BY: Bruce Berlet
You can’t help but root for Scott Tanski to make the Connecticut Whale.
The day before New York Rangers opened camp, Tanski was preparing to leave on a road trip with his Carleton University team in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, when he got a call saying he had four hours to pack his bags and catch a flight to LaGuardia Airport in New York.
The Rangers had sustained several injuries and defections during and after finishing second in a prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., and needed a few more healthy bodies for the start of their training camp in Greenburgh, N.Y.
“I had tried to get Tanski in to camp twice before, but it didn’t work out,” Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark said Friday night before the Whale’s 2-1 loss to the Worcester Sharks at TD North Sports Center on the campus of Quinnipiac University in Hamden. “When (Rangers assistant general manager) Jeff Gorton called saying he needed a few players, the guy that I thought of was Tanski. I knew I could rely on him to come in and play hard.”
So with Tayler Jordan getting injured and Randy McNaught and Jordan Hickmott opting to attend school rather than Rangers camp, the SOS went out to Tanski, who was stunned but delighted to finally get a chance to join the Blueshirts after playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the past two prospects tournaments.
“It was kind of funny because I actually knew I was coming to Connecticut camp, but I had no idea I was going to main camp,” Tanski said. “I thought going to Connecticut camp would be an unbelievable opportunity, but my agent called (Carleton) and they said, ‘Get off the ice, go get a suitcase and pack your bag.’ ”
When Tanski arrived at LaGuardia, he took a shuttle to the hotel where the Rangers were staying in White Plains, N.Y. He got the training camp itinerary the next morning and was soon on the ice experiencing the torturous skating tests of Rangers coach John Tortorella while rubbing shoulders with the likes Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Rangers captain and former Hartford Wolf Pack right wing Ryan Callahan.
“It was definitely exciting being with some of the best players in the world,” Tanski said with a smile. “I had had a little (pro) experience in Columbus’ main camp, but I definitely was shocked at the intensity of Torts’ camp. It was really tough. No matter how hard you work coming into camp, you’re not prepared for that. But I’ve definitely got into shape and tried to put my best step forward. I want to try to show the coaches what I can bring to the team. Hopefully I’ve done that and continue to do that.”
After a so-so start in the Whale’s 3-1 loss to the more experienced New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, Tanski scored twice in a 4-2 victory over the Springfield Falcons the following night. First, he jammed in Tommy Grant’s centering pass from the left wing at 8:16 and then one-timed Grant’s pass from behind the net with 1:24 left in the second period. By game’s end, the line of Tanski, Grant and Kelsey Tessier combined for three goals and four assists and was a combined plus-11.
Friday night, Tanski nearly had his third goal of the preseason off the opening faceoff, but Tyson Sexsmith came out to rob him in the slot after a nifty pass from Tessier only 43 seconds into the game. Tanski had another good bid denied with 12:25 left, and only defenseman Jared Nightingale could beat Sexsmith (21 saves) with 4:49 left. It was enough to offset Ryan Del Monte’s power-play goal on the rebound of Adam Zuluniak’s shot that went off the pad of Chad Johnson (15 saves) and skate of defenseman Jyri Niemi at 3:36 of the second period and Nick Petrecki beating Johnson high to the stick side 26 seconds later after intercepting a Jeff Prough clearing attempt.
Tanski was headed to Carleton University after finishing four years with Brampton of the Ontario Hockey League, where he had 53 goals and 80 assists in 219 games. But the hockey gods then intervened, giving Tanski a shot he never anticipated. He said he hopes to make the Whale roster and would have to confer with his agent and family if he had to choose between going to Greenville of the ECHL on a two-way contract or returning to Carleton University.
“I came to camp not knowing what to expect, not having even talked to anybody, so I have just kind of gone on the ice every day and gone to work trying to sell myself,” Tanski said. “I’ve been given an opportunity, so I know I have to take advantage of it. You only get a few chances to play with guys like Tessier and Grant, so I have to make the most of it and definitely show myself.
“My game is getting in on the forecheck, using my speed, providing energy, playing the body, doing whatever it takes. I’ve been looking at this for 18, 19 years of my life, and this is what I want to do, so I’m not going to stop at nothing to try and achieve it, so I hope to catch someone’s eye. If something happens, it would be a dream come true, but I’m not going to think about it too much because it’s not for me to decide.”
