By Bruce Berlet
Their similarities are almost eerie.
Both grew up learning to skate and play hockey in Ontario, Canada.
Both played for winning teams in Triple-A and the Ontario Hockey League.
Both played for three OHL teams and stayed with the same family when they started with the Barrie Colts.
Both went undrafted by NHL teams and signed free-agent AHL contracts with the Hartford-based Wolf Pack and Connecticut Whale.
Both started their pro career in the ECHL and got their first call-up to the AHL because of injuries.
Both worked out together two summers ago with elite skating coach Darryl Belfry in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Both shoot right-handed and play defense.
Both now wear No. 5.
But Blake Parlett is only 12 games into his first AHL stint with the Whale earning about $60,000. Dan Girardi is part of the Rangers’ No. 1 defensive pairing with Marc Staal, the team’s first-round pick (12th overall) in 2005, and signed a four-year, $13.3-million contract on July 10.
When asked about someday getting a similar contract as Girardi, Parlett smiled and said, “I wouldn’t mind that.”
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But for now, Parlett is happy to try to continue to climb the hockey ladder as part of the Whale’s No. 2 defensive pairing with Pavel Valentenko.
“Valentenko is a big defenseman who likes to block shots, move the puck and finish checks, and I think they complement each other very well,” said Whale assistant coach J.J. Daigneault, who works with the defense.
Parlett signed an AHL contract on July 27 and was named an ECHL All-Star before being called up by the Whale on Feb. 17. At the time, he was ECHL’s top scoring defensemen with seven goals and 24 assists in 46 games with the Greenville Road Warriors, the ECHL’s No. 1 team at the time.
After a feeling-out period the first few weeks, Parlett has made quite a strong first impression on both ends of the ice, especially when he went to the net and deflected in Kris Newbury’s shot for his first AHL goal with only 27.5 seconds left in overtime to give the Whale a 2-1 victory at Springfield on March 5.
Even veteran defenseman Wade Redden sees similarities to Girardi, whom he played with for two seasons on Broadway.
“Being poised with the puck is the big thing for him,” Redden said Wednesday after practice at the XL Center in Hartford. “He’s strong, can play in traffic, make plays when the pressure is on and skates well, too, so he kind of creates space for himself. And he sees plays, like in Springfield, and reads the ice when he’s got the puck. I definitely think that’s some guys’ strengths. He came in here undrafted and had a pretty good junior career, and you’ve seen a few guys like that just seem to play their game wherever they go and do well.
“Girardi is another guy who didn’t get drafted probably because he’d been injured a lot, but I think they just come in with poise and play smart and hard. That’s a big part of it, especially at the pro level. It’s one of those things where he’s not drafted and they had a lot of defensemen here, so he wanted to prove himself (at Greenville) and is doing a good job here.”
Daigneault said Parlett has one of the biggest assets for a defenseman, being a good passer.
“A good defenseman has to be able to move the puck, whether it’s in transition, regrouping, breaking out or making plays under pressure,” said Daigneault, known for such talents in his 16-year NHL career. “He does all those things, and those are often skills that I try to polish in young defensemen who come here. If you have a kid who shows up and has that element in his game, it’s a good plus.”
“It was good for Parlett to play (in Greenville) because when we had some injuries and were looking to call up a defenseman, we had (Lee) Baldwin, (Sam) Klassen and (Trevor) Glass who also were available,” Daigneault said. “But when I looked at the statistics, I said, ‘If we had nobody who is signed in the AHL, nobody who is Rangers property, and we’re looking for a defenseman, who do we go after?’ Well, we go after the leading scorer who is 21 years old and is our property.
“There are a few things in his game that we’ll have to improve, like his defensive side, but that’s just a tweak. He had to adjust to the AHL level, and he’s adjusting well with seven points in the last (six) games, and his physicality is better. For me, it’s a matter of giving him more and more responsibility as he goes along. He’s still feeling his way, but he’s very promising. He reminds me of Girardi in his passing, but I think (Parlett) has more offensive upside. Danny was a good quarterback, and Blake’s shot is probably not as good as Dan. But I worked with Blake on it (Wednesday), so his shot will improve. He also has very good mobility defending the rush and maintains good defensive position, but I talk to him every game about elevating his game. He has to be better every game.”
