Tag Archives: Doug Janik

TWO MINUTES with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

Chris Drury, one of the all-time winners from his Little League days in Trumbull to the NHL, apparently has played his final game with the New York Rangers.

Reports throughout the New York media say the Rangers will buy out the final year of captain/center Drury’s five-year, $35.25 million contract.

“He’s gone,” a source told the New York Daily News.

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“FROM THE CREASE”

editors note: We’re very excited to have our good friend and 30+ year sports writer Bruce Berlet contributing to Howlings via his position with Whalers Sports and Entertainment (WSAE). We’re also grateful to WSAE for permission to use these stories.

Bruce Headshot  By Bruce Berlet

When Wolf Pack rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh was among the final cuts of the New York Rangers, it marked the first time that he wouldn’t be playing with center Derek Stepan in three years.

McDonagh and Stepan led the University of Wisconsin to the NCAA championship game in April, losing 5-0 to Boston College, whose top player is Chris Kreider, the Rangers’ top-ranked prospect.

In June and early July, the Badgers teammates opted to leave Wisconsin after their junior (McDonagh) and sophomore (Stepan) years. It was an especially difficult divorce after they had been roommates during training camp, with Stepan helping McDonagh pack his bags for Hartford.

But they have remained in touch, notably Saturday night when McDonagh was among several players to text-message or email Stepan after he became only the fourth player in NHL history to score a hat trick in his debut in a 6-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. McDonagh sent his text messages of congratulations after making his pro debut in a 4-2 victory over the Charlotte Checkers.

“We text and phone each other pretty much every day,” said McDonagh, a first-round pick (12th overall) of the Montreal Canadiens in 2007. “I told him, ‘Way to make history.’ It’s pretty awesome for him, and the coolest thing was his mom and sister drove all the way from Minnesota. It’s just incredible and a credit to him. He made the big decision to leave school early. There were people saying he wasn’t ready and that he should have stayed, but I think he’s playing with a real chip on his shoulder.”

So it’s understandable why Stepan enjoyed the historic moment after batting 1.000 in shots on goal (3-for-3) and finishing plus-3. He was the first Ranger to record a hat trick in his NHL debut, and the three goals tied the franchise record for most in an opening-night game set by Ron Murphy in the 1955-56 opener at Chicago on Oct. 7, 1955. The last Ranger to get a hat trick was Jan Hlavac against the Bruins on Feb. 11, 2000, which was two weeks before he was the last to record one at Buffalo.

And Stepan didn’t achieve all those notables against a chump. The victim was Ryan Miller, the Olympic hero in February for Team USA, which rode his brilliance to a silver medal.

“I’ll never put it in the past completely, at least not the first couple of weeks,” Stepan told New York reporters. “It’s something that’s going to help me over the next couple of weeks. … I get a hot stick. I get a cold stick. Right now I have a hot stick and I’ll just ride that. I want to keep rolling and play with confidence. I don’t want to think about it too much and make it seem like it’s something that happens every night (because) it’s not.”

When the 20-year-old Stepan arrived Sunday morning at the Rangers’ training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., he discovered unwanted mementos, a Yankees cap and jersey in his locker, courtesy of Rangers equipment person Bill Southart. While Stepan was grabbing a piece of NHL history, the Yankees were sweeping the Minnesota Twins out of the American League playoffs. “I was rooting for the Twinkies, he was rooting for the Yankees,” Stepan said. “I’m a little bit upset about it, but you’ve got to take the ridicule, I guess.”

Southard text-messaged a picture of the scene to McDonagh with the caption, “I’m all ‘Yankeed’ out.”

Stepan earlier took some abuse from his teammates on the flight home for missing an empty net in a bid for the outright record and for allowing his success go to his head. But the latter was a total joke as Stepan remained humble and self-deprecating as demonstrated by his low-key celebration after scoring his third goal that gave the Rangers a 4-1 lead in the second period.

