SPOTLIGHT: HOLDING LEADS

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

It’s a classic case of the glass being half full or half empty.

The Connecticut Whale has led in all 14 games they have played this season, including by two goals in five outings, but they’ve lost half of them while compiling a 7-4-1-2 record. That’s still good for a tie for second in the Northeast Division, one point behind the surging Albany Devils, despite playing 10 games on the road.

The Whale’s most agonizing losses have come to the team that they just played, the St. John’s IceCaps, and the one they host Friday night at the XL Center, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

The Whale is 0-3 against the Atlantic Division-leading IceCaps (11-2-3-0), including 8-4 and 4-3 losses last Saturday and Sunday. The Whale is 7-3-1-2 since a season-opening loss at the Adirondack Phantoms, and the three regulation losses have come at the hands of the IceCaps, who have won six in a row, half against the Whale, and have points in eight straight games (6-0-2-0). The Whale are 4-2-1-1 (.500) when leading after two periods, compared to 7-1-0-0 for the IceCaps. The Whale gets one more shot at the IceCaps at the XL Center on Jan. 20.

Meanwhile, the Sound Tigers (8-6-1-0) have prevailed in the first two games of the GEICO Connecticut Cup series with the Whale, rallying from two-goal deficits to win 5-4 in a shootout on Oct. 15 in Hartford and 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 2 at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, as Tim Wallace notched his only pro hat trick. The Sound Tigers won 4-3 at Springfield and Hershey last weekend to move into a second-place tie with the Whale and Adirondack.

While the Whale has been good enough to lead every opponent, everyone involved with the team hopes losing leads is a thing of the past.

“If you want to talk about glass half-full, glass half-empty, you’re not going to win championships or get to the next level with half a glass no matter how you view it,” Whale head coach Ken Gernander said. “That’s the reality of things, and you can view it any way you want, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to be successful with only half a glass of anything.”

Gernander said he has often discussed the matter with his troops because a glance at the Eastern Conference standings shows there’s not much margin for error against anyone.

“There are 15 teams, and there are only three teams that are below .500,” Gernander said. “So there’s a lot of parity there, and that means they’re all good teams and they’re all going to be competitive games. Your opponent is going to create chances and score goals, but if you give them freebies, that’s really going to turn around and bite you.”

Like in St. John’s on Saturday night, when the Whale rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead on rookie wing Carl Hagelin’s penalty shot at 6:33 of the second period and then promptly saw the tables turn.

“We held the lead going into the end of a disjointed second period and then had three straight turnovers that resulted in goals against,” Gernander said.

IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray scored with 1:06 left in the second period and Patrice Cormier tallied a minute later to put the IceCaps ahead to stay. Carl Klingberg then scored only 1:11 into the third period before Marco Rosa and Jaffray completed St. John’s comeback. The next day, the Whale again scored three times in the first period while taking 2-0 and 3-1 leads, the latter on Hagelin’s goal off defenseman Blake Parlett’s third assist after being a healthy scratch the previous two games. But veteran hometown hero Jason King scored twice to tie it, and Eric O’Dell got the winner with only 3:01 left, off an assist from former Wolf Pack wing Garth Murray, after a turnover in the neutral zone, leaving the Whale to endure an even longer flight home from Newfoundland.

“Whether it’s a young guy or veteran, who should know better, somebody should be communicating to a person,” Gernander said. “Even though pucks turn over, we should be in good enough support of the puck or the puck carrier that defensively we shouldn’t be as exposed. It’s not always just the turnover, but for sure if you take that out of the equation, then we can move on to the next problem or area of concern and fix or shore up that as well.”

After a travel day Monday, the Whale has worked to get out the cobwebs of their longest trip of the season and focused again on trying to curb the unwanted trend.

“We just keep making mental errors on system stuff, and when you do that, you let teams into the game,” said veteran center Kris Newbury, who is fifth on the team in scoring (10 points) despite missing five games while on recall to the Rangers. “It’s just a matter of getting of not letting it get away for five or 10 minutes in the third period. Teams are good enough to capitalize and tie the game up and eventually go ahead.

“We have to find a way to play the full 60 minutes, and we’ve had a good (four days) of practice with a hard, good, quick pace. We worked on a lot of defensive zone stuff and transition, so hopefully that will be corrected, a simple thing like not being in the right position during our forecheck in their end. They come out too easy and create too much speed in the neutral zone for a defenseman, so we just went back to the simple things and back to the drawing board, and hopefully it will be done.”

Gernander said the Whale won’t have another veteran presence in the lineup Friday night in former Rangers rugged left wing Aaron Voros, who signed a professional tryout contract with the team on Tuesday and began working out with the Whale on Wednesday.

