By Bruce Berlet

HARTFORD, Conn. – As his new/old Connecticut Whale teammates worked out after practice early Wednesday afternoon, Kris Newbury played equipment man/delivery boy, helping the equipment staff bring the four bags of gear he had transported from New York into the XL Center locker room.

CT WhaleNewbury was heartily greeted by several of his new/old mates, including Dale Weise, his roommate while the two were together with the New York Rangers for three weeks.

“I missed you, bud,” Weise said with a wide smile. “I was getting lonely.”

Weise jokingly referred to having been reassigned to the Whale on Sunday, two days before the “Fab Five” of Newbury, fellow forwards Chad Kolarik, Evgeny Grachev and Brodie Dupont and defenseman Michael Del Zotto were sent down.

“It was strange,” Newbury said between handshakes. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been called up with that many guys from an American Hockey League team. But it was good to see us win some games with all these guys in the lineup playing in the NHL. We’ll take that as positives and just roll on from here.”

Newbury, Kolarik, Grachev, Dupont and Del Zotto were given Wednesday off after the Rangers played five games in seven nights, including Monday and Tuesday, before the NHL All-Star break.

Besides the “Fab Five” and Weise, center Ryan Garlock could be back after missing a tough-to-swallow 4-2 loss to the Providence Bruins on Tuesday night and practice Wednesday because of the flu. And with six players returning, other roster moves may be in the offing.

To continue reading, click on the read more button below if you’re on the home page.

Whale coach Ken Gernander said he hadn’t had a chance to talk to Rangers officials as far as what’s going to transpire coming out of the All-Star break and what their injury status is.  Gernander and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller will have to determine the lines and defensive pairings for Friday night’s game at the XL Center against the Manchester Monarchs.

“It’s hard to say what I’m going to do,” Gernander said. “They’ve all played together in some way, shape or form. Weise has played with Newbury, Dupont has played with (Tim) Kennedy, Brodie has played with all of them, Grachev has been through there, so we just have to put them together.

“If they performed well (in New York) and think they’re right on the doorstep (to the NHL), then this is the place to give it that little extra push and make sure that we don’t take any back steps.”

The only Whale call-ups still in New York are forward Mats Zuccarello, summoned Dec. 22, and rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who changed places with Del Zotto on Jan. 3. The others were sent back because the Whale hosts two more key Atlantic Division games before the AHL All-Star Classic on Sunday and Monday in Hershey, Pa., where right wing Jeremy Williams will be the team’s lone representative. The second-place Monarchs will be followed by the division-leading Portland Pirates, coached by former Hartford Whalers star and captain Kevin Dineen, on Saturday night.

After the Rangers’ 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, coach John Tortorella said one or more of the reassigned players would rejoin the Rangers for their first game after the break, Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been missing NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby with a concussion that will keep him out of the All-Star Game.

“It was a good experience for all of us,” said Newbury, who averaged 81/2 minutes in seven games while playing some regular shifts and helping with the penalty killing. “We all knew that we’d most like come down during the break, so it’s not much of a shock. (Tortorella) was happy with what we all did and said just to keep working hard, play our game and with the injuries they have you never know, so be sharp.”

The Rangers have lost a staggering 193 man-games to injury this season compared to only 78 all of last season, and wing Alex Frolov (injured knee on Jan. 8) is out for the season and enforcer Derek Boogaard (injured shoulder on Dec. 9, concussion) might be as well. Former Wolf Pack right wing Ryan Calhoun and defenseman Dan Girardi (rib cage on Jan. 22) likely will be back for the Penguins game, and forward Vinny Prospal might be close behind. Callahan and Prospal were activated from injured reserve Tuesday night, and Girardi is expected to recover from a rib-cage muscle injury that sidelined him the last two games.

Callahan has missed 19 games since sustaining a broken hand when he blocked a shot by Penguins defenseman Kris Letang on Dec. 15, and Prospal has been out all season with an ailing knee that was operated on in the offseason and again on Oct. 18. Former Wolf Pack forward Brandon Dubinsky (stress fracture in leg), the team’s leading scorer, wing Ruslan Fedotenko (separated shoulder on Jan. 19) and center Erik Christensen (sprained knee on Dec. 29) are also out. Earlier in the season, sniper Marian Gaborik and captain/Trumbull native Chris Drury were out long-term.

Even if Prospal can’t play Tuesday since he has yet to participate in one contact drill, the Rangers will need to make a recall after the break, with Newbury considered the likely choice because of his experience and having played previously in the NHL with Toronto and Detroit. Kolarik averaged 8:22 in his first four games with the Rangers, Grachev about 71/2 minutes and Dupont played 5:34 in his only NHL game.

“They need to go play,” Tortorella told the media after the game Tuesday night. “(Going down) is not a negative on any of them. I just met with them, and for me, it has been rewarding to see them play through the situation that we have with injuries. It just enhances some of the things that we have here that will improve and eventually help this club. That could be maybe longer term for some guys, maybe shorter term for some guys.”

The contributions of the Whale call-ups are typical of what the injury-ravaged but resilient Rangers have accomplished.

