Live Blog: Worcester Sharks @ Hartford Wolf Pack
Sunday October 10th 2010, 2:49 pm

I’ll be trying something a little different when it comes to covering the Wolf Pack this season.  This blog has always been a labor of love, and to be honest, last season’s squad was pretty hard to warm up to.  The off-season introduction of Howard Baldwin, the constant force-feeding of the Hartford Whalers, and the impending mid-season spectacle of changing the team’s name on the fly only makes it more difficult to contemplate spending hours of my life after each game writing about it.  But since there are a couple of prospects I’m quite fond of in Hartford this season, I’m feeling compelled to keep watching.  So instead of spending my post-game time writing, I’m going to endeavor to live blog the games I’m able to watch.  We’ll see how it goes.  It may end up being an utter failure, or it could turn out to be something people find useful.  As always, thoughts and comments welcome and appreciated.

Puck drops at 3pm.  I’ll be back with updates then.

Pre-Game: Goaltender Chad Johnson will make his second straight start, and defenseman Jyri Niemi will spend his second straight game in the press box. Jared Nightingale will join him, meaning Lee Baldwin makes his season debut.

Wolf Pack Starters: Byers, Newbury, Weise, Valentenko, N. Williams, Johnson

First Period

2:25 – Jeremy Williams gets called for a lazy hook behind the play, Worcester goes on the games first power play.

2:39 – Alternate captain Kris Newbury breaks in alone shorthanded, but Sharks goaltender Alex Staylock poke-checks him successfully. Newbury tosses the rebound back towards the crease, but there was no one following up the play.

3:27 – Worcester takes the early lead as Benn Ferrieo puts home Nick Schaus‘ rebound. 1-0 Sharks.

4:22 – Newbury just misses the far post on a backhand wrap-around, but mouths off to referee Chris Brown after getting drilled into the boards and goes to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct. Worcester back on the power play.

5:25 – Johnson gets his leg kicked out from under him in the crease, no call.

6:22 – Penalty killed.

8:10 – Lucky break for the Wolf Pack as Garet Hunt shanks his shot on a 2-on-1.

9:01 - Johnson with a good stop on Mashinter, who stole the puck off Matt Zuccarello, skated in on the left side and wristed a shot from the left circle. Pushing and shoving ensues, with Mashinter the only player headed to the box. Wolf Pack get their first power play.

11:01 – Wolf Pack fail to create any scoring chances, power play over.

11:27 – Rocket Richard Trophy-winner Jonathan Cheecho gets his second goal in two games, deflecting Ferrio’s shot from the right point past Johnson. Sharks up 2-0.

13:39 – Brodie Dupont heads to the box for tripping.  Sharks back on the power play.

15:08 – Things go from bad to worse: Newbury gets whistled for high sticking.  Worcester to the 2-man advantage for 32 seconds.

15:34 - And that didn’t take long.  Johnson loses track of a rebound sitting in the crease and T.J. Trevelyan puts it in with 6 seconds remaining in the 2-man advantage. 3-0 Sharks.

19:28: Kelsey Tessier steals the puck in the high slot, but fires his shot high.

End of First – The period comes to a merciful end. Sharks outshoot the Wolf Pack 11-3.  Bad effort all around.  Expect the team will get an earful from coach Gernander between the periods.

Second Period

:28 – J. Williams with a brutal whiff and ensuing giveaway, but Pavel Valentenko comes to the rescue and bowls over the Shark in the neutral zone.

2:10Dane Byers gets a good deflection off a Newbury shot, but Staylock comes up with the save.  Pack off to a better start so far.

3:27 – I spoke to soon.  Wolf Pack have spent the past two minutes largely pinned in their own zone.

6:22 – Valentenko blocks yet another shot, but Baldwin promptly clears the puck over the glass and heads to the box.  Power play Sharks.

6:44 – Johnson comes up with a glove save off a point shot through traffic.

7:49 – Pile-up in front, but Johnson is able to see the puck and makes the stops. Defense doing a little better on coverage this period.

9:00 – Turnabout is fair play.  Schauss puts the puck over the glass, Wolf Pack go to their second power play.

