Winning is contagious.
Much like Ronald Reagan’s trickle down economics, the same seems to be the case with the Connecticut Whale. After a horrendous January where they were winless, going 0-6-3-2, the Whale benefitted from the conditioning stints of Wojtek Wolski and Jeff Woywitka and won five of their first six games in the month of February before dropping a 2-1 loss to Bridgeport last Sunday.
Saturday night, with a loud and raucous crowd of 9,166 on “It All Starts Here Night” at the XL Center, the Whale showed the kind of character that it takes to win in any league and in any sport as they came from behind in the third period again and beat the Worcester Sharks 3-1.
Much like their NHL affiliates, the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers, the Connecticut Whale now find themselves in that rarest of rare positions, believing they will win every game – and they’re playing like it.
That comes from leadership and it starts with and trickles down from, Head Coach Ken Gernander, himself a, “Never-Say-Die” kind of a player in his days as the Hartford Wolf Pack captain. Gernander has injected this mix of NHL experienced veterans, rookies, young and emerging talents with the belief that staying the course, sticking to their system and playing as a unit will lead to W’s, and the players have fully bought into it. They sacrifice for one another and stick with their system no matter what the score is. That attitude is reflected in their incredible record in the third period. While most teams can hold a lead in hockey in third periods, the Whale had their struggles early, but are now a robust 15-2-2-2. However what’s more impressive is their amazing record when trailing after two which now stands at 6-9-1-2. This group is not intimidated by a third period deficit.
That winning mentality is reinforced in the locker room by the veterans on this team.
No more important veteran leader has emerged in the locker room than veteran defenseman Wade Redden. Saturday night he returned from the longest stay on the injured list of his professional career, 24 games. Redden was hurt crashing into the goalpost in a 2-1 loss to Providence on December 17th. With the former Ranger in the Whale lineup prior to the injury, they were 16-8-3-1. Without him, including a winless month of January, the Whale posted a 9-8-4-2 record.
“(Redden) had a strong comeback,” Gernander said. “Just like (Pavel Valentenko) had a strong night coming back (Friday) night. (Cam) Talbot jumps in (Playing the last two periods Friday after Chad Johnson was injured). That’s being part of a team and teamwork, when guys that are out for reason, whether it be injury or like Tabs has had a stretch there where Johnner carried the load, they’ve all come in and done well in their respective positions.”
But Gernander’s team didn’t let a rough start in the first period, where the team was outshot 14-6 over all and only had three shots to Worcester’s eleven with 3:32 left, to take them off track.
“(Worcester) had the advantage as far as shots went in the first period,” Gernander said. “Defensively (the Sharks) were pretty sound. It was pretty tough going for our guys to generate anything. So I give them credit. They stuck with it and once they got the quick one there, a little bit of momentum and then the second one, it just seemed to pick up from there.”
The two goals Gernander refers to came 57 seconds apart in the third period with the Whale trailing 1-0 on a fluky second period goal that was credited to Worcester enforcer Jimmy Bonneau off a double deflection that hit both Redden’s and Sam Klassen’s stick before floating over Talbot’s glove side shoulder.
The first came at 8:52 off a faceoff win by Kelsey Tessier from former Wolf Pack center, Tim Kennedy back to Redden.
“I saw Tommy (Grant) kind of sneak in (front of the net) to the side and he was really good following it off his foot and got a shot,” Redden said. “Everyone went to he right place in front of the net and (Andreas Thuresson) got a big goal.”
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Thuresson said of his eleventh goal of the season.
The Whale lit the lamp again off the rush when Kris Newbury cashed in with his team leading 19th goal of the season.
“It was just a turnover in the neutral zone and I had some speed and we (Andre Deveaux and Newbury) were able to get in line,” Newbury said. “I saw Devo and when I gave it to him, I thought he’d shoot, but he made a great pass (just past the stick of lone defenseman on the 2-on-1 down low, Taylor Doherty) right on the stick, so I shot it and it went in.”
