SPOTLIGHT: SEAN AVERY

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

The New York Rangers placed veteran left wing Sean Avery on waivers for a second time Friday.

Avery was scratched for the 10th consecutive game Friday night at Florida against the surprising Southeast Division-leading Panthers and first-year coach Kevin Dineen, the former Hartford Whalers standout right wing and captain. Avery last played Dec. 10 in a 4-1 victory at Buffalo, his 15th game after playing two games with the Whale. He scored a clinching empty-net goal in a 4-2 victory at Adirondack on Oct. 28, had the deciding shootout goal in a 3-2 win at Worcester the next night and was recalled from the Whale and passed through re-entry waivers on Nov. 1.

Avery, who has three goals and 21 penalty minutes and is plus-2 with the Rangers, is in the final season of a four-year, $15.5 million contract that’s being split evenly with the Dallas Stars, and he would carry a salary cap hit of approximately $1.025 million for a team claiming him.

Avery was assigned to Whale at the start of the season after clearing waivers at the end of training camp but needed a few weeks to rehabilitate an ailing shoulder before he could play.

Though Avery cut down his penalties and was generally effective for the Rangers, he averaged only about seven minutes and got his least ice time in his last eight games. The Rangers also need cap space because left wing Wojtek Wolski ($3.8 million contract) is ready to return after missing 25 games because of sports hernia surgery.

The Rangers’ other healthy scratch Friday night was center Erik Christensen ($925,000), who sat out his sixth straight game. Still on injured reserve are defensemen Marc Staal ($3,975,00), Michael Sauer ($1,250,000) and Steve Eminger ($800,000).

WHALE END 2011 AT HOME

After playing at Worcester on Friday night, the Whale close out 2011 with a Hartford First Night game against the Falcons, whom they have beaten four times by a combined 16-6 score, as rookie forward Jonathan Audy-Marchessault has three goals and six assists for nine points, five more than any other player. In celebration of New Year’s Eve, the Hartford Parking Authority is offering free parking at the Morgan Street garage and $2 parking at the Church Street and MAT garages. All upper-level seating will be $5, and fans showing a First Night wristband at the Public Power Ticket Office can take advantage of a 50 percent discount on lower-level end-zone seats. And there will be a First Night table in the XL Center atrium with First Night wristbands available for purchase.

The Falcons (14-15-1-0 before hosting Binghamton on Friday night) had won two in a row on the road before a 5-2 loss at Syracuse on Wednesday night. They are led by former All-Star center Martin St. Pierre (six goals, 23 assists), followed by Greenwich native and former Avon Old Farms and Boston College standout right wing Cam Atkinson (15, 9), injured center Nick Drazenovic (5, 15) and former Hartford Wolf Pack wings Alexandre Giroux (10, 8) and Dane Byers (7, 9), who was reassigned to the Falcons on Friday by the parent Columbus Blue Jackets. Former Wolf Pack center Ryan Garlock (3, 8) had his first two-goal game in the AHL and an assist in a 6-3 victory at Worcester on Dec. 20. Manny Legace (7-10-0, 2.27, .921), 38, the Hartford Whalers’ eighth-round pick in 1993, has started the last eight games for the Falcons since they lost 6-3 to the Whale on Dec. 3. The Falcons’ other goalie is Allen York (1-1-0, 3.94, .871), who has spent most of the season with the ECHL’s Chicago Express (seven games) and Blue Jackets (four games).

The Whale begins the 2012 segment of their season at Portland on Monday at 1 p.m. against the new top affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes. The Pirates (14-12-2-2 before a game at Adirondack on Friday night) got two goals and an assist from right wing Brett MacLean and a goal and two assists from center Brock Trotter in a 6-3 win over Providence on Wednesday night. In their only meeting with the Whale on Nov. 23, the Pirates took a two-goal lead before losing 3-2 on defenseman Brendan Bell’s goal at 3:29 of overtime.

The leading scorer for the Pirates is rookie center Andy Miele (eight goals, 15 assists), who won the Hobey Baker Award as collegiate hockey’s top player last season with Miami of Ohio and was called up by the Coyotes on Tuesday. Miele is followed by Trotter (7, 14), who has five goals and nine assists in 15 games since being acquired from the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 23, right wing Brett MacLean (13, 7) and defenseman Nathan Oystrick (6, 13). Captain and former Wolf Pack defenseman Dean Arsene scored Wednesday night and has two goals and seven assists, while former Wolf Pack and Rangers wing Ryan Hollweg has two assists and 98 penalty minutes. Former Wolf Pack wing Mike Hoffman, who played at UConn, had two assists Wednesday night, his first points in the AHL since Dec. 18, 2009, when he scored for the Wolf Pack and his first points in six games with the Pirates since signing a free-agent deal with the Coyotes on Dec. 8 after starting the season with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers.

Veteran Curtis McElhinney (9-11-0, 2.95, .910) has done the bulk of the goaltending for the Pirates, but he and right wing Patrick O’Sullivan (two goals, five assists in six games) were recalled Monday, while Justin Pogge (4-3-2, 3.16, .891) was reassigned. Marc Cheverie, on his third call-up from the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, was Pogge’s backup in a 3-2 overtime loss to Worcester on Monday night and the win over Providence on Wednesday night.

