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Whale bounce back strongly

By Bruce Berlet (from the Connecticut Whale)


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After the forgettable performance/effort in the opener of their only venture into Canada this season, the Connecticut Whale needed a serious gut check Friday night. They got it from start to finish, scoring on their first two shots and then winning with 1:13 left on a goal by one of their major grinders.

Devin DiDiomete, elevated in the pecking order with Jason Williams being released from his professional tryout contract earlier in the day, scored the winner when Tim Kennedy’s shot went in off his skate to give the Whale a 3-2 victory over the Hamilton Bulldogs.

“Obviously when you have a game like we did Wednesday, you try to forget about that and turn things into positives,” said DiDiomete, the AHL’s penalty-minutes leader (206), who outmuscled Dany Masse in front to get in position for the winner. “And I think we did a good job of realizing that we weren’t there mentally on Wednesday, and we came out with a quick start and just kind of got the ball rolling a little bit for us and got two really big points against a really good team.”

DiDiomete’s first career AHL winner enabled Dov Grumet-Morris (29 saves) to win his second game since signing another PTO on Feb. 4 after being recalled from Greenville of the ECHL. The gritty win came two days after a 9-2 loss to the Toronto Marlies that tied franchise records for most goals allowed and largest margin of defeat in their 14-year history.

Whale coach Ken Gernander said he had the team focus on fundamentals.

“We got away from some things (Wednesday),” Gernander said. “We made some sloppy plays or lazy plays at times, where we weren’t paying the price, so just getting back to basics was probably the most important thing.”

Gernander now hopes the Whale (25-22-2-5) can put together a winning streak, starting Sunday at 4:05 p.m. at Providence, to secure a playoff spot in the tightly bunched Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.

“(Bouncing back) is all well and good,” Gernander said. “You assume that after a game like (Wednesday) where you weren’t your best, if you’re a prideful person it’s going to be really easy for you to rebound and have a big effort the following game. Now the task at hand is to continue that, to extend that so we can start to string together some wins and gain some ground in the standings.”

Kennedy, one of the hottest Whale players of late, started the winning play in the defensive zone, taking the puck from Andrew Conboy to break up a Bulldogs rush. Kennedy moved the puck to Chad Kolarik, who carried it into the Hamilton zone on right wing before returning it to Kennedy in the slot. Kennedy jammed the puck toward the net, and the deflection off DiDiomete’s skate went in under veteran goalie Curtis Sanford (26 saves) for his sixth goal, two more than in his first two pro seasons combined. Sanford entered the game 19-11-1 with a 1.81 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, both second in the league, and five shutouts, tied for the AHL lead with Hershey’s Braden Holtby.

“It was a pretty good feeling, especially being in Hamilton,” DiDiomete said of his first AHL winner. “I had a ton of family and friends at the game, so it was really good not only to have the opportunity to be on the ice with about a minute left but to get that game-winning goal, too.

“There was nothing fancy about it, that’s for sure. CK (Kolarik) picked it up there and kind of had a 2-on-1 and fed it to TK (Kennedy), and I went to the net and stopped at the far post and I think it hit my shin pad and went in. So I’ll take it!”

Gernander said fortuitous goals aren’t merely luck.

“They’re not always pretty,” Gernander said. “But when you break things down, a lot of times it always starts with good defensive play, the simple plays, guys driving the net, creating some traffic there, they put the puck to the net. I think it went off Dids’ skate, but it isn’t always lucky.

“If you’re willing to do that time and again, you watch highlights every night, there seems to be a handful of goals that go in that way. So it’s not necessarily lucky.”

DiDiomete’s winner came after the Bulldogs tied it at 2 at 4:43 of the third period on a goal by center Ryan Russell, the Rangers’ seventh-round pick in 2005 who never played for the organization before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens. The Whale scored on their first two shots by Dale Weise and Brodie Dupont, who each had a goal and an assist in the opening 3:22. Weise scored for the second consecutive game after missing three games with shingles.

The Whale won for the first time at the Copps Coliseum since Jan. 21, 2000, when they were the Hartford Wolf Pack. It also avenged a 7-3 loss to the Bulldogs on Jan. 21 in Hartford in the second stop of their toughest stretch of the season, 10 of 12 games on the road. They will finish the first three-game road stretch against Providence, which lost 4-3 to defending Calder Cup champion Hershey on Friday night, as former Wolf Pack wing Boyd Kane scored the Bears’ first goal while ending the Bruins’ five-game home winning streak.

