CANTLON: Wolf Pack Have Two of Three At Home
BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – The Hartford Wolf Pack begin a weekend of three-games-in-three-nights with another further roster changes to their lineup.
Defenseman Ryan Sproul was recalled by the New York Rangers as a result of an ankle injury suffered by former Pack, Tony DeAngelo. The injury came in Monday night’s 6-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. DeAngelo suffered a high-ankle sprain and is expected to be out 3-4 weeks, which translates to the remainder of the regular season.
The Pack has lost Brendan Smith for an undetermined period of time with a broken right hand/thumb so he will not play this weekend.
With the call-up and injury, that meant the Wolf Pack needed bodies, so they have signed ECHL defenseman, Simon Denis, from the Toledo Walleye (ECHL). Denis participated in his first practice today. Denis is in his second pro season and put up good ECHL numbers. In 49 games this year as a d-man, he has six goals and 35 points. Last season, Denis played in 70 games and put up 16 goals and 55 total points while playing in Ft. Wayne as well as for three games two years ago after finishing up at Ferris St.
“He just had his first practice so we’re still evaluating things right now and Brendan won’t be available this weekend,” remarked Pack head coach, Keith McCambridge.
The team also has another backup goalie for Chris Nell this weekend. After signing, and then releasing Jeff Jakaitis, who went back to the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL). In his one game, a 7-3 loss to the Charlotte Checkers, Jakaitis surrendered five of the seven goals. The other two were of the empty net variety.
The new goalie this time is a familiar name, Marek Mazanec, who’s been out with a groin injury since January 12th.
“As of now, it looks (like Mazanec will play). I still have to talk to Brian (Fairbrother, the team athletic trainer) and get a report here after practice. He has been skating on the ice the last week, plus this week and things have been looking good…so far. We want to make sure Maz is 100% and comfortable, so it’s a strong possibility we’ll have Maz and Nell as our goalies (this weekend).”
McCambridge has yet to formulate his weekend goaltending rotation.
Brandon Halverson was reassigned to Greenville and was the First Star in the Pack win last Friday night.
New York sources indicate to Cantlon’s Corner that the Rangers are very happy with Alexander Georgiev and that most likely, he is not coming back to Hartford this season. Certainly stopping future Hall-of-Famer Evgeni Malkin on a penalty shot with 10.4 seconds left in regulation pretty much sealed his recall for the rest of the year in New York.
The call of the penalty shot by the referee was one of the worst in the last two years. It rivals a call for a penalty shot in a Toronto Maple Leafs – New York Islanders game by Dean Morton that stunned both coaches.
“It was so good to see a guy shine like that. He was playing really good for us before the call-up. Early in the year, he was trying to find his game and that’s expected with a rookie. It’s a real credit to him in finding his way and being a contributor to the New York Rangers,” McCambridge said.
The Pack comes off a tough weekend on the road losing two in Charlotte. The Checkers are now 13 points ahead of the Wolf Pack, who slipped back into 7th place (26-29-5-3) with 60 points, just one ahead of 8th place Hershey.
The most telling stat from Charlotte was zero overtime wins and 36 in regulation wins. The Wolf Pack lead the AHL with seven OT wins and just 13 regulation wins.
“Our mindset is to play the right way and play with the intensity we have worked on all season. You gotta keep climbing that hill. As we know, you never know what can happen in the AHL with call-ups and injuries to other teams. This group has done a pretty good job with leadership in that room being verbal in practice and games. We’re continuing to push and claw to play the right way,” remarked McCambridge.
The one positive on the weekend was the increase in offensive output specifically from Cole Schneider who had three goals.
“Cole has been playing very good for us, a solid 200-foot game. On the ice, he’s been a smart intelligent player creating scoring chances and has steady defensive zone work and he’s provided leadership in that locker room.”
He will be a target of opponents with Adam Tambellini (upper body) out of the lineup Friday and maybe Saturday.
The obvious probably was they’re giving up too many chances, especially to one of the better power plays in the AHL.
