BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – Opening night saw the Hartford Wolf Pack use timely goal scoring from its younger players and a big-time goaltending performance from Magnus Hellberg to beat the visiting St. John’s IceCaps 6-3 before 6,971 at the XL Center Friday night.
“Even with our mistakes, I really liked how we responded and we scored some big goals after even those one or two errors. I liked how we fought back,” Pack head coach Ken Gernander said. Gernander began his tenth season behind the Pack bench.
The Wolf Pack came out early in the third period and quickly established a two-goal lead at 4-2.
At the 47 second mark of the third, rookie Malte Stromwall won the faceoff to the right off of IceCaps goalie Zachary Furcale. Fellow rookie Cristoval “Boo” Nieves beat everybody to the puck and fired a shot that was stopped. Despite being behind the net, Nieves used his long reached to rake the puck into the net for his first goal of the year and second point of the night.
However, St. John’s answered right back as their newly-minted captain, Max Friberg, took a pass from Philip Samuelsson and got inside position on Pack captain, Mat Bodie while motoring down the right wing and slipped the shot past Hellberg at 2:46 to shrink the Pack lead to 4-3.
The goals kept coming. as Bodie redeemed himself on the right wing by sending a hard sharp pass through the box to his defense partner rookie John Gilmour who had plenty of real estate on the left wing and an open
Bodie redeemed himself. While on the right wing side, he sent a hard, sharp pass through the box to his defense partner, John Gilmour. The Pack rookie d-man had plenty of real estate on the left-wing side and fired high to Furcale’s open short-side for his first professional goal at 3:53 regaining a two-goal edge for the home team at 5-3.
“Mat just fired it on a wire to me and I don’t know we were thinking the same thing. He put it right on my tape,” said Gilmour.
Gernander liked what he saw.
“(Gilmour) has his head up and sometimes with a rookie, a puck like that could hop and skip on you. He was very good with it and Mat made a great pass to him. He had the opening and made a really good finish.”
Rookie Philip McRae picked up his third point of the night on the play.
Marek Hrivik closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal with four seconds remaining.
The Pack took a 3-2 lead in the second as three rookies all made critical plays in creating the eventual game-winning tally.
Gilmour delivered a nice outlet pass that caught Nieves in full flight in the neutral zone. Nieves slipped in the center portion of the St. John’s zone and feathered a pass to Robin Kovacs, cruising in front of the net. Kovacs redirected the pass along the ice as Furcale was reacting to Nieves shot at 7:39.
“We have those youthful legs going and we stressed about going North-South and with that type of play, the more effective we will be,” Gernander said.
The rest of the second period was clearly in St. John’s advantage and the Wolf Pack equalizer was Hellberg.
In every major scoring opportunity, the IceCaps had to take control of the game, it was Hellberg making a variety of saves in stopping all 13 shots.
Hellberg stopped Chris Terry at 5:45 from the slot and then 6’6 Mike McCarron got a mismatch with Bodie, but his 15-foot wrist shot was stopped.
At 11:50, defenseman Mark Barberio came from off the left point and Hellberg answered with a glove save.
Terry followed with a short pass to Charles Hudon at 12:22 and was denied. At 15:45, Jacob de la Rose was trying Hellberg’s short-side but was denied.
Nikita Scherbak had Hellberg fully stretched out and hit the side of the net from the left wing. The puck came back to him, but again, Hellberg was in a position to make a right pad save.
Just before the period expired, Friberg thought he had Hellberg scrambling back after a clearing attempt was short-circuited by de la Rose. But again Hellberg rose to the occasion sliding over to deny the bid.
“We talked about being strong in the back and on defense and we were tonight. (Hellberg) certainly did his fair share of work in that second period and gave us the opportunity to win,” Gernander said of his 6’6 goalie.
The Pack opened the scoring for the season as Westport native Mike Paliotta walked in from off the right point, made a pump fake sent the puck toward the net. Adam Tambellini, picking up where he left off last season, redirected his first of the season with good body position in front at 1:56.
