Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Runaway Lokomotiv

Evgeny Artyukhin (#76), Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

When Evgeny Artyukhin spurned the Tampa Bay Lightning to sign with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Russian Super League last August, Tampa GM Jay Feaster had some harsh words for Artyukhin ("A joke... as far as we're concerned, this decision spits right in our face.").

However, Damian Cristodero revisited Artyukhin's story in yesterday's St. Petersburg Times, and writes that Feaster is willing to giving his former player another chance:

General manager Jay Feaster said he likely will begin negotiations this summer to bring Artyukhin, playing in Russia, back to the Lightning. It is noteworthy not only because Tampa Bay could use the rugged 6-foot-4, 255-pound freight train, but because he and the team split in August with such rancor.

"We'd like to have him back," Feaster said. "We think we'd be in better shape if we had that physical element. He certainly is more than welcome. It's just a matter of getting a deal done."

Artyukhin's upside doesn't hurt. A terrific skater, his big body and enormous strength are perfect for clogging the slot and distracting goaltenders.

"I played with him three years and every year he got better and better," Lightning forward Ryan Craig said. "He's well coordinated and he skates so well, when he hits you, you're not going to stay in the same place."

Artyukhin, 23, has had a tough go in Russia. He began on the fourth line and had just four goals and 12 points in his first 39 games.

His punishing style caused more grief. There are stories of Artyukhin shattering glass with his checks, and he was suspended from the Karjala Cup for what was deemed rough play.

His 159 penalty minutes led the league.

"The new rules in the NHL and Super League are like black and white," Artyukhin said in an article posted on "Physical play is welcomed there while here, any collision is a penalty. ... They penalize me for everything and the lack of body checks takes away from hockey."

Here's more from Evgeny Artyukin, taken from the Nov. 7th Russian Prospects article (translated from its original source, Soviet Sport) referenced above:

"I grew up in Russia so when Lokomotiv invited me, I gladly returned home after four years in America.

...I don’t understand such bias from the referees towards me. Yeah, I’m big and tall, but where is the crime in that?! I’m used to finishing checks and it’s not my fault that the opponent is smaller than me. The opposition is often simply not ready for a physical collision but you have to always be focused and not relax when you're on the ice.

(Tampa coach) John Tortorella welcomed physical play, and showed confidence in me by putting me on the first or second line sometimes. My game improved under him.

I am definitely planning to continue my NHL career. I returned to Russia because in the NHL, they demand rather than teach. I will play here for a year and hope that Nikolai Borshevsky (Lokomotiv coach) will teach me some things that I haven’t learned yet. Borshevsky didn’t explain anything about being on the fourth line, but I’m not upset at him.

Here are videos of two of Artyukhin's four goals so far this season-- the first one, on a breakaway, was Lokomotiv's lone goal in a 1-1 tie against Severstal Cherepovets on 12/21/06.

The next video is of the coast-to-coast goal that Artyukhin mentions in the Russian Prospects interview-- Lokomotiv's third goal in a 3-2 win against Severstal on Oct 12th '06:

Ryan Callahan's GWG, 2007 AHL All-Star Game

Includes the entire final minute of play, plus a post-game interview with Callahan.

An Almighty Pack Attack Production, of course.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Who Was It That Scored The Winning Goal With Three Seconds Left at the AHL All-Star Game?

Ryan Callahan!

Who was it that built the Great Pyramids?

Ryan Callahan!

Who was it that invented the light bulb?

Ryan Callahan!

Thank you.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Repeat the Ending

Click to enlarge
Ryan Callahan goes flying after OT winner (a Chris Rutsch production)

A hat trick by AHL All-Star Ryan Callahan, including the game-winner in overtime that had Callahan flying in mid-air towards the end boards as the puck was going into the net, helped the Hartford Wolf Pack sink the Houston Aeros yesterday, 4-3, and end the month of January with only two losses (12-1-1).

The Wolf Pack almost frittered away a 3-1 lead in this one, as the Aeros came back with two goals late in the third period (a period during which the Aeros outshot the Wolf Pack, 24-6) to tie the game at the end of regulation. The Wolf Pack didn't play up to their best game in either of their wins this weekend, against two halfway-decent opponents, although the fact that they were able to put both games in their pocket and head into the All-Star break on a 5-game win streak must count for something.

As has been his habit this season, Callahan got the Wolf Pack on the board first, midway through the first period. Callahan's second goal of the game came with 2 minutes left in the second period, giving Hartford a 3-1 lead at the time, and may even have been a better play than the overtime goal that followed it. The Wolf Pack were shorthanded at the time, after a too-many-men-on-the-ice minor, when Brad Isbister pick-pocketed the puck away from a Houston player near center ice and sent a pass ahead to Callahan, who wound up to fake a slap shot and then smoked a wrister past Aeros goalie Miroslav Kopriva.

Dane Byers: close but no cigar (Heather Rutsch photo)

Darius Kasparaitis and Houston's Matt Foy were going at each other the entire night, with Kasparaitis sneaking in an elbow or the butt end of a stick from time to time, to Foy's obvious annoyance. The one time Foy retaliated, he got called for an interference minor, and the two resorted to yapping at each other for the rest of the contest. When Foy scored the game-tying goal with 36 seconds left in regulation, he turned to taunt the Wolf Pack fans seated behind the net, raising his arms and howling as he belly-flopped against the glass. It might have been an expression of his frustration from dealing with Kasparaitis the whole game, but it seemed like a pretty bush-league act to pull on the road, in any case.