When Parlett arrived in Hartford, he only played 5-on-5 but is now also on the second power-play unit and just started helping on the penalty kill. Parlett said the added responsibility has helped with his adjustment to the AHL and boosted his confidence. He had his first multiple-point game with three assists in a 5-4 loss at Worcester on Sunday, giving him a point in five of the last six games after being held off the scoresheet in his first six games.
“Coming in, I’d never played a regular-season game at this level, so I obviously knew the speed was going to be a lot faster and the guys were going to be bigger and stronger,” Parlett said. “My first two games, I just tried to get a feel for it, keep my game simple and just try to improve each game went on. As time went on, the coaches kept showing confidence in me by letting me play my style of game and giving me the opportunity to play on the power play, so that was a pretty positive thing and big for me.”
Parlett said the first three games he felt “a bit off” trying to get used to the speed of the game and the transition. But after six games, he felt he was getting adapted because he had felt better and more confident with the puck with each passing game.
“Around the seventh game I really started to play the way I know I can,” Parlett said.
Coach Ken Gernander also has liked what he has seen after watching Parlett play in the prospects tournament in September in Traverse City, Mich., and then in training camp.
“I like the way he moves the puck, and he’s a strong skater, so that’s always helpful when you’re defending and can close the gap and take away time and space,” Gernander said. “He’s really poised with the puck; he doesn’t just throw it away, which is part of being a good player. And he makes plays that make a difference in the course of a game.
“I knew some of his assets, but how well they translate to this level of play remains to be seen, but I think he has showed himself well.”
Parlett, who has one goal, six assists and is plus-4 in 12 games, said he feels his assets are what others have seen: good first pass, sees the ice well, knows when to jump into the play at the right time.
Parlett smiled when told of his comparison to Girardi, starting with staying with the family in juniors to their joint work with Belfry, who specializes in all phases of on-ice training, including power skating and stick-handling. Parlett has worked with Belfry the last two summers, while Girardi joined some other NHL players in private lessons last year.
Parlett began his quest for the NHL at age 3 in Bracebridge, Ontario, skating with his older sister, Brittney, who was a figure skater. He got into power skating at 6 and started playing in the town league a year later before joining an all-star travel team. He began a four-year stint in Triple-A hockey at 11 on an Indian reservation, North Central Ontario, and helped the team finish fourth, first and second in the Ontario Minor Hockey playoffs his last three seasons.
Parlett then played one season with the Huntsville-Muskoka Otters Junior A team in 2004-05 and was named to Team Ontario for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. He was a first-round pick (15th overall) of Barrie in the 2007 OHL prior draft and helped the Colts to the third round of the OHL playoffs. On Jan. 3, 2007, Parlett was traded to the Windsor Spitfires and was eligible for the NHL draft but went unclaimed. A year later, he was traded to the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, where he played for 21/2 seasons before signing with the Wolf Pack.
So what does he need to get to Girardi’s level?
“Improve my defensive play,” Parlett said. “I ‘puck-watch’ a little too much. And I have to learn to close the gap better with the forwards in the neutral zone.”
One step a time, as Dan Girardi knows all too well.
WHALE PLAY TWO AT HOME AFTER VISIT TO MANCHESTER
After four days off, the Whale (33-26-2-6) return to action Friday night when they visit the Atlantic Division-leading Manchester Monarchs, who hosted the Springfield Falcons on Wednesday night and have been the Whale’s biggest nemesis this season. The Whale is 1-5-0-2 against the Monarchs, their only victory being 5-1 at the XL Center on Dec. 11. The Whale has lost their three previous visits to the Verizon Wireless Center by a goal, the last on Dec. 21 in a shootout. The Whale also lost twice to the Monarchs at home by a goal, with a third loss being by two goals with an empty-netter.
