SPOTLIGHT: STATE OF THE LEAGUE

Bruce BerletBY: Bruce Berlet

The biggest news out of AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews’ State of the League Address during the All-Star Classic is video review of disputed goals is one step from becoming a reality.

Andrews said the AHL board of governors will vote on whether to adopt replay at its meeting in Chicago in May.

“It’s pretty hard to logically argue we shouldn’t have a system that gets it right more often than not or helps us get it right in those circumstances,” Andrews told the media in Atlantic City, N.J.

Board approval is not a certainty because of financial concerns.

“It’s very expensive to put in a system that does all the things that we would like to do,” Andrews said. “The question is a cost-benefit thing. How many times a year are you going to need it?”

A video review system was tested in Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport for four games in January, and those tests will continue. But it has yet to produce a disputed goal that needed replay.

Andrews said the review system will not resolve as many disputes as some of its proponents claim.

“I would say probably 70 percent of disputed goals in our league would not be reviewable anyway because they’re official’s judgment on goalie interference and high-sticking and stuff like that that video review isn’t going to help you with,” Andrews said. “The video review that we will have, I would be surprised if it goes beyond whether the puck crossed the line or not and the timing factor, did it cross in time.”

Andrews also discussed the much-ballyhooed issues of head shots and concussions. As part of a crackdown on “predatory type of hits,” including head shots, boarding and charging, the AHL has handed out twice as many suspensions costing players three times as many games this season. But Andrews cautioned cracking down on such hits will not solve the concussion problem. That will require comprehensive strategy that comes from the NHL, which has the resources to lead on the issue.

“The vast majority of concussion injuries that have happened in the league this year have not happened from (head shots), and they haven’t happened from fights and they haven’t happened from illegal hits,” Andrews said. “The game is fast. The guys are big. There is so much contact. A huge percentage of concussions in our league have occurred from legal plays. We actually have had more concussions happen in practice than we have from head shots.”

In other subjects, a two-referee system will be used for 35 percent of regular-season games and all playoff games this season. Andrews said he expects all games to have two refs within five years.

“The reason we aren’t getting there quicker is because there aren’t enough qualified referees out there as yet,” Andrews said.

Andrews also said he doesn’t expect any franchise movement or affiliation changes after this season, which would be only the second time in his 18 years as president. He said the 76-game schedule will remain, and the elimination of four games in five days has “reduced stress on our players.”

Andrews said the neutral site All-Star Game in Atlantic City did “exactly what we hoped for” but said it will return to an AHL city next season, with the East-West format remaining. He added that league-wide attendance is up 8 percent and revenues have increased even more.

WHALE LOOKING TO GET BACK ON WINNING TRACK

The Connecticut Whale returns from their All-Star break with an optional practice Wednesday night at the XL Center in Hartford. Veteran center and leading scorer Kris Newbury (15 goals, 24 assists) said he expects to be back skating Thursday after missing the last two games with an injury sustained in a 5-4 shootout loss to Norfolk on Jan. 21.

A 2-1 loss to Springfield on Saturday night extended the Whale’s winless streak to 11 games (0-6-3-2) since a 5-3 victory over the Falcons on Dec. 31. It also dropped the Whale two points back in the tightly bunched Northeast Division behind the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, whose come-from-behind, 5-4 shootout victory at Syracuse on Saturday night gave them a 10-0-0-1 record in January.

The Whale (19-16-4-5) hosts Albany (19-16-5-3) on Friday night to conclude a five-game homestand. The Whale has won two of the first three meetings with the Devils, including 3-2 at the XL Center in their last faceoff Dec. 27. Newbury has one goal and four assists against the Devils, while right wing Joe Whitney has two goals and an assist against the Whale.

The Devils are led by Whitney (11 goals, 14 assists), left wing Vladimir Zharkov (6, 17), center Steve Zalewski (9, 13) and right wings Matt Anderson (7, 15) and Mike Sislo (7, 13). Former Wolf Pack left wing Chad Wiseman has four goals and 13 assists in 30 games. Jeff Frazee (7-10-2, 2.73 goals-against average, .900 save percentage, one shutout) and Keith Kinkaid (11-11-1, 2.85, .902, three shutouts) have done virtually all of the goaltending for the Devils. Kinkaid made 30 saves in a 3-0 victory over Adirondack on Saturday night for his third shutout.

The Whale face a major test Saturday night when they travel to Hershey, Pa., to face the Bears (25-12-4-3) in the third meeting ever between the Bourque brothers, rookie Ryan of the Whale and All-Star Chris, sons of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque. The teams split the first two games at the XL Center, the Whale winning 4-2 on Nov. 29 and losing 5-3 on Dec. 9. All-Star Mats Zuccarello has two goals and one assist against the Bears, while All-Star center Keith Aucoin has led Hershey against the Whale with five assists and Chris Bourque has two goals and two assists. Ryan Bourque has one assist against the Bears, who ended a four-game losing streak Saturday night with a 3-2 win at Norfolk. Aucoin had a 16-game point streak (five goals, 24 assists) in a 2-1 loss to the Admirals on Friday night.