“He’s engaged, he asks questions during the game,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “You see him score his third goal. I like the way he carries himself. It’s not a flashy thing. He’s not running around, doing a dance. It’s part of the job. There’s an inner confidence, and I think he respects the game where it isn’t a spectacle all the time if something happens good or bad.”

Stepan maintained that approach as he prepared for his second NHL game against the archrival Islanders.

“It’s something that you’ve got to have the right mind-set and change your attitude to another new 60 minutes of hockey,” Stepan said. “I’m excited to keep the ball rolling. Every game is something new for us, so it’s all part of the process, and it’s fun.”

Stepan quickly learned the process can change, as the Rangers lost a late lead thanks to two bad penalties that led to power-play goals by former Wolf Pack P.A. Parenteau and former Bridgeport Sound Tiger Blake Comeau that rallied the Islanders to a 6-4 victory.

McDonagh and Stepan played two years together with the Badgers after being high school opponents while they lived in St. Paul and Hastings in Minnesota. Stepan opted to turn pro a month after the loss to Boston College, but McDonagh waited until he participated in the Rangers’ development camp in late June after the NHL draft.

“I really wanted to meet the staff and players and see what they thought of me,” McDonagh said. “And I wanted to see for myself what it would be like and how I’d see myself out there playing as a job. I felt like I’d put in a real solid three years at Wisconsin and accomplished a lot, though unfortunately we didn’t win the national championship, which was a big goal of mine and tough to live with.

“College hockey is the longest season in all of college sports, so it’s grinding with a lot of practices because you play only about 45 games. So you grow really close to the guys, and it would have been something really special to win. But the fact that we got there and got to experience it was great. Then after the (prospects) camp, I just felt I was ready and excited about it. It felt right, so I did it.”

After what many observers thought was an excellent training camp in New York, McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko were the final cuts of the Rangers last week. Ironically, on June 30, 2009, McDonagh, Valentenko, former Yale center Chris Higgins and former Springfield Pics defenseman Doug Janik were traded from the Canadiens to the Rangers for Scott Gomez and Wolf Pack players Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto.

“You try not to think too much into it,” McDonagh said of his late assignment to the Wolf Pack. “I felt I had a solid preseason and camp, starting in Traverse City (prospects tournament) that really helped get my feet wet. Then in the preseason games I thought I held my ground and did well, but in the end, they felt it would be best for me to start here. I just go with what they believe and try to work my hardest here, make sure I’m taking care of my body and working on stuff that will help me be that much more successful.

“Obviously I’ll get more minutes down here, so that’s good for me at this stage of my career. The first thing (assistant coach) J.J. (Daigneault) said to me when I got here was that this isn’t a bad place to start a long career. That really puts things in perspective and keeps me focused.”

McDonagh said trying to learn new systems with a new team with a new defensive partner (Nigel Williams) in new equipment in a new environment made his first week as a pro quite an adjustment. McDonagh was beaten a few times and got a holding penalty early in the third period Sunday that led to James Marcou’s winning goal, the third on the power play for the Sharks.

“It has been tough, but I felt like I played well in the home opener,” McDonagh said. “As a team, we didn’t come out the way we wanted on Sunday, and that’s part of the process of coming together and figuring out what we need to do to be successful night in and night out. Personally, I feel like I’m really in shape, my legs are good, so conditioning-wise I feel good. But it’s just trying to get some timing things down and figure out how the systems work.

“And you have to adjust to new partners and linemates. You can tell the guys like Dane (Byers) and Newbie (Kris Newbury) are so much more comfortable with each other and probably was our most effective line because of the chemistry of being together. If any of us can take lesson from them on figuring out strengths and weaknesses, it’s that it will come with time. … (In New York) it’s a lot of puck possession and guys aren’t really turning it over as much. Here you just have to make sure you make good passes and just try to do your part, not try to do too much. That will just come with some time.”