“Our way of succeeding is everybody has chipped in,” Tortorella said. “Everybody contributes, and I think that’s what brings our team together. There’s no one guy who carries us, and I think everybody feels good about that.”

But with more contributions comes more expectations.

“They need to accept the responsibility that when they get to a level of play at a pretty consistent manner, they have to continue to stay there and also get better,” Tortorella said. “I think that’s what happened with a number of our young guys, and Brian (Boyle) is leading the way as he continues to try to get better.

“That’s what I like about the club. The foundation continues to mature and continues to try to get better. They’ve got the right attitude as far as trying to get better each and every night.”

Newbury said that was the message that Tortorella relayed before the “Fab Five” departed for Hartford.

“I’m just going to work hard, have a two good games and see what happens,” said Newbury, who played alongside Drury and Weise, Kolarik, Grachev or Dupont. “Obviously my ultimate goal is to play in the NHL, so whatever it takes, I’m willing to do.”

Every player’s ultimate goal is the NHL, which means not slacking off while back in the AHL is paramount.

“I don’t think it’ll be any easier,” Gernander said, alluding to getting five of his best players back. “The onus is still on them to work their hardest. No one can say, ‘Oh, these guys are back, so let’s put it into neutral or third gear or what have you.’ It can’t be any easier.”

Especially after the Whale had four consecutive penalties early in the third period that helped the Bruins to a 13-4 shot advantage and Maxime Sauve’s two power-play goals that enabled them to pull out the win. The Whale had been 13-0-0-2 when leading after two periods and could have opened a nine-point lead on the fifth-place Bruins. Instead, it’s down to five points and the Bruins have two games in hand.

One player not likely to rejoin the Whale is Zuccarello, who assisted on all three Rangers coach Tuesday night and has three goals and eight assists in his first 17 NHL games. The leading scorer and MVP in the Swedish Elite League last season with Modo is also 4-on-4 on shootout attempts, including two winners.

“He made some really good plays (Tuesday night) as far as passing on some plays that I don’t think some guys would see,” Tortorella said. “He’s REALLY concentrating on the defensive part of the game, and you can talk about his shootouts. He has brought a lot to the club, and he continues to improve. And again, the thing I love about him is he thinks he belongs here. He knows he’s a good player. That’s a pretty refreshing attitude to see in a guy from another country (Norway).

“There are so many things as far as injuries that I don’t want to get too far ahead, but (Zuccarello) is not going down with those other guys. He has played a lot of hockey for us, so he has earned the break here. So we’ll make our decisions as we see who’s healthy when we get back (for a 2 p.m. practice Monday).”

Yes, there are no confidence issues with Zuccarello, whom veteran New York Post writer/columnist Larry Brooks calls “Mats the Magnificent.” As in Hartford, the 5-foot-7, 177-pound Zuccarello nicknamed the “Norwegian Hobbit” has become a fan favorite on Broadway.

“It’s a big honor to be picked by the coach for a shootout, but there’s a little pressure because you’re trying to succeed for 20 guys,” Zuccarello said after continuing to bat 1.000 in the one-on-one skills competition. “I know a lot of other guys would like to have the honor of being picked, so it is a big responsibility for me to come through for my teammates.”

Zuccarello has played 17 games with the Rangers and is the senior member of the young Whale contingent promoted in the last few weeks. But Zuccarello hasn’t allowed his recent success to go to his head.

“You always have to be reminded of how to play,” he said. “You can’t be here for (17) games and think you have it all learned. You have to learn every day so you can do your job helping your teammates. They are counting on me like I count on them. It’s a trust issue. If everyone knows their job, you have confidence. If you don’t, then it’s tough to be trusted. I want to be in that position where I am trusted.”

So far Zuccarello has been the most trusted of the eight call-ups from the Whale.

The returning player to the Whale of greatest interest in New York is Del Zotto, the Rangers’ first-round pick (20th overall) in 2008 who was a member of the NHL all-rookie team last season but struggled much of this season before changing places with rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh on Jan. 3.

Del Zotto, 20, was sent to the Whale to get more ice time and hopefully improve his overall game, especially his decision-making, physicality and consistency. His recall was necessitated by Girardi’s injury, but Tortorella wants him to continue to play 25-30 minutes with the Whale as he did while getting seven assists in eight games.

Del Zotto returns to Hartford with encouraging words from Tortorella.

“Michael played well,” Tortorella said twice. “I’ve liked the way he’s handled himself off the ice, and he has stayed within himself on the ice. There were some mistakes, but everybody makes mistakes. He’s going through the process, and I think it’s good for me. Eventually he’ll get it the right way.”

Del Zotto realizes he has to continue to improve his preparation, physicality and attention to detail.

“The most important thing for me is to make the most of (time in the AHL) and play my game to the best of my ability to earn my way back up,” he said. “I’ve been playing about 30 minutes a night in all situations (in Hartford), and I’m starting to get confident and comfortable with my game again.

