BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
BRIDGEPORT, CT – The match Sunday afternoon between the Hartford Wolf Pack and Bridgeport Sound Tigers was a tale of two teams going in very opposite directions.
Bridgeport was opportunistic in their scoring and pulled away for a 5-2 victory Sunday afternoon at the Webster Bank Arena. On the weekend the Wolf Pack were outscored 18-5 and have given up the most goals in the AHL with 222.
“At the end of the day, its win and losses and we didn’t get our wins (this weekend),” Ken Gernander, a clearly irritated Pack head coach, said.
The Wolf Pack are dead last in the AHL with a record of 21-35-3-2 (47 points) and .392 winning percentage. The team was coming off two stinging losses and have now lost five in a row. They are 2-9 over their last 11 games and came to the Park City to play the Sound Tigers who remain in the thick of the playoff hunt.
On Thursday, this Wolf Pack squad was a buoyant group ready for the challenge of an AHL weekend three-games-in-three-days, but what they had aspired for never materialized.
“Not even close,” remarked Chris Summers. He didn’t mince his words, “Seems everything right now, our PK isn’t working, our powerplay isn’t working for us. Say what you want about puck bounces, we’re a beaten team after this weekend.”
Bridgeport’s record improves to 32-26-2-1 (77 points). The Sound Tigers are battling the Providence Bruins and Hershey Bears for the right to play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins – the AHL’s best team – or the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the first round of the AHL Atlantic Division semifinals.
As has happened in the last two games, the second period was the undoing for the Wolf Pack.
The Sound Tigers scored on the powerplay as goalie Jaroslav Halak started the break-out by chipping the puck up to Josh Winquist, who carried the puck through center and into the Wolf Pack zone. Winquist got the shot off and starting netminder, Mackenzie Skapski made the initial save on, but Michael DelColle buried the rebound at 7:54.
“Winquist played really well for us,” Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson said. “He doesn’t get the credit sometimes that he deserves. He has some good vision and patience and on that play, he showed it.”
Gernander gave Halak his props.
“He is an NHL goalie. They’re not fooling anybody in that perspective. Our goalies are learning and developing. Maybe they should take note of what is transpiring up at the other end (of the ice). That’s an NHL goalie in a minor league situation and that’s how he plays. ‘Maybe, I can aspire to that as far as my play is concerned,’” Gernander stated.
The Sound Tigers expanded their lead from 2-0 to 3-0 just 54 seconds later.
Veteran Bracken Kearns outmuscled the Pack’s John Gilmour and banged in his 13th goal of the season off of a rebound of Kane Lafranchise shot.
“Seems to be the theme for the weekend,” Summers said. “For whatever chances we had, our chances in the first period, we didn’t capitalize on them and they turn around and score a couple of quick ones on us we thought we could have had. A true character team fights through that. I don’t think we’re playing as an entire team.”
The quick pace of opponents scoring can’t be overlooked.
“It takes away any chance of momentum. If you have five ‘Grade A’ chances before you, you have to be able to rebound. The ability to bounce back from a goal, whether we thought it was a good goal or not, is not there right now,” Summers said. “You make any excuses you want, but the fact is we’re not playing very good hockey right now and that was very evident this weekend. We’re not in sync and playing as five-man units.”
Summers is one of the few players in the plus category on the roster at plus-4.
The Pack spoiled the Bridgeport shutout bid when they finally got some net-front presence which had been in complete absence up to that point.
Marek Hrivik scored just his third goal and point in his last 12 games when he banged in the rebound of Westport-native Mike Paliotta’s drive from the right point at 14:40. It was just the third shot of the period for the Pack. They’d finish the period with just five.
The Sound Tigers made it a 4-1 game in the last seconds of the second period.
Dan Catenacci was whistled for a late penalty. The Pack lost the draw and former Quinnipiac Bobcat, Devon Toews, who was at the right point, was able to send a diagonal cross-ice pass to wide open, ex-Pack, Andrew Rowe, who snapped the shot past Skapski for his ninth goal with 1.7 seconds left, just four seconds into the powerplay.
“It all goes back to winning one-on-one battles and decision making. It all sounds cliché, but that’s the difference and enough of this played out in-game and that was the end result,” Gernander said.
The first was period was fairly evenly played, but yet Bridgeport exited the period up 1-0.
The Sound Tiger goal came late on the power play.
After missing the first shot, Jon Landry took a short pass at the right point and Catenacci tried to block the shot but instead deflected the puck just enough to sail past Skapski at 18:53. It was Landry’s fourth of the season.
The Sound Tigers came out to and peppered the Wolf Pack with shots on goal. Skapski made stops on former UCONN player Brant Harris, who was making his Sound Tiger debut, just 36 seconds into the game. Kane Lafranchise was on the left wing and Ross Johnston was off to the right and both forced Skapski to make key stops.
Johnston was an early presence using his 6’5 frame to deliver a thundering hit on Tommy Hughes in the right wing corner that left him momentarily dazed.
The Pack tried some effective counter-attack led by Nicklas Jensen at 12:41 as he cut to the middle of the ice, but was stopped by Halak.
The Pack had their first power play nullified because of a “Too-Many-Men” on the ice penalty. Penalties like that, while on a power play no less, are indicative of how this season has gone for Hartford.
“Our margin-of-error is rather slim,” Gernander said. “We need to convert when we have the opportunities. He (Halak) made good saves early.”
Gernander made two surprise scratches. Center Adam Tambellini (lower body is day-to-day) and defenseman Garrett Noonan (healthy). Boo Nieves (upper body is also day-to-day).
Pack lines were:
The Bridgeport power play is 19th in the league at 16.4%. The Wolf Pack have slipped back to 12th at 17.8%.
The Pack is 2-21-0-1 when trailing after two periods this season.
On the PK the Pack is 28th in the AHL at 78.6% and the Sound Tigers are 22nd at 80.5%.
Paliotta missed 19 games before returning to the lineup last night in Springfield. Boo Nieves has missed 18 games to date.
UCONN alumni, Brant Harris, was fourth in the ECHL in scoring with the Florida Everblades. He had a strong game and was credited with just one shot, but had four or five quality looks.
Thompson’s hockey empire continues to grow. The ex-Wolf Pack defenseman and current Bridgeport head coach saw his eldest son Tage Thompson sign a three-year, entry-level deal, with the St. Louis Blues. He leaves UCONN after two years. He made his AHL debut in Chicago last night.
The youngest Thompson, Tyce, after Salisbury Prep was eliminated from the prep school playoffs by Dexter Academy in a 4-2 loss in the Elite 8 NEPSAC Division, has gone to play for Dubuque (USHL) in concluding their Jr. A season.
Greenwich native and Brunswick prep grad, John Hayden of Yale has signed a three-year, entry-level deal, with the Chicago Blackhawks who drafted him in the 3rd round 74th overall.