The Whale would add a third goal with just 36.3 remaining. With Tyson Sexsmith (10-9-5, 35 saves) pulled from the net for an extra attacker, Casey Wellman picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and dashed off on a breakaway. As the Whale’s latest acquisition came in close, he was tripped up from behind by Kennedy. Referee Jean Hebert correctly awarded the goal to Wellman, his 17th of the season and third since joining the Whale.
But the system. It was their dedication to their system that has elevated them back into first place, five points over the equally hot Bridgeport Sound Tigers who remained five points behind the Whale but hold three games in hand when Bridgeport came from behind to beat the Adirondack Phantoms 3-2 at the Webster Bank arena in Bridgeport.
“We ran into some bad luck (in January) and weren’t playing our game a lot,” Newbury said. “Now our special teams have been good and we’re just making simple plays and creating offense by doing that.”
Just like they’ve been taught.
But don’t underestimate the return of Redden. “It was good to get that experience back,” Thuresson said. “I’m glad for him to be back. He’s a good guy and he’ll help all the younger defensemen.”
“It’s always nice to see (Redden) back there,” Talbot (11-11-0, 34 saves) said. “He brings a lot of leadership. (He’s) very vocal out there. You always know where he wants the puck and makes it easy for me to play it and makes it easier for the rest of the guys on the ice to go off him. He’s a quarterback back there and he really leads the team in the dressing room too.”
The Whale will take their system and move on to Providence on Sunday to do battle with the Bruins.
Bill Ballou takes you inside the Sharks locker room at Telegram.com.
(Standings provided by TheAHL.com)
* In celebration of “It All Starts here” night the Whale gave a poster to the first 5,000 fans that included all people that started their career with the Wolf-Pack including Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, All-Stars Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto and Michael Sauer. Five players in the picture have been with the Whale this season – Carl Hagelin, John Mitchell, Stu Bickel, Chad Johnson and All-Star Mats Zuccarello. Also included in the poster was equipment man Jason Levy and Alex Case, who is the Manager of Madison Square Garden’s training center operations.
Zuccarello – Newbury – Deveaux
Bourque – Wellman – Audy-Marchessault
Grant – Tessier – Tanski
McKelvie – Owens – Thuresson
Valentenko – Parlett
Erixon – Nightingale
Redden – Klassen
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Francois Bouchard – Broken Wrist – Indefinite
Chad Johnson – Undisclosed – Day-to-Day
Sean Avery – Healthy Scratch
Brendan Bell – Undisclosed – Day-to-Day
1. CT – K. Newbury
2. CT – C. Talbot
3. WOR – T. Sexsmith
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Jean Hebert (43)
Brent Colby (7)
Jim Briggs (83)
The Whale hit the road to visit Providence Sunday for a 4:05 match with the Bruins. Bob Crawford is on with the pre-game on at 3:55pm. You can hear it on WCCC.com.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information for all home games, call (860) 548-2000.
Worcester Sharks 1 at Connecticut Whale 3 – Status: Final
Saturday, February 18, 2012 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Worcester 0 1 0 – 1
Connecticut 0 0 3 – 3
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Del Monte Wor (slashing), 10:03; Pelech Wor (fighting), 14:42; Nightingale Ct (fighting), 14:42.
2nd Period-1, Worcester, Bonneau 2 (Irwin, Viedensky), 6:59. Penalties-Sexsmith Wor (roughing), 2:08; Newbury Ct (hooking, unsportsmanlike conduct), 10:45; Moon Wor (hooking), 16:35.
3rd Period-2, Connecticut, Thuresson 11 (Grant, Redden), 8:52. 3, Connecticut, Newbury 19 (Deveaux), 9:49. 4, Connecticut, Wellman 17 (Audy-Marchessault, Valentenko), 19:23 (EN). Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Worcester 14-12-9-35. Connecticut 6-19-13-38.
Power Play Opportunities-Worcester 0 / 2; Connecticut 0 / 3.
Goalies-Worcester, Sexsmith 10-9-5 (37 shots-35 saves). Connecticut, Talbot 11-11-0 (35 shots-34 saves).
Referees-Jean Hebert (43).
Linesmen-Brent Colby (7), Jim Briggs (83).