ve been a pro, but it feels like yesterday that I was coming here out of juniors,” Owens said. “It’s a good feeling to be familiar. I was really excited to come back, not only because it was familiar but I love the new uniforms, so I was pretty happy to wear those.”

Owens first visited the area when he vacationed and went fishing with his grandparents in Springfield. He also has family in Hartford but didn’t meet them until he first arrived in 2006. So Owens never crossed the state line and went to Hartford, settling for rooting for the Maple Leafs and AHL Toronto Marlies, where Newbury also played.

After last season ended on a downer, Owens got only a few contacts from other teams, some of which were in Europe, but nothing concrete.

“I was pretty desperate,” he said. “My back was against the wall, so I was going to do whatever it took to stick because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. By the time I heard from Europe, it was late summer and they had already started (the season), which made it even tougher to get in. This was my only option, so I had to make sure I stuck here.”

Owens and Tanski weren’t assured of roster spots until late in training camp, and while Tanski was signed to an AHL contract, Owens was relegated to a PTO. But Owens was comfortable in Hartford after having been with the organization and knowing Gernander. He also was helped by right wing Chad Kolarik sustaining a torn ACL in his left knee in training camp and Dale Weise being claimed off waivers by the Vancouver Canucks.

“It definitely is one of the reasons I’m here is because they knew who I was already,” Owens said. “The numbers weren’t really in my favor when I came here, but there were injuries and Weisie got picked up off waivers, so I pretty much got lucky.”

And, as usual, he worked and played hard, too.

“Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time,” Owens said.

Now if only he can put a few more biscuits in the basket. In the OHL, Owens’ goals, assists and points increased in each of his three seasons, capped by 32-42—74 and plus-17 in 60 games in 2006-07. He joined the Wolf Pack for the end of the season and playoffs, then played in Hartford and with Charlotte of the ECHL in 2007-08 before becoming a Wolf Pack regular the following season, when he had pro career highs in goals (12), assists (25) and points (37) and tied his career high in plus-minus (plus-17).

Then after getting six goals and 13 assists in 50 games with the Wolf Pack in 2009-10, he was traded for Newbury. At the time, the Wolf Pack were looking for some veteran leadership and grit up front and gave up a hustling, hard-working young wing who was a fan favorite for playing bigger than his 6-foot, 180-pound frame, often rattling the plexiglass when he finished a check. Newbury provided immediate dividends, getting four goals and 14 assists in 18 games, though the Wolf Pack missed the playoffs for the only time in the franchise’s 14-year history.

Newbury continued his production last season, when he led the Wolf Pack/Whale in assists (44) and points (61) in 69 games, and earned kudos from Rangers coach John Tortorella while getting one assist and showing plenty of spunk in 11 games during several call-ups to Broadway. He had four goals, including his second AHL hat trick in the opener, and four assists in four games this season before being called up again. He is currently tied for second on the Whale team in scoring with John Mitchell with nine points, two behind rookie Jonathan Audy-Marchessault.

Owens has two goals, 12 penalty minutes and is minus-1 in 12 games this season, with both goals, including the winner, coming in a 4-2 victory at Adirondack on Oct. 28. He said he still plays the same as he did in juniors but hasn’t found the back of the net as often, though he was usually in more offensive situations, including on the power play, while with Mississauga.

“I don’t know what happened. I used to score more goals,” Owens said with a smile. “When I came here, I knew I had to find a way to contribute night in and night out if I wasn’t going to be scoring. So I turned to being good defensively and blocking shots and hitting and defending teammates if need be.”

And learning what it takes to score at a higher level.

“At this level, and even in the NHL, you get maybe one (scoring) chance per game, and that’s the difference between a goal scorer and a guy that’s not,” Owens said. “A guy who is a goal scorer will capitalize on the opportunity given them. Someone like me needs a couple of chances before I can score a goal. I noticed that after the first couple of games. If you’re playing well, you’ll get a good chance and really have to bear down on it.”

Even if Owens doesn’t do anything resembling Audy-Marchessault’s 35-foot laser from the top of the right circle in the Whale’s 3-2 overtime victory at Albany on Saturday night, he’s the kind of guy who can have a positive influence on a team. Just the kind of guy who resembles his coach – on and off the ice.

FORMER WOLF PACK FORWARD REJOINS FALCONS

The Columbus Blue Jackets have reassigned former Wolf Pack wing and 2009 AHL MVP Alexandre Giroux to the Springfield Falcons. In a reversal of three weeks ago, Giroux changed places with Greenwich native and former Avon Old Farms and Boston College standout wing Cam Atkinson, who had four goals and two assists in 10 games with the Falcons after scoring one goal in five games with the Blue Jackets.

Giroux, 30, had one goal in nine games with Columbus after getting one goal and one assist in two games with Springfield. In 48 NHL games with Columbus, Edmonton, Washington and the Rangers, Giroux has six goals and six assist in 10 years. A seventh-round pick of Ottawa in 1999, he has 340 goals and 310 assists and is plus-143 in 706 AHL games. He led the Hershey Bears to the back-to-back Calder Cup titles in 2009-10, when he had 110 goals and 90 assists in 138 games. He has scored 30 or more goals in seven straight AHL seasons and appeared in several AHL All-Star Games, including each of the past three years.

The Falcons also signed veteran defenseman Brett Lebda to a professional tryout contract. Lebda has 19 goals and 53 assists in 367 NHL games and won a Stanley Cup ring with the Detroit Red Wings in 2009. … Former Rangers and Wolf Pack wing Jed Ortmeyer was suspended one game as a result of an illegal check to the head in a game at Hamilton on Friday night. He missed Sunday’s game against Toronto.

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 on 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.

WHALE FANS LOOK TO EVEN SERIES

Whale fans will look to get even in their seven-game series with Falcons fans in Game 2 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Dec. 3. Falcons fans rolled to a 10-6 victory Oct. 23 at the XL Center in Hartford in the inaugural game of the historic series originated by Seth Dussault of Easthampton, Mass. Matt Marychuk of Glastonbury created a Facebook page to see if there were any interested players, and he and Dussault managed the social media page as interest grew. They used the page to sign up fans to play and communicate between the players and managed to fill rosters for each fan team. The idea caught the attention of the Falcons’ and then Whale front office, leading to players of all ages and skill levels participating in the series.

For tickets to Game 2 at 4:30 p.m., email Damon Markiewicz at dmarkiewicz@falconsahl.com. For tickets to Game 3 at the XL Center on Dec. 4 at noon, contact Dussault at whalefalconsfangame@gmail.com. Information on all the games and the series is available at www.facebook.com/WhaleFalconsFanGame.

Tickets are $10 in Springfield and $16 in Hartford, with a portion of the sales benefitting Defending the Blue Line, an organization that helps children of military families play hockey. Other games are Jan. 7 in Hartford at 4 p.m., Jan. 8 in Springfield at 12:30 p.m., Feb. 10 in Springfield at 5 p.m. and March 17 in Hartford at 4 p.m. Tickets for those games will available in the near future.

And mark Jan. 22, 2012 on your calendar. That’s when the Whale’s annual Tip-A-Player Dinner will be held from 4-7 p.m. at the XL Center. More information will be coming in the near future.

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