ROUND ONE OF BATTLE OF THE BOURQUES GOES TO: RYAN AND THE WHALE

Connecticut-Whale_thumb_thumb_thumb1      VERSUS     Hershey

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

The Bourque brothers, sons of Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, did their different things Tuesday night while playing against each other for the first time.

With their parents and a dozen friends from Boxford, Mass., looking on at the XL Center, Chris Bourque scored the game’s first goal, his team-leading 11th for the Hershey Bears on a power play, and younger brother Ryan showed his speed and tenacity to provide some solid forechecking for the Connecticut Whale.

Bourque Brothers Bowl I ended with Chris getting two personal points and the younger Ryan the more important two team points.

It was decided by steady goaltending from Chad Johnson, a game-winning laser from the left point by defenseman Pavel Valentenko with 4:04 left and unselfish plays by Jordan Owens and Kelsey Tessier to set up Chris McKelvie’s first goal of the season in the Whale’s 4-2 victory.

“I saw (Scott) Tanski screening the goalie (Braden Holtby) and Owens made a great pass, so my job was to hit the net,” Valentenko said after his first game-winning goal at any level. “I practice my shot every day in practice, so I think it’s getting better.”

Valentenko was most happy that his first winner came after the Bears tied with 9:11 left, when AHL leading scorer and perennial All-Star center Keith Aucoin picked up his own rebound in the left circle and fired a shot that was tipped by Graham Mink, before deflecting off Valentenko’s skate and past Johnson.

“I was so (upset) when I scored in our net,” Valentenko said. “They made it tight because of me.”

Valentenko then paused, smiled and added, “It hit my skate so I scored two goals. I think it’s my first two-goal game in North America.”

The Whale (12-5-1-2) is smiling plenty these days, with five wins in six starts despite veteran center Kris Newbury being suspended for the last four games and veteran center John Mitchell and rookie wing Carl Hagelin missing their third game after being called up by the New York Rangers on Thursday. Mitchell scored his first goal with the Rangers off an assist from Hagelin, as the Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 Tuesday night. Both have points in each of the three wins they have played in since joining the Rangers.

“We had some guys called up, and the guys (in Hartford) are doing a pretty good job working hard every shift,” Valentenko said. “And every practice we’re doing a good job, so that’s why we’re winning.”

The latest win increased the Whale’s lead in the Northeast Division to three points over the idle Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Bears (9-6-3-2) lost their second in a row after two straight victories.

“It was tough to give up the tying goal, but again they stuck with it and got the win,” Whale coach Ken Gernander said. “It’s a tough spot where you encourage guys to drive the net and take pucks to the net, but the interference penalty (on Tanski) put us behind. Though it wasn’t a power-play goal, he had just stepped out of the box, but again the guys stuck with it and got the goal for the two points.

“(Tanski) went into the corner to finish his hit (on the winning goal) to allow Owens to recover the loose puck, so top marks there. I’m pretty pleased because the guys are continuing to win games, and that’s first and foremost. I’m never going to thumb my nose at a win. There’s going to be mistakes, but I think the guys have shown the effort and perseverance to get the two points. That, maybe more than anything, is encouraging because it’s a character trait. It’s an intangible, but it’s pretty critical to being successful.”

As for Valentenko’s second goal in as many games, Gernander said, “That’s a big heavy shot that not too many guys are going to want to front. If it’s on net, it’s obviously effective.”

Johnson (26 saves) earned special kudos for playing through a bout of the flu, after he and backup goalie Cam Talbot worked with Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire during and after the morning skate.

“Chad had a strong game, played really well, and that’s obviously an important part of things,” Gernander said.

“You expect a battle to the very end from a good team like that,” Johnson said. “Like we’ve shown all year, we battled to the end. (The tying goal) was a tough break off Valentenko’s skate, but it happens and you just have to deal with it because he played a good game. I don’t think we played our best the last two games, but we have an identity as a team that doesn’t quit and is playing well.”

That’s the theme that Ryan Bourque espoused after prevailing in Bourque Brothers Bowl I.

“It was awesome,” said Ryan, 20, who’s five years younger than Chris. “It was great that we got the victory. There’s nothing like beating your older brother. It just brings back a lot of memories where you were battling when you were kids.”

So did dad offer any pearls of wisdom to his sons before the game?

“No,” said Ryan, who cooked dinner for Chris, Aucoin, roommate Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and former Bears wing Francois Bouchard on Monday night. “He just told me to kick some butt, have some fun, enjoy the experience, treat it like any other game and just go after it.”

Ray Bourque was a proud papa when it was over and had his biggest hope fulfilled that both sons performed well, even grazing each other once as they crossed diagonally in the neutral zone.

“It was pretty neat. I had goose bumps watching them play out there together,” Ray Bourque said. “I thought they both played really well. Ryan had a great game. There were no numbers (points) to show for it, and Chris had a goal and an assist. It was just a lot of fun watching them out there, and they even bumped into each other once. But I’m sure Ryan will let Chris know about the win.

“I know both guys are trying to go somewhere and get to the next level, and to see them play against each other for the first not just in the backyard but in real opposition teams for real was pretty neat. I know both those guys really enjoyed it. They had dinner together last night and were really looking forward to this game, as my whole family was. It was fun to watch.”

