BY: Gerry Cantlon, Special to Howlings
Break-up day at the end of there regular season is a part of the hockey player experience. That’s the case in most places, but not in Hartford where the good-byes don’t usually come until the end of playoff hockey. But not this season.
For just the second time in franchise history there will be no post season to reflect upon. For the Whale, there’s just an excruciating, inexplicable six game slide at the end of the season that cost them a spot in the Calder Cup playoff dance.
The cloudy, chilly gray skies outside painted the scene well for what went on inside the XL Center.
“I told the guys how you finish the season will define your identity. I think while guys reflect, I think they realized they could have done more,” said Head Coach Ken Gernander ruefully. “We can point to single mistakes that led to goals here and there that cost us a game, in general however I think there were people who could have gave more.”
The losing skid came at clearly the worst possible time, but clearly something was missing in the core of this team.
“When you need just one win in five games you have to play desperate or all or nothing type of hockey. You can catch a bad break here or there, but over time you should get what you need,” Gernander said.
The Whale, as a team, came up empty-handed like a thirsty man in the desert.
For the first time in sixteen years the team did not name a captain; an issue Gernander refused to discuss.
“I wouldn’t want to comment on at that all.”
One thing that clearly didn’t work out for the Whale’s benefit was their trading Chad Kolarik for Benn Ferriero. Kolarik finished the regular season with 35 points in 41 games and 33 points in 35 games with Wilkes Barre and finished third in AHL scoring. Conversely, Ferriero 12 points in 23 games with the Whale.
“If you want to look it that way yeah,” Gernander said. “But sometimes its not about points. Some people are unhappy about their situation. Changes can be made for reasons other than scoring.”
Several players who wished to remain anonymous, said it was a festering issue for a period of time that Kolarik was unhappy at still being in Whale country after missing all last year to injury a administrative error made him ineligible to play in Hartford last spring when he was medically cleared to play.
The team have several players who will head into unrestricted free agency (UFA) on July 5th. Among that group are Brandon Segal, Logan Pyett, Sean P. Collins, Brandon Mashinter and Mike Vernace. Several others who are restricted free agents (RFA) can be retained with a qualifying offer. That list includes Ferriero, Nick Palmieri and Jyri Niemi.
Segal who had a team high 24 goals and found a way to either score or assist on game tying and winning goals in the previous six to seven weeks is a pretty good bet to be brought back.
The 6’2″, 215 pounder has certainly seen both the high and low of professional hockey. A year ago, the 29-year old was playing on a Calder Cup trophy winning team in Norfolk, one that lost just three games in last five months of the season, to one that couldn’t muster a single win in their last six games to qualify for the playoffs.
“Very strange and very, very disappointing. Everyone in the room is disappointed the season is over. It’s really weird. We’re not going on the ice now for practice to get ready for the playoffs. Strange events happen in games. It’s just disappointing,” said Segal.
The mental pressure clearly affected this team.
“I felt we were always thinking about the playoffs and not sometimes about the game in front of us. Ultimately, (that) drove us away from the playoffs. We had a team that could have done well in the playoffs,” said the winger and owner of two Calder Cup rings and who’ll likely be a prized commodity on the open market.
The teams turnovers in the recent skid and had plagued this team during the season reared its ugly head.
“We had problems in our defensive zone over the last few games there. We worked on our offensive side and didn’t take care of our own end and you can’t do that.”
Segal’s off season will be filled with great joy as he and his wife expect the birth of their first child. The two Vancouver natives are heading back to the beautiful Canadian city along the Pacific will remain there for the birth.
Pyett, another of the UFAs, was very frank about the last week or so of play. “It was tough time for a skid. We had been playing well the last couple of weeks prior to that. We just couldn’t seem to get on the right side of things. Special teams were an important part and we had a lot of penalties at inopportune times and we couldn’t score on them at the end either.”
Pyett strongly hinted he is likely to be moving on and was honest in his assessment of his play this season.
“I wasn’t overly happy with my game this season. I found it was a tough transition from the Detroit system (with Grand Rapids) I was in for the last four years. I was comfortable there and it was a lot different from what the Rangers were putting in here and it took me awhile to adjust to that.”
Heading overseas is clearly an option for him. “Europe is a strong possibility for me. Five years is a long time in the American League and I’ve enjoyed all of it….might be time for a change for me. I have a European agent working for me and there is some interest, but nothing formal.”
While he couldn’t identify the teams he did say so far he has heard from Sweden and Russia.
Defenseman Mike Vernace is still in shock at the fact the season has ended.
“It was a tough way to end the season and left a bitter taste in my mouth. We controlled our own fate and we couldn’t seal the deal last week. One or two plays could have changed the outcome of the games,” remarked Vernace who hinted his Italian heritage might determine his next destination… the Serie A League in Italy.
“I’m still kinda upset about (season ending) and need to time to not think about it and will see what happens. Take it day by day right now.”
Rookie J.T. Miller, who has had a long year from training camp to play the first half with the Whale, leading the US to a gold medal at the WJC tourney, representing the Whale at the AHL All Star Game in Providence to playing much of the last two months with the Rangers.
“We needed to win and didn’t. Its tough to process right now, it was in our hands to take care of and we didn’t. Not playing is very hard to swallow.”
Mashinter, after a sterling start, just disappeared going one stretch of fifteen games without a point, but had three goals in the last two weeks of play. “Right now its just strange to not be getting ready for the playoffs we picked a bad time to have a losing streak.”
Mashinter said he and his teammates will skate this week and upon completion of the NHL season could be part of a contingency of nine players sent to New York to be part of a Black Aces practice squad should the Rangers qualify for the NHL playoffs.
- In Canadian junior playoff news of interest to Rangers fans, center Michael St. Croix of the Edmonton Oil Kings are tied at one game piece in the WHL Eastern Conference final, the junior version of the battle of Alberta with the Calgary Hitmen. Game Three was Tuesday night.
- In the OHL, the Plymouth Whalers and defenseman Tommy Hughes and London Knights are tied at a game each in the Western conference final. Game Three in this series is also Tuesday night.
- In the QMJHL, defenseman Samuel Noreau and the Baie-Comeau Drakkar are ahead of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, two games to none in their semi-final matchup.
- Congrats to Eisbaren Berlin winning the German DEL championship. Once again some familiar names were on the roster. Former Wolf Pack Corey Locke and Darin Olver (just six games with the Pack) and defensemen Mark Katic and Ryan Caldwell of the Sound Tigers. Several other AHL’ers include Jamie Arniel (Providence), Julien Talbot (Lake Erie), Matt Foy (Houston) and Barry Tallackson (Peoria) also are on the team.
- The losing squad for the Cologne Sharks was led by former Wolf Pack John Tripp and a pair of ex-Springfield Falcons, Chris Minard and Andreas Holmqvist.
- Former Wolk Pack Jakub Petruzalek is switching teams in the KHL going from Dynamo Moscow to Amur Khaborovsk.
- SonderjyskE won the Denmark title with former Wolf Pack/Whale Jordan Owens on the squad.
- Former Wolf Pack rearguard Dave MacIsaac coached this season with Bjorminn in Iceland.