McDonagh started his climb to the major leagues in St. Paul, where he excelled as much in the classroom as he did in hockey, baseball and football. He began skating at 3 with older brother Colin on a rink that their father, Sean, built in the backyard.

“I just always liked hockey the most because it was Minnesota being the State of Hockey and it seemed like everybody was playing hockey growing up as a kid,” McDonagh said. “Every day after school, you’d throw the skates on and stay out until the sun went down. It just kind of became a part of me, and I knew I had a better chance of making a living off of it.”

McDonagh attended Cretin-Derham Hall High School, where he led his team to its first state hockey championship as a junior, and a year later, he was awarded the 2007 Minnesota Mr. Hockey award, given annually to the top senior high school hockey player in the state. He also won a state championship in baseball his senior year.

“High school was an unbelievable experience,” McDonagh said. “It’s known mostly for football, hockey and baseball, and (Minnesota Twins catcher) Joe Mauer and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor went to my high school. Those guys are legends. In football, there was my uncle, Steve Walsh, Chris Walsh and (Heisman Trophy winner) Chris Weinke. So my high school is a big sports school. It was a lot of fun going there, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Other than failing to win a national championship, McDonagh has no complaints about his time at the University Wisconsin, whose alumni include former Whalers forward and 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medalist Mark Johnson, whose son Patrick became a Badger the same time as McDonagh, Mike Richter, Tony Granato, Chris Chelios, Joe Pavelski and Dany Heatley.

“It’s a big-time college for hockey,” said McDonagh, who was a tri-captain last season and was scheduled to be co-captain with Stepan this year. “You get to play in front of 12,000 fans every night, and it has the best student section in all of college hockey.”

Lately, McDonagh has been inspired by his 12-year-old brother who plays goal and “sparks new energy in our family and was known as the No. 1 fan of Wisconsin.

“He’d always be in the student section, come down the locker room after games and chat with the guys,” McDonagh recalled with a smile. “It was great. He’s an awesome kid.”

McDonagh wants to collect all the positives possible and reunite with his longtime friend. A hundred miles isn’t that far — unless it’s the distance between NHL vs. the AHL.

“It would be fun to be back together again,” McDonagh said. “We’ve hopefully got a long career ahead us and hopefully it’s always with the New York Rangers.”

Nightingale Has Foot Infection

Defenseman Jared Nightingale remained sidelined Tuesday with a foot infection, which caused him to miss Sunday’s game. Lee Baldwin replaced Nightingale in the lineup, and rookie Jyri Niemi can also fill in after being a healthy scratch for the first two games. The Wolf Pack start a three-games-in-three-nights run on the road Friday night in Albany. … After a lackluster performance until he changed lines in the second period of Sunday’s game, Gernander tinkered with his lines again Tuesday, changing all but the veteran combo of Byers-Newbury-Dale Weise, who missed practice with an injury. The new lines were Mats Zuccarello-Evgeny Grachev-Jeremy Williams, Brodie Dupont-Brandon Wong-Kelsey Tessier and Justin Soryal-Ryan Garlock-Chris McKelvie. The most noticeable move was Tessier from the checking line to a more offensive line. Why? “Merit,” Gernander said, referring to the rookie right wing being the team’s leading scorer with two goals and two assists, plus yeoman work forechecking and hitting. … Former Canadian figure skating star Barbara Underwood, now a skating technician working for the Rangers, began putting the Wolf Pack players through special training Tuesday. Before and after practice, she filmed the players skating and offered insights in to how to improve their skating through quicker strides and turns. She will work with every player before she leaves. “She observed practice, evaluated and identified guys that she thinks she can help immediately,” Gernander said. “She’s also giving them some things they can do when she’s not around.”

Two Join Whalers Sports and Entertainment

Whalers Sports and Entertainment announced two additions to its staff Tuesday.

Hartford native George Ducharme was named as special assistant to chairman Howard Baldwin, and former Hartford Whalers and New York Rangers right wing Bob Crawford was named senior vice president of hockey operations.