Ray said he took a few “subtle notes” on his sons’ play but “would wait to be asked for them.”

“I don’t jump on things that quickly,” he said. “I let things kind of calm down and talk about certain things. I’ll tell them the good stuff tonight, and if they want to know more, they’ll ask me tomorrow.”

The Bourque brothers, who each wear No. 17, were on the ice together for the first time 3:40 into the game, and a minute later, the Bears nearly scored. But Ryan Potulny’s shot deflected off the crossbar, and Johnson then robbed Jacob Micflikier alone in front at 5:10.

But moments after the Whale killed off a 5-on-3 for 1:27 thanks to stout work by Valentenko, Mats Zuccarello and Brendan Bell, the Bears took a 1-0 lead when Chris Bourque took a pass from Aucoin and fired a slap shot from 25 feet in the slot that hit off Johnson and went in over his shoulder at 12:03.

But with the teams skating four a side, Audy-Marchessault found Zuccarello breaking in on left wing on a 2-on-1 with former Whale defenseman Tomas Kundratek caught up ice, and “The Norwegian Hobbitt” beat Holtby cleanly for his fourth goal and 14th point in 14 games since being assigned by the Rangers on Nov. 15. Audy-Marchessault has 18 points in 15 games after going scoreless in the first five games. Kundratek was playing his first game against his former team since being dealt on Nov. 8 for Bouchard, whose best friend on the Bears was Chris Bourque as he helped win Calder Cup titles in 2009 and 2010.

The goalies exchanged excellent saves early in the second period, as Johnson denied former Wolf Pack right wing Matthew Ford’s stuff attempt on a wraparound at 19 seconds and Holtby stopped Tessier off right wing off a pass from Audy-Marchessault at 3:08.

Neither team seriously threatened much until Voros picked off former Wolf Pack defenseman Julien Brouillette’s clearing attempt around the boards that ricocheted off a stanchion and into the slot and fired a shot that beat Holtby high to the glove side off the crossbar. It was Voros’ first point in four games with the Whale after signing a professional tryout contract on Nov. 15.

The Whale nearly doubled their lead on the first shift of the third period, but Holtby came out to deny Bouchard breaking in off right wing off a 2-on-1 at eight seconds.

Then at 3:05, the Bourque brothers had their first meeting when they nudged while skating parallel to the red line.

“He claims he could have really done some damage by hitting me, but he let up and actually ended up tripping,” Ryan said with a smile. “We joked about that.”

Then with the Bears on their fifth power play, Ryan Bourque covered the left point being manned by his brother. Seconds after the power play ended, a wide-open Aucoin took a nifty diagonal pass from Chris Bourque and one-timed a shot from the left circle that Johnson stopped. But Aucoin picked up his rebound, leading to the deflection off Valentenko’s skate with 9:11 left.

But 5:07 later, Owens made a strong play to get the puck to Valentenko for the winner. Then after the Bears pulled Holtby for a sixth attacker with 1:32 left, Owens and Tessier made unselfish passes to set up Chris McKelvie for his first goal of the season into an empty net 16 seconds later, causing Chris Bourque to slam his stick against the plexi-glass behind the goal.

“I think you saw through his emotion at the end of the game how competitive he is, how much he wanted that, how much he was trying,” Ryan said of Chris. “You’ve got to give him credit that he had a great game and controlled the play. But in the end, I think we played better as a team than them, and I’m really proud of every guy in our dressing room because it was a great victory.”

Proud is the word that Ray gave when asked his overall feelings about the evening. Yes, Chris was the game’s No. 2 star behind Valentenko, but Ryan and the Whale got the most important two of the night.

Round 2 will be at the XL Center on Dec. 9, with Ryan and the Whale traveling to Hershey for games on Feb. 4 and April 8.

That should provide plenty more to talk about and battle over for the Bourques, the Whale and the Bears.

NIGHTINGALE RETURNS; ERIXON OUT

Veteran defenseman Jared Nightingale returned to the Whale lineup after missing five games with an injury, but rookie defenseman Tim Erixon was scratched with an injury sustained in a 3-2 victory over the Springfield Falcons on Saturday night. The Whale also scratched Newbury, who served the last game of a four-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Sound Tigers wing Justin DiBenedetto in a 3-2 overtime victory on Nov. 18. DiBenedetto missed four games before returning Sunday.

The Bears scratched former Wolf Pack left wing Boyd Kane because it was their captain’s turn to sit out, as the team has too many veterans (260 or more NHL, AHL, IHL or European elite league teams). Kane (eight goals, four assists, team-leading plus-12) usually plays on the Bears’ No. 1 line with Chris Bourque and Aucoin, a frequent All-Star center who entered the game with four goals and a league-high 24 assists. Kane’s spot was taken Ford, one of five former Wolf Pack/Whale players on the Bears roster. Other Bears scratches were defensemen Sean Collins and Zach Miskovic and forwards D.J. King, Mattias Sjogren and Kyle Greentree. They signed right wing Matt Pope to a PTO.