Entering a game at Springfield on Saturday night, the Bruins (23-25-3-1) had lost four in a row and were tied for fifth in the Atlantic Division with the Falcons, seven points behind the Whale. The Bruins won the last two games with the Whale at the XL Center after Cam Talbot, now out with a high ankle sprain, backstopped three consecutive wins, including his first pro shutout, 3-0 on Oct. 17. Maxime Sauve had two goals in each of the last two games against the Whale, while none of his teammates have scored more than once.

All-Star center Jamie Arniel (14, 17) leads the Bruins in scoring, followed by center Zach Hamill (3, 25), who is on recall to the Boston Bruins, center Joe Colborne (12, 14), right wing Kirk MacDonald (11, 15) and Sauve (13, 6). Rugged left wing Lane MacDermid, son of former Hartford Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid, has four goals, seven assists and 107 penalty minutes. Matt Dalton (7-6-0, 2.51 GAA, .918 save percentage, two shutouts) is 1-1-0 against the Whale. Veteran Nolan Schaefer is 9-15-1, 3.10, .899, no shutouts.

After four days off after Sunday, the Whale will make a second trip to Glen Falls, N.Y., to face the Adirondack Red Wings (16-30-2-3) on Friday before a quick bus ride home for the Harvest-Properties.com Whale Bowl against the Bruins on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, in the second AHL outdoor game in history. The Whale is at Portland on Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. and then will play their first two games in Charlotte, N.C., against the Checkers, their former ECHL affiliate, on Feb. 24 and 26. They finally return to the XL Center on March 2 to face Springfield. Their ensuing home game is March 11 against Hershey, ending the brutal stretch of 10 road games in 12.

‘UCONN DAY’ AT RENTSCHLER FIELD SUNDAY

“UConn Day” at the Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 at Rentschler Field is Sunday, when the alumni plays at 9 a.m., followed by the men’s team facing Sacred Heart at 1 p.m. and the women meeting Providence at 4 p.m. Two days later, Feb. 15, is “Trinity-Wesleyan Day” as the schools’ women’s teams play at 4 p.m., their alumni teams at 6:30 p.m. and the men’s teams at 8 p.m.

High school and prep school games fill most of the schedule the remainder of the week until the Whale Bowl on Saturday, when about 20 celebrities will mix in with the Hartford Whalers legends team and Boston Bruins legends team as they face off at 4 p.m., followed by the second AHL outdoor game in history between the Whale and Providence Bruins at 7 p.m. The day’s activities begin with the Army-American International College game at 1 p.m. All tickets for the event are general admission except for Feb. 19.

Hall of Fame defensemen Brian Leetch, a Cheshire native, and Brad Park headline the Bruins legends team. Other commitments are Enfield native Craig Janney, former captain Rick Middleton, Reggie Lemelin, Ken Hodge, Don Marcotte, Rick Smith, Bob Sweeney, Lyndon Byers, Cleon Daskalakis, Jay Miller, Bob Miller (no relation) and Ken “The Rat” Linseman, a member of the Whalers for a few moments as he passed through in a multi-player trade with Philadelphia and Edmonton that included Mark Howe leaving Hartford for the Flyers. Derek Sanderson and Gary Doak will coach the Bruins team.

Commitments for the Whalers team are WHA Hall of Famer Andre Lacroix, John McKenzie, whose No. 19 is retired in the XL Center rafters, Blaine Stoughton, Pat Verbeek, John Anderson, Garry Swain, Bob Crawford, Chris Kotsopoulos, Jim Dorey, Jordy Douglas, Ray Neufeld, Gordie Roberts, Darren Turcotte, Nelson Emerson, Mark Janssens, Bill Bennett, Jeff Brubaker, Fred O’Donnell, Terry Yake, Scott Daniels, Ed Hospodar, Yvon Corriveau and the Babych brothers, Dave and Wayne. Norm Barnes and former captain Russ Anderson will be among the coaches.

Among the celebrities scheduled to play with one of the legends teams are filmmaker Bobby Farrelly, writer/director of such hit films as “Dumb and Dumber”, “There’s Something About Mary”, “Kingpin”, “Me, Myself and Irene”, “Outside Providence”, “The Heartbreak Kid”, “Stuck on You”, and “Shallow Hal”; and actor David Henrie, from “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “That’s So Raven”.