9:23 – Not impressed with J. Williams so far. Now he takes a boarding call to cancel out the Wolf Pack power play.

10:34 – Zuccarello buzzing 4-0n-4, creates a couple chances for Evgeny Grachev in the crease, but the Sharks defense prevents him from getting any shots through to the goal.

11:23 – All penalties over.  Score still 3-0 Sharks.

14:55 – Tomas Kundratek tries to put the puck out through the middle, but Lucia pick it off and Johnson is forced to come up with a big stop.

16:29 – Tessier’s long shot goes up and over Staylock and Grachev gets his first of the season by being Johnny-on-the-spot and tapping it over the goal line. 3-1 Sharks. Assists to Tessier and Byers.

19:46 – J. Williams with a beautiful setup for Grachev at the left hashmarks, but Staylock gets across and picks it off with his glove. Huge save for Staylock.

End of Second Period – Definitely an improved effort.  Gernander switched up the lines midway through the period and it seemed to give the team a bit of a jolt.  If they can continue to build on the strong finish to the period and stay out of the box, there could be hope yet.  Shots in the period 11-9 in the Wolf Pack’s favor.

Third Period

:43 – Byers with a nice set-up to Tessier, who shot wide looking for a Grachev deflection that never happened.

2:41 – Byers wins the puck on the right wing boards and sets up Tessier again, and this time he taps it through Staylock’s five hole from the top of the crease for his first goal as a pro.  3-2 Sharks.  Byers gets the lone assist.

4:32 – Staylock stones Zuccarello from point blank.

5:24 – Ryan McDonagh gets dinged for holding while chasing down Cheechoo on a partial breakaway. Sharks to the power play.

6:47 – Worcester gets their 3rd power play goal of the game.  Marcou shovels the puck past Johnson on a 2-on-1 down low with Cheecoo after Grachev and Garlock get caught in the Sharks zone looking for offense shorthanded. 4-2 Sharks.

8:34 – Johnson fumbles a dump in and nearly gives it up to Trevelyan.

12:09 – The fourth Sharks goal appears to have taken some of the wind out of the Wolf Pack’s sails.  Not much happening on either side at the moment.  Lots of back and forth but no significant scoring chances to be had.

12:30 – For a guy who hasn’t played center in two years, Grachev’s been pretty good on faceoffs.

13:26 – Newbury throws the puck on net from the sharp angle, but Staylock had the post covered.

14:57 – Nick Petrecki heads to the box for cross-checking.  Wolf Pack head to their third power play.

15:52 – Dale Weise gets a couple whacks at a loose rebound, but Staylock keeps his pad against the post.  Sean Sullivan took exception and tried to rough Weise up after the whistle.  Bad decision on Sullivan’s part, as Weise absolutely wrecked him when the gloves came off.

17:38 – Pack have kept the Sharks pinned in their zone, even after the penalty expired.  Byers, Zuccarello and Williams generated a few chances, but nothing Staylock couldn’t stop.

18:25 – Time out Hartford. Johnson to the bench.

19:29 – Pack applying good pressure, but shots coming primarily from the outside.

19:43 – Dupont gets a few tries at a rebound of Grachev’s flip shot, but Staylock finds it and covers up.  Petrecki takes exception, gloves drop, but Dupont gets pushed back over Staylock and goes down. Petrecki gets a few good shots in on the way.

19:55 – Tessier gets his second of the game with a deflection on Wade Redden’s point shot.  Sharks lead 4-3 with 4.4 seconds to go in regulation.  Second goal of the game for Tessier, who also added an assist.

19:59 – With just over a second on the clock Valentenko takes a huge windup from the neutral zone, but misses the puck and goes down in a heap as the buzzer sounds.  A bit of comic relief in a game that offered little to smile about. Game over, Sharks win 4-3.

Post Game

Decent effort in the final 30 minutes, and particularly in the third when the Pack outshot Worcester 19-4, but the no-show first period was too much for the boys to overcome.  Penalties were a problem — Hartford’s penalty kill gave up three goals on seven attempts.  As much as the team changed in the off-season, slow starts and too many penalties are bug-a-boos that appear to have carried over from last year.  On the bright side, rookie Tessier looks like a player, finishing with two goals and an assist, which gives him four points over his first two pro games.  He looked particularly good when put on a line with Byers, who finished the game with a pair of assists himself, and looks to be picking right back up where he left off last season.

