By Bruce Berlet

Oh, for the love of hockey.

CT WhaleYes, it’ll always be known as Memorable Monday for Alexandre Imbeault.

It started with a 4 a.m. wakeup call in Fort Myers, Fla., and ended with a much-deserved snooze on the Connecticut Whale team bus after a 2-1 victory on veteran defenseman Wade Redden’s first shorthanded overtime winner in Portland, Maine.

What transpired in between is what helps make hockey the great game it is and demonstrates just what players will do to try to enhance their careers.

Only hours after Florida Everblades linemate Francis Lemieux was called by the Whale, Imbeault, the ECHL’s leading goal-scorer, learned he would be rejoining the ECHL’s leading point-scorer.

But Lemieux and the Whale were in snowy Maine, while Imbeault was still in 80-degree temperatures in Florida.

So after the early wakeup call, Imbeault boarded a 6 a.m. flight from Fort Myers to New York that took off late and landed at 9:05, which was 10 minutes AFTER his scheduled takeoff from New York to Portland.

“I had to run from the first flight to other flight so I wouldn’t miss it,” a smiling Imbeault said after his first practice with the Whale on Wednesday morning before they departed for two games in Charlotte, N.C. “Everybody was already sitting on the plane, but they told me I could go because they hadn’t closed the (door) yet.”

That’s because the second flight was delayed while snow was removed from the plane’s wings, plus Imbeault was one of four passengers on the first flight with a connection to Portland. So the plane in New York was held 20 minutes and departed at 9:50 a.m., landing in Portland at 11:05, less than two hours before the Whale was to face off against the Pirates.

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Imbeault had to wait for his bags at the Portland airport, where he was picked up and taken to Cumberland County Civic Center, arriving at 11:45 a.m., 75 minutes before faceoff. Imbeault missed the pre-game team meeting and had a pre-game “meal” of a Red Bull and an energy bar. He started the pre-game warm-up about 35 minutes later with the somewhat reassuring knowledge that he would be on a line with Lemieux and Whale tough guy Justin Soryal.

Neither Imbeault nor Lemieux registered a point, but Whale coach Ken Gernander was happy with the two newcomers and the rest of the team, especially when Redden scored off a 2-on-1 with former Pirates standout center Tim Kennedy. It was a fitting ending to a game which the Whale (28-22-2-6) had more shots in the first period (18) than the Pirates had in the game (16).

“We won a big road game in a tough building and gave up only 16 shots, so I thought everybody played pretty good,” Gernander said. “We had a great start, then they got a late goal (by league goal-scoring leader Mark Mancari) that was tough, but the guys rebounded in overtime. It was a good win, but they all are. Portland had some injuries, so they’ll get stronger once they get some guys back, but they had a good lineup and are (in second place) in our division, right there with Manchester. So to go in there and get a win was good.”

Gernander used Imbeault and Lemieux together because they comprised two-thirds of the Everblades’ top line. At the time of their promotions, Imbeault had an ECHL-high 31 goals (plus 15 assists in 43 games), and Lemieux was No. 1 in points with 72 (24 goals and 48 assists in 55 games). They skated with Soryal the first half of the game Monday, and Devin DiDiomete and Oren Eizenman rotated in the rest of the game.

“They weren’t a minus,” Gernander said of Lemieux and Imbeault. “Frank had a couple of good chances, so it was good. They were good together, so we’ll leave them together.”

The Whale needed Lemieux and Imbeault because they were without centers Kris Newbury (recall to New York Rangers), Todd White (concussion) and Ryan Garlock (ankle) and wings Chad Kolarik (hamstring) and Chris McKelvie (foot surgery). Garlock will return Thursday night, but Jyri Niemi, who had been moved from defense to left wing to help the depleted forward corps, will be out 4-to-6 weeks with a separated shoulder sustained when hit by Tim Conboy.

Defenseman Blake Parlett, recalled from Greenville of the ECHL last Thursday, said Lemieux and Imbeault are solid additions to the Whale. Parlett, who led ECHL defensemen in points (31) when he was called up, sees plenty of Lemieux and Imbeault as Greenville and Florida play 15 games in a season.

“They’re good players together and were on the same power play together,” Parlett said. “They’re good passers and so good at finding that open guy.”

It’s also good for the Whale that two newcomers arriving in the midst of a playoff drive on the road know each other so well. The Everblades (30-24-0-3) are in third place in the South Division of the Eastern Conference, five points behind the first-place Road Warriors (33-20-1-1), who have a shared affiliation with the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.

“It helps a lot to have someone around that you know, and (Lemieux) played five years in the AHL so he knows the game and a lot of guys,” Imbeault said. “For me to come here when he’s already here makes it easier to get adjusted. You feel more comfortable when you’ve got someone you know, especially your linemate. We’ve got a little chemistry together, so I think it helps in the game situations. Plus, we know the guys from Greenville because they’re in our division.”

Parlett, McKelvie and defenseman Lee Baldwin played in Greenville this season, and DiDiomete spent some of last season with the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers.

