SPOTLIGHT: CHRISTENSEN

Bruce BerletBY: Bruce Berlet

The Connecticut Whale added a new player to their roster Wednesday, center Erik Christensen. And they could have a second new player, wing Wojtek Wolski, in the near future.

Christensen agreed to a two-week conditioning assignment request by the New York Rangers on Wednesday so he could get some playing time, starting Friday night at the Norfolk Admirals. He has one goal and four assists in 20 games with the Blueshirts but has been a healthy scratch for 18 of the last 22 games, including all of the last 10 since Dec. 17.

Christensen, 28, told the New York media that it was “never a question of saying ‘no,’ it was ‘yes’ all the way.”

“I spoke to my agent, and we decided this was the best thing for me,” Christensen said. “I haven’t played a lot. I really love hockey. I mean that’s why I play the game. That’s more the point, I just want to play hockey. I understand there are things I need to work on, but I just want to be on the ice. I’m excited to get some games again. This will give me the chance to go and play. Plus, it will keep me prepared in case something happens and I need to go back in the lineup.”

Coach John Tortorella said Christensen came to a quick decision in accepting the conditioning assignment and that he was pleased with the 28 year-old’s decision.

“It’s for the right reason,” Tortorella said. “He’s been out a lot and he needs to play.”

Last season, Christensen played in 69 games and tied his career high with 11 goals and added 16 assists.

Wolski, acquired last season from Phoenix for defenseman Michal Rozsival, has two assists in only six games in an injury-plagued second campaign with the Rangers and hasn’t played since Nov. 3 when he had surgery for a sports hernia. Tortorella said Wolski also has been asked to join the Whale but was discussing the possibility with his representatives. Wolski remained with the Blueshirts because of a possible shoulder injury that former Hartford Wolf Pack forward Brandon Dubinsky may have sustained when he was hit by Taylor Pyatt in a 2-1 shootout victory over Phoenix on Tuesday night. Tortorella described Dubinsky’s condition as, “Sore,” when speaking with the media. Dubinsky did not practice Wednesday and will be a game-time decision to play against the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

“They should be impact players at (the AHL) level,” Whale coach Ken Gernander said of Christensen and possibly Wolski before the team bus departed Wednesday for Voorhees, NJ and then to Norfolk, VA. “They’re in shape, but obviously part of a two-week conditioning is to get your game agility or game conditioning back. But they’re pretty high-caliber players, so I think (the game shape) will come back quickly and they should be impact players at this level.”

The Whale (19-12-2-4) can use some reinforcements since rugged right wing Andre Deveaux, their third-leading scorer with 11 goals and 14 assists and a major force on the power play and No. 1 line with Kris Newbury and All-Star rookie wing Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, was suspended for three games Tuesday for two boarding incidents against the Falcons.

Christensen, a third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2002 who was claimed off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 2, 2009, has been squeezed out of the Rangers lineup largely because veteran center John Mitchell and speedy rookie left wing Carl Hagelin have contributed so much to the surging Rangers since being called up Nov. 24. Christensen and Wolski have had little chance to crack the lineup, which Tortorella again said he wasn’t about to change after the Rangers’ win Tuesday night, their fifth in a row and 10th in 11 starts.

Christensen and Wolski had to give their consent for a conditioning assignment and also have to do so for their stay to last more than 14 days.

After games Friday and Saturday nights in Norfolk against the Admirals (21-13-1-2), who are second in the East Division to Hershey but have lost the first three games of a five-game homestand, the Whale plays at Portland next Wednesday and then returns home for the start of a five-game homestand Jan. 20 against the Atlantic Division-leading St. John’s IceCaps, the new affiliate of the new Winnipeg Jets. Deveaux will be eligible to return for the St. John’s game.

Deveaux has been effective on the Whale’s No. 1 line and especially as a net-front presence on the power play, which has moved into a tie for third in the league with Norfolk at 21.6 percent. Deveaux, who signed a free-agent contract Aug. 16, has a team-high nine power-play goals, which is tied for second in the league to the 11 of Graham Mink of Hershey.

RANGERS PROSPECT JOINS LOKOMOTIV YAROSLAVL

Defenseman Mikhail Pashnin, the Rangers’ seventh-round pick in 2009, will be helping Lokomotiv Yaroslav of the Kontinental Hockey League rebuild from the disastrous Sept. 7 plane crash that killed 36 players and staff of the Russian team. Pashnin’s agent, Alexei Dementiev, said his client will be moving from CSKA Moscow because he will have a better chance to enhance his development.