“We took way too many penalties against (Charlotte) and their power play was very good,” said Schneider.
Now they have to battle Lehigh Valley who sit atop the Atlantic Division. They’re one of the better teams in the AHL. Then they travel to Wilkes Barre/Scranton on Saturday and then head back for a Sunday afternoon tilt with the Rochester Americans. That game starts at 5 pm.
The Wolf Pack roster since just January has changed dramatically
“I was looking at our roster yesterday from our game with Wilkes-Barre in January and ten guys are gone from our lineup. Sure, it’s a lot of turn-over, that’s part of the AHL and give a player opportunity to step up and fill in and help the team out. Sometimes, you get a full lineup, and many times your lineup changes. I grant you we have an inordinate amount of changes, but that is part of being in this league. This is our lineup unless there are any transactions between now and tomorrow,” McCambridge said with a wry smile and laugh.
The Pack has used 47 players to date and six goalies.
Ex-Pack Tommy Hughes played just five games in the month and was reassigned from Hershey to South Carolina (ECHL).
Two UCONN Huskies have left for the pros. Center and junior, Maxim Letunov, signed a two-way deal with the San Jose Sharks. He will start with the AHL San Jose Barracuda. Huskies captain and defenseman, Derek Pratt has signed with the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL).
For Letunov, the Sharks are his third NHL organization without ever having gone to a camp. Letunov was originally drafted by the St. Louis Blues but was traded to Arizona and then San Jose. He played 105 games at UCONN scoring 35 goals and adding 60 assists.
When he was the property of Arizona, a high ranking scouting department official described Letunov, saying, “He has offensive skill, not much in his own zone, and has to get stronger. He thinks he’s Igor Larionov. He is not.”
Ten days after that conversation, he was traded to San Jose.
That brings the number of Hockey East signees to eight, 45 Division I players, 17 Division III players, including Tyler Whitney of Trinity College (NESCAC) to South Carolina, where he joins his brother Steve and both are younger brothers of ex-Pack captain Joe Whitney.
A total of 62 college players have signed pro deals so far. Wisconsin has lost six players while Bemidji State has also lost five with most emigrating to the pro ranks.
One of the first collegiate coaching changes comes from Hockey East.
Merrimack College lets Mark Dennehy go after 13 seasons. The Riverhawks were 12-21-4 this season and in his 13 years at Merrimack, Dennehy is 165-243-60.
The University of New Hampshire formally announced ex-Sound Tiger and UCONN assistant coach Mike Souza as the new head coach of the Hockey East program. Souza replaces Dick Umile who stepped down after 20 years (18 as head coach). He also played three seasons as an undergraduate for the school, which was then an ECAC school.
Former New Haven Knights forward Glenn Stewart remains as an associate coach.
The NHL has seen several teams announce they are not sending scouts to the World Junior Under-18 tourney in Magnitogorsk, Russia because of health concerns because the serious environmental pollution and contamination that exists.
Two ex-Wolf Pack goalies who spent a season in Russia in the KHL shared remarkable stories of their time there.
Alex Westlund, who went to Westminster Prep in Simsbury, and then four years at Yale, was so petrified he never told his mother where he was playing.
Chelyabinsk was one of the secret cities under the Soviet rule, which officially didn’t exist on any map until 1994. Glasnost showed an environmental nightmare of staggering proportions. The city sits near the Chinese border near Manchuria
“When I looked the place up on the Internet, it was listed as the most polluted city in Russia, greater even than Chernobyl (in Ukraine)! I didn’t tell my mother where it was for fear she would look it up. It was a place where bombs, tanks and missiles and other military stuff was built, but the area is so highly contaminated,” said Westlund
Westlund is currently a goalie coach in Germany with the Augsburger Panthers who play in the DEL.
Steve Valiquette, currently an MSG-TV analyst for the Rangers, also spent a season in hell in Russia.
“I was in a park in doing my pre-game walk and it started to snow and I saw it turn black as it hit the ground. You hear the stories, ‘Nah, that can’t happen,” and you actually see it. ‘Then it becomes all too real.”