Newbury, who has been practicing with the team and skating hard under the watchful eye of Gernander afterwards, can return Friday night and give the Whale a full four lines as they visit the Providence Bruins (8-13-1-1). The Bruins are on a 0-5-0-1 slide since a 3-2 victory over Worcester on Nov. 13 and have been outscored 25-12, including a 3-2 shootout loss in their only meeting with the Whale on Nov. 20, when third-period goals by Bell and Owens got the visitors to overtime before Mitchell and Hagelin scored in the shootout. … Goalie Dov Grumet-Morris, the Whale MVP last season, returned to San Antonio last week and promptly backstopped the Rampage to consecutive wins over Abbotsford, knocking the Heat out of first place in the West Division. Grumet-Morris, who had played with five other teams since his first stint with the Rampage in 2005-06, allowed only one goal on 52 shots in two games, including a shutout in his season debut Friday night after starting the season in Norway. Amazingly, it was the fourth time in his AHL career that Grumet-Morris earned a shutout in his first start with a team. He is 23-17-5 with a 2.32 GAA, 920 save percentage and six shutouts in 51 AHL games. … The Chicago Wolves still haven’t allowed a power-play goal on home ice this season, killing off all 20 shorthanded chances in seven games. … The Manchester Monarchs started the week on a six-game winning streak, and Atlantic Division foe Portland has points in seven straight (6-0-1-0). … The Houston Aeros have a six-game points streak (3-0-2-1) despite a recent stretch of more than 126 minutes without scoring a goal.

Tim Leone has a brief story from the Hershey perspective at PennLive.com.

GAME SUMMARY and OFFICIAL SCORERS SHEET

VIDEO:

Ken Gernander shares his post game thoughts after the Connecticut Whale defeated the Hershey Bears at the XL Center on 11-29-11

SOUNDS OF THE GAME:

Ken Gernander: 

Pavel Valentenko: 

Chad Johnson: 

Ryan Bourque: 

Aaron Voros: 

STANDINGS:

Capture

(Standings provided by TheAHL.com)

NOTES:

* A six-game losing streak to the Bears by The Connecticut Whale/Hartford Wolf Pack franchise came to an end with the win  Tuesday night. The the last time a Hartford team beat the Bears was on January 13, 2008 when the Wolf Pack defeated the Bears 3-1.

LINES:

Voros – Zuccarello – Bouchard
Bourque – Audy-Marchessault – Thuresson 
Grant – (Rotated) – Tessier
McKelvie – Owens – Tanski

Valentenko – Bell 
Redden – Bickel
Baldwin – Parlett
Nightingale

Johnson
Talbot

(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)

SCRATCHES:

Tim Erixon – Undisclosed Injury – Day-to-Day
Carl Hagelin – Recall, NY Rangers
John Mitchell – Recall, NY Rangers
Kris Newbury – Suspension – (Last Game)

THREE STARS:

1. CT – P. Valentenko
2. HER – C. Bourque
3. CT – M. Zuccarello

ON ICE OFFICIALS:

Referee:
Jeff Smith (49)

Linesmen:
Jim Briggs (83)
Kevin Redding (16)

NEXT GAME:

It’s two of the next three on the road this weekend as the Whale travel Friday night to Providence, Saturday to Springfield and then home for a Sunday tilt with the Binghamton Senators. Bob Crawford will be on the air Friday night with the broadcast from “The Dunk” starting with the pre-game show at 6:30pm on 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.

Too far away or can’t make it? Listen live at WCCC.com or from your cell phone or computer you can get all the live action via our Twitter page: @HowlingsToday for all games both home and away.

SCORE-SHEET:

Hershey Bears 2 at Connecticut Whale 4 – Status: Final
Tuesday, November 29, 2011 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum

Hershey 1 0 1 – 2
Connecticut 1 1 2 – 4

1st Period-1, Hershey, Bourque 11 (Micflikier, Aucoin), 12:03 (PP). 2, Connecticut, Zuccarello 4 (Audy-Marchessault, Parlett), 14:01. Penalties-Redden Ct (delay of game), 9:59; Thuresson Ct (double minor – high-sticking), 10:32; Richmond Her (interference, roughing), 13:44; McKelvie Ct (roughing), 13:44.

2nd Period-3, Connecticut, Voros 1   14:20. Penalties-No Penalties

3rd Period-4, Hershey, Mink 7 (Aucoin, Bourque), 10:49. 5, Connecticut, Valentenko 2 (Owens), 15:56. 6, Connecticut, McKelvie 1 (Owens, Tessier), 18:44 (EN). Penalties-Flemming Her (roughing), 8:44; Tanski Ct (goaltender interference, roughing), 8:44; Mink Her (high-sticking), 13:04.

Shots on Goal-Hershey 11-7-10-28. Connecticut 7-6-10-23.
Power Play Opportunities-Hershey 1 / 4; Connecticut 0 / 2.
Goalies-Hershey, Holtby 5-5-1 (22 shots-19 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 6-3-2 (28 shots-26 saves).
A-1,917
Referees-Jeff Smith (49).
Linesmen-Jim Briggs (83), Kevin Redding (16).

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