SPOTLIGHT: WHALE HEART

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

The Connecticut Whale players had a rare day off from the rink Sunday, but applied their energy to an even more important endeavor than playing hockey.

Each player bowled two games during two shifts with 220 fans at their annual Bowl-A-Thon at AMF Silver Lanes in East Hartford, raising $15,000 for Special Olympics Connecticut while signing autographs, chatting with admirers and giving the customary needle to teammates for missed shots or gutter balls. Cash Kings, a Special Olympics Windsor team of athletes, raised the most money, $1,340, to help bring the event’s 10-year total to more than $240,000.

For the scoring record, forward Jordan Owens had a high game of 211, in what he said was his first bowling since he did the Bowl-A-Thon with the then Hartford Wolf Pack two years ago. Low man was rookie right wing Scott Tanski, who had 74 but raised his arms in triumph as he happily accepted his “booby prize.” Defenseman Pavel Valentenko also was delighted to point out that he DIDN’T have the low score as in past years.

But it was all in good fun for a good cause by a bunch of good guys, who volunteer their time during the season doing the Bowl-A-Thon, Tip-A-Player dinner at the XL Center and speaking engagements at schools and charity organizations throughout the area.

“The guys really enjoy doing things like this,” said defenseman Jared Nightingale, the Whale’s AHL Man of the Year last season for his extensive charity work in the community and whose 191 was the third highest score Sunday behind Owens and goalie Cam Talbot (194). “It’s a nice way to get away from the game and into get into the community and with people who enjoy you and the team.”

One of their biggest fans is 33-year-old Jaimaine Johnson of Windsor, the globe messenger for Special Olympics Connecticut who speaks to charity groups around the state.

“I talk about track and field and bowling,” Johnson said. “My favorite is bowling, so I had a lot of fun today.”

Johnson bowled with defenseman Wade Redden and forward Mats Zuccarello, as each player earned a minimum donation of $200 for two games. There also were raffles for Whale apparel, hockey memorabilia and restaurant gift cards.

“This year’s Bowl-A-Thon was another huge success,” said Jackie Turro, director of development for Special Olympics Connecticut. “The staff at the Connecticut Whale has been incredibly supportive of our event and the Special Olympics movement. What’s great about this event is that in addition to Whale fans, many of our Special Olympics athletes are the participants. They go out and raise money on their own and get to show off their bowling skills to their favorite Whale players. All the Whale players get involved and have a great time interacting with our athletes, who look forward to this event all year long. We’re very fortunate to have such incredible support from the Connecticut Whale, from management to the players.”

Well, that about says it all. Well done to all the Whale players and administrative personnel.

WHALE, FALCONS FANS PLAY DOUBLEHEADER THIS WEEKEND

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 Saturday at 4 p.m. (doors open at 3:30). 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.

Tickets include admission to the AHL 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 $400 to the donation. Game 3 is Sunday at noon (doors open at 11:30 a.m.) at the XL Center, before the Whale hosts the defending Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators at 3 p.m.

For games this weekend, fans can email whalefalconsfangame@gmail.com and tell Dussault that they want tickets that he can bring on game day. Dussault can’t get more tickets on game day, so fans have to email him by Friday for the game on Saturday and by Saturday for the game on Sunday. Tickets are available in advance for games in Springfield by contacting Damon Markiewicz at dmarkiewicz@falconsahl.com. Advance tickets in Hartford are available by contacting Dussault at whalefalconsfangame@gmail.com. All future tickets must be purchased at least 10 days before the game. Information on all the games and the series is available at www.facebook.com/WhaleFalconsFanGame.

Tickets for Game 4 on Jan. 7 in Hartford at 4 p.m. and Jan. 8 in Springfield at 12:30 p.m. will go on sale Monday. Tickets for the final two games on Feb. 10 in Springfield at 5 p.m. and March 17 in Hartford at 4 p.m. 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.

MITCHELL, HAGELIN MAKING THEIR MARK ON BROADWAY

Veteran center John Mitchell and rookie left wing Carl Hagelin certainly have made a major impression since being called up from the Whale last Thursday. Each has a point in each of their three games, all wins, while playing together on a line with Brian Boyle. And each has been presented “The Broadway Hat” as the team’s top player in a vote of their teammates.