Whale coach Ken Gernander will certainly be part of the decision, and he gave Tanski a ringing endorsement Friday night, sounding after if he was describing himself as a player.
“If you want to watch a game and watch a guy who’s going to play straight-line hockey, start-stop hockey, a real meat-and-potatoes type of hockey, that’s what he has been giving us,” Gernander said. “I think, to a large extent, that’s kind of created success for him. If you’re going to take short cuts and high-risk plays, sometimes you get rewarded, but often times it doesn’t bode well for you. So if you want to keep it simple and really work hard at it, you’re going to get rewarded through diligence.
“He also likes to finish hits, and what he does on breakouts and different things like that, he gets to where he needs to be early. He works hard to get there, so when the puck gets there, he’s got options and is going in the right direction, whereas you have some guys that want to come back and maybe not work as much, and when the puck gets to them, the opportunity is lost or they’re in poor position to make plays. Scott is a straight-line guy who plays hard, and as long as you do that, you’re going to be effective.”
Tanski has been effective enough to earn another shot at making the team in its preseason finale Sunday at 2 p.m., a rematch with the Sharks at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell ($5 admission benefits Junior Wolf Pack youth hockey).
GOOD START, POOR FINISH
The Whale started well Friday night but failed to convert on five consecutive first-period power plays, including a 5-on-3 for 26 seconds, as they went 0-for-7 with the man advantage. The early power plays helped the Whale to a 7-1 shot advantage in the opening 20 minutes, but the bang-bang goals by Del Monte and Petrecki swung the momentum in the Sharks’ favor and the Whale rarely sustained an attack the final 30 minutes.
“I’m not going to get very critical of (the power play) when some of our power-play personnel isn’t here and we haven’t been working on it for months and months at a time,” Gernander said. “That’s where you are; it’s preseason. But I thought we had a lot of forechecking pressure and shots, but not necessarily (quality) chances in the first period. Then they capitalized on their chances. It’s a game of inches or momentum swings or whatever you want to call it, but early on we had good pace and tempo to our game and got shots and pressure while they didn’t really generate a lot.
“But then they get two quick goals, and it looks pretty good for them. And at the end of the game, we tried too many high-risk plays. Instead of maybe getting it deep when you could see they were backing off and defending, we were too stubborn to put it in behind (the defense) and forecheck to go get it.”
After the Whale got to 2-1 when Andreas Thuresson’s pass from behind the net went through a maze of players in front to Nightingale at the right point for a 40-foot laser past Sexsmith, they were short-circuited when Andre Deveaux got a checking to the head penalty with 4:01 left.
“That was tough, especially because we had power-play opportunities early where we didn’t capitalize, and you know there’s swings in the game and we don’t want to give them power-play opportunities,” Gernander said. “So it’s got to be addressed and taken care of.”
Gernander likely did it Saturday, when Rangers All-Star defenseman Marc Staal again skated with the Whale as he continues to try to recover from lingering headaches from post-concussion syndrome from being hit by his brother, All-Star center Eric Staal, in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 22. Staal sustained a concussion but passed baseline neurological tests and missed only three games. But headaches manifested themselves in the summer and have forced Staal to miss most of training camp, including all of the Rangers’ five preseason games, two of them wins in Europe.
The Rangers had hoped Staal could fly to the Czech Republic on Thursday so he could rejoin his teammates at the opener of a six-game European run, which will be capped by their first two regular-season starts against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks on Friday and Saturday in Stockholm, Sweden. But instead of being on hand for the Rangers’ 2-0 victory over HC Sparta and 4-2 win over Frolunda, the former team of Lundqvist, Staal was prepping for and participating in workouts with the Whale. Staal, part of the Rangers’ top defensive pairing with former Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman Dan Girardi, hopes to travel to Stockholm, but that will depend on how he reacts to being back skating and eventually participating in contract drills.
RANGERS, WHALE MAKE ROSTER MOVES
The Rangers made a third round of cuts Saturday, assigning defensemen Tim Erixon and Blake Parlett and forwards Kris Newbury, John Mitchell, Dale Weise and rookies Carl Hagelin and Ryan Bourque to the Whale and assigning defenseman Dale McIlrath to Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League. Newbury, Mitchell and Weise have to clear waivers before they could join the Whale, but all of the players will be flying back to the United States on Sunday.