So with opening weekend in the books, the Pack are off to a 1-1-0-0 start.  They’ll get the week to work out some kinks before hitting the road for their first three-games-in-three-nights stint which starts in Albany on Friday, continues in Bridgeport on Saturday and wraps up in Providence on Sunday.

Scoring

1. WOR Ferriero, (1) (Schaus, Trevelyan), 3:27 (PP)
1. WOR Cheechoo, (2) (Braun, Ferriero), 11:27
1. WOR Ferriero, (2) (Cheechoo, Sullivan), 15:34 (PP)
2. HFD Grachev, (1) (Tessier, Byers), 16:29
3. HFD Tessier, (1) (Byers), 2:54
3. WOR Marcou, (1) (Cheechoo, Mashinter), 6:47 (PP)
3. HFD Tessier, (2) (Redden, Newbury), 19:55

Lines

Dane Byers – Kris Newbury – Dale Weise
Brodie Dupont – Evgeny Grachev – Matt Zuccarello
Jeremy Williams – Brandon Wong  – Justin Soryal
Chris McKelvie – Ryan Garlock – Kelsey Tessier

Wade Redden – Tomas Kundratek
Pavel Valentenko – Nigel Williams
Ryan McDonagh – Lee Baldwin

Chad Johnson / Cam Talbot

Three Stars

1. Benn Ferriero
2. Jonathan Cheechoo
3. Kelsey Tessier

Filed under: Hartford Wolf Pack


Catching Up with the Pack: 2010-2011 Season Preview
Saturday October 09th 2010, 5:13 pm

When the Hartford Wolf Pack finished outside the playoff picture for the first time in it’s 13-year franchise history, it was clear that changes needed to be made.  With a locker room rumored to be more me-first than team-first the club struggled to a 36-33-6-5 record that only looked that good because of a season-ending 11-4-0-0 push that proved to be too little too late.  And so it should come as no surprise that nearly half the players who closed the season wearing a Wolf Pack jersey find themselves elsewhere as Hartford’s fourteenth season — and final campaign using the Wolf Pack moniker — kicks off.  Without further ado, here’s a look at the changes that were made and what the upcoming season may bring for the New York Rangers top farm club.

The Dearly Departed

The Wolf Pack will start the new season missing its two most prolific forwards and top four defenseman from the 2009-2010 season.  Leading scorer Corey Locke and P.A. Parenteau, who would have easily eclipsed Locke’s 85 points had he not missed 45 games due a concussion and extended call-up with the Rangers, both departed for what they hope will be greener pastures, with Locke Binghamton-bound after signing a two year deal with the Ottawa Senators and Parenteau hoping to reprise Matt Moulson’s break-out 2009-2010 season with the Islanders.  Interestingly, neither veteran was even offered a new contract by the Rangers.

On the blueline, veteran Corey Potter is destined to become the Wizard of Wilke-Barre after signing as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Like Parenteau and Locke, Potter wasn’t offered a deal by the Rangers, despite being one of the team’s leaders on the blueline in each of the last three seasons.

Having been eclipsed on the organizational depth chart by defensive prospects like Matt Gilroy and Ryan McDonagh, former first round draft pick Bobby Sanguinetti was dispatched to the Carolina Hurricanes at the NHL Entry Draft in June.  The two-time AHL All-Star fetched pair of picks and will start the season with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers after being the final cut on the Carolina blueline.

Finnish free agent Ilkka Heikkinen, who matched Sanguinetti for the lead in scoring on defense, made it clear by the Olympic break that he was disapponted with the lack of NHL opportunities he’d been offered and signed with Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL before the AHL post-season had even come to an end.

Forward Andres Ambuhl, like Heikkinen a high profile free agent signed out of Europe the previous summer, found himself a healthy scratch in Hartford by the end of the season, thanks in large part to the AHL’s limit on veteran players.  He returned to his native Switzerland following the season, where he signed with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National A league.