After the final meeting with the Monarchs, the Whale will play eight of their last 12 games at home, starting Saturday night against the Providence Bruins (30-32-3-2), who have lost two in a row after four consecutive victories to fall nine points out of a playoff spot. The Whale is 4-2-0-1 against the Bruins but lost the last meeting 5-4 in a shootout in the outdoor Harvest-Properties.com Whale Bowl game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 19. Maxime Sauve got the winning shootout goal after scoring early in the game. He also had two goals in each of the Bruins’ two wins.
Before the game, the first “Guns & Hoses Cup” between police and fire departments from the Greater Hartford area will be played at 4:30 p.m. to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“Many of the gentlemen who are going to be playing in the event have been playing hockey for several years, and to play on the XL Center ice surface is really going to be a treat for a lot of these guys,” said East Hartford firefighter Tim George, who has been the driving force behind organizing the event with the Whale. “I think that’s one of the reasons why there is such a draw for people to participate in the event.
“And for it to be more than just a bunch of 40-year-old kids that were going to have fun playing on the ice surface, we decided to do it as a charity event, and that’s how we got the MDA involved. Once we found out we could have the opportunity to play on the XL Center ice surface before a Whale game, it just seemed like a natural fit that we would incorporate that into it, as a fundraiser to raise money for a good cause. That’s what we’re all about all the time, trying to take care of people, help our communities and at the same time give back wherever we can.”
The police team will be comprised of players from the police departments of Farmington, led by Police Chief Paul Melanson, Hartford, Middletown, Rockville, Rocky Hill, Newington and West Hartford. The fire team consists predominantly of East Hartford firefighters.
Fans are encouraged to arrive early as pregame festivities include presentation of the Colors by an honor guard, a live performance of the national anthem and a ceremonial puck drop. Following the game, there will be a trophy presentation to the winning team.
Tickets can be purchased at CTHeroescup.com for $20, with half of that going to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Tickets for the benefit game are good for the Whale-Bruins game, and Whale season seat-holders can receive free admission to the police-fire department game by presenting their season ticket at the gate. And 3,000 lucky fans will receive a bobblehead of Whalers mascot Pucky courtesy of Click It or Ticket.
The Whale will complete the busy weekend on Sunday afternoon with the first of two consecutive games against Springfield (30-32-2-3), which entered the game at Manchester on a season-high, seven-game losing streak (0-6-0-1) since the loss of rugged wings Tom Sestito and former Wolf Pack captain Dane Byers via deals at the trade deadline. The Falcons were seriously challenging for their first playoff berth since 2005 before the recent freefall that has existed since a 4-1 victory over Portland on Feb. 26. Their only point since then came on March in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Whale, who are 4-1-1-1 against Springfield and have won four in a row with three games left in the I-91 series.
The Whale and Falcons also play Wednesday before the first-year Charlotte Checkers, their former ECHL affiliate, make their second XL Center appearance next Friday and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers visit next Saturday to end the homestand. The Whale then plays successive games at Providence on March 27 and April 1.
HOCKEY MINISTRIES NIGHT AT WHALE GAME
Hockey Ministries International Northeast is sponsoring 2011 Faith & Family Night at the game against Charlotte. Upper bowl seats are $10, and Scarlet Fade will perform a postgame concert.
To order tickets, contact AHL Chapel Coordinator Rick Mitera at 860-817-6440 or email@example.com. When someone buys a ticket through Hockey Ministries, they receive a $2 coupon for parking. For more information on Hockey Ministries, visit www.hockeyministriesnortheast.org.
WHALE TO HONOR HOWE FAMILY ON MARCH 26
The Whale will host “Howe Family Night” when Bridgeport visits on March 26. The No. 9 of “Mr. Hockey,” one of seven numbers in the XL Center rafters, will be lowered and then raised and re-retired as he and his sons, Mark and Marty, whom he played with for seven seasons in Houston and Hartford, look on. The matriarch of the family, Colleen Howe, who died in 2009, will be honored.
A new banner saluting the Howes, hockey’s first family, will also be raised to the rafters and area fans will be able to salute the Howe clan for their contributions to hockey in general and the Hartford market in particular.
