BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – Aaaah, at last there’s the Hartford Wolf Pack regular season and pre-season schedule to talk about.
The 19th season of the New York Rangers’ AHL affiliated hockey team will begin when the blades hit the ice on Saturday October 10 at the XL Center at 7pm. The Wolf Pack will be hosting the St. John’s Ice Caps, the new affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. That contest will be the jump off point for the team’s 76-game regular season schedule, but for the league itself, the AHL will be entering its 80th year of operation and feature a true coast-to-coast presence with a brand new five team Pacific Divsion.
The Pack are adding a few new teams to their schedule as well as returning a few they haven’t seen in quite some time.
The Utica Comets, in their third season in the AHL, are the Vancouver Canucks’ farm team and will come to the XL Center for the first-ever encounter with the Wolf Pack on October 17 and then make their second appearance on November 22nd. The Rochester Americans, who the team defeated for their only Calder Cup title, return after a ten-year absence on Sunday, November 1st at 5:00pm.
The Toronto Marlies return to Hartford after a five-year absence on Wednesday, November 4th where they will play the team’s school day game with the puck dropping at 11:00AM.
Surprisingly, the Pack will have just three home dates to play in December. The first is against the Hershey Bears on Friday December 4th, then against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Saturday the 12th and finishing with the Portland Pirates on Tuesday December 29th. The team will have two road games in close proximity to Hartford when they travel downstate to Bridgeport and then to Rhode Island to challenge the Providence Bruins during this stretch.
In further examination of the Pack schedule, they will end their regular season on the road. The team will play their last four games starting in Portland on Sunday April 10th and then travel north to Canada for a day game in Toronto on Wednesday, April 13th and then their final regular season ends with a pair of contests in St. John’s on April 15th and 16th.
The start time of Friday night games has been pushed back to 7:15 PM to accommodate the typical horrendous Friday-night rush hour traffic on I-84 and I-91. Saturday games will start at 7:00 PM. There are a couple of exceptions. On October 31 and November 7, the games start at 7:30 PM. On March 12th, the start time is 3:00 PM. Other Saturday games with different times include October 18, November 1st and February 29 which begin at 5:00 PM and then March 12 sees the puck drop at 3:00 PM.
Sunday games will start at 3:00 PM except on November 15 which begins at 4:00pm, March 6 which starts at 1:00 PM and then October 18, November 1 and February 28th seeing the puck drop at 5:00 PM.
The Pack will play their franchise and intra-state rivals in Bridgeport a total of ten times while 1-91 foes, the Springfield Falcons lock horns eight times. New Atlantic Division rivals will be the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Wilkes- Barre/Scranton Penguins who’ll tango with the Pack a total of six times (three home and three away). The Bears play the Pack four times.
The team has no UCONN hockey doubleheaders to contend with this season despite having played two last season. There are no conflicts with the new Hartford Yard Goats playing at the Dunkin’ Donuts Park nearby in the spring of 2016. The closest is on Saturday April 9th, the Yard Goats have an afternoon game with Richmond Flying Squirrels at 1:30pm.
Depending on AHL playoff action there could be some in April and May.
The full AHL team-by-team schedule is HERE.
On the pre-season front, the Wolf Pack have just three games with only one as a “Home” game. The contest is at their second game and will be held at their practice facility at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell on Sunday, October 4th at 3:00pm against the Sound Tigers, the final game of a three game in four day pre-season.
The first exhibition game will be on Thursday, October 1st is against the Sound Tigers’ and will be played at their practice facility at Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport at 3:00 PM. The only road game will be their longest pre-season road trip in franchise history. The Pack will travel to Allentown, PA to challenge the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the PPL Center starting at 5:00 PM on October 3rd.
The usual practice for the team has usually been to take on the Worcester Sharks, but they have migrated to the new west coast division in San Jose.
The Sound Tigers will play their first pre-season AHL games as an organization in five years.