This is a homecoming for Ducharme, who previous served in this capacity for Baldwin for the Whalers in both the World Hockey Association and National Hockey League. During his 13-year tenure with the organization, he was director of operations in Springfield and Binghamton, N.Y., for its American Hockey League team and coordinator of NHL All-Star ’86. This is the 25th anniversary of that event.

Ducharme also was responsible for the creation and manager of the Whalers gift shop, the first operation in professional sports devoted exclusively to merchandise featuring a logo, named a caricature of the Whale “Puckie,” and created a new line of merchandise featuring the logo. He is probably best known for adding music to a hockey game and introducing the song, “Brass Bonanza.”

“Having the opportunity to work with George again is very exciting,” Baldwin said. “He is the youngest 80-year-old I know, and he keeps me on my toes. George is a trail blazer with vast experience. He will be a terrific addition to our new venture, the perfect blend of the past with a forward looking approach to the future of hockey in Hartford. His energy and enthusiasm can’t be rivaled.”

Ducharme’s extensive career spanned not only professional hockey but other high-profile positions in football (assistant manager of the Hartford Knights), retail (budget director of G. Fox Company) and politics (planning and directing the campaigns of Ann Uccello, the first female elected mayor of Hartford). He resigned from the Whalers in 1986 to become executive director of the Hartford Chapter of the MS Society.

“This was one opportunity I couldn’t resist,” Ducharme said. “Helping to return hockey to the former status it enjoyed in the ’70s and ’80s has been a dream of mine. This effort can be the catalyst for reviving the city and making it once again a vibrant entertainment destination. I can’t wait to get going.”

Meanwhile, Crawford, previously a consultant for WSE, will oversee operations of the Whalers Hockey Fest on Feb. 11-24 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. He also will perform many day-to-day functions for the Connecticut Whale, including spearheading all youth hockey activities, serving as liaison between the Whale front office and hockey personnel, participating in Whale TV, radio and Internet broadcasts and rebuilding the Whalers Alumni Association.

“Bob was one of the first people I reached out to when we returned to Hartford last year,” Baldwin said. “His experience as both a Whalers and Rangers player and as the owner of three successful skating rinks makes him perfect for the job.

“In addition to Bob’s extensive hockey experience, the business contacts and the relations he’s developed in his 20-plus years in the Hartford area have been an immeasurable help to us already.”

Crawford’s 10-year pro career included stops with the Rangers, Whalers and St. Louis Blues. His highlights included a 36-goal season with the Whalers in 1983-84 and a trip to the Stanley Cup semifinals with the Rangers in 1986.

During his coaching career, Crawford has won multiple championships and transformed the Connecticut Junior Clippers/Wolf Pack into one of the top programs in the nation with more than 150 players graduating to NCAA Division I and III hockey. The teams have had two national championship appearances, and the Clippers finished third in the 2000 national championship and won the title a year later. Name AJHL Coach of the Year in 2004, Crawford was selected as coach of the USA Hockey Select 18 National team that won bronze in Canada in 2006.

“Mr. Baldwin is one of the most creative and innovative executives in professional sports,” Crawford said. “When I played for him in Hartford (1983-86), Howard and Emile Francis emphasized to all of us how important it was to be involved in the Hartford community. As a result of this time in spent in the community as a player, it was an easy decision to call Hartford home when I retired.

“Mr. Baldwin’s commitment to Hartford hockey is even stronger today as we prepare for the Whalers Hockey Fest and the Connecticut Whale’s first AHL season. With his leadership and the support of the Hartford community, both the team and the Hockey Fest will put Hartford and the state of Connecticut back on the hockey map again.”

Professionally, Crawford is in his 15th year as owner/operator of the multi-rink/fitness facility Champions Skating Center in Cromwell, Bolton Ice Palace and International Skating Center in Simsbury. He is on the board of directors for USA Hockey and was named a New England director for his second three-year term in 2009. He also serves on USA Hockey’s International Council.