Famed former NHL referee Paul Stewart will officiate the game. Stewart, a Boston native, refereed more than 1,000 NHL games in a 13-year career. On March 15, 2003, he refereed his 1,000th game, becoming the only American-born official to accomplish the feat. He also officiated during the Canada Cup in 1987 and 1991 after an eight-year playing career with teams in the NAHL, AHL, NEHL, CHL, WHA and NHL.

Tickets ($20 to $85) for the doubleheader can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com and the Bushnell box office in Hartford on Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. or by calling the Whale at 860-728-3366. They also can be purchased online and printed immediately at Ticketmaster.com.

The official charity of the Hockey Fest is “Sam’s Race for a Place,” a fund-raising effort spearheaded by West Hartford resident Samantha Udolf that benefits the Ronald McDonald House. Since Udolf, a successful competitive skier, founded Sam’s Race for a Place in June of 2008, it has generated donations of more than $43,500.

The Ronald McDonald House is a non-profit charity operating since 1991 that helps hundreds of families and children enjoy the comforts of home while they await treatment at area medical facilities. Udolf became familiar with Ronald McDonald House and its good works while volunteering there, and she conceived Sam’s Race for a Place after learning it is independently-funded and depends on grass-roots campaigns for nearly all of its support.

For more information about Sam’s Race for a Place, visit www.samsraceforaplace.com. Donations also can be made through that web address. Besides the games, the Hockey Fest will include “Whale Town” featuring exhibitors, games and the Whalers Mobile Hall of Fame.

A complete schedule of games can be found at www.ctwhale.com. There will be a free public skate on Feb. 22 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to thank the sponsors and fans who supported the event.

MARLIES’ GUSTAVSSON HAS HEART SURGERY

The Marlies’ rout of the Whale was tempered by goalie Jonas Gustavsson having to be pulled after the first period because of an elevated heart rate caused by an abnormal rhythm.

Gustavsson, 26, underwent minor heart surgery on Friday in London, Ontario, Canada, by the same medical specialists who treated him last season, when he was first diagnosed. He had since had two surgeries to treat the condition and should be cleared to practice in about a week.

Gustavsson was making his second start since being assigned to the Marlies by the parent Toronto Maple Leafs for a two-week conditioning stint. He was 6-13-2 in 23 games with the Maple Leafs.

THREE WHALE PLAYERS AMONG PROSPECTS TRADING CARDS

Two Whale players, goalie Chad Johnson and forward Evgeny Grachev, and former Whale defenseman Ryan McDonagh, now on recall to the Rangers, are in the 150-card Heroes and Prospects trading card set by In the Game.

The three have all played with the Rangers, though Johnson’s five-game stint was last season. They are pictured on those cards in the uniform of the Hartford Wolf Pack, who were rebranded as the Connecticut Whale on Nov. 27.

In the Game has been making its Heroes and Prospects hockey set for several years, and it’s become a must-have for many hockey fans. This year’s 150-card set includes seven Hockey Hero cards, three international prospects, 90 Canadian major junior hockey league players and 50 AHL players. Many of the players have already been drafted, while others are expected to be early picks in upcoming NHL drafts.

There are a lot of memorabilia, autograph, jersey, game-used emblem and AHL 75th Anniversary cards, including the one of AHL Hall of Famer John Paddock, who coached the Wolf Pack to their only Calder Cup title in his first of three seasons, 1999-2000.

Other notable player cards are Logan Couture and Alex Stalock (San Jose-Worcester), P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens-Hamilton Bulldogs), Tyler Ennis (Buffalo Sabres-Portland Pirates), John Carlson (Washington Capitals-Hershey Bears), John Moore (Columbus Blue Jackets-Springfield Falcons), Blake Geoffrion (Nashville Predators-Milwaukee Admirals), Jared Staal (Carolina Hurricanes-Charlotte Checkers) and Linus Omark (Edmonton Oilers-Oklahoma City Barons), as well as Calder Cup champion cards Alexandre Giroux, Chris Bourque, Keith Aucoin, Andrew Gordon and Mathieu Perreault; non-memorabilia insert cards such as Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler and Eric Wellwood; and 75th Anniversary cards Billy Smith, Brett Hull, Bruce Boudreau, Doug Harvey, Eddie Shore, Emile Francis, Gerry Cheevers, John Slaney, Carey Price, Jason Spezza, Larry Robinson, Les Cunningham, Martin Brodeur, Milt Schmidt, Patrick Roy, Pelle Lindbergh, Terry Sawchuk, Mitch Lamoureux, Willie Marshall and Zdeno Chara.

The card sets cost $94.99 and are available at www.theahl.com. All-Star Game jerseys and merchandise are also available.