Surprise, surprise Quebec City and Las Vegas have moved on to round three of the NHL expansion process. There should be an announcement of the awarding of the expansion franchises perhaps by the halfway point of the NHL season or maybe at the NHL All-Star Game. Given the current uncertainty of the world’s financial markets over the past two weeks, expect the seal of approval to be done ASAP so the NHL and their franchises can add some serious digits to their bank accounts.
According to several pro hockey sources, interviews for the first GM for both potential franchises has already begun. Read about them HERE.
The Wolf Pack signed forward Tyler Brown to a one-year AHL deal. Brown played 33 games with the then Greenville Road Warriors before being recalled last year. Brown was an important part of the teams PK strategy as head coach Ken Gernander was able to take advantage of his speed and defensive stickwork.
Joey Crabb remains the only player not yet signed from last year’s conference final team.
Former CT Whale defenseman, Logan Pyett, has returned from Russia where he split last season in the KHL with HC Vladivostok and Severstal Cherepovets. Pyett signed a one-year, AHL deal with the Phantoms.
Former CT Whale and Wolf Pack rearguard, the incredibly popular, Jared Nightingale, has signed again with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL on a one-year deal. Nightingale had six AHL PTO contracts last season. They included stints with Hartford, the Milwaukee Admirals, Grand Rapids Griffins (twice), the Norfolk Admirals and the Syracuse Crunch.
New Canaan native Jack Downing signed with ECHL Cincinnati for 2015-16.
Former Wolf Pack and CT Whale forward Andrew Carroll, after taking a year off, has signed a one-year ECHL deal with the Idaho Steelheads.
Former Sound Tigers’ defenseman Jordan Hill, who played in St. John’s last year, signs with Norfolk (ECHL) and joins former CT Whale, Mike Pelech, who split last year with the Utah Comets (ECHL) and the Rochester Americans (AHL).
A few more AHL’ers have signed in Europe as their preseason begins to wind down. The European regular season is set to kick off in early September. The regular season in the KHL is already under way!
Josh Gratton, an ex-Pack who played in Manchester last season, heads to Assat Pori in the Finnish Elite League (FEL), while Cody Kunyk of Syracuse leaves for the German DEL and EHC Wolfsburg and Thomas Larkin of Springfield has signed with Medvescak Zagreb (Croatia-KHL) making 67 AHL players who have signed overseas from last season.
ODDS AND ENDS
Former Wolf Pack forward Patrick Rissmiller has retired after winning an Italian league championship last year with SV Ritten/Renon. Rissmiller has been added to the New Jersey Devils development coaching staff.
The Wolf Pack’s ECHL affiliate, formerly known as the Greenville Road Warriors, have changed their nickname to something with heavy local appeal, the Swamp Rabbits.
While indigenous to the Greenville region, the name conjures up the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail-a ‘70’s classic comedy.
“It’s just a silly rabbit!”
Then of course the rabbit attacks the King’s warriors who scream, “Run away, run away,” before finally being destroyed by the, “Hold Hand Grenade of Antioch.
Chase Harwell of Southbury has again made the Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL) team whose goalie coach is former Wolf Pack, Jean-Francois Labbe.
Ex-Pack Vladimir Vorobiev hooks up with his fourth KHL team in four years as an assistant coach with Dynamo Moscow. Another ex-Pack in Russia Evgeni “John” Namestnikov is now an assistant coach with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl after Atlant Moscow folded after last season. His son Vladimir is with the Tampa Bay organization and spent some time with Syracuse last season.
Former Hartford Whaler, Andrei Nokolishin, continues on as head coach with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL whom he took over the reigns of early last season. His two sons are playing on the team. His oldest son Ivan is with Red Deer (WHL) and Alexander is with a Russian junior team HK Rossoah (Russia MHL-B).
Chase Zieky of Avon, who played at Avon Old Farms last year, will skate for the Langley Rivermen (BCHL) this year. Zieky committed to the defending national champion Providence College Friars for 2016-17.
