By Bruce Berlet

HARTFORD, Conn. – Something had to change for the Connecticut Whale and Providence Bruins on Saturday night.

CT WhaleThe teams entered the XL Center coming off shutout losses 24 hours earlier while missing key personnel via call-ups and injuries.

The Whale continued to have plenty of difficulty finding the net until a wild, final 21/2 minutes and dropped a 3-2 decision to the Bruins before 9,118, the Whale’s second-largest home crowd of the season.

Stellar goaltending by Matt Dalton (34 saves), and Maxime Sauve’s two goals, put the Bruins in command before the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Brian McGrattan received a 5-minute major and a double game misconduct for an illegal check to the head of 5-9, 177-pound Kelsey Tessier with 4:14 left.

“It was a cheap shot,” Whale coach Ken Gernander said.

Justin Soryal, upset with McGrattan’s reaction to Tessier lying on the ice, came to Tessier’s defense and received a double game misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct and leaving the bench.

“I didn’t see him coming, not at all,” Tessier said. “I passed the puck to (Ryan) Garlock and wanted to go back to the bench because it was a long shift, but, boom, he came from that (blind) side a couple of seconds late, for sure. I’m lucky that I didn’t get anything wrong and didn’t get a concussion or didn’t get hurt.

“Those are the situations that have been going on in the NHL, the hits to the head that are a couple of seconds late like that.”

Bruins coach Rob Murray didn’t see anything wrong with the hit by McGrattan.

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“Tessier didn’t miss a shift and assisted on the (Whale’s first) goal,” Murray said.

Tessier got revenge when he set up Oren Eizenman’s tap-in goal with 2:30 to go, then the Whale got to 3-2 when Brodie Dupont converted a give-and-go with Michael Del Zotto on a 6-on-3 power play with 6.9 seconds left after the Whale pulled goalie Chad Johnson (15 saves).

But it was too late for the Whale (20-16-2-5) to atone for a 3-0 loss at Portland on Friday night thanks largely to Dalton, who made a series of spectacular saves through the first 571/2 minutes. The strong work earned Dalton the No. 1 star and enabled the Bruins (16-19-3-1) to end a 0-2-1-0 slide that had dropped them into the Atlantic Division cellar, six points behind the Springfield Falcons, who lost 6-3 to the Albany Devils.

Meanwhile, the Whale (20-16-2-5) lost two in a row for the first time since No. 21 and 26 and the first time in regulation since Nov. 5-6. The Whale dropped 10 points behind first-place Manchester, a 4-3 winner over Binghamton, and four points back of Portland, which beat Worcester 8-3. The Whale had won the previous three meetings with the Bruins, including 6-2 at the XL Center on Jan. 1. But the Bruins are 11-6-2-0 on the road.

“We had our chances, but we have to bear down,” said Eizenman, who assisted on Dupont’s goal. “You can’t let teams hang around in this league because they’ll make you pay. They made good plays for their goals, and we couldn’t get one until it was too little too late.

“A game like that is a little frustrating because they capitalized on their chances, and we didn’t. It’s one of those kinds that makes you want to scratch your head, but they’ll even out hopefully at some point, so you just have to keep working hard. You can’t get down over a game like that because the bounces even out in the end. It’s the team that’s willing to stick to their guns and try to get those chances and create those breaks that ends up doing well. That’s why it’s an 80-game season. In one or two games, anything can happen, but over an 80-game season, things usually even out.”

The Whale had most of the quality scoring chances in the first period but trailed off a bad turnover. Matt Dalton stopped Dupont off a 2-on-1 at 2:48, then Del Zotto’s shot from the right point hit the far post at 4:21.

Moments later, Whale defenseman Stu Bickel’s clearing attempt went off Tim Kennedy’s stick to Maxime Sauve, who broke in alone and put a backhander between Chad Johnson’s legs at 4:57.

But the Whale continued to press, and Dalton had to be sharp to get his glove on Chad Kolarik’s 30-foot shot in the slot off a pass from Jason Williams at 6:29, then 26 seconds later, defenseman Jared Nightingale scored a narrow decision over Lane MacDermid, the son of former Hartford Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid.

Dalton then sprawled to stop a rebound stuff by Devin DiDiomete. Dalton capped his stellar period with a left-pad save off Soryal, set up at the left post with 3:39 left on a diagonal pass from Chris Chappell, playing his second game since being called up from the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors.

Moments later, MacDermid got into his second fight, earning a draw with Soryal with 3:25 left in the period.

Johnson kept the Whale close through the midpoint of the second period, making bang-bang saves on Jamie Arniel and Sauve’s rebound bid at 4:57 and then denying Joe Colborne’s rebound stuff attempt at 10:28. Johnson and the Whale got fortunate when Jordan Caron hit the post on a power play with 7:34 left in the period, then 20 seconds later, Dalton stopped Evgeny Grachev’s point-blank, shorthanded bid off left wing off a perfect feed from Jason Williams.

