SPOTLIGHT: WHALE ALL-STARS REACT

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

Connecticut Whale wing Mats Zuccarello likely was the most surprised of the 48 players named to participate in the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic on Wednesday.

Zuccarello, the skilled Norwegian playing his second season in North America, had missed 10 games with an injury when he and Whale rookie forward Jonathan Audy-Marchessault were among the selections for the Eastern Conference team that will be compete in the skills competition and All-Star Game on Jan. 29-30 in Atlantic City, N.J.

“Of course I was surprised because I’ve been injured and haven’t played that many games (18),” Zuccarello said Thursday after his latest post-practice “bag skate” under the watchful eye of coach Ken Gernander. “But it’s a great honor and makes you feel like you did something good while you played. I’ve never been on something like that before, so it’s going to be a great opportunity and I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Zuccarello is tied for third on the team in scoring with rugged right wing Andre Deveaux with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) despite missing the Whale’s first four games while with the parent New York Rangers and the last 10 games after being hurt in a 3-2 loss at Providence on Dec. 11.

“I’m feeling better, and skating again is a good sign and a step in the right direction,” said Zuccarello. “Obviously I’m very tired after a bag skate, but it’s just good to be back, and I can’t wait to play again. The worst part (of being injured) is feeling so frustrated and helpless, and seeing all the other guys play and have fun and you just have to sit on the (stationary) bike and not do anything.”

Zuccarello said he has been working hard with strength and conditioning coach Mark Cesari and athletic trainer Damien Hess to get back ASAP.

“I’ve been working with them on everything, so hopefully I’m back soon,” the 5-foot-7, 174-pound Zuccarello said. “You have to stay positive.”

The one positive for Zuccarello the past four weeks was a one-week visit with his mother, stepfather and 14-year-old brother Fabian, who traveled to Hartford from Norway during the holidays.

“It was nice to have them here, so that was good,” said Zuccarello, who watched home games with them from a skybox.

While Zuccarello’s selection might have been surprising, Audy-Marchessault’s also was unexpected – at least from where he started three months ago.

Dean Stork, coach of the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors, knew Audy-Marchessault’s parents from the time crafty center-right wing was playing with Whale teammates Kelsey Tessier and Ryan Bourque with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Stork convinced Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld to sign Audy-Marchessault as a potential top player with the Road Warriors after he was named to the All-QMJHL first team after occasionally playing on a line with the more touted Bourque.

But Audy-Marchessault played so well with the Rangers’ team in a prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., in early September that he got an invite to Blueshirts training camp. He also played well in Rangers camp and earned a spot in Connecticut rather than Greenville.

Now Audy-Marchessault is tied for second in scoring among AHL rookies and is second on the Whale with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) after going scoreless in his first five pro games. He’s one point behind veteran center and linemate Kris Newbury (13 goals, 18 assists), who was named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week on Monday.

“I wasn’t even sure to make an AHL team and now I make the All-Star team, so for sure it wasn’t expected from me,” Audy-Marchessault said. “But I didn’t think about it when I was playing. I was just trying to get better and improve every game, and it’s fun to get recognized from the league. It’s a good honor, and I’m really happy, my family, too. Nobody was expecting something like that to happen to me this year, but I worked hard all summer and at the beginning of the year, so this is really fun.”

After the sluggish start while getting adjusted to the pro game, the 5-9, 175-pound Audy-Marchessault had points in six of the next seven games (five goals, six assists) while playing with Zuccarello at times.

“Zucc is an awesome player who can really make plays,” Audy-Marchessault said. “He’s really patient with the puck, makes good plays and is pretty strong for a little guy. He’s also a good example for small guys like us.”

But when Zuccarello was injured, Audy-Marchessault moved onto the Whale’s top line with Newbury and Deveaux, who had one assist and 29 penalty minutes and was plus-3 in nine games with the Rangers in November. That combo carried the Whale offensively for a while, but the line of Tessier and wings Andreas Thuresson and Francois Bouchard has picked up their offensive output the last few games. And Sean Avery, who cleared waivers and returned to the Whale lineup Monday in a 5-4 overtime loss at Portland, is expected to help the offense.

