By Bruce Berlet
With Tim Kennedy out with an undisclosed injury, the four centers who played for the Wolf Pack on Wednesday night started the game against the Albany Devils with a total of zero goals.
That’s nada, zilch, none – in eight games. Ryan Garlock, the supposed fourth-line center, scored his first of the season when he converted Jeremy Williams’ centering pass 4:49 into the third period after a strong play along the boards by Justin Soryal.
“A textbook 3-on-2 play,” Garlock said.
Unfortunately for the Wolf Pack (3-4-1-1), their offense has been anything but textbook during a season-high, five-game homestand that ends Friday night with the opener of a home-and-home set with the Springfield Falcons (4-4-0-0). The Wolf Pack are 0-3-1 in the recent home run and has lost five in a row at the XL Center (0-4-1-0) since a season-opening, 4-2 victory over the Charlotte Checkers on Oct. 9.
Coach Ken Gernander has tried seemingly every permutation and combination with his 13 forwards, including using Evgeny Grachev at center and both wings. But the Wolf Pack missed the net from close range twice as many times (four) in a 3-1 loss to the Devils as they’ve scored in the last 229 minutes, 55 seconds. And they would have lost a third consecutive one-goal game if former Wolf Pack defenseman Chris Murray hadn’t scored a power-play goal into an empty net with 37.7 seconds left after Williams took an ill-advised slashing penalty with 1:13 to go.
Several players admitted frustration has started to cause many to squeeze their sticks too hard trying to score. But there’s only so much Gernander can do to try to find the right combinations. In fact, he even changed his three defensive pairings in the third period.
“He’s trying to shake things up, which is something every coach would do when you’re going through a stretch like this,” said center/left wing Brodie Dupont, who has one assist in nine games. “There are a few guys in the room who remember last year. You can’t make the playoffs in October, but you can definitely miss them, so we have to start winning games and come together no matter who you’re playing with.
“We just have to start playing more as a team, which is how we’re going to score. We don’t have the most skilled team. We have a hard-working team that has to work to score. We have to take short shifts, stay positive with each and keep each other’s heads up. We’ve got a lot of young guys (10 rookies) getting used to pro hockey and North America, so it’s a whole combination of things. But we’ve got a lot of games left, and the young guys are going to come around because they’re really talented. The older ones, including me, have to assume responsibility to help the young ones out as far as contributing the way I can and the rest will just roll over.”
Dupont said if a player is having difficulty scoring than he has to help in other ways.
“You never want to have stretches like this and put yourself behind the eight-ball, and I have to contribute in different ways,” Dupont said. “If I’m not putting up numbers, then I at least have to start getting a few more chances and playing the body more. I have to be a little more accountable for my actions. I think Kenny was trying to shake things up putting me back in the middle and different line combinations trying to get different guys going.
“I’m one of them that has to step it up and help the club out. When the chemistry is there, it’s there, and when it’s not, you have to work at it. The injuries don’t help because we’ve got two pretty key guys out (Kennedy and right wing Dale Weise), which kind of messes the lines up and has kind of a waterfall effect. It trickles all the way because we’re trying to spread the offense and ice time out and not just load up the first few lines. (Gernander) wants to have a four-line team. He’s doing his job, and now we have to start bringing up our end of the bargain.”
Feisty Devin DiDiomete, playing in only his third game since extensive hip surgery on May 7, tried to ignite the Wolf Pack with two fights, the second with Harry Young early in the second period resulting in a gash on his head that had him looking like an Arab wearing a turban after the game.
“Who knows what’s going to get us started?” Gernander said rhetorically. “DiDiomete tried a couple of different times, but it might be a big save, a big (penalty) kill or a big effort to score a goal. But you’ve got to find something that’s going to swing the momentum in our favor, and then we have to work with it.”
The Wolf Pack’s recent bad offensive run was epitomized in the second period Wednesday night when Garlock, McKelvie and Grachev missed the net from point-blank range and Devils goalie Jeff Frazee stoned a wide-open Mats Zuccarello from 20 feet in the slot. And the Devils got their first goal from Patrick Davis when he beat Chad Johnson high to the glove side after veteran defenseman Wade Redden had fallen down.
“You say it all the time that you make your own luck,” Gernander said, “so if a bad break goes against you, someone has to make a big play behind that or someone has to make a play after that to get things turned around. And if things aren’t going your way, somehow you have to make it so that the next bad bounce is on the opponent or that you capitalize on it. There’s enough time in a hockey game that one bad bounce shouldn’t sink the ship.”
Dupont, one of the centers Wednesday night, said he is among those who has to start pulling their weight.
