BERLET SPOTLIGHT: THURESSON GOES HOME

BY: Bruce Berlet, Special to Howlings

For the second day in a row, a Connecticut Whale player who was a restricted free agent has headed home to Europe and a third is going elsewhere.

Forward Andreas Thuresson signed a two-year contract with Brynas IF of the Swedish Elite League in his native land one day after defenseman Pavel Valentenko inked a two-year deal with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League in his native Russia. 

Thuresson denied he was returning to Sweden during the Whale’s “breakup day”

on Monday. But like Valentenko, it wasn’t surprising that Thuresson went back to his roots since he never got called up by the parent New York Rangers and wasn’t among the nine Whale players who left Hartford to become part of their taxi squad during the NHL playoffs.

The 24-year-old Thuresson had 13 goals and eight assists in 73 regular-season games with the Whale after being acquired for left wing Brodie Dupont on July 2. He had one goal, an overtime winner in Game 1 against Norfolk in the second round, and two assists in nine playoff games but had been relegated to mostly a checking and penalty killing role late in the season after several young forwards joined the Whale after their junior teams were eliminated from the playoffs.

A fifth-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2007, Thuresson had one goal and three assists in 25 NHL games while playing mostly with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals before being traded to the Rangers.

“It will be great to be back home again,” Thuresson said in a Brynas press release. “I’ve had five good years here in the U.S., but now felt that I wanted to return home. I think there will be a new start for me to come to Brynäs, and I think it could develop my game. I will try to contribute as much as I can to the team, and hopefully we will try to take a few more championships together.

“I know some guys on the team already, and I’ve only heard good about Brynäs. They take good care of their players while there are a winning culture in the society, a desire to always want to get better. I think I have a great chance to develop and improve my game in that environment. I also know that it’s a good atmosphere in the team, it is a good group to get to and that the organization also works well. Top class is what I heard.”

Wing Steve Moses, who signed an amateur tryout contract with the Whale on March 23 after completing his career at the University of New Hampshire, also is headed to Europe. On Monday, he denied a report that he had already signed with Jokerit Helskinski in the Finnish Elite League, but the Rangers released the 22-year-old from his ATO on Tuesday and a Jokerit press release said he had signed and is listed as one of the two players on the roster for next season. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Moses had admitted he had an offer from the Jokerit but also received inquiries from other NHL teams before he signed the ATO and had two goals in eight regular-season games and was scoreless in one playoff game. He said he was considering all his options, including signing with the Whale, but his immediate future apparently has been decided.

According to Gerry Cantlon of Eurohockey.com, seven AHL players have signed with European teams and more are expected in the next month as the North American seasons wind down and teams make roster decisions for next season with a potential NHL labor lockout when the collective bargaining agreement ends Sept. 15.

FORMER WOLF PACK FORWARD DUBINSKY BACK SKATING

Forward Brandon Dubinsky, one of 12 former Hartford Wolf Pack/Whale players on the Rangers roster, returned to practice Friday, skating in an orange non-contact jersey for 10 minutes for the first time since injuring his right ankle in Game 1 of the first round against the Ottawa Senators.

Dubinsky fired pucks into an empty net before leaving before the regular practice in preparation of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. The best-of-seven series is tied at 1, but the Devils have had the better of the play for long stretches, including in their 3-2 victory Wednesday night on David Clarkson’s third game-winning goal of the playoffs.

As usual, coach John Tortorella offered no update on Dubinsky, who had worn a boot on his right foot for most of the time since being injured. Tortorella did say the Rangers “will be in the right mindset” for Game 3.

High-scoring right wing Marian Gaborik wouldn’t discuss being benched during most of the third period Wednesday night, including when the Rangers pulled goalie Henrik Lundqvist for a sixth attacker in the final minute. Gaborik did say planned to learn from it and then discussed what the Rangers need to do to turn the tide against their arch rival from across the Hudson River.