“We’ve been connecting,” Audy-Marchessault said of his work with Newbury and Devenaux. “When everybody does his job on our line, I think we’re one of the best lines in the league. … Newbs is a big part of my success, playing with a guy who has such a good work ethic that sets an example for (young) guys like us. Every time he goes on the ice he works so hard, and lately I’ve never seen a guy playing so good. He’s just eating (up) the American League. He’s fearless and such a good competitor.”

Since being reinstated as an alternate captain three weeks ago, Newbury has an eight-game points streak, starting with a personal-high four assists in a 6-3 victory over Bridgeport on Dec. 16. In the streak, he has five goals and nine assists, capped by his exceptional play last week that earned him the AHL honor. He’s also the leading contender among other Whale players who could/should have made the All-Star team.

“I think we have several other good candidates, and unfortunately they can’t all be on the All-Star team,” said Gernander, a three-time All-Star, including the winning captain in 1999. “But we’re proud of our two representatives. Zuccarello, when he was healthy, is obviously a very dynamic player, a very exciting player, and a key part of our team offense. And Audy-Marchessault has obviously been a very pleasant surprise for us the way he has performed all season. He continues to put up points as a rookie and is having a very good season.

“There are arguments to be made for other players, but unfortunately 30 teams can’t send four or five representatives. It’s tough (selecting) because of quotas and each team having to be represented, but for us to get two players was nice. I’ll reiterate that there are guys on our team who are having strong seasons and unfortunately there’s just not room for everybody. But their coaching staff and our organization certainly recognize all the contributions they’ve made and the work that they bring to our club. We’re very proud of the two that we are sending and wish them the best of luck in the big game.”

The Northeast Division-leading Whale (19-10-2-3) traveled Thursday afternoon to Binghamton, N.Y., where they will play the defending Calder Cup champion Senators (15-20-1-1) Friday night, before they return for a home-and-home set with the Springfield Falcons (14-16-1-1) at the XL Center on Saturday night and the MassMutual Center on Sunday afternoon.

The Eastern and Western Conference teams each have three goalies, eight defensemen and 13 forwards and include 34 first-time AHL All-Stars, 13 rookies and 20 players who have already skated in the NHL this season. The rosters were selected by committees of AHL coaches, and fan balloting for the starters begins Thursday and runs through noon on Jan. 23 at www.theahl.com and Facebook.com/theahl. By completing the official ballot, fans also will be entered to win a grand prize of a team-signed All-Star jersey. Five more winners will receive two tickets to the All-Star skills competition and All-Star Game.

The Eastern Conference All-Stars also include Wethersfield native and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton right wing Colin McDonald, the son of former Hartford Whalers defenseman Gerry McDonald whose 42 goals last season led the AHL while he was with Oklahoma City; Greenwich native and former Avon Old Farms and Boston College standout right wing Cam Atkinson, a rookie with the Falcons; former Hartford Wolf Pack center and reigning AHL MVP Corey Locke, who missed 20 games with Binghamton because of a hand injury; and former Wolf Pack left wing Boyd Kane of the Hershey Bears, named the captain of the team for his long and distinguished career. The Western Conference team includes South Windsor native Jon DiSalvatore, a right wing with the Houston Aeros, who lost to Binghamton in the Calder Cup finals this spring.

Zuccarello and Audy-Marchessault will be coached by Keith McCambridge of the first-year St. John’s IceCaps, the new affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets, who had the best record in the Eastern Conference (19-8-4-1, .672) at the Sunday night deadline. Todd Nelson of the Oklahoma City Barons (22-8-1-3, .706), the top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, will coach the Western Conference. The AHL will name assistant coaches for both teams.

The All-Star Classic will begin with the skills competition Jan. 29 at 3 p.m., with the All-Star Game on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. Tickets, which include admission to the skills competition and game, are $52 for seats on the glass, $37 for lower-level seats and $32 for upper-level seats. Tickets are on sale at the Boardwalk Hall box office, all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 800-736-1420 and at www.ticketmaster.com. For group orders, call 609-348-7021.

Former Hartford Whalers defenseman John Stevens, Joe Crozier, Jack Gordon and Zellio Toppazzini will be inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame on Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. at the induction and awards ceremony at the Circus Maximus Theatre at Caesars Atlantic City. Hockey Hall of Famers and Philadelphia Flyers legends Bill Barber and Bob Clarke are the All-Star Game honorary captains and will stand on the team benches during the skills competition and game and be recognized at the Hall of Fame inductions and awards ceremony.