Aucoin (11 goals, 59 assists) and Bourque (21, 43) are 1-2 in the league in scoring, but centers Jacob Micflikier (19-29) and Ryan Potulny (15, 18) and right wings Graham Mink (14, 19) and former Wolf Pack Matthew Ford (10, 18) are also dangerous. Defenseman Tomas Kundratek, acquired from the Rangers for left wing Francois Bouchard on Nov. 8, has been solid with six goals and two assists in 23 games, earning his first five NHL games with the parent Washington Capitals. Veterans Braden Holtby (15-11-1, 2.61, .906, two shutouts) and Dany Sabourin (10-5-2, 3.02, .904, two shutouts) are a strong goaltending tandem.

ODDS AND ENDBOARDS:

Sound Tigers rookie center Casey Cizikas was named Reebok/AHL Player of the Week on Tuesday after getting four goals and five assists and being plus-5 in three wins. Cizikas, who also scored in the Eastern Conference’s 8-7 shootout loss to the Western Conference on Monday night, has goals in five straight games (six goals, six assists) and points in 12 of his last 13 games (9-11—20). Cizikas, 20, a fourth-round pick of the New York Islanders in 2009, is tied for third among AHL rookies in scoring with 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists), the same as the Whale’s Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, who had a goal and two assists in the All-Star Game.

Wethersfield native Colin McDonald, son of former Hartford Whalers defenseman and announcer Gerry McDonald and leading scorer for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, was called up by Pittsburgh on Tuesday and played in a 5-4 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The previous night, McDonald played for the Eastern Conference in the AHL All-Star Game.

Worcester Sharks coach Roy Sommer is two victories from becoming only the fourth coach to win 500 AHL games. Sommer, the dean of AHL coaches, has 498 wins in 14 seasons and trails only AHL Hall of Famers Fred “Bun” Cook (636), Frank Mathers (610) and John Paddock (589), who led the Wolf Pack to their only Calder Cup in 2000. Sommer’s newest player is former Wolf Pack center Tim Kennedy, acquired from the Florida Panthers for defenseman Sean Sullivan on Friday. Before the trade, Kennedy had three goals and six assists in 18 games with the San Antonio Rampage and one goal and one assist in 27 games with the Panthers, coached by former Whalers standout right wing and captain Kevin Dineen, who coached Kennedy when he was a member of the AHL All-Rookie Team with the Portland Pirates in 2008-09. Kennedy is scoreless in one game with the Sharks while wearing No. 22, vacated by former Wolf Pack wing Alex Bourret when he was reassigned to Wichita of the Central Hockey League after getting three assists in six games with the Sharks.

GERNANDER, LEETCH AMONG SEVEN NEW HALL OF FAME MEMBERS

Whale coach Ken Gernander and Cheshire-bred Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch, who spent most of his 16-year NHL career with the New York Rangers, are among the seven newly selected members of the Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame.

Others to be honored on “Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame Night” on March 10 when the Admirals are at the XL Center are former Whalers goalie Mike Liut and right wings Blaine Stoughton and Pat Verbeek, three-time Olympian and all-time NCAA women’s leading scorer Julie Chu, a native of Fairfield, and William E. Barnes, one of the founders of the New England Whalers. Barnes was involved in numerous charitable organizations before he died in 2006.

“It’s nice to be recognized, and it’s a little different that some of those players are NHL guys,” said Gernander, whose No. 12 is the only number in Wolf Pack/Whale history to be retired to the XL Center rafters. “But you’re looking at hockey in Hartford and Connecticut, and this community is near and dear to my heart.”

On her Twitter account, Chu, who plays for the Montreal Stars in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, said, “Greatly honored to be a part of the 2012 CT Hockey Hall of Fame class. What a privilege.”

The Class of 2012, the first inductees since 1990, will join the eight members of the storied Hartford Whalers Hall of Fame that have been adopted by the Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame. The seven new members will be inducted before the game against the Admirals and will be recognized during the first intermission.

Fans will receive a special souvenir of the night as 5,000 Hall of Fame posters will be given away, courtesy of SuperCuts. There also will be a special meet-and-greet event that night with details to be announced soon. For more information, visit www.cthockeyHOF.org.

Fans also can sponsor a local youth to attend the game on Faith and Family Night by making a $12 donation to Hockey Ministries International Northeast that support chapel programs through the AHL, including with the Whale, and Christian hockey camps for boys and girls. Music will be provided by Scarlet Fade. For more information, contact Rick Mitera, AHL chapel coordinator of Hockey Ministries Northeast at 860-817-6440 or rmitera@hockeyministries.org.

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.

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