Goaltender Matt Zaba, who stole the starter’s job from Miika Wiikman in 2008-2009, promptly lost the title to Chad Johnson last year, and followed Ambuhl to Europe in the offseason, signing with Italy’s HC Balzano.

Rounding out the notable departures were part-time defenseman David Urquhart, who signed an AHL deal with Montreal’s affiliate in Hamilton, forward Derek Couture, who signed with the Victoria Salmon Kings, ECHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, and Paul Crowder, who’ll join his brother Tim with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL.

The Wolf Pack will also start the season without defensive stalwart Michael Sauer, who earned the opportunity to open the season with New York thanks to a strong pre-season and a little help from his non-exempt waiver status.

New Kids on the Block

Despite losing a number of key veterans in the off-season, Wolf Pack General Manager Jim Schoenfeld brought in just one veteran replacement for 2010-2011.  Twenty six year old forward Jeremy Williams led the Grand Rapids Griffins with 63 points in 77 games 2009-2010, his lone season in the Detroit Red Wings system after five years with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.  He and Norwegian free agent signing Matt Zuccarello will have large skates to fill as they bid to replace the offense lost with the departure of Parenteau and Locke.  The 5-foot, 9-inch Zuccarello, who was this summer’s prized European free agent signing, will need to adjust to the smaller North American ice surface and more physical style of play in the AHL quickly if in order to provide the offense the Wolf Pack is looking for.

Three additional new faces will round out the forward corps to start the season:  Chris McKelvie kicks off his professional career after completing four seasons at Bemidji State University.  In a six game amateur try-out with the Wolf Pack last spring, McKelvie picked up two goals and an assist. Kelsey Tessier, an unsigned fourth round 2008 draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche, will attempt to overcome the size disadvantage brought on by his 5-foot, 9-inch frame and show the talent that once had him projected to be a top 50 draft pick.  Similarly-undersized Brandon Wong will be a sure-fire local favorite after spending four dynamic seasons at nearby Quinnipiac University, where he finished second in team history in goals and fifth in points. All three are with the Wolf Pack on AHL deals.

The Hartford blueline has been almost completely remade, and will be led by NHL veteran Wade Redden, who’s $6.5 million salary made him a cap casualty in New York.  Provided he doesn’t arrive with the same chip on his shoulder that burdened previously exiled cancer Patrick Rissmiller, his experience will be invaluable on an extremely inexperienced defense corps.

While Redden will provide the experience, Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko will be undoubtedly be looked upon to lead the blueline on the ice.  Both came to the organization via the trade that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal, and the pair were the final two cuts from Rangers training camp.  McDonagh is coming off a three year career at the University of Wisconsin which culminated in a trip to the NCAA championship game last spring, where he and teammate Derek Stepan the lost to fellow Rangers prospect Chris Kreider’s Boston College.  The 23-year old Valentenko, perhaps the biggest surprise at the Rangers training camp, is trying to get his career back on track after two injury-marred seasons in Russia which limited him to just 15 games combined.  Prior to returning to his homeland, the bruising blueliner spent a season with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldog’s, where he was named the team’s top rookie and won its hardest shot competition in 2007-2008.

Rangers 2008 third round pick Tomas Kundratek and fellow 2008 third rounder Jyri Niemi, who was acquired by the Rangers from the New York Islanders last spring in the first trade between the two clubs in 37 years, will look to solidify their positions in the Rangers organizational pecking order during their first pro seasons.  Lee Baldwin, who earned a free agent deal with New York after a single season at the University of Alaska Anchorage, could find himself in a battle for ice time on the Wolf Pack bottom pairing, and could possibly see some time in the ECHL.

In goal, Cam Talbot will take over the back-up job after signing a free agent deal with the Rangers in the offseason.  The 23-year old comes to the Wolf Pack following three seasons at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, where he backstopped the Chargers to a 15-44-6 record with a 3.10 goals against average and .907 save percentage in 70 career games.

Back in the Fold

A trio of returnees will start the season on Hartford’s top line. Captain Dane Byers, veteran center Kris Newbury, who joined the squad in the deal that sent fan favorite Jordan Owens to Detroit last spring, and third year pro Dale Weise will be looked upon to set the tone for the team both on and off the ice.  The gritty trio was dynamic down the stretch last season, with each scoring at just under a point-per-game pace over the final two months of the campaign.