“In a lot of ways, Gordie Howe really put Hartford on the hockey map,” Whalers Sports and Entertainment president and COO Howard Baldwin Jr. said. “He brought true greatness to the city and helped usher the Whalers into the NHL. We feel that now is the perfect time to honor him and his legendary family with so many great things going on with the Whale, the Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest having been such a momentous event, and so much excitement around hockey in Connecticut right now.”
Prior to the game, fans can meet Gordie and get a personalized autographed book and photo by purchasing a copy of the colorful 185-page book “Howe No. 9.” The book sells for $70, and he will be signing copies starting at 5:30 p.m. in the XL Center atrium. In addition, the first 2,000 fans will receive a free commemorative 36-page Gordie Howe tribute program full of color photos and stories.
Howe’s No. 9 is in the rafters with the Whalers’ No. 2 (Rick Ley), 5 (Ulf Samuelsson), 10 (Ron Francis), 11 (Kevin Dineen) and 19 (John McKenzie). Gernander’s No. 12 is the only number to be retired in the 14-year history of the AHL team.
“I think the next test of this market will be on Howe Family Night,” Baldwin Jr. said. “People should come out and show Gordie the respect that he deserves. It’s one of the biggest nights of the season, and I agree with (Hartford Courant sports columnist) Jeff Jacobs that it’s the time when the tire meets the road. It’s a big game on our schedule, and we don’t have a lot of games left. I’d be very disappointed if we didn’t have 10,000 people.”
The Howes played together for the first time with the Houston Aeros in 1973 before coming to Hartford and signing with the World Hockey Association’s New England Whalers in 1977. Howe ended his legendary 32-year career in the Whalers’ first NHL season (1979-80), when he had 15 goals and 26 assists and was named a NHL All-Star for the 23rd time while helping the Whalers make the playoffs at 52 years old.
Tickets for all Whale games are available at the XL Center box office, through Ticketmaster Charge-by-Phone at 1-800-745-3000 and on-line at www.ctwhale.com. Tickets start at $7 at the XL Center ticket office on game day. Fans who did not attend the Whale’s game against Providence at Rentschler Field in East Hartford because of the frigid weather can redeem their tickets for one to “Howe Family Night” or another game of their choice. If fans want to redeem a ticket, they should contact Whalers Sports and Entertainment president and COO Howard Baldwin Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIRST TEE OF CONNECTICUT DAY ON APRIL 3
The Whale will host First Tee of Connecticut Day on April 3, when the Portland Pirates are at the XL Center at 3 p.m.
Level 200 tickets are $12, with the First Tee of Connecticut receiving $5 from each ticket sold. To purchase tickets and help local youngsters interested in improving their golf game and life skills, contact Nick Criscuolo at 860-728-3366 or email@example.com.
FORMER WOLF PACK WISEMAN NAMED AHL PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Former Hartford Wolf Pack wing Chad Wiseman of the Albany Devils was named Reebok/AHL Player of the Week for scoring six goals in helping the Devils win four games and etching his name in the AHL record book.
Wiseman’s week began with a stunning four goals in the final 9:35 of the game, including the winner with 31.6 seconds left, in a 5-4 Devils win over the Sound Tigers Wednesday. The four goals in one period tied an AHL record, accomplished by only six other players in the league’s 75-year history but the first since Cape Breton’s Ralph Intranuovo against Saint John in the first period of a game on April 16, 1996. Wiseman had one goal in a 2-1 win at Adirondack on Friday night and capped the week with the winner in a 4-1 victory over Syracuse on Sunday.
Wiseman, whose six-goal week matched his previous output for the season, has 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points in 37 games this season. A 10th-year pro from Burlington, Ont., Wiseman has 159 goals and 228 assists in 519 career AHL games with Albany/Lowell, Springfield, Hershey, Hartford and Cleveland. The former draft pick of the San Jose Sharks has also appeared in nine career NHL games with San Jose and the Rangers.