Dwight Helminen pulled off the best check of the night, blind-siding Joey Tetarenko at nearly full speed with the puck in the Wolf Pack end during the first period, sending Tetarenko sprawling on his back. Ryan Callahan continues to play a much more physical game, showing some extra chippiness in the corners and also a willingness to raise his hands in order to defend himself from the extra defensive attention he's been getting, as Callahan did the game before against the Sound Tigers when he checked three different Bridgeport players within the same sequence.

Martin Richter was scratched for both games over the weekend, allowing both Dale Purinton and Jake Taylor to get some ice time, which wasn't always a good thing. Purinton played at both forward and defense against Houston, muffing a prime scoring opportunity at one point when the goalie was down and Purinton, standing untouched only a few feet away in the slot, couldn't keep the puck on his stick long enough to lift it up into the net.

One odd side note saw the Aeros dressing Jared Waimon, an instructor at a local Connecticut goalie school, as an emergency back-up goalie, with Dieter Kochan out with an injury. The Aeros' goalie situation apparently hasn't been the best as of late, since they are 0-9 in games without regular goalie Josh Harding (currently called up to the Wild) in net.

"The Goal" (Chris Rutsch photo)

Ryan Callahan's story this year just keeps getting better and better, as he now has 29 goals on the season (14 on the power play), a good many of them coming in clutch situations. Of course, first there was The Deke, his last-minute breakaway goal that pulled out a win against the Phantoms in December. Then last week came the mini-Deke, Callahan's game-tying goal against Springfield where he scored just before knocking the net loose with a head-first dive. Now there's The Goal, yesterday's overtime winner, on a similar play as the goal against Springfield (both times taking a pass from Jarkko Immonen), only not knocking the net over this time.

Who da man!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pack Slap Tigers

Dane Byers dropping the gloves with Jason Pitton (Rich Stieglitz photo)

There were plenty of Bridgeport fans in the building yesterday, about as many as I've ever seen at Wolf Pack - Sound Tigers game in Hartford, and they went home frustrated, ugly, and miserable as always, as the Wolf Pack knocked off the Sound Tigers, 4-2.

The win was Hartford's fourth in a row, as well as their fifth in a row over the Sound Tigers this season, ending Bridgeport's own 3-game win streak. The Wolf Pack have now won 9 of their last 10 games.

Brad Isbister scored the Pack's first and fourth goals of the game-- the first on a quick shot from a tough angle that looked like it went behind Wade Dubielewicz's skates, the second on a deflection of a shot by Bryce Lampman late in the second period.

Brad Isbister on the doorstep (Chris Rutsch photo)

The second period saw most of the game's action, including goals by Dwight Helminen and Dane Byers within less than a minute (at 8:25 and 9:11), giving Hartford a 3-1 lead. A short while later, Jeff Tambellini of Bridgeport fired a shot that at first looked like it was in but was ruled no goal, with the replay showed that it ricocheted off both posts and then out. The Sound Tigers scored for real a few seconds later anyway, cutting the Pack lead to 3-2.

A few minutes after the goal by Bridgeport, Dane Byers fought Jason Pitton, with Byers getting in two big shots right off the bat. Pitton followed with a flurry of his own and then flipped Byers down to the ice, causing Byers to take a header face-first. Byers lay motionless on the ice for a few moments, but ended up finishing the game and seemed okay.

Immonen has Dubielewicz wondering, 'How can I leave
this behind?' (Chris Rutsch photo)

After Isbister's second goal of the night late in the second period gave Hartfod a 4-2 lead, neither team scored in the third period, though there were a couple of anxious moments for the Wolf Pack. The first one came when Montoya skated out to play the puck near the right-side boards, only to lose his footing and take a tumble flat on his back (which looked pretty funny, despite the game situation). The puck then sailed past Montoya and angled off the end boards to the front of the net, trickling to within a few inches of the unattended goal mouth. Luckily, Marvin Degon arrived to move the puck out of harm's away before anything further happened.

Then, during a last-minute flurry by the Sound Tigers, Bryce Lampman had to make the save on a shot that made its way past Montoya through heavy traffic and sat in the crease, inches away from going in..

Darius Kasparaitis made his return to the Wolf Pack, after being waived by the Rangers a couple of days earlier, and recorded an assist on the Pack's first goal. Defenseman Jake Taylor, back from an injury, also made his return to the Pack roster, with AHL All-Star Dan Girardi having been called up to New York.

Fedor Fedorov to play in Sweden

I have yet to find a confirmation of this on any of the Russian sites (even doesn't have it listed yet), but an item has been posted on at least two Swedish sites (link here and link here), reporting that everyone's favorite former Hartford Wolf Pack/New York Rangers forward, Fedor Fedorov, has been sold to a Swedish team, the Malmö Redhawks.

Fedorov has been playing with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Russian Super League this season. In 20 games for Lokomotiv this year, Fedorov has 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists), including a hat trick back in November, but he hasn't recorded a point in a game since December 6th.

To prove how cutting-edge internationally I am (that's a joke, son), one Swedish site is using some comments that were made on Sidearm Delivery as sort of an informal scouting report on Fedorov (the "Paris Hilton" crack is Alanah's, of Canucks and Beyond; the rest is mine):


At the very least, this gives wisp666 another jersey to buy.