On the second line, Brodie Dupont and Evgeny Grachev are expected to be joined by newcomer Zuccarello.  Dupont is entering his fourth season in the AHL and coming off a down year statistically, in which he was moved from left wing to center and skating primarily in a checking role.  He’ll start the season back on the left wing, while Grachev has been moved to the middle in an effort to get the sophomore more engaged in the play.  The 20-year old Russian is coming off a disappointing freshman campaign which saw him score just one goal in the final 38 games of his first AHL season.  For the Wolf Pack to be successful, Grachev will need to rediscover the scoring prowess that made him the Ontario Hockey League’s rookie of the year in 2009.

Other returnees up front include journeyman Ryan Garlock, who stuck with the squad following a late October call-up and finished with 20 points in 59 games, and tough guy Justin Soryal, who enters the season with the goal of rounding out his game and proving he can do more than throw punches.  Devin DiDiomete, who underwent major hip surgery in the offseason, continues to rehab with the team but isn’t expected to join the line-up for at least another month.

On defense, only two familiar faces will start the season with the club.  Despite telling Blueshirt Bulletin’s Bruce Berlet that “there’s no (bleeping) way I’m coming back here” at the end of last season, Nigel Williams is in fact back with the Pack, though its unclear how long that might last or how prominent a role he’ll play.  Jared Nightingale, who played 51 games for the Pack after earning a call-up in late November, can add some toughness on the back end, but is likely to find himself in a battle for ice time.

In goal, Chad Johnson returns as the undisputed starter following an up-and-down rookie season which saw his development stalled by frequent call-ups to ride the bench as the back-up in New York.  With Marty Biron assuming the full-time roll of occasional stand-in for Henrik Lundqvist, Johnson should be able to focus on becoming more consistent, a goal the entire squad will be striving for when the puck drops at the XL Center in Hartford at 7pm Saturday night.

Outlook

With no obvious replacement for the offense provided by Locke, Parenteau, Sanguinetti and Heikkinen, the Wolf Pack will need Grachev and Zuccarello to perform to their potential, and hope for a pleasant surprise from the blueline, which lacks an obvious offensive powerhouse.  Depth and inexperience will be a concern, particularly on the blueline, and significant call-ups or injuries — such as the bevy of blueline bumps and bruises that derailed the team last January — could once again send it into a tailspin.  On the plus side, the lack of star power will force the club to adopt a more balanced, team-first approach, which should make it harder to play against and provide for a healthier locker room.

Bottom line: Despite its inexperience, the team will surprise the pundits and fight their way into the post-season, but exit early to deeper and more dynamic Atlantic Division competition.

Filed under: Hartford Wolf Pack


Heikkinen signs with Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL
Tuesday May 25th 2010, 11:38 pm
Ilkka Heikkinen

Photo: Hartford Wolf Pack

Finnish defenseman Ilkka Heikkinen has signed a one year contract with HC Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL.  The 25-year old blueliner, who joined the Rangers as a free agent last summer and appeared in seven games for the club, chose to continue his career in the KHL after the Rangers refused to offer him a one-way contract.

Heikkinen played 72 games in the AHL for the Hartford Wolf Pack last season, picking up eight goals and 30 assists to tie defense partner Bobby Sanguinetti (who played 11 fewer games) for the Wolf Pack lead in scoring on  defense.  He saw limited playing time in his seven games in the NHL, and failed to register a point.

Heikkinen’s departure from North America comes as no surprise, since he made his displeasure with spending the season in Hartford known in an interview with Newsday’s Steve Zipay during the Olympic break in February.  While he played well for the Wolf Pack, he was largely overrated by Rangers fans desperate for anyone to replace dead weight Wade Redden on defense, and ultimately failed to show enough to earn the guaranteed position in the NHL that he was looking for.

After signing with Sibir, Heikkinen spoke with Maria Levinskaya for an interview on the team’s web site which is translated below.  While it reveals nothing earth shattering, it provides a better introduction to Heikkinen than we ever got during his one season in North America, and contains a few interesting anecdotes about his time on the Wolf Pack.


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