“In practice, we have to shoot to score and take it into the game,” Dupont said.
Veteran center Kris Newbury leads the Wolf Pack with eight points, all assists, but demonstrated his frustration in a 2-1 overtime loss to Syracuse on Saturday night when he broke his stick on the glass after Timo Pielmeier somehow slid across in time to stop on a 2-on-1 with McKelvie.
“It’s been frustrating because I know for myself I’ve got the puck a few times in the slot and it’s spinning and I’m trying too hard,” Newbury said. “I guess that’s what happens when you’re not scoring many goals as a team, so it’s kind of expected. But I’ve got to find a way to get out of it.
“I think it’s going to take a game or two where we put up a lot of goals and guys start getting confidence. Hopefully it happens quicker rather than later. Until then, guys are going to be frustrated. It seems like nothing is going right right now. We can be better in a lot of areas, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to put more goals on the board than the other team. So we’ve got to find a way to score and get some confidence.”
To try to reach that end, Gernander kept the lines intact but had his troops spend 20 minutes at the end of practice Thursday shooting. Assistant coach J.J. Daigneault, who works with the defense, had each defenseman line up 25 pucks and fire slapshots from the blueline, stressing accuracy on the net.
“The lines didn’t click (Wednesday) night, but our best option right now is keeping the combinations together,” Gernander said. “The volume of chances isn’t what it should be. We haven’t had a 42-shot night. Masking the issue is we’re not giving up a lot of goals, but it’s not like the shots are 42-15 and we lost 1-0, then maybe you could say we were squeezing our sticks a bit. Missing the net on point-blank shots hurts so obviously there was an emphasis on shooting pucks.”
A few power-play goals would help ease the tension, but the Wolf Pack has failed on its last nine man advantages.
“I think your 5-on-5 has to spill over into your special teams,” Gernander said. “It’s not very often that a guy is a rotten apple all game long and then turns it on for the 5-on-5. There’s a few special people that can do that, but for the most part, those habits carry over into special teams.
“There are all kinds of factors for what has happened because every guy is a little different. Everyone talks about frustration, but you can’t let frustration make you take penalties or detract from the system play. And sometimes instead of making the simple play, you look for the real highlight-reel play instead of just hammering that thing on net and maybe that goes in or you get the rebound.
“Today we just gave them some more options to try to diversify a little bit. We tried to point out that if you got the puck in a certain position, there are options for all three guys on the line. It’s poise, so you get the puck in an area, instead of just trying to force something right away, you look for a play and keep your feet moving otherwise (the opposition) is going to limit time and space. So you always need poise.”
As Dupont said, Gernander and assistants Daigneault and Pat Boller have done their job. Now it’s up to the players to execute properly and escape the scoring doldrums, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Rangers Call Up Grachev; Donati Makes Pack Debut Friday Night
Grachev was called up by the Rangers because left wing Derek Boogaard has an infected hand after suffering a cut on his right index finger knuckle during a fight with the Boston Bruins’ Shawn Thornton on Saturday night. Grachev has only one goal and one assist in nine games and now has one goal and eight assists in 38 games dating back to last season. He will be an emergency fill-in if Boogaard can’t play against the Carolina Hurricanes Friday night.
With Kennedy and Weise sidelined and Grachev on recall, newly signed forward Tyler Donati might make his Wolf Pack debut against the Falcons. He signed an AHL-ECHL contract last Friday after leading the ECHL in scoring (114 points) and being named league MVP last season with the Elmira Jackals. It’s an especially frustrating time for Weise, who likely would already be with the Rangers because of injuries to forwards Marian Gaborik (separated left shoulder), Vinny Prospal (knee) and captain/Trumbull native Chris Drury (broken finger). Weise skated alone for the first time Thursday since having hand surgery last Friday.
Goalie Cameron Talbot, who injured his groin while stopping 41 shots in a 3-0 victory over Providence in his Wolf Pack debut on Oct. 17, resumed skating on his own Monday and hopes to participate in team drills this weekend or on Monday.
Plenty of Options for Redden
The Rangers are almost certain to waive Redden again next year to remove his $6.5 million salary from the to-be-determined 2011-12 cap, which could be lower than the $59.4 million this year. If Redden then would like to return to the NHL for a far less salary than he would earn in the AHL or Europe, he will have that option.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that if Redden refuses to report to Hartford next year if he’s assigned, the Rangers would be able to terminate his contract under terms of the collective bargaining agreement just as the New Jersey Devils terminated the contract of former Whalers captain Brendan Shanahan last year when he refused to report to the Lowell Devils after he was unclaimed on waivers.