After three days off following the game in Maine, the Whale has a demanding end to next week when they are at Binghamton on Friday night, host Springfield on Saturday night and visit the Falcons on Sunday afternoon, their fourth three games in three days stretch of the season.

TICKET SPECIALS, GIVEAWAYS

College students can get discounted tickets to weekday games with the Whale’s “Ditch the Dorms” deal. For Monday through Friday games, students who show a valid student ID at the Public Power Ticket Office at the XL Center can get $2 off upper-level tickets and $5 off lower-level seats.

Fans who purchase Whale season tickets or a mini-plan before Saturday will be entered to win a round-trip excursion via limousine to a Rangers regular-season game at MSG. Current season seat holders and mini-plan-holders are also automatically entered. … Upcoming Whale giveaways include Wade Redden Bobblehead Night, sponsored by Click It or Ticket, on Jan. 21, when there will be a doubleheader as the Whale hosts the Norfolk Admirals at 7 p.m. after a Canadian Women’s Hockey League game between the Boston Blades and Team Alberta at 4 p.m., and Trading Cards Set II of Talbot, Audy-Marchessault, Ryan Bourque, Kelsey Tessier, Jordan Owens and former Wolf Pack All-Star right wing Ryan Callahan, now captain of the Rangers, sponsored by Webster Bank, on Jan. 27 (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton). …The Whale’s annual Tip-A-Player Dinner and Sports Carnival, presented by Aetna, is Jan. 22 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the XL Center. Whale players will serve dinner for the benefit of Gaylord Specialty Healthcare in Wallingford. Adult tickets are $30, and tickets for children 12 and under are $20. To purchase tickets, visit a table outside Section 101 at Whale games or call 860-728-3366.

WHALE-FALCONS FANS SERIES TICKETS AVAILABLE

Tickets for the next two games in the seven-game series between the Whale and Falcons fans are on sale until Wednesday. Game 4 is on Jan. 7 in Hartford at 4 p.m., and Game 5 is Jan. 8 in Springfield at 12:30 p.m. 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. Tickets must be purchased at least 10 days in advance of a game and 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. The first three games raised about $600.

Tickets are available 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. Information on all the games and the series is available at www.facebook.com/WhaleFalconsFanGame.

The Falcons fans have won 10-6, 14-4 and 8-4 in the first such 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.

MESSIER, LEETCH AMONG RANGERS STARTERS IN ALUMNI GAME

Rangers fans voting on BlueshirtsUnited.com chose Hockey Hall of Famers Mark Messier, Cheshire native Brian Leetch and Mike Gartner to be among the six Rangers starters in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic alumni game against the Flyers on Saturday, which was moved from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the same rink at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia as the NHL teams will use at 1 p.m. on Monday.

Messier, the NHL’s second-leading all-time scorer (1,887 points), and Leetch, who won the Conn Smyth Trophy as playoff MVP, led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994. Messier was scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery this month and was uncertain if he’d be ready to play, but he postponed the operation.

Messier and Gartner will start at forward with Adam Graves, whose No. 9 is retired in the MSG rafters. Leetch, whose No. 2 is also retired, will start on defense with Ron Greschner, and John Vanbiesbrouck will be the goalie. The team will be coached by Mike Keenan, who led the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup win that was backstopped by his assistant, Mike Richter.

“I am really looking forward to the outdoor alumni game, as well as the Winter Classic,” Messier told BlueshirtsUnited.com. “It really is a celebration of the game. I believe in the quote, ‘You sail in the wake of those who have gone before you.’ It is so true in hockey because we are so good at keeping the tradition alive, and we honor the players who have paved the way for the current players. And I think this game really is an opportunity to celebrate the game and the people who have made it what it is today.”

Other Rangers scheduled to compete include former Wolf Pack players Dale Purinton, Dan Blackburn and Darius Kasparaitis and former Whalers Nick Fotiu, Darren Turcotte and Nick Kypreos, along with Brian Mullen, Ron Duguay and commentator Dave Maloney, whose son Dave Jr. now works for the Whale. 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.

As part of the Winter Classic countdown, the Empire State Building began shining its world-famous tower lights in the teams’ colors on Wednesday. The east/west sides of the building, with west facing MSG, are lit in the Rangers’ blue, red and white, while its north/south sides, with south facing Philadelphia, are lit in the Flyers’ orange and white.

The Rangers are offering special one-day and three-day 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.

A third AHL outdoor game will be played at Citizens Bank Park on Jan. 6, when Adirondack, formerly based in Philadelphia and the Flyers’ top affiliate, will host the Hershey Bears. That will be two days after a collegiate exhibition game between Penn State and Division III Neumann University.

The AHL announced on Friday that the Adirondack-Hershey game will be televised live across the United States and Canada at 7 p.m. on The Comcast Network in Philadelphia, on Sportsnet north of the border and streaming from AHL Live (www.ahllive.com). The game also will be re-broadcast on NHL Network in the U.S. on Jan. 7 at 4 p.m.

The AHL’s other outdoor games were Syracuse against Binghamton at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, N.Y., on Feb. 20, 2010 and the Harvest-Properties.com Whale Bowl, featuring the Whale against Providence, at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 19. The first AHL outdoor game in Canada will be Jan. 21, when Hamilton hosts Toronto at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton.

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