UPDATE 2/2/07 - Fedor Fedorov with the Malmö Redhawks:

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lake Erie Monsters Off To Fishy Start

The new Cleveland AHL team has a name, and no, it's not the Fighting Walleye, but the Lake Erie Monsters.

The new team's web site was just recently launched, along with the announcement of the final choice of the team's name earlier today.

As for the etymological origins of the name "Lake Erie Monsters", not to worry; unlike "Fighting Walleye", which left most people confused, the team's web site has a section that explains the legend of the Lake Erie Monster, and includes a number of helpful descriptions and reports of sightings, in case you ever get the urge to actually hunt the sucker down yourself:

There have been many explanations to the sightings; most notable is the prehistoric sturgeon, which can easily grow up to 300 pounds and have been known to reach 20 feet, 200 pounds and 100 years old. But, to date, no one has captured, or solved, the mystery of the Lake Erie Monster.

Described as a passive creature, the legend of the Lake Erie Monster was heightened when the creature is blamed for an attack in 1992 that killed three people in Port Dover, Ontario. The survivors of the attack say the creature's head was as large as a car. This prompted a group of local businessman to offer a $150,000 reward for the beast's live capture.

Ooohh, scary stuff, eh, kids?

Of course, despite having some cool stuff going for them marketing-wise (nice-looking logo, interesting name, blah blah blah), the Lake Erie Monsters face an uphill climb when it comes to drumming up support for the team, if Cleveland's recent string of minor league hockey failures is any indication.

The Monsters will be attempting to fill an arena with an NBA seating capacity of 20,562, while playing in a league (the AHL) where the average game attendance is only a little more than 5,000. Even worse, as some naysayers have been pointing out (while spamming blogs and message boards everywhere, it seems), the Monsters' ticket prices appear to be well above the AHL standard.

Now, to be fair, if you overlook the ridiculously pricey $40-$61 seats (of which there are only a few anyway), the Monsters' ticket prices of $26 and $20 for the sides and the ends are pretty much in line with what the Wolf Pack charge, for instance ($19 to $27 for similar locations).

Of course, the Wolf Pack have suffered with sluggish attendance for a while now, so maybe they're not the best example; not only that, but comparable tickets for the previous Cleveland AHL team (the Barons) were only $9 and $16.

Not only that, but as the Monsters will eventually find out, it's counter-productive to entice people with dirt-cheap ticket prices for the upper nosebleed sections when the arena will be 75% empty most of the time and fans will be able to sit wherever they want once they're through the doors, anyway.

Also on the ridiculous side is the message board on the Monsters web site, which for now looks suspiciously populated by street-teamer types, and what I can only guess are team employees posing as average fans:

Who likes the new team name and logo? I really like it. When are they gonna have some Merch available for sale? Will the AHL be switching to the new Reebok EDGE jerseys? I really hope the team succeeds and is supported well. I used to go to 'Jacks games all the time and they were a blast. I just wish I still lived near Cleveland so I could catch a game or two!

I like the new name and logo!! As for the ticket prices.. yes some went up.. but I think the overall experience is going to be much more fun.

I watched some of the press conference and I must say... I NEVER saw that kind of enthusiasm when the Barons were here!


At least if the team ends up floundering at the bottom of the league or eventually sinks for good, there'll be plenty of opportunities for some related fish/lake-type puns, if you're into that sort of thing. (Not that I would ever stoop that low, of course.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Apocalyptic Dipstick

Jim Schoenfeld (Chris Rutsch photo)

The New York Rangers-- losers of four of their last five games before the All-Star break-- aren't doing so well as of late, and blithering old Larry Brooks of the New York Post thinks he knows who is at fault: Jim Schoenfeld and the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Brooks puts the panic on in his Jan. 22nd column:

For as long as I am covering the Rangers, I do not want to hear Jim Schoenfeld's name again.

I do not want Tom Renney or Don Maloney or Glen Sather to ever again explain that one player rather than another has been recalled from Hartford because of anything, "Schony said."

I do not want to hear about a prospect remaining in Hartford rather than getting a call to Broadway because, "Schony doesn't think he's ready."

I want the people running the Rangers to decide what's best for the Rangers; not the person who runs Hartford. (Is it better for the Rangers organization or is it better for the 2006-07 Wolf Pack to have Hugh Jessiman playing in the ECHL right now?).

I want Renney this week to make personnel evaluations based on the best interests of the Rangers. And in conjunction with Renney's visits to Wolf Pack practices, I want Sather to use waivers to cut the safety net of veterans the head coach has used as a security blanket right out from under him.

I want to see two or three fresh faces - Brandon Dubinsky, and maybe Ryan Callahan, maybe Lauri Korpikoski, maybe Dane Byers, maybe Nigel Dawes - when the Rangers reconvene Thursday.

Help is going to have to come from Hartford, but it is a move that needs to be made for every conceivable right reason. And it's one that needs to be made regardless of what "Schony says."

Never mind that Callahan has already been called up twice, and basically saw no minutes each time, or that Dawes and Immonen were already in New York for even longer stretches and either sat around a lot or were underutilized. Contrary to what Brooks is suggesting-- that Schoenfeld is keeping players in Hartford for his own reasons, at the expense of the Rangers organization-- players have left Hartford to join the Rangers this season. It shouldn't be held against Schoenfeld that call-ups get treated like unwanted step-children once they're on the New York roster.