“After the tragedy occurred in Yaroslavl, KHL team adopted a ‘road map’ with regards to restoration of the team,” Dementiev said. “Each club has been given the opportunity to protect two players born between 1989 and 1994. Mikhail wasn’t among this number because CSKA has a large number of promising young players, and Lokomotiv was interested in his services. Negotiations lasted a long time, but in the end, he decided that he would move to the Yaroslavl team.”

Dementiev added the decision was difficult for Pashnin because CSKA “had become Mikhail’s home” in the 21/2 years since he was drafted first overall by CSKA in the KHL’s first entry draft. The 22-year-old signed a two-year extension with CSKA last summer.

ANNIVERSARY OF WHALERS’ DEBUT IN HARTFORD

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Wednesday is the 37th anniversary of the New England Whalers’ first game in Hartford. The World Hockey Association team had moved from Boston but had to wait until midseason for the completion of the construction of the new Hartford (now XL) Civic Center.

The Eastern Division-leading Whalers played 13 games at the Big E Coliseum in West Springfield before facing the San Diego Mariners and future Whalers center Andre Lacroix in their Hartford debut on Jan. 11, 1975. I was there, as that first Whalers team included captain Rick Ley, Larry Pleau, Tom Webster, Tommy Abrahamsson and enforcer Nick Fotiu. Future coach Don Blackburn had the Whalers’ first goal at home, and Fred O’Donnell and Wayne “Swoop” Carleton also scored at the Whalers led 3-2 after two periods. Michel Rouleau scored with 5:51 left in regulation, setting the stage for Garry Swain to get the Whalers’ first winning goal at the Civic Center, shorthanded in overtime, for a 4-3 victory. Al Smith was the winning goalie.

“I remember San Diego tied it up late, forcing overtime,” Swain said via email Wednesday. “We took a penalty in the OT, and Tom Earl and I were out to kill the penalty. There was a faceoff just outside their blueline, and off the faceoff I pushed the puck past their center, picked it up, walked around their defenseman, Kevin Morrison, and shot from the top of the right-hand circle, beating Ernie Wakely, low stick side. I was mobbed by the team and interviewed on the ice. There was a low-key private party in the Sheraton after the game. Good start!!!!”

Swain, who now does sponsorship sales for Whalers Sports and Entertainment and color commentary with play-by-play man Bob Crawford on Whale radio, had one parting shot: “I’ve lived off this and the Russian game forever!”

Swain also had the winning goal in the Whalers’ monumental 5-2 upset of the Soviet national team. Both games drew sellout crowds of 10,507 that went home happy, as they often did until the Whalers left for North Carolina after their finale on April 13, 1997. Six months later, the Hartford Wolf Pack debuted, and the Whale is in pursuit of the 15th consecutive winning season in franchise history.

CONNECTICUT HALL OF FAME NIGHT ON MARCH 10

The Whale and Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame will host Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame Night at the XL Center on March 10 when the Norfolk Admirals are in town.

Eight new members to be named will be inducted before the game at 7 p.m. The first class of inductees since 1990 also will be recognized on the ice during the first intermission.

The Class of 2012 will be announced later this month, and fans will receive a special souvenir as 5,000 Hall of Fame posters will be given out courtesy of SuperCuts. For more information, visit www.cthockeyHOF.org.

ODDS AND ENDBOARDS

Former Wolf Pack/Whale/Rangers right wing Dale Weise scored his third goal of the season off an assist from former Wolf Pack/Rangers forward Manny Malhotra on Monday night, but the visiting Vancouver Canucks lost 2-1 to the Florida Panthers of first-year coach Kevin Dineen, the former Whalers standout right wing and captain.

When Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped five of six shots in the shootout victory over Phoenix on Tuesday night, it was his 39th shootout win, moving one ahead of the New Jersey Devils’ Martin Brodeur as the all-time leader. Lundqvist and wing Marian Gaborik are locks to be named All-Stars, with former Wolf Pack defenseman Dan Girardi worthy of selection for his solid play while averaging the most ice time in the league (27:18) for the team with the best record (27-9-4).