The biggest surprise was defenseman Stu Bickel making the roster less than a year after being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for disgruntled Nigel Williams. Bickel is a hard-nosed, team player who was the first to come to Andre Deveaux’s defense Monday night when Deveaux was run face-first in the boards by the Philadelphia Flyers’ Tom Sestito, who was suspended four games (two preseason, two regular season) by the NHL. But the penalty was reduced by a game by AHL president Dave Andrews after Sestito was assigned to the Adirondack Phantoms.
Bickel, 24, has never played in a NHL regular-season game, but he could be in the lineup Friday if Staal and former Wolf Pack defenseman Michael Sauer (sprained shoulder) can’t play.
“This kid Bickel has stood in there for us,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “He’s a guy that is involved and has had a very good camp. We’ve been pretty impressed with how Bickel has stood in there because I knew nothing about him when he came in here. He’s a big guy who gets in the way. He’s beginning to learn how to use his stick. He has improved daily and that’s why he is here.”
Hagelin and Bourque were expected to be sent down for more seasoning, but Erixon was a bit of a surprise, though the Rangers have to hope veteran defenseman Wade Redden and assistant coach J.J. Daigneault, who works with the defense, can work their magic with the Calgary Flames’ first-round pick in 2009 as they did Ryan McDonagh last season. Newbury and Mitchell were battling Sean Avery and Erik Christensen for the final forward spots on the Rangers roster, and Avery or Christensen will be demoted or traded as the Rangers have 14 forwards. The toughest cut had to Weise, who is in his fourth season in the organization and has been squeezed out by more talented players and prospects and could ask for a trade as former captain Dane Byers did last season.
With an overload of players, the Whale made their first cuts, assigning goalies Jason Missiaen and Jerry Kuhn and forwards Chris Chappell, Kale Kerbashian, Jeff Prough and Connor Shields to Greenville of the ECHL. The Whale still have two goalies (Johnson, Cam Talbot), 11 defensemen (Redden, Erixon, Parlett, Niemi, Tomas Kundratek, Pavel Valentenko, Jared Nightingale, Lee Baldwin, Collin Bowman, T.J. Fast, Sam Klassen) and 19 forwards (Newbury, Mitchell, Weise, Bourque, Hagelin, Tanski, Andre Deveaux, Andreas Thuresson, Kelsey Tessier, Chad Kolarik, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Tommy Grant, Jason Wilson, Max Campbell, Chris McKelvie and tryouts Jordan Owens, Brendan Connolly, Tayler Jordan and Matt Rust). Jordan is injured, and Kolarik will have surgery Wednesday to repair a torn ACL in his left knee and will be sidelined at least six months.
The Whale will make more cuts after Sunday’s preseason finale so Gernander and assistants Daigneault and Pat Boller have workable numbers to form their lines and defensive pairings for four days of preparation for the opener Saturday night at 7 against the Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y. The Whale then plays at Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Oct. 9 and at Albany, N.Y., on Oct. 14 before their home opener on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. … Lundqvist was understandably emotional about being back home and delighted that his 30 saves helped the Rangers win Friday night in his homeland. “I have been thinking about this day almost every hour the past few days, and I wasn’t sure how I’d react to it,” he told reporters. “It was very emotional. I didn’t cry, but I was close. I started following (Frolunda) since I was five when my dad took me to my first game ever here. It’s been my dream to play here, and then I did from when I was 16. Then (tonight) I realize I am playing my twin brother, against Frolunda, with the New York Rangers, and then I get (the tribute and great fan reaction) before the game. It was just a lot to take in all at once. I am so thankful for it.” … Information on Whale season tickets and all of the ticketing options can be obtained by calling 860-728-3366 or visiting www.ctwhale.com. Individual tickets are on sale at Public Power ticket office at the XL Center. The Whale will play 90 percent of their 38 home games on weekends and during vacation and holiday breaks. Tickets, starting at $14 for adults and $12 for youth, are available at the box office Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. or online at www.ctwhale.com and through TicketMasters charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. … J.T. Miller, the Rangers’ first-round pick (15th overall) in June, scored his first OHL goal at 11:45 of the third period to snap a 2-2 as the Plymouth Whalers rallied for a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa 67’s on Friday night. The Whalers have won two in a row to improve to 2-1-0-0.