Former Quinnipiac Bobcat assistant coach Graham Johnson, who held the same post last year with the CT Nighthawks (EHL), was named the first head coach for the brand new NCAA Division III program of the Western Connecticut State University Colonials that will play in the MACSAC conference.
Don’t think hockey is a business read this story HERE.
Congrats to Berlin native and former Hartford Jr. Wolf Pack Adam Blanchette. He and his Southern Stampede (Queenstown) team won the New Zealand Birgel Cup to capture the NZIHL (New Zealand Ice Hockey League) championship the first time for the franchise since 2006 and its third title.
Blanchette, who was forced to retire last season after four games because of concussions is the team’s head coach this season. He was, however, a pivotal key on ice in the best of three final wins over the Canterbury (Christchurch) Red Devils.
Blanchette played one game in the regular season when they were shorthanded getting two assists and had to suit up on defense for the finals when they lost their best player Lucas Frey (New Bedford, MA) who had to go to training camp for the Swedish team he plays for in the winter-Tranas AIF (Division 1).
Blanchette scored a key goal for the team when they were down one-game-to-none in the series. In Game Two, Blanchette scored the game’s first goal before a hometown crowd at the Queenstown Ice Arena.
He compiled three points in the three games and the team’s North American imports Matt Schneider (Vernon, BC, Canada) and Mike McRae (Berkley, MI) played a critical role in their championship win.
The Stampede became the regular season champions in the five-team league that plays a limited 16-game regular season schedule. They compiled a record of 13-1-2 for 44 points. In the championship series, they beat the Red Devils by the score of 4-3 in both games.
Blancette’s friend and Cheshire native, Rob Malloy, goes for his second Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL). The Goodall Cup title is on the line this weekend with the Newcastle North Stars in Melbourne at the Medibank Ice House.
On Saturday, they play the CBR (Canberra) Brave who feature former Wolf Pack Scott Pitt in one semi-final.
The second semi features a battle between the Perth Thunder and one of the two teams from Melbourne, the Melbourne Ice.
The winner meets on Sunday for the Goodall Cup. Newcastle is the favorite with record-setting forward Geordie Wudrick, who had an AIHL regular league record 44 goals and 91 points.
The North Stars were the top team in the eight team AIHL with a record of 19-4-0-1 for 63 points and Malloy had eight goals and 29 points in 29 games. Malloy’s former team of three years, the Sydney Ice Dogs went winless in 28 games!
With the soon to be relocated Eastern League’s New Britain Rock Cats and the Wolf Pack in Hartford, the market didn’t make the grade as one of the top 212 minor pro sports markets in the US as per the annual Sports Business Journal ranking. Norwich, home of the NYPL (New York Penn League) Connecticut Tigers, was included as a market, which based on population of 13,000, is a surprise. They were tied in with West Haven over an hour away.
Not a good sign for the capital city, but in all fairness, some of the listings are puzzling. For example, Binghamton, NY is higher than Austin/Round Rock, Texas. Really? Read about it HERE.
Former Choate Prep player Mathieu Darche who had a 12 year NHL/AHL career and is now retired, will be inducted October 22nd into the McGill University (Montreal, QC) Sports Hall of Fame.
It’s likely you’ve already seen the story if you’re a NY Rangers or Hartford Wolf Pack fan, but if not, you can read HERE about the arrest of the Pack’s all time PIM leader Dale Purinton in upstate, New York.
The only facts we know come from the police report, but it’s a sad development for Purinton.
Two years ago in a personal conversation, “Diesel,” filled with optimism and happiness. He had three sons, a fledgling coaching career out in the beautiful part of British Columbia – first at the Junior A Cowichan Valley (BCHL) and then at Junior B level with the Kerry Park Islanders (VIJHL). His arrest photo doesn’t look good. Let’s hope this sorts itself out for the sake of his kids.
Purinton’s wife is originally from New York State.
A clip from the 2004-5 season when during NHL lockout Dale played with Victoria (ECHL), see it HERE.