The Tampa Bay Lightning has signed former Wolf Pack forward Tom Pyatt to a two-year, $1.2 million contract extension through the 2013-14 season. Pyatt, the younger brother of the Coyotes’ Taylor Pyatt, has a career-high three goals and two assists in 36 games this season, increasing his NHL totals to seven goals and 10 assists in 137 NHL games with the Lightning and Montreal Canadiens. He also played in 25 Stanley Cup playoff games with the Canadiens, getting two goals and two assists. Pyatt was the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 2007 who had 19 goals and 29 assists in 115 games with the Wolf Pack before being traded to Montreal with center Scott Gomez and defenseman Michael Busto for defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko, former Yale center Chris Higgins and former Springfield Pics defenseman Doug Janik on June 30, 2009.

The Edmonton Oilers re-signed former Wolf Pack and Rangers defenseman Corey Potter to a two-year contract worth $750,000 in 2012-13 and $800,000 in 2013-14. Potter has three goals and 11 assists in 27 games in his first season with the Oilers. A fourth-round pick of the Rangers in 2003, Potter had 22 goals and 81 assists and was often among the AHL leaders in plus-minus in 246 games with the Wolf Pack. He also had one goal and one assist in eight games with the Rangers before signing a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 16, 2010. But he played only one game with the Penguins, spending most of last season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, before signing with Edmonton.

KUDOS TO RECORD-SETTING SOUND TIGERS GOALIE

Congratulations to Bridgeport Sound Tigers goalie Kevin Poulin on setting team records with three consecutive shutouts (all 4-0 wins) and a shutout streak of 221 minutes, 54 seconds, only 27:57 shy of the AHL record set by Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower over parts of five games with the Cleveland Barons from Nov. 27 to Dec. 7, 1957.

The Sound Tigers’ new shutout record is 224:06, as Poulin was pulled for an extra attacker for more than two minutes during his streak. His record run began on New Year’s Eve in a 4-2 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, continued through the shutout wins over Worcester, Manchester and Portland and ended when Calle Ridderwall scored at 3:37 of the second period in a 3-2 shootout victory at Providence on Sunday. At one point, Poulin stopped 94 consecutive shots on the way to easily breaking the team shutout record of 156:09 set in March 2002 by Rick DiPietro, the first overall pick by the New York Islanders in 2000.

“Not giving up a goal, we made a statement as a team,” Poulin told Mike Fornabaio of the Connecticut Post. “We’re a good defense-oriented team, and we can score a lot of goals. It started in our zone. If we do good in our zone, we get opportunities.”

Poulin’s four wins last week earned him the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week award on Monday. He stopped 98 of 100 shots and had a 0.48 goals-against average after entering the week having lost six of his previous seven decisions. He made 21, 24 and 31 saves in the successive shutouts and 22 stops in the win over Providence.

On the strength of his week, Poulin lowered his GAA from 3.27 to 2.77 and improved his save percentage from .891 to .905. A fifth-round pick of the Islanders in 2008, the 21-year-old Poulin has an 11-12-0 record in 23 games with the Sound Tigers and also made one start for the Islanders. The second-year pro from Montreal split his rookie season between Bridgeport and Long Island, going 10-5-0 with a 2.19 GAA and .932 save percentage in 15 AHL games and 4-2-1, 2.44, .924 in 10 NHL games.

The Sound Tigers (16-17-3-1), whose first-year coach is former Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman Brent Thompson, needed Poulin’s recent efforts after going 2-10-0-0 in December to fall into the Northeast Division cellar. Poulin has started 10 consecutive games since Anders Nilsson was called up by the Islanders on Dec. 16.

KLEINENDORST, EAKINS ADDED TO ALL-STAR COACHING STAFFS

AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews announced Wednesday that Kurt Kleindorst of the Binghamton Senators and former Rangers and Beast of New Haven defenseman Dallas Eakins of the Toronto Marlies have been named to the coaching staffs for the AHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 29-30 in Atlantic City, N.J. Kleinendorst will join IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge in the Eastern Conference, while Eakins will work with Oklahoma City Barons head coach Todd Nelson on the Western Conference bench.

Kleinendorst, 51, is in his fifth AHL season as a head coach and second in Binghamton after leading the Senators to the city’s first Calder Cup championship in 2010-11. The former NHL assistant with the New Jersey Devils will be making his first AHL All-Star appearance.