ISLANDERS GET MAJOR REVENGE AGAINST PENGUINS

The New York Islanders avenged a knockout of No. 1 goalie Rick DiPietro Friday night with a decisive knockout of the injury-depleted Pittsburgh Penguins.

John Tavares, Matt Moulson and rookie Michael Grabner each scored his 20th goal of the season as the Islanders got revenge with their sticks and fists in a fight-filled 9-3 victory.

The teams combined for 65 penalties totaling 346 minutes and including 10 ejections. There were 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts, setting records for both teams for most combined penalty minutes and leaving few players around at the finish.

Things were so heated that a fence between the two dressing rooms was shut during a hallway lockdown. NHL suspensions likely will result.

“It was a pretty entertaining affair, and we’ll take the two points,” Tavares said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. It just wouldn’t stop. But it just shows that we’ll do anything for each other.”

Nine days after Penguins goalie Brent Johnson beat New York 3-0 and knocked out Rick DiPietro in a one-punch fight that left their franchise goalie with broken bones in his face, the Islanders responded with four goals in the first period and four more in the second – with a brawl between the offensive outbursts.

But that was just a warm-up for a third-period donnybrook in which Johnson fought again and caused a 15-minute delay. With multiple ejections, both benches had only a handful of players for the final 12-plus minutes.

The Islanders chased Johnson 3:46 into the second period when enforcer Micheal Haley, called up earlier in the day from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, made it 6-0 on the Islanders’ 16th shot. As Johnson skated to the backup goalie seat in the tunnel leading to the Penguins' dressing room, he was showered with boos from the unusually large crowd that clearly remembered what he did to DiPietro.

But Johnson’s night wasn't over. He returned at the start of the third period and got bowled over 1:19 in when Grabner was knocked into him by a hard hit from the Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik.

A second brawl broke out at 4:47, and Haley had two fights – with Max Talbot and then Johnson after the goalie skated toward the blue line. Haley charged after him, and both players dropped their gloves and started punching. Eric Godard was also involved, trying to protect Johnson.

Haley became an instant favorite among the 12,888 fans, most of whom likely never heard of him before Friday. But they chanted his name every time there was another dustup.

The second major uprising was sparked by Islanders and former Wolf Pack enforcer Trevor Gillies’ elbow that left Eric Tangradi prone on the ice. Tangradi was recalled on Friday from Wilkes- Barre/Scranton of the AHL. Godard and Haley both were ejected with double game misconducts.

Gillies and the Penguins’ Craig Adams were also ejected. Johnson was forced to remain in the net and heard boos and derisive chants in the final minutes.

Travis Hamonic, Jesse Joensuu and former Wolf Pack wing P.A. Parenteau added goals for the Islanders, who earned their second win in two days after beating Montreal on the road in a shootout on Thursday night. Mikko Koskinen earned both wins, his first two in the NHL.

Moulson and Grabner each added second goals to give them a team-leading 21 as the Islanders broke out with their highest-scoring game of the season. Grabner provided the final punch with a short-handed breakaway goal with 2:09 left as the Penguins allowed nine goals for the first time since a 9-0 loss at Tampa Bay on Nov. 8, 2003.

Kris Letang, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy scored power-play goals for the Penguins, who won at home in overtime against Los Angeles on Thursday and will play at the Rangers on Sunday afternoon. It hardly mattered that the Penguins were again without All-Stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The melee in the second period occurred after Matt Martin jumped Talbot in the neutral zone. The Islanders had made Talbot a target because of his hit on Blake Comeau in the previous game that left the Islanders forward sidelined with a concussion. Martin's actions sparked fights between unlikely brawlers Josh Bailey of the Islanders and the Penguins’ Pascal Dupuis, Hamonic and Penguins forward Mike Rupp, and another matchup of Martin and Deryk Engelland.

Bailey was ejected after his first NHL fight along with Martin, Hamonic, Engelland, Rupp and Dupuis. Martin was also hit with an instigator penalty and a separate 10-minute misconduct.

All-Star Marc-Andre Fleury allowed two goals on nine shots in 16:14 in the second period. Johnson then returned for his rough third period and was slow in getting back to his skates after being down in a snow-angel position for a few moments after being hit by Grabner.

Former Wolf Pack goalie Al Montoya, the Rangers’ first-round pick (sixth overall) in 2004, was the Islanders’ backup goalie after being acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday for a sixth-round pick in June. He was one of only five Islanders extras at the end of the game, which was three more than the Penguins had.




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