Caesars Atlantic City will host the post-skills party and Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony. The post-skills party will start at 5:30 p.m., with $35 tickets including a chance to meet and mingle with the players and get an autograph or photo, complimentary beverages, interactive game stations, music and more. Tickets for the induction and awards ceremony are $20 and include a commemorative program. Tickets for the two hospitality events are on sale at the Boardwalk Hall box office and all Ticketmaster locations or by calling 1-800-736-1420 or www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets are limited and on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Special hotel rates are available at Caesars Atlantic City and Bally’s Atlantic City for Sunday and Monday nights. To reserve rooms at Caesars ($49 for Jan. 29 and Jan. 30) or Bally’s ($35 each night), call 888-516-2215 and mention code PAHL. Both properties are on the Boardwalk and less than a 10-minute walk to Boardwalk Hall. To inquire about promotional opportunities for youth hockey groups in association with the event or about game sponsorships and advertising, call 609-348-7022. For destination information about Atlantic City, visit www.atlanticcitynj.com

WEEKEND PREVIEW

The Connecticut Whale won’t be seeing Robin Lehner in the Binghamton Senators’ net Friday night when they visit the Calder Cup defending champions.

And neither will at least two other teams until at least the end of next week. Lehner was suspended for three games on Tuesday after providing most of the fireworks at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena on New Year’s Eve, when 169 penalty minutes were handed out in the Senators’ 6-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch.

Former Hartford Wolf Pack enforcer Francis Lessard got the “festivities” started when he tried to fight the Crunch’s Mark Fraser with 1:42 left in the second period and the Senators trailing 5-1. But Fraser wasn’t interested in any such extracurricular activities, allowing Lessard to throw his punches and take him down. Lessard was one of five players, including four Senators, ejected as referee Darcy Burchell assessed 137 minutes in penalties and the Crunch ended up with a seven-minute power play, on which they scored their final goal by Patrick Maroon at 1:05 of the third period.

Lessard’s aggressiveness was the latest retaliation for Binghamton captain Mark Parrish sustaining a right shoulder injury on what the Senators considered “a dirty play” by Brandon McMillan, a crosscheck into the boards, in a 4-3 overtime victory at Syracuse on Friday night. Senators coach Kurt Kleinendorst said Parrish will be sidelined “well past the All-Star Game” in four weeks. Maroon and the Senators’ Eric Gryba fought only 3:56 into the Saturday night game, then Lessard set off the real fireworks, with every skater on the ice piled along the boards. As fights broke out around Crunch goalie Jeff Deslauriers, he skated out a few feet before retreating to his crease and setting off Lehner.

Lehner left his crease, ripped off his mask and skated toward Deslauriers. When Burchell stood in Lehner’s way, the 20-year-old Swedish goalie tried to wrestle his way past the ref. After being taken down by Burchell and linesmen Jeff Walker and John Everett and eventually thrown off the ice, Lehner returned for another round of extracurricular activities.

Lehner was not available to the media after the game, but it was obvious he was headed for a suspension, since he violated rules for leaving the crease and abusing officials. When volatile goalie Ray Emery, now with the Chicago Blackhawks, violated similar rules in 2003, he was assessed a 10-game suspension the Senators appealed and had reduced to six games. That’s probably why Kleinendorst was “a little surprised” at the shortness of Lehner’s penalty.

“I think Robin might have dodged a little bit of a bullet there,” Kleinendorst told the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin. “Whatever the league was going to lay down, I was going to be OK with it. If three games is what they think is right, I’m certainly not going to argue with it.”

Lehner missed the Senators’ 4-3 victory at Adirondack on Wednesday night and will sit out home games Friday night against the Whale and Saturday night against Rochester. Ironically, he will be eligible to return for a home game next Friday night against – you guessed it! – Syracuse.

“I’m going to have a hard time saying that it was the wrong call for me to come down the ice,” Lehner said. “I was just hoping for him, the other goalie, to step up and maybe take the challenge. When he goes out to the corner, what do you expect, me to watch? Even if I would play in the NHL, now I can learn the lesson when the ref tells me to stop, I will. But if it’s an opportunity in the game and another goalie goes in, I would do the same thing. I would never change that.

“It’s not about me proving anything. It’s about me being a teammate and me being a guy for the team that wouldn’t just stand and watch. If one of my teammates is getting hurt or at risk of getting hurt, I will be in there, and I will help with all my heart. That’s just the way I am.”