“(Tambellini) really did a good job on that play,” Gernander stated. “We have been stressing being stronger on the puck and he had a good off-season. as evident by his play on that goal.”
The IceCaps are a quick strike offensive team and did, tying the game at one at 11:47.
Charles Hudon was in the slot and got a gift cross-ice pass in front of the net. The puck came to him on a cross-ice passing no-no from his right corner by Paliotta. He then drifted to the right wing circle and ripped one past Hellberg at 11:47.
The Pack showed their own quick-strike capability by answering back with a goal 15 seconds later. as Chris Brown with solid forechecking forced a turnover and flipped a pass to the front of the net and the hard charging Philip McRae put the puck past Furcale, an established back a one-goal lead at 2-1.
Chris Brown’s solid forechecking forced a turnover and flipped a pass to the front of the net. Philip McRae was hard charging and put the puck past Furcale and established a one-goal lead at 2-1.
“All the credit goes to Chris,” McRae said. “He really made a big hit there and I just saw an opening and he put the puck on my stick and I just let it go.”
The head coach was pleased with both players’ efforts.
“That was good work by Brownie and nice top shelf finish by Mac,” Gernander said.
St. John’s power-play evened the score at two at 14:36 when Terry, in the exact same spot Hudon was in the right wing circle, took a left point pass from Mark Barberio and the left-handed shot fired one past Hellberg to the short-side.
Gernander wanted to praise Tanner Glass, who had a late game shot block, in a 6-3 game. “I would be remiss in not mentioning Tanner Glass blocking a shot with six seconds to go. That shows the leadership and character he brings to this team.”
Bodie wore the “C” and his assistants were Chris Summers and Marek Hrivik.
Nieves – Kovacs – Stromwall
Hrivik – Jensen – Glass
Brown – McRae – Tambellini
Matt Carey – Steven Fogarty – Michael Joly
Paliotta – Ryan Graves
Chris Summers – Tommy Hughes
Bodie – Gilmour
Mackenzie Skapski will get the start in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday night.
The IceCaps opening lineup featured a top line of their three top young prospects last year’s leading scorer, Hudon, McCarron and Russian, Nikita Scherbak.
St. John’s named Friberg, a five-year AHL vet, as their third captain in IceCaps history. The assistants are center Jacob de la Rose and veteran defenseman Mark Barberio.
The Montreal Canadiens put winger Sven Andrighetto on waivers and could be assigned to the IceCaps this weekend.
Forward Stefan Matteau was scratched as he has to start to serve a two-game AHL suspension from a late season hit last year when he played for Albany – in his only AHL game last year. Of course, he’s the son of Ranger great from the 1994 Cup team Stephane Matteau (Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!).
The IceCaps start the season with a six-game road trip before returning to Newfoundland and the Mile One Centre to begin their last season there.
Montreal is moving the farm team to Laval, Quebec (a suburb of Montreal) next fall to play in the brand new Place Bell Centre.
St. John’s announced a new third jersey for this season will honor the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
Nathan Gerbe, as expected, will not be playing in Hartford but has instead signed a three-year deal Friday with HC Geneve-Servette (Switzerland-LNA). The team is coached by former New Haven Nighthawk, and 15-year NHL veteran, Chris McSorley. This seaosn’s team consultant is former Islander great and one time Nighthawk, Lorne Henning.
Bridgeport inked veteran defenseman Jon Landry who played in Utica last year. It’s his second tour with the Sound Tigers playing there in 2012-13.
Ex-Sound Tiger defenseman Jordan Hill signs a tryout agreement with Manitoba.
Another ex-Sound Tiger, Tim Wallace, returns from Germany to play for Alaska (ECHL). Brant Harris, a UConn grad signs with Florida (ECHL).
Friday former Wolf Pack and Sound Tiger, Justin Vaive, signed with the Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL). He’ll join his good friend and former Wolf Pack teammate, Shawn O’Donnell.
Mike Vaskivuo, a former Westminster Prep, and South Kent Prep player, leaves Sports Vassa (Finland-FEL) to join HC Thurgau (Switzerland-LNB).