Dubi of Blueshirt Bulletin, normally the most coherent of the Rangers web writers out there, agrees:

Larry Brooks of the New York Post writes today about the imperative of bringing up at least Brandon Dubinsky and possibly others, and the imperative of making decisions that benefit the Rangers, not the Wolf Pack. Can't agree with him more.

I'm not sure if Dubi is agreeing with Brooks' assertion that the Rangers, who are paying Schoenfeld to be the head coach and general manager of the Wolf Pack, should nevertheless disregard Schoenfeld's input when they evaluate the players in Hartford-- thus making Schoenfeld the equivalent of a potted plant. Or a newspaper reporter.

The Journal News' Sam Weinman-- by contrast an actual, useful newspaper reporter-- puts the Rangers player evaluation process in a much different light, by way of a discussion with Rangers head coach Tom Renney that Weinman had posted a couple of weeks earlier:

The question had to do with personnel changes, specifically bringing players up from Hartford, and why the Rangers have been reluctant to make many.

"I assume responsibility for what is in front of me as a team. I take the responsibility seriously. This is what I have. I’ve agreed to participate in this process, and this is my job," Renney said.

One other part: I asked Renney how the dynamic works with Jim Schoenfeld, whether the Hartford GM and coach is in his ear about bringing players up. Renney said that Schoenfeld never makes a case for a player unless Renney and others in New York ask first.

Jarkko Immonen (Chris Rutsch photo)

Weinman floated another possibility yesterday-- that Renney's visit to Hartford during the All-Star break might not just be to see which players are ready to make their way up, but also which players should make their way out:

The plan was for Tom Renney to be in Hartford yesterday to assess the Rangers’ young talent, and I doubt there are many among you who would have a problem if he came back to New York with a player or two (or eight).

I’m not sure, but if it does result in a call-up (and not just for a couple of games) you wonder if the team could have come to this conclusion a bit earlier in the season.

Again, I doubt the Peter Forsberg trade is likely, but the team surely has its eyes open for someone else who might mesh better with Brendan Shanahan on the second line. And that’s the other part to consider with Renney’s trip to the farm: if the coach might have a clearer picture of who he wants on his roster, he might just as easily realize who’s expendable as well.

To borrow from Michael Gerald, therein lies the rub: whenever the Rangers do have a player in Hartford who shows NHL-level talent, that player usually ends up jump-starting his career elsewhere.

The list of Wolf Pack players who have stuck with the Rangers this season may be short, but the list of players who have passed through Hartford on their way to becoming useful players somewhere else is a lot longer: Dan Cloutier, Mac Savard, Mike York, Vitaly Yeremeyev, Derek Armstrong, Dominic Moore, Lawrence Nycholat, and Jeff Hamilton, just to name a few.

UPDATE 1/24/07 - This is part of what Bruce Berlet (another actual, useful reporter) wrote in this morning's Hartford Courant:

The Wolf Pack went through a 65-minute audition for five members of the Rangers hierarchy Tuesday, and indications are a few will be heading to Broadway after the NHL All-Star break.

Renney wouldn't reveal leading candidates but left little doubt there would be new faces when the Rangers practice Thursday. They resume play Saturday.

Ryan Callahan, Nigel Dawes, center Brandon Dubinsky and defensemen Daniel Girardi and Ivan Baranka are the most likely to join the Rangers. The Rangers would have to put a player or players on waivers because they're at the 23-man limit.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

All Out Of Bubblegum

Ryan Callahan scoring against the Falcons (Chris Rutsch photo)

The Hartford Wolf Pack continue to grind their way through the rest of the Atlantic Division, capping off their second straight undefeated weekend with a 2-1 home victory over the Springfield Falcons earlier today. The Wolf Pack have now won 8 out of their last 9 games, and have also won 8 straight on the road, including Friday's 5-4 win in Portland and last night's 3-2 victory in Lowell.

The Wolf Pack continued their inconsistent one-period-on, one-period-off pattern of play against Springfield while still dominating the game overall, outshooting the Falcons 55-22. Without the stellar play of Falcons goalie Karri Ramo, whose 53 saves were a Falcons record, the score could've been much more lopsided. The Wolf Pack didn't need Ramo's help while botching at least two sure-fire scoring opportunities on their own, including a back-door play in first period when Nigel Dawes held the puck near the post, looking at an open net, but couldn't send the puck home.

Nigel Dawes: 1 assist, 9 shots on goal (Chris Rutsch photo)

Springfield actually scored first in this game, when Doug O'Brien was given all day to set up in the slot just beyond the hash marks before sending a blast through Valiquette's pads for a power-play goal halfway through the first period.

Hartford responded shortly afterwards, though, when Ryan Callahan and Jarkko Immonen combined on a 2-on-1 breakaway. Callahan took Immonen's pass and deked to Ramo's right before changing direction and shoving the puck into the net with the front edge of his stickblade, with Callahan ending up sprawled on the ice head-first against the goalpost.

Ivan Baranka's slap shot from the right face-off circle gave the Wolf Pack a 2-1 lead seven minutes into the third period, but Springfield almost tied it in the final minutes of the game, when Steve Valiquette somehow got out of position on a wrap-around try, ending up down on the ice beside the near post while the puck was heading for the other side of the net. Valiquette did recover to make the save, and the Wolf Pack hung on for the 2-1 victory and a 3-0 record on the weekend.