Hagelin earned the honor on Sunday, when he had the insurance goal off a pass by Mitchell and rebound of a shot by former Wolf Pack defenseman Ryan McDonagh in a 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Mitchell was awarded the special chapeau Tuesday night, after scoring the Rangers’ second goal in a four-goal second period on a nifty drop pass from Hagelin in a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL’s top team.

“It’s kinda neat,” Mitchell said of the hat. “It’s kind of small actually. I don’t know if they are washing it and it is shrinking or what. But it’s pretty neat to be able to put it on, that’s for sure.”

But Mitchell was more interested in the Rangers continuing their run after beating three of the NHL’s top teams – Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – in five days.

“It is vital to this team to not take it easy and not go lightly on an opponent that is maybe wounded and kind of weak right now,” Mitchell told the New York media after practice Wednesday. “We have to keep the killer instinct going and go, go, go and go hard because every point counts. It doesn’t matter what team we play, we have to make sure to bring it every night.”

Rangers coach John Tortorella said Mitchell “is bringing it” since joining the Blueshirts.

“He’s doing the work along the walls, scores a big goal for us,” Tortorella said after the Rangers won their third in a row and improved to 7-1-1 at home, matching their best start at Madison Square Garden through nine games since 1992. “He and Hagelin have stepped right in and added some speed, handled the puck and made plays. Hopefully we continue.”

Hagelin led all skaters with six shots on goal, and had three blocked shots, in 11:50 of ice time Tuesday night. He’s the first Ranger to get points in his first three NHL games since Steven King, a supplemental draft pick in 1991 from East Greenwich, R.I., had a point in four consecutive games to start the 1992-93 season.

The Rangers outshot the Penguins 30-27 and remained the only NHL team that is unbeaten when outshooting their opponent (7-0-0). Goalie Henrik Lundqvist had 24 saves to improve to 10-4-3, including 5-1-1 at MSG. Lundqvist completed November with an 8-1-0 record, 1.88 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and one shutout.

Sidney Crosby, who hadn’t played at MSG in a year because of post-concussion symptoms, had two assists but didn’t score, while going against the Rangers’ top defensive pairing of former Wolf Pack players Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. Crosby has two goals and nine assists in five games since returning to the Penguins’ lineup Nov. 21.

RANGERS FANS VOTING

Fans can vote at www.Blueshirtsunited.com for the starting lineup for the Rangers’ team in the Rangers-Flyers outdoor alumni game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Dec. 31 as part of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. By casting a vote, fans will be entered to win a host of prizes, including Winter Classic jerseys and tickets to the alumni game and Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

Rangers players scheduled to compete include Hall of Famers Brian Leetch, a Cheshire native, Glenn Anderson and Mike Gartner, former Hartford Wolf Pack players Dale Purinton, Dan Blackburn and Darius Kasparaitis, former Whalers Nick Fotiu, Darren Turcotte and Nick Kypreos, along with Adam Graves, John Vanbiesbrouck, Brian Mullen, Ron Duguay and commentator Dave Maloney, whose son Dave Jr. now works for the Whale. Hall of Famer Mark Messier isn’t on the roster because of scheduled surgery in December, but hopes to recover in time to play in the game.

Coaches will be Mike Keenan, Colin Campbell and former Whalers general manager Emile Francis. The Rangers off-ice ambassadors will be Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin and Harry Howell, all of whom have had their numbers retired. For ticket information on the alumni game, call 212-465-6080.

The Rangers are offering special one-day and three-day NHL Winter Classic Road Trip packages presented by Amtrak. Packages include round-trip transportation to Philadelphia, game tickets, access to a pregame tailgate party with Rangers alumni, passes to watch practice and much more. For more information, visit www.newyorkrangers.com.

BRACELETS TO BENEFIT LOKMOTIV FAMILIES

Whale wives and girlfriends will be selling bracelets to benefit the families of those lost in the tragic plane crash on Sept. 7 involving the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. “Love for Lokomotiv” bracelets will be available for purchase at Whale home games on Dec. 9 against Hershey and Dec. 10 against Providence.

In a united effort to show support for the grieving families for those lost in the Lokomotiv tragedy, hockey wives and girlfriends around the world are raising money for their dear friends. Show your support on Dec. 9 and 10 with the comfortable red silicone bracelet, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the foundation set up in honor of the lost team.

You can learn more about “Love for Lokomotiv” and find out how you can help at loveforlokomotiv.com.

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