The Whale nominated center Kris Newbury, who had four goals and three assists in four games to extend his points streak to six games (five goals, five assists) since returning from his fourth stint with the Rangers. Other nominees included Sound Tigers center Jeremy Colliton, former Wolf Pack defenseman and captain Andrew Hutchinson (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and South Windsor native Jon DiSalvatore (Houston). DiSalvatore was part of a six-goal third period that lifted Houston to a 6-3 victory over Manitoba and has helped the Aeros move into a tie for first in the West Division with Milwaukee, which had three games in hand entering Wednesday night’s game at San Antonio. The Aeros captain had two goals and an assist as Houston set a team record for goals in a period this season. Patrick O’Sullivan got the Aeros tied at 1 only 20 seconds into the third period before DiSalvatore took over and got one of two empty-net goals in the final seconds. He has 14 goals and 15 assists in 26 games since O’Sullivan joined the Aeros on Jan. 15. His 22 goals tie his career high, achieved four previous times (2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06, 2007-08).
KREIDER RATED TOP RANGERS PROSPECT
Boston College right wing Chris Kreider was ranked the New York Rangers’ top prospect in The Hockey News Future Watch. The Rangers are ranked 12th with a B among the 30 NHL teams. The rankings are based on prospects who are 21 and under, as well as a handicapping system that takes into account average draft rank of the team’s first pick in each of the last four years.
Kreider, the Rangers’ first-round pick (19th overall) in 2009, led the Eagles to the NCAA title last year with a 5-0 victory over the University of Wisconsin, whose top players were Rangers center Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, was rated third by The Hockey News. Kreider had 11 goals and 12 assists in 31 games and was MVP of the Beanpot Tournament before sustaining a broken jaw when hit in the face by a clearing pass by teammate Brian Gibbons in a 4-0 victory over the University of New Hampshire on March 4. Despite being without their best player, the Eagles advanced to a Hockey East semifinal matchup against Northeastern on Friday night at the TD Garden in Boston. New Hampshire plays Merrimack in the second semifinal.
Rugged defenseman Dylan McIlrath, the Rangers’ first-round pick (10th overall) in 2010 now playing for Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League, is ranked second and McDonagh third. Right wing Christian Thomas, the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2010 from Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League, is rated fourth, followed by Whale wing Evgeny Grachev, center Ethan Werek (Kingston-OHL), Whale right wing Dale Weise, right wing Jesper Fasth (Sweden), left wing Ryan Bourque (Quebec-Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) and left wing Roman Horak (Chilliwack-OHL). Bourque is the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque.
Rangers center Derek Stepan and Whale defenseman Michael Del Zotto, Tomas Kundratek and Pavel Valentenko also could be included among the top 10, and former Wolf Pack players Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Mats Zuccarello are all under 25 and coveted young players.
Thomas, the first Rangers draftee since former Wolf Pack wing Ryan Callahan to score 50 goals in an OHL season, was named OHL Player of the Week for the second time this season. Thomas, the son of former NHL standout Steve Thomas, had six goals, including his 50th of the season, and three assists in three games. Thomas, who leads the OHL with 54 goals, is one of only two 50-goal scorers this season. In reaching 50 goals, Thomas and his father became the first father-son tandem in OHL history to achieve the milestone. Steve Thomas, who scored 421 goals with six NHL teams, had 51 goals with the OHL’s Toronto Marlboros in 1983-84.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported Wednesday that Michigan senior left wing Carl Hagelin will sign with the Rangers and report to the Whale when the Wolverines’ season ends.
Hagelin, a sixth-round pick in 2007, will become eligible for unrestricted free agency if he does not sign with the Rangers by Aug. 15, but that’s apparently not the intention of the 5-foot-11, 176-pound Swede.
Michigan, ranked fourth in the country behind North Dakota, Boston College and Yale, faces Western Michigan in the CCHA semifinals at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Friday. The NCAA regionals are the following weekend, and the Frozen Four is April 7-9 in St. Paul, Minn. The Whale regular season ends. April 10.
The 22-year-old Hagelin, who has 17 goals and 30 assists in 38 games, is among the three finalists for the CCHA Player of the Year.