Hartford has put together a 20-6-2 record since starting the season at 5-11-1, and has now moved three points ahead of 3rd-place Providence and six points ahead of 4th-place Worcester in the Atlantic Division standings.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Deep Fritz's Got Next

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers web site has an "air hockey" game that's relatively simple to play, by using your mouse; I kinda suck at it so far, but maybe some of you will have better luck.

Click here to play air hockey

I also tried my hand at Assassination Simulator and Deadly Dwarves, from the same site that the air hockey game originates from, but they're not as interesting as their names would lead you to believe.

Obviously, I should've just stuck with Punk-O-Matic.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Shiftless When Idle

Craig Weller: caught in a mosh (Chris Rutsch photo)

Not much from last night's Wolf Pack game-- a 3-2 loss at home to the Providence Bruins-- bears mentioning, since the team played like crap most of the night. Steve Valiquette, who hasn't been very sharp lately, gave up three iffy goals, while the rest of the team pretty much tanked it in the first and third periods.

Hartford's misadventures included a 5-minute power play in the third period during which the Pack didn't record a single shot on goal, and a penalty shot attempt by Greg Moore in the first period that missed the net.

Valiquette, to his credit, at least owned up to his share of the loss in the paper the next day, calling Providence's third goal "a bad goal that I'm not happy with and it lost us the game," adding, "Bad coverage, but no save on the first two goals... As a goalie, your No. 1 responsibility when your team is behind is to make a couple of big saves. It's a tough loss for me."

On the positive side, I can say that Ivan Baranka's play has shown some major bright spots over the last ten games or so (though he's missed several golden chances lately to put the puck in the net, but whatever, he's a defenseman), and Lauri Kor-puck-hogski's defensive/forechecking skills are way better than I would've guessed had you asked me several months ago.

Go, team. Behind me: all the blabbermouths from
HockeyBird that normally go to Wolf Pack games
(Pack Attack photo)

Other notes of interest include Nigel Dawes' new Nacho Libre-like moustache, and Dale Purinton returning to the line-up last night for the first time after missing about a month-and-a-half to a foot injury. Last night was Jarkko Immonen's first home game since being returned to the Pack by the Rangers nine days earlier.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ads At It Again

Click for MilAds Beach Party info

The Milwaukee Admirals, originators of some of the goofiest-looking specialty jerseys known to man (not to mention their logo), may have another winner on their hands with their Beach Party promotion this weekend (Jan 19th and 20th), complete with special Hawaiian jerseys and a "largest beer-belly contest" (Thanks to Instigator Alley for the tip):

Hang Ten at the Bradley Center this weekend as the Admirals warm things up with great action on the ice and a Beach Party off of it. And on Saturday night the team will host a contest to determine the largest beer-belly in Milwaukee with the winner getting a trip for two to Cancun.

To kick off the festivities the first 5,000 fans to each of the games will receive a lei, while the Admirals players will sport special Hawaiian Jerseys that feature the team’s logo on a surf board. The jerseys will then be auctioned off to raise money for the Power Play Foundation.

Saturday is also when the Admirals will crown the king of Milwaukee Beer Bellies. All those who think they have the biggest belt buster should report to the East Atrium at the start of the first intermission. A panel of expert judges will whittle the group down to five finalists who will compete in a Funjet Shoot-out during the second intermission to win the trip for two to Cancun.

Smart move by the MilAds-- all the beer bellies in the audience should (by comparison) make those awful Hawaiian jerseys on the ice actually look more attractive.

I almost can't wait to see the game photos from this one.

UPDATE 1/21/07 - Here it is:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Off the A-List

Yale Bulldogs goalie Alec Richards (Photo: Sam Rubin)

The Hartford Wolf Pack were on the road this past week, winning all three games on the schedule to extend their current streak to 7-0-1, during which they have risen from last place to sole possesion of second place in the Atlantic Division standings.

Without a Pack home game to go to, we thus made our once-yearly trip to Ingalls Rink in New Haven, to watch Quinnipiac knock off Yale, 6-2, in an ECAC match-up.

The inside of Ingalls Rink

As I've mentioned before, Ingalls Rink is an inconvenient architectural hodge-podge, but it's a mess that endears itself fairly quickly, much like a lot of the other buildings in and around New Haven (Yale Field, the Coliseum, the Yale Bowl, etc.). The arena roof is supported by a giant arch that extends end-to-end inside the building, which gives the feeling of being inside a ship that has somehow flipped upside-down (the concourse around the rink follows this same pattern, also). If you go to Ingalls expecting off-street parking and urinals in the men's room, well, you'll leave disappointed, but since the rink is pretty much near the center of New Haven, there are plenty of restaurants and other neat places to check out before and after the game.

As is usual for Yale hockey games, the rink (which seats 3486) was sold out, with a standing-room only crowd circling the concourse. Yale scored first but then gave up 5 unanswered goals right after that, as their goalie (Alec Richards, who came into the game with some decent stats-- .902 sv pct, 2.86 GAA) couldn't seem to stop anything. Because of the lopsidedness of the score, the game got pretty chippy at the end, which anyone who's familiar with college hockey can appreciate.