With the Bruins on their third power play, the Whale got lucky again when Zach Hamill hit the post with 4:04 left. Dalton then denied two of the Whale’s sharpshooters in the final minute with glove saves off All-Star Jeremy Williams’ shot from the right circle with 51 seconds to go and Kolarik’s shot from the left circle with 14.4 seconds left.

Given those reprieves, Providence took a 2-0 lead early in the third period as Caron passed ahead to Hamill, whose shot was blocked by Bickel but rebounded to the Bruins center for a backhander that beat Johnson to the stick side at 1:33.

Then with the sides skating four a side, a possible Whale comeback turned dramatically when Dalton denied Tomas Kundratek’s close-in rebound at 6:05. Arniel immediately got the puck to Sauve, who raced around center Jason Williams, covering for Kundratek, and put home a forehand for his second goal of the game and what turned out to be the winner at 6:13.

The Whale and their followers then had to know it wasn’t their night when Grachev took a perfect lead pass on a 2-on-1 with Kolarik but missed the net from 20 feet in the slot at not-so-lucky 7:11.

The Whale then got their big chance after McGrattan’s hit on Tessier but couldn’t complete the comeback.

“I don’t think we were as sharp at the start as we were at the end,” Gernander said. “I think there seemed to be more desperation with that heightened sense of emotion. I thought we were a little crisper and more successful.”

Jeremy Williams agreed it was a matter of bearing down on shots.

“I thought we did a good job of getting our opportunities but not second chances where you get a rebound or really tire out the goalie,” Williams said. “If you just keep shooting out wide and just have to make one save, it’s not going to tire him out so he’s going to be able to play better.

“He made some good stops, but when we did get good shots from the slot, myself and others missed the net. It’s not like guys aren’t trying to hit the net, and it’s not like we didn’t play well as a team. We held onto the puck, got in the forecheck a bit, but when you get quick breaks and don’t score, you have to get some greasy goals, and that’s by getting guys to the net.”

Johnson had a hard time explaining how the Whale could have a 36-18 shot advantage and many more quality chances and still not be in the game until the final few minutes.

“It was just one of those nights where everything was kind of hitting (Dalton),” Johnson said. “He made some good saves because he was in good position, but we have guys who can put the puck in the net. We had corners but kept just missing the net. It’s deflating to be working hard and then just make a couple of mistakes.

“And I felt I was in position on all the goals, but it seemed like when they had chances they were just sniping on me. They just found ways to score, and that’s just how it going for me now. Shots are finding holes, so it’s not going my way right now.”


After being a healthy scratch for two games after being up called up by the New York Rangers for the first time on Monday, Whale center Kris Newbury, the team’s leading scorer with 35 points, made his Blueshirts debut Saturday night in a 3-2 loss to the host Montreal Canadiens. Newbury played 7:29 and had no shots and a first-period fight with Travis Moen. Former Whale wing Mats Zuccarello scored the Rangers’ second goal.

Newbury got his chance at the expense of rookie right wing Dale Weise, who is on his second recall to the Rangers.

Weise, scoreless in eight games with the Rangers while averaging 5:22 of ice time, was replaced by Newbury, who started his fifth NHL stint after previously playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings and was on a line with Rangers captain Chris Drury and Sean Avery. Meanwhile, the Whale again scratched injured defensemen Wade Redden and Jyri Niemi and center Todd White, injured Friday night. White was replaced by left wing Devin DiDiomete. The Bruins scratched defenseman Ryan Donald and forwards Wyatt Smith, Juraj Simek and David Ling. … The Whale’s eighth Tip-A-Player Dinner and Sports Carnival, presented by Aetna, is next Sunday at the XL Center from 4-7 p.m. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for children, and proceeds benefit Gaylord Specialty Healthcare at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford. For more information, contact Lori Leniart at 860-728-3366.


Former Boston Bruins standouts Rick Middleton and Reggie Lemelin were a big hit while signing autographs before the game and then dropping the ceremonial first puck with former Whalers wing Garry Swain. Middleton, who played 12 seasons with the Bruins after two with the Rangers, and Lemelin also will play on the Bruins legends team that will face the Hartford Whalers legends Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. before the Whale plays the P-Bruins at 7 p.m. The doubleheader is part of the “ Whalers Hockey Fest” at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 11-23.

“This outdoor game is really exciting,” Middleton said between autographs while wearing his Bruins jersey with a letter C during his first visit to the XL Center since 1988. “There were more than 25,000 people for an alumni game we played the day after the Bruins Winter Classic game (against the Philadelphia Flyers) at Fenway Park, and I don’t think many people knew about it. It was the most people that I ever played in front of. We split up the alumni and had some celebrities on each team, but this will be the Bruins against the Whalers. It’ll be a fun game, but when it gets late, I’m sure the competitive juices will be rising.”

