BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – The six-month long trek for American Hockey League teams to reach the Calder Cup playoffs has officially begun.
For the Hartford Wolf Pack, their nineteenth training camp began on Sunday with the first on ice test coming Thursday in Bridgeport when the team travels to Wonderland of Ice to challenge the Sound Tigers.
The following Sunday at 3:00pm will be their last test, also against Bridgeport. In between they have one road game in Lehigh Valley on Saturday in Allen, PA the longest trip for a preseason away game in franchise history.
36 players will begin camp on the roster with the Wolf Pack. The 36 consisting of 20 forwards, 11 defensemen, and five goaltenders. The group is an eclectic bunch from seemingly every strata there is of hockey.
Those trying to impress Head Coach Ken Gernander and the New York Rangers brass are:
Goal (5): Cedrick Desjardins (Injured), Jeff Malcolm, Josh Robinson (Alba Valon Hungary – AEHL / Missouri – ECHL), Magnus Hellberg (Milwaukee – AHL) Mackenzie Skapski (injured), Alex Vazzano (Trumbull, CT / Sacred Heart University – AHA)
Defense (11): Calle Andersson (EV Zug / HC Lugano Switzerland – LNA), Brett Bellemore (Carolina – NHL), Kodie Curran (University Calgary – CWUAA), Justin DaSilva (Ohio State University – Big 10 / Greenville – ECHL), Troy Donnay (Erie – OHL), Tyler Elbrecht (Toledo – ECHL), Sean Escobedo (Greenville – ECHL/ Hartford – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – AHL), Tommy Hughes, Sam Noreau, Davis Vandane (University of Calgary – CWUAA) and Petr Zamorsky (Espoo Finland – FEL / Orebro HK Sweden – SHL)
Forwards (20): Domenic Alberga (Ryerson – OUAA / Greenville – ECHL), Tyler Brown, Jack Combs (Cincinnati / Stockton / Allen – ECHL),(Neftekhimik Russia – VHL) IF Bjorkloven Sweden – Allsvenskan), Luke Curadi (Cheshire, CT / RPI – ECACHL), Scott Fleming (Fife Scotland – EIHL), Marek Hrivik, Michael Kantor, Alex Krushelnyski (Utah – ECHL / Norfolk – AHL), Chris McCarthy, Brad McGowan (R.I.T. – AHA), Stefano Momesso (Concordia University – OUAA / Elmira – ECHL), Chad Nehring, Richard Nejezchleb (Brandon / Tri-City – WHL), Josh Nicholls, Shawn O’Donnell, Travis Oleksuk (Worcester – AHL), Paul Rodrigues (Greenville – ECHL / Pensacola – SPHL), Michael St. Croix, Adam Tambellini (Calgary – WHL), Nick Tarnasky.
*Players with no teams were with Hartford and Greenville last season.
There are lots of interesting storylines for this 2015-2016 edition of the Wolf Pack. They are a shadow of the team they were in the late spring. That group, which reached the conference finals, have seen 12 players depart in the off- season for various different posts in the AHL and Europe.
“You never know what you’re going to get (in terms of players),” Gernander said. “Who’s to say? The guys who were with us last year went into camp and showed themselves well. They acquitted themselves very well that’s what I tend to look at,”
Gernander enters his eighth season as head coach.
The biggest question mark as the season surrounds the health of the two goalies projected to guard the net in Hartford, Cedrick Desjardins, who tore his ACL the day after Christmas against Springfield and Mackenzie Skapski, who had off -season surgery on his labrum in his right hip for an injury suffered April 5th.
Neither player is near ready to be cleared to play.
“They’re both skating, but neither is cleared to participate with the group yet. They can’t take shots at all and with the both of them, they would have to show that they can play and take shots without a risk that could set them back. We’re not going to rush them back and were just going to keep following them along their rehab until they’re fully ready to play.”
Gernander was unwilling to say exactly how close the two are to being ready.
“I’m not going to put any numbers on it. When they’re at 100%, I’ll let you know,” Gernander said. “It’s really a moving target. One day the guy comes in and he feels great, the next day he comes in not with maybe a little setback. So I’m not going to put a number on it. When each of them gets to 100% we’ll address it.”