Lehner, the playoff MVP this spring in leading the Senators to their first Calder Cup, is 6-12-1 with a 3.10 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 19 games this season. He has shared the goaltending with Mike McKenna (8-9-0, 2.78, .922), who is expected to play the three games that Lehner will miss while backed up by Brian Stewart, who was called up from Elmira of the ECHL, where his numbers were 13-5-0, 2.93 and .913.

The Senators (15-20-1-1) won their only meeting this season with the Whale 4-3 at the XL Center on Dec. 4. Parrish (11 goals, 10 assists) and center Pat Cannone (8, 13) share the Senators’ scoring lead, followed by left wing Rob Klinkhammer (11, 10), who has nine goals and six assists in 15 games with the Senators since being acquired from the Blackhawks on Dec. 2 for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2013.

The Senators have been hurt by former Wolf Pack center and reigning AHL MVP Corey Locke missing the first 20 games of the season with a hand injury before returning for a 3-1 victory over Adirondack on Dec. 16 and assisting on Klinkhammer’s winning goal. Locke was named to his sixth All-Star Game on Wednesday, tying him with Hershey center and AHL scoring leader Keith Aucoin for most all-time, and celebrated with three assists, including one on Tim Conboy’s winner with 1:08 left. Locke has two goals and 14 assists in 16 games after getting 21 goals and an AHL-high 65 assists in 69 games in 2010-11. Lessard has one goal, one assist and 82 penalty minutes.

After the game at Binghamton, the Northeast Division-leading Whale (19-10-2-3) will have a home-and-home set with Springfield, hosting the Falcons (14-16-1-1) on Saturday night at 7 and playing at the MassMutual Center on Sunday at 3 p.m. Fans wearing a Whale or New York Rangers jersey to Saturday night’s game will receive a 50 percent discount on upper-level seats and low-level end-zone seats. The offer is valid only on Saturday and only at the Public Power Ticket Office at the XL Center.

The Whale is 5-0 in the season series and has outscored the Falcons 21-10, capped by a 5-2 victory on New Year’s Eve in which veteran center Kris Newbury had two goals, defenseman Pavel Valentenko got the third winner of his career in 14 games and left wing Francois Bouchard chipped in three assists. In the five games against the Falcons, rookie forward Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, has nine points (three goals, six assists), four more than any other player. Former Wolf Pack captain Dane Byers, now Springfield captain, leads the Falcons against the Whale with three goals.

Newbury, who has five goals and 11 assists in eight games since being reinstated as an alternate captain, leads the Whale in scoring with 13 goals and 18 assists despite missing five games while with the Rangers and four games because of a suspension. He was named Reebok/AHL Player of the Week on Monday for getting three goals and five assists in four games last week and celebrated by scoring only 25 seconds into a 5-4 overtime loss at Portland later in the day.

Newbury is followed in team scoring by Audy-Marchessault (12, 18), right wing Andre Deveaux (10, 12) and defensemen Brendan Bell (6, 15) and Tim Erixon (2, 14). Despite missing the Whale’s first four games while with the Rangers and the last 10 games with an injury, wing Mats Zuccarello (8, 14) is tied for third in scoring and was named an All-Star on Wednesday. Chad Johnson (10-5-3, 2.43 goals-against average, .914 save percentage, one shutout) and Cam Talbot (9-7-0, 2.97, .893, two shutouts) have shared the goaltending.

The Falcons are led by center Martin St. Pierre (6, 24), Greenwich native, former Avon Old Farms and Boston College standout right wing and AHL All-Star Cam Atkinson (15, 10), center Nick Drazenovic (5, 15) and former Wolf Pack wings Alexandre Giroux (10, 8) and Byers (8, 9). Drazenovic is one of four injured Falcons, with another three on recall to the parent Columbus Blue Jackets. Manny Legace (7-11-1, 2.34, .919), 38, the Hartford Whalers’ eighth-round pick in 1993, has started 10 straight games for the Falcons and is backed up by Allen York (1-1-0, 3.94, .871).

PEARLS OF WISDOM… WORTH THEIR “WEIGHT” IN GOALS

Whale coach Ken Gernander said he had a simple goal for 2012: “Survive.” He then quickly quipped, “I have a personal goal, but it involves a scale. Me and the rest of America.”