Daly said there was no difference between the cases, even if Shanahan had a one-year contract for $1 million and Redden would have three years worth $16.5 million left on his contract.
“The Devils (terminated). So could the Rangers,” Daly told Brooks.
If Rangers do that, Redden would become a free agent. So would Redden consider such action and attempt a final shot at the NHL for lesser money?
“At the end of the day, I don’t really want to be down here (in Hartford) playing out my contract, but that’s not so say that won’t happen,” Redden said. “I’ll make those decisions after the season. The options will be there. There are a lot of different scenarios that could play out, so I just have to let them play out. Whatever happens is going to take care of itself, but I can’t worry about it. For anything to work, I’ve got to play well, and that’s all my focus is on right now.”
Redden has been a stabilizing influence for a young defense, playing alongside rookies Tomas Kundratek and Jyri Niemi in eight games and Jared Nightingale in the other. Redden admits it’s doubtful that he’ll ever end up back with the Rangers, but there are 29 other NHL teams, and one might need a veteran defenseman if hit by injuries, especially down the stretch.
Todd White Headed to Hartford?
Rangers coach John Tortorella admits he isn’t sure what he has in Todd White, which leaves the center in limbo in his first season on Broadway. Tortorella was so unsure White was a healthy scratch Sunday even though Jeremy Williams was called up as a possible emergency fill-in for Brandon Prust, who sustained an eye injury in a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. Even though Prust was able to play in a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, White watched as Williams made his Rangers debut, playing six shifts for 3 minutes, 43 seconds.
“I don’t know what he (White) is as a player,” Tortorella told Brooks. “It really isn’t fair to him. I don’t think he has a ton of confidence in his play, and I have to a lot to do with that as far as the spots I’ve put him in and how I’ve spotted him in certain areas. I’m concerned about his speed, and I’ve talked to him about that. But I don’t think I’ve given him a fair shake.”
White got another chance Wednesday night and scored his first goal of the season in a 6-4 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. He played 10 minutes, 52 seconds, all at even strength.
The Rangers acquired White from the Thrashers on Aug. 2 for disgruntled Donald Brashear and Patrick Rissmiller, who weren’t exactly thrilled when they were in Hartford. It was speculated that White would follow them to Hartford as a salary dump in training camp, but he wasn’t placed on waivers until early October. He and Kennedy both cleared waivers, but Kennedy was sent to the Wolf Pack on Oct. 13 after captain/Trumbull native Chris Drury returned from injured reserve because of a finger injury. Drury played less than two periods, re-broke the finger and is in the process of being out an estimated six weeks.
Some wondered why White wasn’t sent to Hartford instead of Kennedy, who seems to have little chance of being recalled regardless of how he plays with the Wolf Pack unless the other 29 general managers are asleep. Kennedy would have to get through recall waivers, so any team could claim him and be responsible for only half of his salary against the cap, $275,000, which is less than the NHL’s minimum salary.
The Rangers have until next week to reassign White to Hartford or they will have to waive him again if they would like to erase his salary cap hit of $2.5 million. White hasn’t seemed like a good fit with the Rangers and wouldn’t have made the opening-night roster if Drury and Vinny Prospal (knee) would have been available. And he still was a healthy scratch after leading scorer Marian Gaborik sustained a separated left shoulder.
So the Rangers’ only other option is to trade White, but it’s unlikely another team would bite considering his age (35) and cap hit. So their best option would be sending White to the Wolf Pack, opening cap space and roster space. That would enable them to call up another prospect from the Wolf Pack and give White some playing time in the minors. There are several players in Hartford who deserve a shot at the NHL, so expect something to happen in the next few days.
Falcons Make First Visit in Start of Home-and-Home Series
The Wolf Pack concludes the homestand with the first of 10 meetings with the Falcons, who are 3-1-0-0 on the road. The Falcons have a new coach, former longtime Army coach Rob Riley, and new affiliation, the Columbus Blue Jackets, after three seasons as the top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. Veteran Tom Sestito is the Falcons’ leading scorer (four goals, five assists), and Michael Blunden leads the team in goals (five).
Former Wolf Pack goalie David LeNeveau is 2-2-0 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. The Blue Jackets assigned defenseman Nate Guenin, the Rangers’ third-round pick in 2002 who never played for the organization, to the Falcons on Tuesday. He has played 17 NHL games with the Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Friday night is a Guida’s Family Value Night that starts as low as $48 and includes three tickets, three hot dogs or pizza slices, three sodas and Wolf Pack souvenir. Guida’s Family Value Night packs are available at the XL Center box office or on-line at www.hartfordwolfpack.com. The teams have a rematch Saturday night at 7 in Springfield.