“He needs a little more (practice) time,” Gernander said.

Voros had been looking for a job after not being re-signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and then being unable to find a free-agent NHL contract to his liking. He put offers to go to Russia and Switzerland “on the back burner” in hopes of landing a job in North America, but none materialized. So Voros, who lives in New York after growing up a Rangers fan in Vancouver, British Columbia, called Blueshirts president and general manager Glen Sather on Monday night about trying out with the Whale and got approval to join the team from Rangers assistant GM/assistant coach/Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld on Tuesday. Schoenfeld said he thought it was a good situation for Rangers and Whale, so Voros made a beeline for Hartford.

Voros said his immediate goal is to help the Whale win, though his long-range objective is another shot at the NHL, where he had 18 goals, 19 assists and 395 penalty minutes in 162 games with the Minnesota Wild, Rangers and Anaheim Ducks.

“I’m very fortunate to get the opportunity and now my only goal is to help this team win,” said Voros, who could make his Whale debut at Providence on Sunday afternoon. “After playing for four years in the NHL, it still burns in my heart to play there. The season started without me having a team, and then I was waiting it out before I said I have to get playing. I called Mr. Sather and asked if I could play with the Whale and contribute if I could crack their lineup, and that’s what I’m doing now one day at a time. All I’m concerned with is cracking this lineup and helping them win. Nothing else matters to me right now, and I’m really excited to be here.”

Voros, 30, was an eighth-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2001 who is actually just happy to be still playing. In the second game of his sophomore year at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, he fell on his leg and suffered severe pain. The next day, he went for an X-ray, and doctors discovered a lump behind his left knee half the size of a baseball. After a magnetic resonance imaging test, three doctors over the next three months diagnosed it as osteosarcoma, a type of malignant bone cancer. But after three more biopsies, the tumor was deemed benign, and he had successful surgery, though he developed a staph infection in his leg and had a Hickman line inserted into his heart. In all, Voros had six operations and eventually dropped from 205 pounds to 155.

After working overtime to recover and finish his collegiate career, Voros played 21/2 seasons with the Devils’ top affiliate in Albany and then Lowell, before being traded on March 1, 2007 to the Minnesota Wild for a seventh-round pick in 2008. After starting the 2007-08 season with the Houston Aeros, Voros was called up and played his first NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 11, 2007. Five days later, he scored his first NHL goal against Roberto Luongo and his hometown Vancouver Canucks.

Voros had seven goals and seven assists in 55 games in his rookie season and was the Wild’s nominee for the 2008 Bill Masterton Trophy, as the player who exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game, by the Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. On July 1, 2008, Voros signed a three-year, $3.3 million contract with the Rangers, fulfilling a childhood dream to play for the team he grew up rooting for 3,000 miles away in Vancouver, British Columbia. Voros had 11 goals, 12 assists and 211 penalty minutes in 95 games with the Rangers before he and forward Ryan Hillier were dealt to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Steve Eminger on July 9, 2010.

Voros, who is of Hungarian descent, was scoreless with 43 penalty minutes in 12 games with the Ducks before sustaining a broken orbital bone above his left eye in a fight with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa on Dec. 8, 2010. He was placed on the Ducks’ injured reserve list until Feb. 11, and then was scoreless in two games with the Syracuse Crunch before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 15 for a conditional seventh-round pick in this year’s NHL draft. He had three goals, four assists and 61 PIM in 26 games with the Maple Leafs but wasn’t re-signed in the offseason and had been skating on his own in New York when he called Sather.

In May, Voros, best friend/Rangers left wing Sean Avery and goalie Lundqvist opened their first restaurant in Manhattan called “Tiny’s & the Bar Upstairs.” It’s located at 135 West Broadway in the Tribeca district of southern Manhattan and has become a favorite among the Tribeca community. Later in the month, Voros, Avery and future Rangers center Brad Richards vacationed together in Jamaica.

Gernander knew the kind of player that he was getting when Voros arrived Wednesday.

“He should bring quite a bit,” Gernander said. “He’s got a bit of grit to his game, he’s got some size (6 feet 4, 210 pounds) and is obviously a capable player, having played at the NHL level and having some veteran experience. There’s quite a package there, but he had just been waiting as a free agent and skating kind of on his own, so there’s a difference between conditioning and game shape. We’ll just kind of monitor him and see when we can get him in.”

The St. John’s trip was part of the Whale opening the season with 15 of their first 22 games on the road. After they host the Sound Tigers, they play five of their next seven games away from the XL Center before closing 2011 with eight of 11 at home.