Other early commitments for the Bruins team are Hall of Fame defensemen Brian Leetch of Cheshire and Brad Park, who both also played for the Rangers, Ken Hodge, Don Marcotte, Rick Smith, Bob Sweeney, Lyndon Byers, Cleon Daskalakis, Jay Miller, Bob Miller (no relation) and Ken “The Rat” Linseman, who briefly was a member of the Whalers as he passed through in a multi-player trade with Philadelphia and Edmonton that included Mark Howe leaving Hartford for the Flyers. Early commitments for the Whalers team are WHA Hall of Famer Andre Lacroix, Jim Dorey, Jordy Douglas, Ray Neufeld, Gordie Roberts, Darren Turcotte, Nelson Emerson and the Babych brothers, Dave and Wayne.

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, Kevin Durand, Fred J. Dukes 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


Corey Potter, a long-time Wolf Pack defenseman, returns to the XL Center on Sunday at 3 p.m. as a member of the AHL’s best team.

Potter and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (32-8-0-0) will make their only Hartford appearance this season after starting the weekend with a 2-0 victory over Providence behind All-Star Brad Thiessen’s 20 saves and a 4-2 victory over Adirondack in which Potter scored his first goal of the season. Potter, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 2003, had 21 goals and 81 assists in 246 games with the Wolf Pack. He played only eight games with the Rangers, getting one goal and one assist.

Now Potter will renew some old acquaintances, see some familiar faces in the XL Center crowd and get a look at the inside of the visitors’ locker room for the first time. And he’ll do it against the Connecticut Whale, which was the Hartford Wolf Pack the last time he was in Connecticut.

“It’s the same team,” Potter told Jonathan Bombulie of the Scranton Times-Tribune. “A few new players. Same building. I’m looking forward to getting back there and playing against them.”

Potter returns on a bit of a roll with one goal and six assists and a plus-8 rating in the last 11 games.

The high-powered Penguins, who have won seven in a row to open an 11-point lead over the Charlotte Checkers in the East Division, are led by center Dustin Jeffrey (15, 24), left wing Brett Sterling (13, 15), right wing Nick Johnson (14, 14), forward Eric Tangradi (16, 9), left wing Tim Wallace (11, 12) and center Joe Vitale (8, 14). All-Star Brad Thiessen (18-3-0, 1.97, .923, three shutouts) and John Curry (14-5-0, 2.33, .911, one shutout) have both excelled in goal.

“It will be a litmus test for us,” Eizenman said.

“They’re pretty much the benchmark of the AHL, so it will be a good measuring stick for us,” Jeremy Williams said. “It’ll be three games in three nights, so it’ll be the old cliché, keep it simple and make easy, smart plays.”

It also will be a Guida’s Family Value Day in which family value packages start as low as $48 and include three tickets, three hot dogs or pizza slices, three sodas and a Whale souvenir. Guida’s Family Value packs are available at the XL Center box office or online at Fans are encouraged to bring their skates for a free postgame skate, sponsored by Stone Academy.


Congratulations to Worcester coach Roy Sommer on joining a rather exclusive club Friday night.

Sommer’s Sharks fittingly scored three goals in 2:40 in the third period to rally for a 3-1 victory over the host Springfield Falcons in his 1,000th regular-season AHL game. Sommer, who has spent his entire 13-year career coaching the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliates in Kentucky (1998-2001), Cleveland (2001-06) and Worcester (2006-present ), became just the fourth coach to reach the milestone. He joined AHL Hall of Famers Frank Mathers (1,256), Fred “Bun” Cook (1,171) and John Paddock (1,107), who led the Wolf Pack to their only Calder Cup title in 2000.

Sommer has coached more than 80 players who have spent time in the NHL, including former Wolf Pack wing Mikael Samuelsson, Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, Doug Murray, Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, Miikka Kiprusoff, Brad Boyes, Christian Ehrhoff and Johan Hedberg.

The first game that Sommer coached was a 4-4 tie against the Hershey Bears on Oct. 9, 1998, and his first victory was 6-4 over the Albany River Rats eight days later. David Cunniff, son of former Whalers assistant coach and scout John Cunniff, played for the River Rats that night and has been Sommer’s assistant since 2002.

Sommer ranks fourth all-time in AHL victories, and his teams have won three division titles and made the Calder Cup Playoffs seven times.