Former New Haven Resident Among Four Named To AHL Hall of Fame
The newest members of the AHL Hall of Fame announced Thursday are Maurice Podoloff, Mitch Lamoureux, Harry Pidhirny and Larry Wilson. The Class of 2011 will be honored as part of the All-Star Classic festivities in Hershey, Pa. The Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony is Jan. 31. The AHL Hall of Fame, formed in 2006 to recognize, honor and celebrate individuals for their outstanding achievements and contributions in the AHL, is housed on-line at www.ahlhalloffame.com. The AHL Internet Network also includes www.theahl.com and all 30 official team sites and hosts more than 200 million page views each year.
Podoloff, who died in 1985 at 95, was one of the AHL’s founding fathers and known as a pioneer whose vision and dedication helped build the foundation for the league that still thrives 75 years later. Born in Elizabethgrad, Ukraine, Podoloff moved to New Haven at 6 and graduated from Yale and the Yale Law School. He and his father Abraham and brothers Nathan and Jacob built the New Haven Arena in 1926 and created the New Haven Eagles as a charter member of the Canadian-American Hockey League. Maurice served on the league’s board of governors and later became secretary-treasurer in 1935. The Can-am League and International Hockey League joined forces in 1936 to create what was known as the International-American Hockey League, and Podoloff continued to oversee the Can-Am teams that made up the combined league’s Eastern Division. In 1938, the consolidation between the CAHL and IHL became official, and Podoloff was elected the IAHL’s first president. The “International” was dropped from the league’s name in 1940, becoming the AHL as it remains to this day.
Podoloff brought stability to the AHL during the difficult war years and oversaw the addition of teams in future major-league cities such as Washington, Buffalo, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. He also had a hand in modernizing the league through rules changes and innovations and organized the first AHL All-Star Game in 1942 as a fundraiser for American and Canadian Red Cross efforts during World War II. Podoloff served as AHL president until 1952, including several years in which he concurrently ran the NBA as its first president, starting in 1946. He was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1974, and the Maurice Podoloff Trophy is awarded each year to the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
Lamoureux was an eighth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1981, joined the Pens’ AHL affiliate in 1982-83 and scored 57 goals, the most in the 47-year history of the league at that point, and had 107 points, then a record for rookies. The 5-foot-6 dynamo split three seasons between Baltimore and Pittsburgh and then helped the Hershey Bears, coached by Paddock, to their first 50-win season in 1987-88 and perfect 12-0 playoff record on the way to the Calder Cup. He had six 30-goal seasons, finished seventh all-time in goals (364) and ninth in points (816) in 802 games before retiring after 17 seasons in 1999, when he won the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award for sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey. He later had his No. 16 retired by the Bears.
Pidhirny began his pro career with the AHL’s Philadelphia Rockets in 1948-49 and put together 12 consecutive 12-goal seasons starting in 1949-50 with the Springfield Indians and Syracuse Warriors. On Nov. 21, 1953, in a 9-1 victory over the Providence Reds, the crafty center tied an AHL record by scoring six goals. He later returned to Springfield, where he won Calder Cups in 1960 and 1961, was named an All-Star five times in the 1950s and ended 17 seasons ranked third in games played (1,071), sixth in goals (376) and seventh in points (829). He coached the Springfield Indians briefly in 1966 and was a member of the first class of inductees into the Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
Wilson played 15 seasons and coached six in the AHL, spending much of the early part of his playing career in the NHL with Detroit and Chicago, winning a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 1950. He also played two seasons with the AHL’s Indianapolis Capitals, and in 1955, he began a 13-year stay with the Buffalo Bisons in which he became the franchise’s all-time leader in every offensive category. The Bisons lost in the Calder Cup finals in 1959 and 1962 before finally bringing the championship back to Buffalo in 1963 after finishing with the league’s best record and beating Hershey in a seven-game series for the title. Wilson retired in 1968 and ranks nine in career assists (492) and 12th in points (790). In his first season as coach, he led the Providence Reds to the Calder Cup finals, where they lost to the Springfield Kings, coached by his brother, Johnny. He also coached Providence (1970-72) and the Richmond Robins (1972-76), and his players included future coaches Bill Barber, Paul Holmgren, Terry Murray and John Paddock, who was inducted last year after an outstanding playing career and a coaching career that included stops in the NHL and guiding the Wolf Pack to their only Calder Cup in 2000.
Wilson was named the first coach of the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings in 1979 but never saw the ice in Glens Falls, N.Y. At the age of 48, he suffered a fatal heart attack just before training camp. His legacy lives through his son, Ron, a longtime NHL coach in Anaheim, Washington, San Jose and Toronto since 2008