Gernander also had a simple explanation of how to avoid an extended slump: “You try to win every game, every one-on-one battle, every shift, every period, so obviously you don’t want to lose back-to-back anything. I think given the character that we have, they’ve done a good job. If you’re competing and battling every night, that seems to take care of a lot of things.”

WHALE OF A DEAL(S)

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 can get $2 off upper-level tickets and $5 off lower-level seats.

Wade Redden Bobblehead Night, sponsored by Click It or Ticket, at the XL Center is 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. Another upcoming giveaway is Trading Cards Set II of Talbot, Audy-Marchessault, 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.

TWO STAALS RETURNED FOR WINTER CLASSIC

It seemed ironic that Rangers All-Star defenseman Marc Staal made his season debut in the NHL Winter Classic on Monday just as younger brother Jordan did with the Pittsburgh Penguins in their game against the Washington Capitals a year ago. And Marc ended a 36-game absence due to post-concussion symptoms, the aftereffects of being hit by older brother Eric in a game against Carolina on Feb. 22.

After skating Sunday, Marc consulted with Boston-based concussion specialist Dr. Robert Cantu. After receiving assurances from Cantu, the Rangers training staff and Staal that he was ready to play, Tortorella inserted Staal in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers and used him on the third pairing with former Whale defenseman Stu Bickel, replacing Jeff Woywitka. Staal was scoreless and plus-1 in 12:41 in 20 shifts in his first game in nearly nine months as the Rangers rallied from a two-goal deficit to a 3-2 win on Brad Richards’ goal at 5:21 of the third period.

Staal said the decision to play was made at dinner Sunday night. He said he never had much hope of returning for the Winter Classic, but when he was cleared for contact a week earlier, he was told by Dr. Cantu getting hit was not an issue and it wouldn’t matter if it was in the next game or two weeks. So it came down to when Staal thought his conditioning was good enough.

Once he made the decision to play, “I did a lot of thinking. My stomach started churning.” But he eventually calmed down, “had a good sleep,” felt off with his timing and positioning but was happy that Bickel was talkative on the ice, which is what Staal asked him to be.

“To be honest, I kind of wrote (the Winter Classic) off for a long time so that when the day came and I wasn’t playing, it wouldn’t bother me as much,” Staal said. “I felt all right. I didn’t play a whole lot, but that was the plan. I made some mistakes out there, but I’ll try to get better.”

Staal had averaged 25-30 minutes, and that has been filled mostly by former Wolf Pack defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who rank first (27:22) and 10th (25:12) in the league in ice time and played 28:35 and 25:57 on Monday.

“(Staal) was solid, and we know he’s only going to keep getting better,” Girardi said.

Michael Rupp, who played for Pittsburgh in last year’s Winter Classic, had the Rangers’ first two goals, and Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves, including a penalty shot by Daniel Briere with 19.6 seconds left after McDonagh was called for covering the puck in the crease.

“It’s probably going to go in if I don’t come in there,” McDonagh said. “I swiped it out of there, out of the crease. I never covered it. It is what it is, but we’re pretty confident with Hankie in that situation. That penalty shot, we were pretty nervous on the bench, but everybody in the back of their mind knew Hank would step up. He thrives in those moments. … Hank is the backbone and he was the star again for us. It’s the same story, just a different atmosphere.”

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette chose Briere over Claude Giroux, tied for the league lead in scoring with Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin, to take the penalty shot. The former Springfield Falcons center went backhand-to-forehand and tried to go five-hole on Lundqvist, who easily stopped the shot and then thrust his arms in celebration.

“Obviously there’s a lot of pressure on me there — I couldn’t believe they called the penalty shot,” said Lundqvist, who has won his last five starts and was named the game’s No. 1 star. “It would have been tough to swallow that one if they’d scored, but luckily they didn’t.”

On his blog for NHL.com, Briere wrote: “This game was going to overtime. That’s all I had in my mind as I stood at center ice and waited to take the penalty shot. Coming in on Lundqvist, I had beaten him once on the blocker side, once on the glove side. He had stopped me a couple times before as well in shootouts, but I was still convinced I was going to score. I tried to surprise him with a quick little shot, but unfortunately he was quicker than me. I’ve got to give him credit for that.”

If you want to read a heartwarming sidebar to the Winter Classic, visit www.nydailynews.com for a story on the relationship of Tortorella and Rangers/former Whale defenseman Michael Del Zotto with Liam Traynor, a 9-year-old Rangers from with cerebral palsy who attended the game. The connection was made through the Garden of Dreams and its Make A Dream Come True program.