Sommer, a 53-year-old native of Oakland, Calif., played 10 pro seasons, including a two-year stay with the Maine Mariners that saw him win a Calder Cup in 1984. He appeared in three NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers in 1980-81 and scored a goal in his NHL debut. … A night after becoming the AHL’s all-time leading scorer among defensemen, Bryan Helmer got a goal and two assists to lead the Oklahoma Barons to a 4-1 victory at Peoria on Friday night. It gave Helmer back-to-back three-point games, as he had two goals and an assist in a 7-2 victory over Peoria on Thursday. Before that, the 38-year-old Helmer had not registered a three-point game since Nov. 30, 2006, when he was a member of the San Antonio Rampage. He had five goals and five assists in five games since being signed by the Barons on Jan. 7. Entering a game at San Antonio on Saturday night, Helmer had career totals of 122 goals and 398 assists for 520 points in 986 regular-season AHL games in an 18-year career.

He broke the record of 519 points set nearly four years by John Slaney. … South Windsor native Jon DiSalvatore scored in regulation and then got the only goal in a shootout as the Houston Aeros beat the host Chicago Wolves 4-3 Friday night. Former Wolf Pack wing Nigel Dawes scored his league-leading 21st goal for the Wolves.


It’s only four games into his NHL career, but you can add rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh to the growing list of young players developed by Gernander and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller who are receiving plaudits from Rangers coach John Tortorella.

“All I know is McDonagh, each game that he’s played, he’s getting better,” Tortorella told reporters in New York. “The thing I like about his game (in a 1-0 victory over league-leading Vancouver on Thursday night) was he wasn’t timid as far as the neutral zone, as far as his gaps, against a solid hockey club.”

The Rangers got McDonagh as part of the Scott Gomez trade after the 2008-09 season, and McDonagh signed with the Blueshirts on July 6 after deciding to forego his senior year at the University of Wisconsin, where he and Rangers center Derek Stepan helped lead the Badgers to the NCAA title game that lost they lost 5-0 to Boston College and the Rangers’ No. 1 prospect Chris Kreider.

McDonagh is scoreless but plus-2 while averaging about 11 minutes since being called up Jan. 3, and his quick development helped enable the Rangers to trade veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival for 24-year-old wing Wojtek Wolski, who scored the only goal on Thursday night.

“As far as the style and pace, it’s probably been what I’ve expected, the tempo and everything,” McDonagh said. “But I never expected it to be this fun, to be honest with you. We’re playing some big games and winning some big games. I’ve never had this much fun playing hockey.”

Stepan, who left Wisconsin after his sophomore year and has 12 goals and 12 assists in 45 games, isn’t surprised by the play of the 12th overall pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft.

“Not one bit,” said Stepan, one of 12 players selected to participate in the NHL All-Star Rookie Skills Competition Jan. 30 in Raleigh, N.C. “Off the ice, he’s a quiet guy, real nice … (but) on the ice, he plays exactly the way the team’s identity is, so he fits in perfectly.”

Saturday night, McDonagh made his Montreal debut trying to help the Rangers gain some redemption for a 2-1 loss to the Canadiens on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

“I get up for every game,” McDonagh said. “Right now I’m still wide-eyed, so I don’t need any extra motivation to get up for a game. It’ll still exciting.”

Just like his game on Asylum Street and Broadway.

Providence Bruins 3, Connecticut Whale 2
XL Center, Hartford, CT

Providence     1 0 2 – 3
Connecticut    0 0 2 – 2

First period: 1. Prov, Sauve 8, 4:57. Penalties: MacDermid, Pro (roughing), 4:46; Nightingale, Ct (roughing), 4:46; MacDermid, Pro (fighting), 6:55; Nightingale, Ct (fighting), 6:55; MacDermid, Pro (fighting), 16:35; Soryal, Ct (roughing, fighting), 16:35.

Second period: No scoring. Penalties: Hamill, Pro (slashing), 6:06; Del, Zotto Ct (boarding), 11:19; Bickel, Ct (slashing), 15:27.

Third period: 2. Prov, Hamill 3 (Caron), 1:33. 3. Prov, Sauve 9 (Arniel), 6:13. 4. Conn, Eizenman 3 (Tessier, Grachev), 17:30 (pp). 5. Conn, Dupont 8 (Del Zotto, Eizenman), 19:53 (pp). Penalties: MacDermid, Pro (cross-checking), 1:54; Zimmerman, Pro (roughing), 5:28; Kennedy, Ct (roughing), 5:28; McGrattan, Pro (major-checking to the head, game misconduct-checking to the head, game misconduct-leaving the bench), 15:46; Soryal, Ct (game misconduct-unsportsmanlike conduct, game misconduct-leaving the bench), 15:46; Bodnarchuk, Pro (high-sticking), 18:15.

Shots on goal: Providence 10-4-4-18. Connecticut 9-13-14-36; Power-play opportunities: Providence 0 of 3; Connecticut 2 of 5; Goalies: Providence, Dalton 3-3-0 (36 shots-34 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 13-14-3 (18-15); A: 9,118; Referee: Jamie Koharski; Linesmen: David Spannaus, Luke Galvin