QU's Chris Myers getting tripped up in front of the Yale net (Sam Rubin photo)

Quinnipiac has three players who showed some impressive offensive skills in this game-- sophomores Mike Atkinson and David Marshall, and freshman Brandon Wong. Marshall especially showed some quick stick-handling moves, while Wong earned ECAC Rookie of the Week honors with two goals and an assist against Yale, to go with the two goals and an assist he had scored against Brown the night before. Wong also leads the country so far this season in goals scored by a freshman (16).

Brandon Wong (QU photo)

With their two victories over the weekend, Quinnipiac held onto first place in the ECAC standings, and moved up to #16 in the national Division I rankings.

One thing that I probably read once but then forgot about, is that former Rangers goalie Mike Richter is now a student at Yale, and is in his second season as the Yale goalies coach.

Another thing I noticed about Ingalls Rink is that the netting above the glass is white, instead of the black netting that's standard at pro hockey rinks. White netting is a heck of a lot less intrusive to watch a game through, since it practically disappears against the background; but from what I understand, white netting interferes with TV cameras more than black netting does, so that's why the black netting is more common.

It seems kinda crummy that the NHL and AHL are putting their miniscule TV audience ahead of the fans who are actually buying tickets, but there it is.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Darius Kasparaitis: "Wanna say something? Here I am. Shoot."

Darius Kasparaitis (New York Magazine photo)

The season for the Hartford Wolf Pack began to turn around when, after a rough 1-6 start, Darius Kasparaitis joined the team for a 7-game conditioning stint in early November. Kasparaitis' leadership by example paid immediate dividends starting with his first game with the Pack, in which Kasparaitis laid out Portland's Tim Brent with a clean, devastating hip check that sidelined Brent for weeks. After recording one win for the entire month of October, the Pack won 3 games in the 10 days that Kasparaitis was with the team, beginning their climb back to respectability. Hartford now stands at 20-16-3-0 and is in second place in the division.

Earlier this week, though, there was a profile on Kasparaitis that ran on that included this quote, talking about his stint in Hartford:

"I think I was the funniest guy in the locker room. I had so much fun. I was kind of shocked the guys were so down and so ticked off at everything. I just told some young guys, 'You gotta work hard. You can’t let yourself sit there and be feel sorry for yourself. You gotta get mad and try to work every single game.' Don’t look at the guy next to you. Maybe he doesn’t want to play in the big leagues. But if you want to be there you have to give everything. You can’t give up just because you’re in the minors."

A number of worn-out message board pundits used this quote in order to pass judgement on the state of the Wolf Pack locker room and the mindset of the Pack players, but more likely it was just Darius being Darius, with his usual brutal Lithuanian candor.

Kasparaitis with the Wolf Pack (Heather Rutsch photo)

Kasparaitis gave more of his up-front observations in an interview that appeared on the Sport Express web site earlier today (dated 1/13/07).

Talking about his reduced role with the Rangers at the beginning of the season, Kasparaitis said:

"I don't think the surgeries were the problem; it was more about the decision of the coaches. Even before the season started, they had somehow already planned to move me to the side. True, at the beginning of the season I wasn't at my best form, but now I'm playing well again. I've gone from a -6 to a -1, and I've even scored two goals.

"However, the time I spent in the minors reminded me that everything can change at any moment. I won't deny that being demoted was embarassing. The whole affair left me with a bad taste, since I felt it was an insult. What I had to do, though, was realize that no one was going to feel sorry for me because of my past accomplishments, and to make myself work harder."

Kasparaitis also talked about the radio commentary and newspaper writing that he has done on the side, including some stuff that he had written about Mark Messier during the end of Messier's time with the Rangers:

"I was ruthless regarding Messier during his last two seasons here, although to this day I consider my criticism warranted. I believed that he was unjustifiably being given large amounts of playing time, to the detriment of the team. In one column that I wrote in the middle of his last season, I said that of all of the Rangers' problems, the biggest one was the presence of Messier. I listed all of the games in which he had more ice time than any of the other forwards, and compared their productivity. After that, you can easily understand, the relationship between us was stressed, to put it mildly."

About his tendency to speak his mind and the reactions he gets for this, Kasparaitis says: deal with it. "If anyone wants to say something to me, go right ahead-- here I am. Shoot."

When Kasparaitis was asked to name the three worst player acquisitions by the Rangers in the time that he's been with the team, Kasparaitis said that the worst was "Theo Fleury, without a doubt." Kasparaitis went on to say that, besides Fleury's well known off-ice problems, Fleury was at the top of a long list of veterans on the Rangers who weren't helping the team.

Kasparaitis says, "The club didn't raise a finger in one way or another to solve this situation. There was a long list of veterans on that team who weren't applying themselves, to which no measures were taken. Team discipline was completely absent. It took the team's management two years to recognize the situation, by trading some of these stars for younger players and starting to rebuild."

As for the rest of the acquisitions on the list, Kasparaitis said:

"Who else? Scott Fraser. A terrible nightmare of a player-- not only lazy, but stupid. Here the Rangers go and sign him after he had one good month in Edmonton. I don't mind saying it again-- a disgusting hockey player! Who else? Igor Ulanov. Horrible acquisition. Dave Karpa-- total fiasco."

(That's "Дэйв Карпа - тотальное фиаско", for those Rangers/Wolf Pack fans who want to laugh at it in the original Russian, also).