Feisty left wing Justin DiBenedetto leads a balanced Sound Tigers attack with 13 points (nine goals, four assists), followed by center David Ullstrom (10, 2) and left wings Wallace (4, 7) and rookie Casey Cizikas (3, 8). Ullstrom has a goal in six straight games, one off Jeff Tambellini’s team record. South Tigers first-year coach Brent Thompson, a former Wolf Pack defenseman who led Alaska to the ECHL title last season, has used three goalies – Mikko Koskinen (0-1-1-0, 2.82 goals-against average, .909 save percentage), rookie Anders Nilsson (5-2-0, 2.86, .908) and Kevin Poulin (3-3-0, 4.06, .874). But the logjam ended Tuesday when Koskinen, the veteran of the trio, was loaned to KalPa of the Finnish Elite League. The Islanders retain the rights to their second-round pick in 2009, who will be a restricted free agent after the season. Koskinen had played the least of the three this season after missing most of 2009-10 to a torn hip labrum, and a left wrist injury limited his effectiveness the second half of last season, the only time he was the Sound Tigers’ No. 1 goalie. In 41 games with Bridgeport, Koskinen was 13-24-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .893 save percentage. He also played in four games with the Islanders in February.

Thompson said Nilsson (34 saves) stole the win in Hershey, where the Sound Tigers had lost 11 straight, including three in the 2010 playoffs, since Nov. 3, 2007. But the Sound Tigers are now without right wing Nino Niederreiter and defenseman Calvin de Haan. Niederreiter completed a two-week conditioning stint from a groin injury and returned to the parent New York Islanders after getting goals in three straight games, giving the fifth overall pick in 2010 four points (three goals, one assist) in five games. He made his NHL season debut in a 4-2 loss Tuesday night to the Rangers, who won their seventh in a row. De Haan had an MRI on his shoulder, which was injured when he has hit by former Wolf Pack wing Dane Byers in the win over Springfield.

In celebration of Veterans Day, the Whale is offering military personnel a “buy-one-get-one-free” discount on lower-level tickets for the game against the Sound Tigers. Any military personnel who present a military/veteran ID at the Public Power Ticket Office at the XL Center will receive the special offer.

After a rare Saturday night off, the Whale play at Providence on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. Rookie right wing Carter Camper (4, 8) leads the P-Bruins (8-8-1-0) in scoring, followed by center Zach Hamill (6, 5) and right wing Kirk MacDonald (1, 7). Rugged left wing Lane MacDermid, son of former Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid, has two goals, four assists and a team-high 40 penalty minutes. Right wing Chris Clark, a South Windsor native who has 214 points in 607 NHL games with Calgary, Washington and Columbus, is scoreless in four games with the P-Bruins since signing a 25-game tryout contract. The Bruins have also used three goalies – Anton Khudobin (7-5-1-0, 2.74, .921, one shutout), Michael Hutchinson (0-3-0, 3.03, .897) and rookie Karel St. Laurent (1-0-0-0, 3.46, .907).

Seven of the Bruins’ last eight games have been decided by one goal, including one in overtime and another in a shootout, and the other was a 4-2 loss at Portland in which the Pirates scored an empty-net goal with one second left. This is the first of eight meetings between the longtime rivals, who are not in the same division for only the second time, the other being in the 2002-03 season when the Wolf Pack played in the East Division and the P-Bruins in the North Division.

STAAL GIVEN OK TO EXERCISE LIGHTLY

Rangers All-Star defenseman Marc Staal, who hasn’t skated since working out with the Whale in early October, has reportedly been given the green light to start light exercise.

Staal has been sidelined with post-concussion symptoms that stem from a hit he received from his brother, All-Star center Eric Staal, in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 22. The Rangers’ top defenseman and alternate captain has spent four weeks resting at his home in New York under the instruction of concussion specialist Dr. Robert Cantu, whom he first visited in Boston after skating with the Whale and again on Tuesday.

Staal, the Rangers’ first-round pick (12th overall) in 2005, missed only five games last season but began to experience headaches in the summer following workouts. He has visited Dr. Cantu and had acupuncture treatments, and a cortisone injection, in the neck to try to accelerate his return to the ice.

Though everyone in the Ranger’s family hopes Staal returns sooner than later, the team is not offering any timetable on when the 24-year-old will be back.

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 Springfield Falcons fans in Game 2 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Dec. 3. Falcons fans notched a 10-6 victory on Oct. 23 at the XL Center 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 must be purchased at least 10 days before a game. A portion of ticket sales benefits Defending the Blue Line, an organization that helps children of military families play hockey. Game 1 raised $200, and ticket sales for Games 2 and 3 have already added $175. 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 be 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 soon.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.