So it looks like Jeff Malcolm, entering his third season in the Rangers’ organization, will likely be starting the season along with newcomer Magnus Hellberg, who was signed from the Milwaukee Admirals.
Malcolm is a known commodity and could be assumed to be the number one in net to start the year.
“You need two goalies, six defensemen and 12 forwards,” a jovial and snarky Germander said. “He has been here before. We are comfortable with him from both a player’s point of view and a character’s point of view. He’s not going to come in here and rankle feathers. He’s going to do the work hard. In his tenure here, he has always shown improvement and he continued to trend up. There is an opportunity and he is certainly an option.”
Clearly, speed up front is what comes from some of the new additions such as Brian Gibbons, Luke Adam and rookie Richard Nejezchleb.
“We didn’t get a memo in the off-season to get slower,” Gernander said with a smile. “That’s the way the game is going, you know? That’s the direction things are moving in and those of the type of players we brought in.”
The blue line will feature the Ranger’s top draft pick in Brady Skjei (pronounced, “Shay”) who played at the end of the regular season and into the post-season after having left the University of Minnesota early.
“(If you) watch him in several of the games (with the Rangers), he’s showing lots of promise. I don’t think a little seasoning in the American (Hockey) League will hurt him one bit. It’s a competitive league; lots of things to learn and at this point, it’s the best place for his development.”
No decision has been made yet on which side Skjei will patrol for the Wolf Pack.
“It’s too early to say. We still have to determine our personnel. There are things that still need to be shaken out,” Gernander said. Certainly he was referring to the Rangers still having eight defensemen in New York as part of their 25 man roster. They will still need to cut two bodies by weeks end and deal with their contract load which stands at 49. Under the CBA, a team is only permitted a total of 50 and with a maximum of 23 players on the NHL roster.
Two European defenders are clearly going to get a strong look over the three preseason game schedule. They will be Swedish rearguard, Calle Andersson and Czech right handed shot, Petr Zamorsky.
“We’re going to have to see how that plays out. The onus will be on them to become more complete or well-rounded players and to see how that offensive prowess translates at this level. That’s why we have preseason, to see what their level of power-play prowess would be. Certainly we want to see how they handle five-on-five play.”
Andersson’s father Peter played with the Rangers for 39 games from 1992-1994.
NHL cuts are coming each day. Those with a Connecticut connection include:
Bakersfield – Matt Ford (Wolf Pack)
Charlotte – TJ Hensick (Wolf Pack)
Iowa – Joe Finley (Sound Tigers)
Lake Erie – Brett Gallant (Sound Tigers), Mike Paoliotta (Westport / Avon Old Farms), Jamie Sifers (Stratford) and Peter Quenneville (Quinnipiac).
Lehigh Valley – Jason LaBarbera (Wolf Pack) and Logan Pyatt (CT Whale).
Rockford – Brandon Mashinter (Wolf Pack) and Ryan Haggerty (Wolf Pack).
Stockton – Bryce van Brabant (Quinnipiac), Ken Agostino (Yale University), Blair Riley (Sound Tigers), Jon Gillies (Salisbury Prep) and Kent Simpson (Sound Tigers).
Sound Tigers goalie Kevin Poulin was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay after the Islanders were reassigning him on Sunday.
Jordan Sims, the son of ex-Hartford Whaler and New Haven Nighthawk Al Sims, signs with Evansville (ECHL).
Former Wolf Pack Jared Nightingale was released by Detroit and was sent to Toledo (ECHL).
Justin Courtnall, who split last year Bridgeport and Syracuse, signs with Allen (ECHL).
Former Wolf Pack defenseman from their first season, Ryan Risidore, is the new radio color commentator for Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) on CHML (900) the station can be heard loud and clear at night in CT.
One more AHL’er heading to Europe is Will Acton who played most of the year with Utica and a few in Oklahoma City, has signed with Schwenniger (Germany-DEL).
In Pack camp are several sons of ex-NHL’ers. Alex Kruselnyski is the son of former Ranger Mike Kruselnyski and Stefano Momesso is the son of former Canadiens player, Sergio Momesso who is now the radio color commentator on Canadiens radio broadcasts. Those broadcasts are on TSN 690AM and can also be heard in Connecticut at night.