BAD BOYS, BAD BOYS WHAT’CHA GONNA DO WHEN THEY COME FOR YOU – AVERY IS BACK IN TOWN

Nearly lost in all the Winter Classic theatrics was left wing Sean Avery returning to the Whale lineup against the Portland Pirates, his first game since Dec. 10, when the Rangers won 4-1 at Buffalo. Avery was a healthy scratch the next 10 games before being placed on waivers for the second time this season last Friday and reassigned to the Whale on Saturday.

Avery was among the Rangers’ final cuts Oct. 4 but missed the Whale’s first seven games while recovering from an injury. In his season debut Oct. 28, he scored a clinching, empty-net goal in a 4-2 victory at Adirondack and then had the decisive shootout tally in a 3-2 win at Worcester the next night. He was called up Nov. 1 because of an injury to Rupp, whose return last week led to Avery being sent down again.

Ironically, Avery was on a line with Whale rookie Ryan Bourque and veteran Aaron Voros, who is on a tryout contract. In May, Avery, Voros and Lundqvist opened their first restaurant in Manhattan called “Tiny’s & the Bar Upstairs” in the Tribeca district of southern Manhattan.

MACLEAN, KUEMPER, ZAKOFF RECOGNIZED

Portland Pirates right wing Brett MacLean, Houston Aeros goalie Darcy Kuemper and Manchester Monarchs goalie Jeff Zatkoff were named the Reebok/AHL Player, Rookie and Goaltender of the Month for December.

MacLean, a second-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007 who was re-acquired on waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 29, had 11 goals and five assists and was plus-5 in 13 games, including four in which he scored twice.

Kuemper, a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2009, was 3-1-3 with a 1.72 GAA and .942 save percentage in eight appearances after making his AHL season debut Dec. 2 and stopping 23 shots in a 4-3 victory at Rochester.

Zatkoff, a third-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2006, was 5-2-0 with a 1.70 GAA and .946 save percentage in seven appearances. … Two Adirondack players reached milestones in a 2-1 victory over Albany on New Year’s Eve. It was the 1,000th professional game for left wing and captain Denis Hamel and 800th AHL game for defenseman and alternate captain Dan Jancevski. Hamel, in his 15th pro season, has played in 808 AHL games with Adirondack, Binghamton and Rochester, as well as 192 games in the NHL with Philadelphia, Atlanta, Ottawa and Buffalo. Jancevski, who has never appeared in fewer than 74 games in any of his 10 seasons, became the 33rd player – and only the 12th defenseman – to skate in 800 AHL games.

ODDS AND ENDBOARDS

Dov Grumet-Morris, the Whale’s MVP last season, made 33 saves in San Antonio’s 2-0 victory over Charlotte on Tuesday night. Grumet-Morris, who started the season playing in Norway, is 5-2-0 with a 1.44 GAA, .947 save percentage and two shutouts in eight games. His GAA and save percentage are the lowest and highest in the league, but he hasn’t played enough to qualify. His two shutouts are tied for sixth with 11 players, including the Whale’s Talbot.

HBO moved the final episode of “24/7 Rangers-Flyers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic” from Wednesday night to Thursday at 10 p.m. A network representative said since the game was on Jan. 2 instead of Jan. 1 like it was a year ago, HBO wanted an extra day to cut the final episode in which 12 cameras worked the game. It would have been fun if they showed some of the alumni game that the Flyers won 3-1. It seemed like old times with 68-year-old Flyers goalie Bernie Parent making a sprawling save on Ron Duguay’s breakaway in his first game action in three decades and fellow Hall of Famer and Cheshire native Brian Leetch logging a game-high 29:44 on the Rangers defense.

The third outdoor game in AHL history is Friday night when Adirondack and Hershey meet at Citizens Bank Park. The game will be televised live at 7 p.m. on the Comcast Network in the Philadelphia area and on SportsNet in all four broadcast regions across Canada. It also will re-air on the NHL Network in the United States at 4 p.m. Saturday and is the first of two AHL outdoor games this month. Hamilton will host Toronto on Jan. 21 at Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ont.

