By Bruce Berlet
HARTFORD, Conn. – A five-minute lapse early in the second period proved the Connecticut Whale’s undoing Friday night in another tight encounter with the Manchester Monarchs.
AHL All-Star defenseman Viatcheslav Voynov, Brandon Kozun and Bud Holloway scored in a 5:06 span, and the Monarchs held off a late Whale charge for a 4-2 victory before 5,802 at the XL Center.
It was the Whale’s third consecutive loss at home and dropped them to 11-11-2-1 at the XL Center compared to 11-8-0-4 on the road. Meanwhile, the Monarchs (29-16-1-3) moved back into the Atlantic Division lead, one point ahead of the Portland Pirates (28-14-4-1), who lost 4-2 at Providence and will be at the XL Center on Saturday night.
Despite being reinforced by the return of defenseman Michael Del Zotto and forwards Kris Newbury, Dale Weise, Chad Kolarik, Evgeny Grachev and Brodie Dupont from the Rangers, the Whale fell to 1-5-0-1 against the Monarchs.
“They’re (the Monarchs) obviously a good team, and you can’t give them opportunities,” Whale coach Ken Gernander said. “They’re going to earn them on their own, so you can’t give them extra cracks at it, and that was the case a couple of times tonight.”
Especially in the first 10:20 of the second period when turnovers and lax play by the Whale helped the Monarchs take the lead and then hold it thanks in large part to another solid effort by rookie goalie Martin Jones, who had 26 saves to improve to 17-5-0 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. In the Monarchs’ previous visit, Jones made 39 saves for his first of two shutouts in a 3-0 victory.
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“Within that (five-minute span), we made some big mistakes that I’m sure we’ll have to address,” Gernander said. “It’s not that we went flat or disappeared for a segment of time. The goals came in a short span, but there were some big mistakes in that span. I’m not going to single guys out, but some of our mistakes were by some of our more key players, and that’s always disappointing.”
An angry Gernander called his timeout at 10:20 of the second period after the Whale turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Holloway, the Monarchs’ leading scorer, skated into the left circle and beat Chad Johnson high to the glove side at 10:20.
“There were mistakes, and there were some areas where our effort could have better,” Gernander said in revealing what was said during the timeout. “Throughout the course of a game, people are going to make mistakes, people are going lose the odd battle, but it was just the general kind of malaise and some mistakes that were beyond just mistakes, kind of bonehead plays instead of just the mistake that you make in the course of a game. After some of those mistakes, I don’t think the effort was there to try to recover or correct the situation.”
Dupont admitted a lack of defense and effort on the sequence that led to Holloway’s goal.
“I tried to make up for it,” Dupont said. “You know you can do better. I wanted to make it up to the team because I enjoy playing for this team.”
The Whale responded with their best forechecking of the game, leading to Weise scoring off a give-and-go with Dupont at 13:41 for his third goal in two games since being reassigned by the Rangers on Saturday.
The Monarchs managed to retain their lead 2:23 into the third period when a diving Dupont drove to the net and let go a shot from 10 feet in the slot that Jones stopped without knowing where the puck was. After Johnson (30 saves) kept the Whale close with three stops during the Monarchs’ third power play, Kennedy broke in alone from center ice but hit the post at 7:37.
“(Jones) was pretty good,” Gernander said. “There were no muffins. I thought we had some pretty good chances where he made some good saves and we hit a post and other things, but I think he’s a really good goalie.”
The Whale pulled Johnson for a sixth attacker with 1:06 left, but John Zeiler took a pass from former Yale forward David Meckler and iced it with an empty-net goal with 50 seconds to go.
Jones picked up where he left off from the previous game when he turned aside Dupont’s 30-foot shot at 2:55 and slid across to stop Jason Williams’ rebound attempt on a power play at 5:05.
Johnson then made bang-bang saves on Kozun’s close-in bid and rebound at 7:09 before Weise had the crowd buzzing after hits that knocked down defensive partners Thomas Hickey and David Kolomatis at the nine-minute mark.
The Whale then took a 1-0 lead on a brilliant individual effort by Tim Kennedy, who stole a Kozun back pass in the Whale zone, raced into the offensive zone, pirouetted away from Monarchs defenseman Jake Muzzin and passed in front to Grachev, who had gotten away from Voynov, for an easy finish at 11:23. It gave Grachev a four-game scoring streak, best on the Whale this season, and was his seventh goal in that span.
Whale center Todd White was injured in a collision with Dupont with 7:02 left in the period and didn’t return. Moments later, Jones made a strong save on Stu Bickel’s one-timer off Kelsey Tessier’s pass.
The Whale nearly expanded their lead on their second power play, but Jones denied Newbury in front with 5:44 left and then made a right pad save on Weise’s 40-foot laser from the right circle with two seconds to go.