Eakins, 44, is in his third season behind the Marlies’ bench after a stint as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Eakins, also a first-time All-Star, played parts of 12 seasons in the AHL and won a Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves in 2002. He also skated in 120 NHL games with Winnipeg/Phoenix, Florida, St. Louis, Toronto, Calgary and the Rangers and Islanders.

Fan balloting for the All-Star starters runs through noon Jan. 23 at www.theahl.com and facebook.com/theahl. By completing the official ballot, fans are 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 in Atlantic City, N.J. The All-Star Classic begins with the skills completion Jan. 29 from 3-5 p.m., followed by an autograph session at the arena, and the All-Star Game is Jan. 30 at 7 p.m.

Former Hartford Whalers defenseman John Stevens is among four selected for induction into the AHL Hall of Fame as the Class of 2012. Others to be recognized Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. at the AHL Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony at the Circus Maximus Theatre at Caesars Atlantic City in New Jersey are Joe Crozier, Jack Gordon and Zellio Toppazzini.

Hockey Hall of Famers and Philadelphia Flyers legends Bill Barber and Bob Clarke will be honorary captains and stand on the team benches during the skills competition and All-Star Game and be recognized at the Hall of Fame inductions and awards ceremony. Rosters were released last week and are at www.theahl.com. Captains are former Wolf Pack left wing Boyd Kane of the Hershey Bears for the Eastern Conference and Darren Haydar of the Chicago Wolves for the Western Conference.

Single-session tickets for the All-Star Classic go on sale on Friday at noon, and a variety of ticket options are available for Jan. 29 and 30. For the skills competition, tickets are $13 for the upper bowl, $16 for the lower bowl and $21 on the glass. Rates for groups of at least 15 people are $11 for the upper bowl and $14 for the lower bowl.

Game tickets are $19 for the upper bowl, $22 for the lower bowl and $31 on the glass, and group rates are $16 for the upper bowl and $18 for the lower bowl. A special four pack for $79 – four upper bowl tickets, four hot dogs and four soft drinks – is available for the All-Star Game. Family four-packs must be purchased in advance.

Tickets can be purchased at the Boardwalk Hall box office, all Ticketmaster locations, by calling 800-736-1420 or at www.ticketmaster.com. For group orders, call 609-348-7023.

In addition to groups of 15 or more, single-session discounts are also available to students and military. Student and military tickets must be purchased at the box office after Jan. 13 and require a valid ID. Purchase is limited to one ticket per person. Group discounts cannot be combined with any other offers. Fan experience packages for hockey fans, clubs and youth organizations can also be purchased on a first-come, first-served basis.

Special hotel rates are also available at Caesars Atlantic City and Bally’s Atlantic City on Sunday and Monday night. To reserve rooms at Caesars ($49 for each night) or at Bally’s ($35), call 888-516-2215 and mention code PAHL. Both properties are located on the Boardwalk and are less than a 10-minute walk to Boardwalk Hall.

MCLELLAN TO COACH WITH TORTORELLA IN NHL ALL-STAR GAME

Marcel Goc had a goal and an assist as the Panthers kept Canucks coach Alain Vigneault from becoming the Western Conference coach for the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 29 in Ottawa. Instead, it will be San Jose’s Todd McLellan. The spot was determined by which team has the greatest points percentage in the Western Conference through Monday’s games. Tortorella wrapped up the Eastern Conference’s spot Friday.

Scott Clemmensen, making his second start in three games with Jose Theodore sidelined with a knee injury, had 25 saves for the Panthers to improve to 5-1-3. Roberto Luongo, who spent five seasons with Florida before being traded to Vancouver in June 2006, stopped 20 shots for the Canucks, who were coming off a 4-3 win at Boston in a rematch of the Stanley Cup finals won by the Bruins in seven games. Luongo entered the game with a 3-0-1 record and 1.68 GAA against Florida since the trade. … The remaining All-Stars will be announced Thursday. Last week, fan voting determined the first six players for the game, and Ottawa fans got four of their favorites in: defenseman Erik Karlsson, who led all players with 939,951 votes, and forwards Daniel Alfreddson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf were also selected. The remaining players will include 36 more veterans and 12 rookies, who will participate in the Honda SuperSkills competition at All-Star Weekend. Each team will have 27 players, including rookies. … The Coyotes claimed center Gilbert Brule off re-entry waivers from the Oilers. Brule, a first-round pick (sixth overall) of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2005, was playing for Oklahoma City, where he had eight goals and 10 assists in 27 games for the Barons, who have the best record (23-10-1-3) in the Western Conference and third best overall in the AHL. … Bruins wing Brad Marchand was suspended five games and will forfeit $152,439 in salary for clipping Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo into the boards in the Canucks’ win Saturday. Marchand, who got a two-game suspension in March 2011, is classified as a repeat offender under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. His fine goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund. He missed games Tuesday against Winnipeg and Thursday against Montreal and will also sit out Saturday at Carolina, Monday at Florida and Tuesday at Tampa Bay. He will be eligible to return Jan. 19 at New Jersey. And Marchand’s response? “I don’t really care what my reputation is,” he said. “I just want to play. I’m doing this as my job. I love this team. I’m just trying to be a player, and I don’t care what my reputation is really. I’m not out there to hurt guys. When I’m out there, I play a hard-nosed game and play hard. If guys are soft and don’t like it, then that’s fine. I’m not out there to please anybody. I’m out there to do my job.”