Referees David Banfield and Jamie Koharski and linesmen Leo Boylan and Bob Goodman have been selected to officiate the outdoor game Friday night. Veteran AHL referee Ryan Fraser worked the NHL Winter Classic alumni game alongside his father, Kerry, a NHL referee for 30 years and more than a record 2,000 regular-season and playoff games who retired in 2010 and is now an analyst on TSN’s highlight show, That’s Hockey 2Nite.

MISSIAEN WINS IN RETURN TO GREENVILLE

Just hours after being reassigned from the Whale to Greenville of the ECHL, Jason Missiaen made 31 saves, including 12 in the third period, to lead the Road Warriors to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Express on Sunday in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Missiaen backed up Talbot for two games as a fill-in for Johnson, who had to return home because of a death in his family. But after flying to Chicago to rejoin the Road Warriors, Missiaen was back at work winning his sixth game of the season, which started late because of an injury. Justin Bowers had two goals and an assist and was plus-3 to lead the offense. Former Wolf Pack/Whale left wing Devin DiDiomete had four shots, tying for the game high, and two minor penalties for the Express.

In his previous start for Greenville on Dec. 27, Missiaen had 25 saves in a 2-0 victory over South Carolina that tied him for the ECHL lead in shutouts. But his winning streak ended in a 6-3 loss at Cincinnati on Wednesday night, as Brad Fogal made 29 saves in his first ECHL start after being 6-2-0 with a 3.07 GAA with Quad City of the Central Hockey League.

FALCONS EXTEND AFFILIATION AND LEASE CONTRACTS

The Falcons announced Thursday that they have agreed on multi-year extensions with the Blue Jackets and the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

“As an owner, I am very optimistic about the potential of the Springfield Falcons and I am happy to announce this two-year extension here in Springfield,” Falcons majority owner Charlie Pompea said in a statement. “We are hoping to partner with the community in making this your team. Obviously like the fans, I am disappointed in our first half results and do hope that the string of injuries that has affected our results on the ice will conclude. We need fans in the stands and I look forward to a much better second half. I would like to thank our many corporate supporters and loyal fans. I look forward to our mutual success both on and off the ice and I can’t wait to hear Shake Rattle and Roll after more wins at The Nest.”

The Falcons have played all of their home games in downtown Springfield since their inception into the AHL in 1994, starting with the Springfield Civic Center, which upon completion of renovations at the start of the 2005-06 season was renamed the MassMutual Center. The Falcons own the AHL’s all-time record for longest home undefeated/points streak at 24 games from Feb. 8 to Nov. 14, 1997.

“The Springfield Falcons are a key partner with us in providing affordable, family entertainment in downtown Springfield,” said James E. Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. “We are pleased to have reached agreement in principle to extend our current lease with them for two additional years with two option years.”

The Falcons have been affiliated with the Blue Jackets since the start of the 2010-11 season, when they tied their highest win total in the last nine seasons when they were 35-40-2-3 but missed the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year.

“The Columbus Blue Jackets are very excited to extend our affiliation with Springfield for another two seasons,” Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson said. “The Falcons, led by Bruce Landon and Mr. Charlie Pompea, have been first class to deal with the last two seasons. We believe Springfield is a tremendous hockey environment as well as community for our players to continue their development. We couldn’t be happier with this announcement.”

The Falcons are in their 18th season, and Landon, a former goalie with the New England Whalers, has been a mainstay with the Springfield franchise for more than three decades.

“We would like to thank Jim Rooney and Ken Sinkiewicz from the MCCA for their cooperation in the lease negotiations,” said Landon, the Falcons’ president and general manager. “Without the lease extension we could not work towards extending our contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I would also like to thank Scott Howson and Chris MacFarland from the Blue Jackets for working with us to extend the affiliation. Charlie Pompea and I both felt it was important we showed some stability and continuity with our NHL partner. Due to a string of serious injuries we have not been able to put on the ice the team that we all envisioned when we started the season. However, hopefully we can have a strong second half both on the ice and at the box office.”

Whale and Falcons fans will play Games 4 and 5 in their inaugural seven-game series Saturday at 4 p.m. in Hartford and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in Springfield. The Falcons fans won the first three meetings, and even if they clinch the series this weekend, all seven games will be played. Tickets for Game 4 can be purchased through the Public Power Box Office or by calling 800-745-3000. Tickets for Game 5 can be bought at the MassMutual Center box office on game day. Tickets for the final two games will go on sale soon.

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