“It’s a lot different down there. There’s a lot to get used to mentally. As far as the hockey, I’ve been working on my defensive game and letting the game come to me. I have to simplify my game and not force it. You’re not going to always make something happen.”


The Whale can use reinforcements, with the division’s top two teams coming to town. The Pirates (28-13-4-1) overtook Manchester (27-16-1-3) for the division lead Sunday when they beat Worcester 6-5 in a shootout while the Monarchs were losing 2-1 in a shootout to the Bruins. The Pirates increased their lead to three points Tuesday night as AHL Player of the Week Mark Mancari scored his 27th goal, seventh in the last three games, in a 2-1 victory over the Norfolk Admirals.

The Whale is 1-4-0-1 against the Monarchs, losing three times in Manchester by one goal, once in a shootout. But they’ve also lost twice by three goals, including 3-0 at home on Jan. 2 when rookie Martin Jones made 39 saves for his first shutout of the season and former Yale forward David Meckler and Richard Clune helped set each other up in the third period. The Whale’s only victory was 5-1 on Dec. 11 when Zuccarello scored twice, linemate Newbury had one goal and two assists and Chad Johnson made 23 saves.

Left wing Bud Holloway leads the Monarchs’ balanced attack with 14 goals and 19 assists, followed by All-Star defenseman Viatcheslav Voynov (9, 23), center Oscar Moller (9, 19), left wing Dwight King (12, 15), centers Justin Azevedo (12, 15) and Corey Elkins (12, 14) and Meckler (13, 8). Jones has had an excellent rookie season with a 16-5-0 record, 2.17 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and two shutouts. Jeff Zatkoff is 10-11-3, 3.18, .897 with no shutouts.

Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park will make a special appearance Saturday night, when he will meet and greet fans and sign autographs before the game and then drop the ceremonial first puck before the Whale takes on the Pirates. Park also will play for the Bruins legends against the Whalers legends Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. at Rentschler Field in East Hartford before the Whale faces the Bruins at 7 p.m.

After the All-Star break, the homestand ends Feb. 4 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers before the Whale has a home-and-home set with Portland on Feb. 5-6.


Park and fellow Hall of Fame defensemen Brian Leetch, a Cheshire native, headline the Bruins legends team that will play in the opener of the doubleheader that’s part of the “ Whalers Hockey Fest” on Feb. 11-23 at Rentschler Field, where construction of the rink began Jan. 17 and snow removal will take place Monday. In case of bad weather, the Whale-Bruins game will be played Feb. 20 at the XL Center.

Other commitments for the Bruins team are Enfield native Craig Janney, former captain Rick Middleton, who played 12 seasons in Beantown and two with the Rangers, Reggie Lemelin, Ken Hodge, Don Marcotte, Rick Smith, Bob Sweeney, Lyndon Byers, Cleon Daskalakis, Jay Miller, Bob Miller (no relation) and Ken “The Rat” Linseman, who was a member of the Whalers for a few moments as he passed through in a multi-player trade with Philadelphia and Edmonton that included Mark Howe leaving Hartford for the Flyers. Derek Sanderson will coach the Bruins team.

Commitments for the Whalers team are WHA Hall of Famer Andre Lacroix, John McKenzie, whose No. 19 is retired in the XL Center rafters, Blaine Stoughton, John Anderson, Garry Swain, Bob Crawford, Chris Kotsopoulos, Jim Dorey, Jordy Douglas, Ray Neufeld, Gordie Roberts, Darren Turcotte, Nelson Emerson, Mark Janssens, Bill Bennett, Jeff Brubaker, Fred O’Donnell, Terry Yake, Scott Daniels and the Babych brothers, Dave and Wayne. Emile “The Cat” Francis, a coach and general manager with the Rangers and Whalers, will be back behind the bench again, and Norm Barnes and former captain Russ Anderson will be assistant coaches.

Celebrities scheduled to play with one of the legends teams include Michael Keaton, Alan Thicke and David E. Kelley, son of New England and Hartford Whalers coach and general manager Jack Kelley and the writer of the 1999 hit film “Mystery, Alaska,” which was produced by Whalers Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Howard Baldwin and his wife, Karen. “Mystery, Alaska” cast members slated to appear are Michael Buie, Scott Richard Grimes, Jason Gray-Stanford and Cameron Bancroft, along with Neal McDonough, Kevin Zegers and the Hanson brothers – Steve, Jeff and Dave –  who were the comedic linchpins of the classic movie “Slap Shot.”

Tickets ($20 to $85) for the doubleheader can be purchased at and the Bushnell box office in Hartford on Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. or by calling the Whale at 860-728-3366. They also can be purchased online and printed immediately at … Former Wolf Pack win Chad Wiseman scored with 1:33 left as the Albany Devils rallied for a 6-4 victory over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Tuesday night. The Sound Tigers took a 2-0 lead, allowed the next four goals and then scored twice to tie it before Rob Davison’s shot toward the left corner deflected off Wiseman’s body and past Mikko Koskinen for a 5-4 lead. Stephen Gionta added an empty-net goal with 24 seconds. Koskinen made 28 saves but lost his seventh consecutive game.