“It’s good to play with someone you know already, that you’re used to playing with all season,” Lemieux said. “We were rooming together in Florida, too, so we’re used to being together and makes it a lot easier for both of us to get in the lineup. It’s not a big adjustment.”

Imbeault, 24, played most of last season with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces and then signed with Slavia Praha HC of the Czech Extraleague. The 6-foot, 180-pound native of Montreal previously played 18 AHL games with Providence and Peoria, getting five goals and four assists. He has 95 goals and 108 assists in 207 career ECHL games with Johnstown, Alaska and Florida after playing five seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with three teams.

“I’ve been all over the place,” Imbeault said. “I signed in the Czech Republic at the end of last season but played only four games and only one in the playoffs because the coach didn’t think I was ready to play in the defensive system. They pay pretty well, but it’s not a league I’d recommend for imports just because of the language. The coach didn’t speak any English. There are some players who spoke English, but not many, so it’s a tough place to go for an import.

“I understood the system, but the coach just thought I wasn’t comfortable. I’m a lot more comfortable here. It’s pretty similar to Florida, and the style of hockey is the same. Over there, there’s still hooking and interference, and I thought when you go to Europe it’s a more wide-open league with a bigger rink. But most of the rinks are small, so it was completely the opposite of what I thought. You can play one day on a rink that’s like a football field, and the next day you go in and it’s like a little barn because there are a lot of little towns.”

After returning home, Imbeault didn’t want to return to Alaska because of the distance. He said he had always heard good things about Florida.

“It’s a nice place to play, and they always have good teams, so I thought it would be a good fit for me,” he said.

Imbeault requested a trade and then considered going to Europe but decided he wanted to remain in North America. He was traded to Florida on Sept. 15 and has been thrust into a couple of playoff races, one of which now includes a team that the Whale is battling in the AHL.

“It’s tense, so every game is important,” he said. “It’s the same thing down in Florida.”

So what about Memorable Monday?

“It was fun,” Imbeault said, smiling again. “I think the game went pretty well, and I think our line played pretty well. So I think we’ll just going to be even better as we get more confident. It was an exciting day, and I can say I was gassed when we came back on the bus. I could barely keep my eyes open watching the movie.”

Things weren’t as hectic for Lemieux, who arrived in Portland from Tampa on Monday at 5:30 p.m., about the time the Whale was busing in from Hartford. But he also didn’t have a practice or pre-game skate with the Whale because the game against the Pirates started at 1 p.m.

The 5-10, 180-pound Lemieux got his second AHL call-up this season two days before his 27th birthday. Originally signed by the Hamilton Bulldogs for the 2005-06 season after a strong showing in Montreal Canadiens training camp as a tryout player, Lemieux has now played in 252 AHL games, including two in December with the Manitoba Moose. He spent last season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where his teammates included Newbury and Whale All-Star right wing Jeremy Williams.

This season, Lemieux’s 28 goals are tied for third and his 44 assists rank second in the ECHL, and most have come while on the ice with Imbeault. Lemieux also considered going to Europe this season after it was difficult finding a contract in North America, so he decided to sign in the ECHL, try to get good statistics and get a chance to play in the AHL.

“I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen,” Lemieux said, “so I decided to go to Florida, get some ice time, try to get my confidence back and hope for call-ups. It has worked out pretty well, and this was an early (birthday) present.”

Lemieux and the rest of the Whale players had Tuesday off, so he celebrated by going to see the movie “Unknown.” It’s about a man going to a conference in Berlin, Germany, who gets into a car accident, loses his memory and is trying to get his life back.

It’s kind of like anyone trying to find their way, especially hockey players trying to find their way to the NHL.


Redden has played hockey for 28 of his 34 years but had never done what he did Monday, getting a shorthanded winner in overtime. Redden scored at 1:23 off a 2-on-1 with Kennedy, who again haunted his former team. Kennedy, a member of the AHL All-Rookie Team in 2008-09 while with the Pirates, scored overtime winners in Portland in back-to-back games on Dec. 29 and 31.

“It was a good feeling,” Redden said after practice. “They were coming into the zone, and we kind of stayed up and they made a pass across that (Marc-Andre Gragnani) bobbled and Tim jumped him. (Gragnani) made a dive for it as a last-ditch effort, missed it, so he was out of the play and it was just 2-on-1 all the way down the ice. And Mancari, a forward, was back. I was just standing in the slot waiting, and it was an open netter.

“It was disappointing to give up the goal so late (3:28 left in regulation) after having control and several power plays that could have put the game away. But we found a way to get the two points, so that’s the biggest thing.”

So did anyone give Redden the puck for his first overtime shorthanded winner?

“No, I didn’t get the puck,” he said with a smile. “I’ll have to remember next time.”


The victory Monday was the Whale’s fourth in a row on the road since a 9-2 loss at Toronto on Feb. 9 that tied franchise records for most goals allowed and largest margin of defeat. It also extended their points streak to 4-0-0-1 and gave them a 4-3 series lead on the Pirates after the sixth one-goal game between the teams this season.