“We have to do a better job all around the ice, on the walls, controlling their forecheck, just be quicker and win more battles,” Gaborik said. “It doesn’t only apply in the defensive zone, but in the offensive zone, as well. We have to be good along the walls, hold on to pucks.”

The Rangers’ top two lines remained intact with Gaborik alongside Brad Richards and rookie Carl Hagelin, who started the season with the Whale, and Derek Stepan between captain Ryan Callahan and Chris Kreider, who signed a three-year, $4 million contract and foregoing his senior year at Boston College after helping the Eagles win their second national title in three years. But former Devils wing Mike Rupp skated on the checking line with Brian Boyle and former Wolf Pack Artem Anisimov, while Ruslan Fedotenko was moved next to John Mitchell, who also started the season with the Whale, and Brandon Prust, perhaps to add more size and more of a physical presence to the checking unit.

Rupp and Callahan said the Rangers benefitted from having a day off to refocus and refresh, especially when they’re at their best when they’re forechecking strong.

“We’ve responded well when we’ve gotten the two days off,” Rupp said. “You get time to get your mind away from the game for part of the day, but you also start refocusing for the next (game).”

Callahan said, “It was good to get away from the game a little bit (Thursday), just to clear your head and refocus on what needs to be done. Then it’s nice to come back in here after a day off refreshed and ready to work. And I thought today was a good work day.”

RENNEY SEEMED TO GET SHORTCHANGED IN EDMONTON

Former Rangers coach Tom Renney appeared to get the proverbial short end of the stick when he was fired as coach of the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.

Renney was handed the NHL’s youngest team and had begun to develop the likes of first-round picks Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle when he was unceremoniously shown the door by the Oilers.

And Renney’s removal was met with criticism in many quarters, including John MacKinnon of EdmontonJournal.com, who wrote: “In the end, by all indications, Renney was fired as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday because he wasn’t Brent Sutter or some other head-coach-in-waiting. He wasn’t dismissed for anything he did — or didn’t do — with a young, gifted but incomplete roster that still needs time and the infusion of much more talent to be a consistent winner. No one controls time, of course, and the GM — not the head coach — stocks the team with talent. Presumably, with this dismissal of Renney, the long-awaited official announcement of a contract extension for Oilers GM Steve Tambellini has just been delivered. How inspirational. And now, the Oilers are apparently moving to install the coach they believe can best oversee the next stage of the club’s development, which is their prerogative. Having chosen to go that route, presumably the next man will be bad cop to Renney’s good cop, setting a higher bar for defensive-zone diligence by the young stars, not to mention all-around consistency from some under-achieving veterans.”

Dave Staples, who writes on the Cult of Hockey website, said, “My bottom line on Renney? He earned a new deal. He made a few big miscalculations, but much more was going right than wrong under his direction.”

So lack of performance, not coaching, was considered the major reason the Oilers finished with the NHL’s second-worst record but had seven more wins. Renney, who was partly responsible for drafting and developing many of the top young players now on the Rangers, was credited with the advancement of Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle, giving goalie Devan Dubnyk a legitimate shot and improving the power play and penalty killing. While veteran Nikolai Khabibulin’s game fell apart after Christmas – 1-13-4 with an .881 save percentage after an 11-8-3, .932 start – Dubnyk went from 4-8-0, .903 to 16-11-3, .919.

Still, Renney, a good coach and even better person, wasn’t afforded the courtesies of predecessors Pat Quinn and Craig MacTavish, who had an eight-year run before his relationship with a downward spinning team soured so severely that both he and the players badly needed a separation. And Renney had gutted out a painful season after he badly injured his leg in a fall last summer, with knee replacement surgery on the horizon. He also battled through post-concussion symptoms he suffered after taking a puck in the head during a morning skate in Detroit.

Physical courage doesn’t assure a job, but it’s apparent that Renney was treated rather shabbily, which can be the unkindest cut of all.

(Photo courtesy of circlingthewagon.wordpress.com)

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