Kasparaitis went on to add, "Then there were other case where good players joined the Rangers, and nothing came of it. Take Bobby Holik, who at the time was the best defensive forward in the NHL. Who knows why they brought him over, because the head coach never tried to use him properly, thus wasting his talents."

Lastly, about Jaromir Jagr's leadership style:

"Jagr is an exceptional captain. He is not one of those captains who will make grand lockerroom speeches. Jaromir will never stand up in the room and jab his finger into someone... that is not the kind of person he is. His value as a captain is the way he plays, the fact that he will take punishment in every game.

"The role of the person who (gets in the faces of other players) falls to Brendan Shannahan, and I don't see a problem with the leadership roles being distributed in that way."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Let Merv Griffin Work Out The Details

UConn senior captain Matt Scherer

Matt Scherer, the leading points-getter on the UConn hockey team this season, appeared on ABC's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" yesterday and won $25,000 after answering the first ten questions correctly.

Scherer, who also stands as UConn's all-time leader in goals scored (52 in 123 games), needed to use one of his lifelines in order to correctly answer a Will Ferrell question (wouldn't we all?).

Anal Bum Cover! Yes!

For a nearly complete question-by-question run-down of how Scherer did, click here.

My apologies to anyone reading this who had forgotten about "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" and didn't realize that it was still on the air.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bow To Your Sensei

Ryan Callahan (Chris Rutsch photo)

Earlier today, posted an article on the Hartford Wolf Pack's Ryan Callahan, written by Lindsay Kramer:

Few players' journeys to the pro game have straddled the electric border between stunned fan and excited prospect as much as Callahan's.

The chills extend far beyond his 32 points (22-10) that tie him for third among AHL rookies. Callahan, 21, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., about an hour east of Buffalo. His team was the Sabres, naturally, followed by the Rangers.

So when he was called up to the Rangers earlier this season, he made his pro debut with one favorite childhood team (New York) and player (Brendan Shanahan). He did so, of course, against the Sabres. In Buffalo. With about 20 friends and family members cheering him on. After leading pre-game stretching, at the insistence of Shanahan.

"It was unbelievable. To have it in an arena that I saw a couple of games in growing up was special," Callahan said. "You couldn't have written a better story for me. It keeps you level. You know where you came from. You were a fan once, too."

Now, more and more people are fans of him. Callahan, a fourth-round choice by the Rangers in 2004, potted 52 goals in Guelph last season, so he obviously knew the path to the back of the net.

The wildcard that opened Hartford assistant coach Ken Gernander's eyes was the soul of an all-around veteran's game in a youngster's body.

"I think he brings a bit of everything. Most importantly, he's a competitive and gritty kid," Gernander said. "He does it all different ways. I don't think you can be one-dimensional and be that successful. You can't pick one part of his game and shut him down. He's going to just keep coming at you."

"I think getting called up is a big confidence booster for him. He understands the process," said Hartford defenseman Daniel Girardi, a teammate of Callahan's in Guelph. "When he gets back down here, he works extra hard. That's how it goes when you're a younger player."

Noting that Dan Girardi always seems to pop up as a source whenever someone's writing about Callahan, Pack Attack contributes the following bit of creativity:

In addition, I offer The Many Sporting Sides of Ryan Callahan:

Bowling Ryan / Golfing Ryan

As Ken Gernander said, truly a multi-dimensional man for all situations.

UPDATE 1/9/07 - Callahan and Girardi were the Wolf Pack players selected to the 2007 AHL All-Star Team, the lineups for which were announced earlier today.

(All photos by Chris Rutsch/HWP)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Shark Fear, Shark Awareness

"Who's wearing the Whalers jersey?" (Chris Rutsch photo)

Leading scorer Ryan Callahan was scratched for the first time all season (word is some sort of strain, or other), but the Hartford Wolf Pack still had enough offense left in the tank to defeat the Worcester Sharks in a 4:00pm game earlier today, 2-1, and run their record on the week to 3-0-1.

The Wolf Pack scored two goals within one minute in the second period, the first on a shot by Greg Moore that seemed to catch Worcester goalie Thomas Greiss napping. Hartford's second goal came on a great effort by Brad Isbister, who won the puck behind the net and then circled around to try a wrap-around against Greiss. Instead, Greiss flicked the puck aside with his stick, only to send it right onto the stickblade of Mark Lee, who jammed the puck home.

Steve Valiquette (Chris Rutsch photo)

Steve Valiquette was much sharper in net than he had been the previous night in Springfield, and he might've completed the shutout if it weren't for his own apparent lapse in concentration midway through the third period. Worcester's Steve Bernier threw a shot on net from the top of the righthand face-off circle that seemed to surprise Valiquette, as the puck bounced off Valiquette and into the net.

The Wolf Pack have now moved into third place in the division, percentage points ahead of Springfield (with a game still in hand over the Falcons) and three points ahead of Worcester.

As for the schlub (actually, a site administrator) on HockeyTurd who posted this nonsense:
You "Wolf Pack guys" crack me up. So far, most of the calls you folks have made have been pretty much off the mark regarding the prospects. Dawes is gonna be such-and-such. Well, while I was willing to give him more game and more ice time for sure, he wasn't exactly all that impressive. And while you guys shit on Pöck, he has performed MORE than adequately when he has been given the opportunity here. "Jozef Balej is destined for Broadway", where is he now?