The Whale plays Thursday and Saturday nights against their former ECHL affiliate, which moved to the AHL this season. The Whale (then the Hartford Wolf Pack) beat the Checkers 4-2 in the season opener Oct. 9 at the XL Center. The Checkers (32-20-2-5), the new affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, are 15-11-1-4 at home, and the Whale is 16-9-0-4 on the road, where they have won six of seven.

The Checkers suffered a 4-3 shootout loss at Syracuse on Tuesday night but are on a 6-2-1-1 run, which has moved them into third place in the East Division. Their leading scorer, All-Star right wing Jerome Samson (26, 28), is on recall to the Hurricanes. The top remaining scorers are left wings Chris Terry (23, 23) and Jacob Micflikier (22, 24), center Zach Boychuk (15, 30) and left wing Oskar Osala (13, 28). Center Zac Dalpe leads the rookie scoring race (17, 21) despite playing in only 40 games.

The Checkers have used only two goalies, rookie Mike Murphy (17-9-2, 2.80, .911, one shutout) and Justin Pogge (15-13-2, 3.13, .906, no shutouts). Murphy had won six straight games before Tuesday night and is 15-2-1 in his last 18 starts, including a 20-save shutout Sunday in a 5-0 victory over the defending Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears. Former Wolf Pack defenseman and 2011 All-Star Bryan Rodney had one goal and two assists in the romp.

The Whale finally returns to the XL Center next Wednesday to face Springfield, then are at Springfield, Worcester and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to end a brutal stretch of 10 road games in 12 starts. They will finish the season with 10 of their last 16 games at home, starting March 11 against Hershey.

The home game against Springfield will be “ Whale Appreciation Night.” Ticket purchasers from the Whale Bowl at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on a frigid Saturday night can present their ticket stub at the XL Center box office to purchase a $19 or $12 ticket and receive a second of equal or lesser value free. The Whale also will add a coupon for 15 percent off Whale Bowl merchandise that night.

“We would sincerely like to thank all of the fans who bought tickets for Whale Bowl as part of the 2011 Hockey Fest,” Whalers Sports and Entertainment president and COO Howard Baldwin Jr. said. “Whale fans helped to set a new AHL attendance record on February 19, braving the frigid elements in order to do so, and we are deeply grateful for all of their support of this historic event.”

The Whale Bowl drew 21,673 as the Whale lost a 5-4 shootout to the Providence Bruins after the Hartford Whalers legends and Boston Bruins legends played to a 4-4 tie.

Tickets for the remaining Whale home games are available at the XL Center box office, through TicketMaster Charge-by-Phone at 1-800-745-3000 and online at Tickets start at $7 each at the XL Center ticket office on game day. For information on Whale ticket packages, group sales and VIP packages, call 860-728-3366.


While the Whale coaches, players and most of the staff flew to Charlotte on Wednesday afternoon, assistant equipment manager Chris Gray and DAATCO bus driver Johnny Davis, who has chauffeured the Wolf Pack/Whale since their inception in 1997, drove the equipment to North Carolina.

“It’s 741 miles from Cromwell to Charlotte and should take 13 hours, plus a stop or two,” Davis said.

After practice ended at 11:15 a.m., players quickly packed their equipment bags so Gray and other members of the Whale off-ice staff could pack the equipment van. Gray and Davis hoped to leave around noon, meaning they should arrive in Charlotte around 1:30 a.m. Thursday.


Rookie goalie Cam Talbot, on a conditioning loan from the Whale to Greenville, made 25 saves in a 7-1 victory over Gwinnett on Tuesday night. It was the first ECHL start for Talbot, who had missed 13 Whale games with a high ankle sprain sustained in a 6-3 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 16. Talbot allowed only a goal by Pat Galivan at 12:54 of the first period on a backhander that deflected off a body in front.

Brandon Wong, the former Quinnipiac University standout who began the season with the Whale, started a four-goal barrage in the second period with his 18th goal. After Talbot stopped Akim Aliu’s breakaway, Marc Olivier-Vallerand put the Road Warriors ahead to stay with his 19th goal, breaking a tie with Wong for the team lead. Vallerand added his 20th goal in the third period, and Wong had three assists for the Road Warriors’ second four-point effort this season. … The NHL trade deadline is Monday, and then the AHL’s Clear Day deadline, when all 30 teams must submit their 22-man lists, is March 7 at 3 p.m. Only those players listed on a Clear Day roster are eligible to play in the remainder of the regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension. Teams also can add signed junior players or players on amateur tryout contracts, but only after their respective junior or college seasons are complete.


The Whale will host “Howe Family Night” at the XL Center on March 26 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. 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.

“That old (jersey) is a little worn,” Baldwin Jr. said. “I think we’ll have a big crowd.  I love Ronnie Francis (the only Hall of Famer to play mostly with the Whalers), but Gordie is the one who put the team on the map. He needs to have the respect of the people coming out to see him, and it’ll be a great opportunity for it.”

Howe’s No. 9 is in the rafters with the Whalers’ No. 2 (Rick Ley), 5 (Ulf Samuelsson), 10 (Ron Francis), 11 (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.

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 Hartford 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.

Fans who did not attend the Whale’s game against Providence at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Saturday night because of the 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 Baldwin at [email protected].