BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
CROMWELL, CT – As the Hartford Wolf Pack prepared to board a bus to Portland for a weekend on the road, this group is ready to go for the stretch run.
“This is what you play for,” veteran defenseman Raphael Diaz said. “We have won nine of ten before the break and we’re looking forward to the future.”
“We have had a good stretch, but its going to get ratcheted up as we move forward with each passing day,” Head Coach Ken Gernander stated.
The team’s health is also steadily improving. Right wing Shawn O’Donnell will be back and available to the team.
“It’s always helpful,” Gernander remarked. “It gives us depth and some good healthy competition and hopefully people are playing well and that creates tough decisions for the coaching staff.”
The increase is attributable in no small part to better puck management and has been one of the elements of the recent surge.
“It keeps you out of trouble in a lot of situations when you manage the puck well. The puck turned over in the neutral zone or a transition from a turnover in your own zone can be tough to defend against. Equally, if you turn it over in the offensive zone you are negating your own opportunities. All three of those situations if you don’t handle the puck correctly can be detrimental,” Gernander commented.
The better puck management has led to better scoring distribution during this streak.
“That’s been good for us to start getting (better scoring distribution) and the flip side is that we want some people to be more consistent contributors.”
Clearly, the powerplay has been a season long project and hasn’t improved yet. They are currently 29th in the AHL. On occasion the man-advantage has scored the goal they need, but is still far too inconsistent for Gernander’s taste.
“I don’t think we have to change all that much, we just have to be more diligent. We turn pucks over. If we eliminate those, we put ourselves in the best chance for success. Those are the little things we have to get better on, but we don’t need overall sweeping changes.”
Now with the maturing of Ryan Graves, holder of the AHL’s best slap shot, and having a NHL caliber PP quarterback in Diaz , it should help the man-advantage take giant steps in the second half of the season.
“He’s (Graves) a weapon right? We can certainly use that to our advantage and we haven’t had Raffi available to us this season. He can certainly help our powerplay by having a right-handed shot. Calle (Andersson) has missed some time too and that is one of his strengths too,” Gernander stated. “So those are things that that we have back that point to us to having more success going forward.”
The one major rock during some of the down times has been the goaltending, especially Magnus Hellberg. During the winning streak and getting some consecutive victories under his belt, Hellberg provided what had been missing since a strong start to the season.
“We didn’t quite test him, but he took the reins and went with it and that’s been pretty favorable to us as far as the schedule with no back-to-back or three-in-three’s and the last game (against St. John’s wasn’t anything about Hellberg, but Malcs (Jeff Malcolm) had been working hard in practice and he deserved a turn in net.”
The team’s Super Bowl weekend hits Portland tomorrow night for a battle with the Pirates and then the Albany Devils on Saturday.
GRAVES A HAPPY ALL-STAR
– The AHL’s Hardest Shot belongs to the Wolf Pack’s Ryan Graves, who’s shot clocked in at 103.2 mph in Syracuse.
“At camp they check you out. I hit a 101 last year. I haven’t been that high yet this year,” Graves said with humility. He has been needled in a friendly manner throughout the interview by teammate Tyler Brown. The goal against St. John’s was pretty close to the 103 mark and would have had Al MacInnis smiling.
Graves was buoyant in talking about the whole experience.
“It was cool; a lot of fun I really enjoyed the whole experience. The new format was a lot of fun and really, all the players liked it. In the All Star game when everybody is having fun… not caring as much (about the score) it was excellent. It was fun out there just watching some of these guys. Some of them, have some crazy moves and skills that I know I don’t have. It was fun even as a spectator to watch the event.”
–Cantlon’s Corner can confirm there will be a press conference on Monday that will announce a two-time former AHL city, Worcester will be added as a 29th team in the ECHL with a Boston Bruins connection for the 2017-18 season.
– Jayson Megna was recalled to the Rangers because of bone bruise injury suffered by the Rangers Rick Nash against New Jersey on Tuesday.
– The Pack’s Matt Linblad (lower body) probably will be out another week or so.
– Defenseman Kodie Curran was sent back to Greenville as part of the numbers game and in part to get some playing time, “He gave us a lot of quality play here, but in going to Greenville, he will get more time to make himself an AHL regular player” said Gernander.
– Goalie Cedrick Desjardins’ reassignment to Indianapolis (ECHL) remains open ended.” He went back to Quebec City (where he lives) and we found a spot for him after Manchester didn’t work out. He is there to play and rehab and we’ll see where it goes from there.” Gernander said.
– Former CT Whale Christian Thomas was returned to Springfield from Arizona.
– Former Rangers Brandon Prust was assigned to the Utica Comets (AHL). He last played in the AHL with Quad City and Omaha (when they were once the western-most AHL city).
– Former Wolf Pack defenseman Rory Rawlyk, playing senior league hockey in Canada with the Stony Plain Eagles in the Chinook Senior Hockey League (CSHL) signed a contract with Orlando (ECHL).
– Former Quinnipiac defenseman Zach Tolkinen was traded from Elmira (ECHL) to Missouri (ECHL).
– Matt Harlow, son of former New Haven Nighthawk Scott Harlow, was on the move to his third team of the year from Manchester (ECHL) to Alaska (ECHL).
– Old Pack Colby Genoway has switched from Medvescak Zagreb (Croatia-KHL) to HC Fribourg-Gotteron (Switzerland-LNA).
– Former Ranger and Wolf Pack Jan Hlavac signs with HC Kladno (Czech Republic-CEL).
– New Hartford, CT native Mike Cichy switches teams in Poland from Orlik Opole to STS Sanok (Poland-PZHL).
– Matt Lashoff of Lehigh Valley (AHL) signed with Adler Mannheim (Germany-DEL) for the rest of the season.