Same goes for Nycholat. Hartford fans couldn't wait to get rid of him, yet he has 6 point in 7 games with the Caps.

So for you and the others, exactly who have you called that has turned out well, or conversely, who have you said was bad that the Rangers called up that has shown that they are unable to play in the NHL?

Sir, I would lend you a crowbar to help you get your head out of your ass, but you'd probably only use it to pick the bugs out of your teeth. Not to mention that you're completely wrong about what most Pack fans thought of Nycholat.


The red light means you feel shame (Photo: Pack Attack)

There's almost nothing better than following your team on the road when they go into someone else's building and stomp the other team, and the Wolf Pack did just that yesterday, scoring 4 goals in the second period-- including two by Nigel Dawes-- in rolling over the Springfield Falcons in Springfield yesterday, 6-3.

Two short-handed goals-- in the first period by Lauri Korpikoski, and on an empty net by Dwight Helminen in the waning seconds of the third period-- book-ended the four-goal second period by the Wolf Pack, during which they out-shot the Falcons, 22-4. Both of Dawes' goals in the second period came on screaming, laser-like wrist shots, which even the Falcons' play-by-play guy called "a major-league shot". After a bit of a slow start since being sent down by the Rangers in mid-November, Dawes now has 5 goals in his past six games, and I find it almost hard to believe that there isn't an NHL team that could make good use of Dawes' shot right now.

Hartford L-to-R: Callahan, Dubinsky, Byers (Photo: Pack Attack)

Brad Isbister and Dane Byers scored the other two second-period goals for the Wolf Pack. Byers now has 3 goals in his last 3 games, and Isbister has 9 points (3g, 6a) in his last 8 games.

The Wolf Pack were opportunistic most of the night, doing a good job of keeping pressure on the Falcons and (as Pack Attack pointed out during the game, when he wasn't touting Bruce Graham) winning a lot of the puck-possesion battles, which led to a good amount of mini-breakaways and other scoring chances for the Pack as the game wore on.

Steve Valiquette was not at his best in net, although he was only asked to face 16 shots all night. I thought that only one or two of the saves he made showed any kind of quick reaction, though in listening to Sean Burke after the game, Burke said that Valiquette was doing what he was supposed to do: use his size and positioning to his advantage, stay deep in the net, and let the pucks hit him.

Ivan Baranka gets stoned on a breakaway (Chris Rutsch photo)

Bruce Graham was called up from Charlotte of the ECHL earlier in the day (Mark Lee ended up sitting), assisting on Dawes' first goal. Graham has 32 points (22g, 11a) in 32 games with the Checkers so far this season, and looks to be well ahead of where he was in his 25 games with the Pack last season.

With Lowell and Worcester losing each of their games, and with the division standings bunched tight, the 2 points the Pack earned last night allowed them to move up a couple of spots to fourth place in the division, only two points behind the next two teams ahead of them (Portland and Springfield).

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Help A Brother Out

Chris Rutsch photo

The Hartford Wolf Pack peppered Manchester's Jason LaBarbera with 61 shots last night, nearly half of that total in the third period alone, but couldn't get him to crack, as the Monarchs downed the Wolf Pack in overtime, 3-2.


The Monarchs have now opened up a 6-point lead over everyone else in the Atlantic, in what is still a close race where every team in the division is over .500 except for Providence, who have lost 8 of their last 10.

Al Montoya took the loss for the Wolf Pack, ending his 5-game win streak. Neither the Monarchs' first goal or the overtime winner were completely Al's fault, as both came on back door-type plays that would've been nearly impossible for him stop. Al was also the victim of some crappy defensive plays along the way, and although the Wolf Pack played as tight defensively in the first period as I've seen them play all year, that sorta went away towards the second period.

Dane Byers usin the ol' elbow (Chris Rutsch photo)

Dan Girardi, the Wolf Pack's top-scoring defenseman with 19 assists, finally got his first goal of the season, on a muffin that slipped under LaBarbera's pads and trickled into the net. Dane Byers scored the other Wolf Pack goal, which tied the game up at 2-2 with 7 minutes left in the third period and sent the game into overtime. Byers had yet another good game (a goal and an assist, 7 shots on goal), and you can expect the Dane Bandwagon to start very soon among Rangers fans, if it hasn't already.

Francis Lessard fought the Monarchs' Mike Hoffman in the first period, and I seem to remember the two of them fighting in pre-season training camp as well, when both of them were trying out for the Rangers. Anyway, Lessard tore Hoffman apart in this one, popping him in the head a few times and then slamming him down to the ice for good measure.

Ryan Callahan mixing it up with Noah Clarke (Heather Rutsch photo)

Ryan Callahan also picked a fight in this game, duking it out with Noah Clarke near the Monarchs' crease early in the second period after Clarke had wacked Callahan with his stick and gave him a shove to keep him away from LaBarbera. Callahan might also have been reacting to all of the extra defensive attention he's been getting lately, a result of him having 22 goals before anyone else on the team had even reached seven.

In all-important celebrity and entertainment news, Rob Zombie was at the game, sitting on the glass with his wife a couple of sections over from where I was. I totally owned "Pig Heaven" (first press, even) and "Psycho-Head Blowout", but that's about as much as I'll admit to.