FALCONS FANS CONTINUE TO ROLL

The Falcons fans were even more successful than their favorite players last weekend, beating Whale fans 7-4 and 4-1 in Games 4 and 5 in their seven-game series at the XL Center and MassMutual Center in Springfield.

The Whale fans added several new players, but the Falcons fans still clinched the inaugural series by extending their winning streak to five. Despite the series being clinched, the final two games will be played Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. at the MassMutual Center and March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, at 4 p.m. at the XL Center. Tickets ($10) for the Feb. 10 game are available at whalefalconsfangame@gmail.com. Tickets for the final game will be available soon. For more information, visit facebook.com/whalefalconsfangame. A portion of ticket sales benefits Defending the Blue Line, an organization that helps children of military families play hockey. The first five games have raised $750 for DBL. … The Falcons’ wins Friday, Saturday and Sunday were their first sweep of a three-game weekend since Dec. 1-3, 2006, when they beat Manchester, Providence and Lowell. … College students can get discounted tickets to weekday Whale games with the “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. … A run of Whale giveaways starts with Wade Redden Bobblehead Night, sponsored by Click It or Ticket, on Jan. 21, when there will be a doubleheader as the Whale hosts Norfolk at 7 p.m. after a Canadian Women’s Hockey League game between the Boston Blades and Team Alberta at 4 p.m. in the “International Hockey Challenge Presented by Aetna.”

Other giveaways include Trading Cards Set II of All-Star rookie right wing Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Cam Talbot, Kelsey Tessier, Ryan Bourque, Jordan Owens and a historic tribute to former Wolf Pack All-Star right wing and Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, sponsored by Webster Bank, on Jan. 27 (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and Trading Cards Set III of All-Star wing Mats Zuccarello, Wade Redden, Kris Newbury, Chad Johnson and Carl Hagelin, now with the Rangers, sponsored by Supercuts, on Jan. 28 (Springfield), when selected players will sign autographs on the cards after the game. … 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, and other activities will include autographs and photos, locker room tours and a silent auction. 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 or 203-248-2881.

A MOMENT TO REMEMBER

My favorite moment of the season so far is when Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson struck a “Tebowing” pose after scoring the winner in a 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Monday night.

Johnson converted off a pass from Kyle Clifford on a 3-on-2, and as he circled along the left boards, he “knelt” to the ice on the fly. The Capitals announcers seemed dumbfounded, but I thought it was terrific that a guy who has been so maligned for so many of the wrong reasons was being recognized by a top player in another sport.

After the game, Johnson said he was watching the Denver Broncos game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday and his friends from Michigan told him to do the move – a nod toward the touchdown pose done by Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who threw a record 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to win the NFL wild-card game, 29-23.

“They said, ‘If you score, you have to Tebow,’ ” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Alright, you’re on.’ Have some fun while you’re scoring. It’s fun to score.”

The Kings are now 6-1-3 under coach Darryl Sutter, who said he wasn’t familiar with the pose but cracked up a media scrum when he said, “If we could all play like Tebow in a big game, we wouldn’t have lost a game yet.”

Ironically, Johnson played hockey at the University of Michigan, where a guy named Tom Brady played quarterback. Tim, you might not be able to beat Tom & Co. on Saturday night in Foxborough, but you’ve already set a wonderful example in a sports world filled with far too many drug users, malcontents and “un-role” models. Keep up the good work!!!!

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