Jones made another alert stop on Tessier’s 35-foot shot from the slot 2:24 into the third period before Johnson stopped Justin Azevedo from the left circle on a Monarchs power play at 4:59.
But the game quickly turned in a little more than five minutes.
Moments after the Monarchs’ second power play expired, Meckler hit the post. Weise was unable to reach the rebound, and Voynov picked up the puck and fired a 40-foot shot to tie it at 5:14, becoming the Monarchs’ 10th player with at least 10 goals.
The Monarchs took the lead for good 62 seconds later as Elkins dropped a pass to Kozun, who got away from Kolarik and fired a wrist shot from the left circle that beat Johnson high to the glove side, went off the crossbar and inn. Holloway capped the rally 4:04 later.
“We didn’t play a 60-minute game,” said Del Zotto, starting his second go-around with the Whale. “I know from the first day I got here that’s one thing we’ve talked about, you need to play 60 minutes. The penalty kill did a good job (4-for-4), but it kills you when you just don’t take care of the puck for a couple of shifts.
“They did a really good job in the neutral zone, and we were trying to make plays through them when all we really had to do is chip it by them and become the first guy on the forecheck. When we were doing that, we were successful and scored our goal in the second when we had 45 seconds battling them down low.
“When we did that, we were successful, but we didn’t do it on a consistent basis. And turnovers really kill you, especially in the neutral zone, and that’s what happened. There were a couple of shifts back-to-back that hurt us and ended up costing us the game.”
TALBOT, GARLOCK AND MCKELVIE OUT AGAIN
Goalie Cam Talbot missed his fourth game with a high ankle sprain, center Ryan Garlock sat out his second game with the flu and wing Chris McKelvie was out a second game after foot surgery. The Whale also scratched center Oren Eizenman and defenseman Jyri Niemi. The Monarchs scratched forward Ray Kaunisto and defenseman Patrick Mullen. … One former Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman replaced another in the AHL All-Star Classic on Sunday and Monday at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. The Hershey Bears’ Brian Fahey, who played for the Wolf Pack in 2008-09 after being a member of a Calder Cup champion with the Chicago Wolves the previous season, replaced teammate Lawrence Nycholat on the Eastern Conference team. Fahey has three goals and 14 assists and is plus-17 in 33 games with the Bears and also finally reached the NHL, getting one assist in seven games with the Washington Capitals. Nycholat, who played for the Wolf Pack for two-plus seasons in 2002-05, will miss the skills competition on Sunday at 3 p.m. and the All-Star Game on Monday at 7 p.m. because of an injury.
HALL OF FAMER PARK AT XL CENTER SATURDAY NIGHT
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. After playing the Pirates and the All-Star break, the Whale will end a four-game homestand Friday night against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers before a home-and-home set with Portland next Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Former Hartford Whalers and 1986 NHL All-Stars Mark Howe and Brian Propp and ex-Whaler Alan Hangsleben will be at the XL Center on Friday night. They will hold a private, “meet and greet” reception with Whale season ticket holders and “Outdoor Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest 2011” ticket purchasers before the game (4:30-6:30 p.m.) and then drop the ceremonial first puck. Hangsleben also will sign autographs in the XL Center atrium during the second intermission with selected Whale players.
Feb. 4 is the 25th anniversary of the 1986 NHL All-Star Game at the Hartford Civic Center. Howe and Propp were with the Philadelphia Flyers and played on the Wales Conference team that beat the Campbell Conference 4-3 in overtime. Propp, who finished his 15-year NHL career with the Whalers, scored the first Wales goal. It was one of four All-Star appearances for Howe, the son of hockey legend Gordie Howe who was at the XL Center on Friday night scouting for the Detroit Red Wings. It was Howe’s fourth game at the XL Center this season but first since the team was rebranded from the Hartford Wolf Pack to the Connecticut Whale on Nov. 27. Howe said he didn’t have any special pangs when “Brass Bonanza” first played, but he did recall the feelings of youngest son Travis for the most famous theme song in hockey.
“He had the 45 (rpm) of the song and played it 24/7 while racing around the house with his hockey stick,” Howe said with a smile.
Howe also smiled about the crowd.
“Nice to see more people here now,” he said.
On Feb. 5 from 2 to 4 p.m., the Grand Rink at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods will host a skate with Hangsleben and former Whalers Doug Roberts and Garry Swain, former Bruins Bob Miller and Tom Songin and Pucky, the Whale mascot. Fees are $10 for adults with a $5 skate rental, and $6 for children with a $2 skate rental. Hot beverages and photo opportunities are included, as well as the chance to win tickets to the “Harvest-Properties.com Whale Bowl” on Feb. 19.
WHALERS AND BRUINS LEGENDS FACE OFF FEB. 19
Park and fellow Hall of Fame defensemen Brian Leetch, a Cheshire native, headline the Bruins legends team that will play the Hartford Whalers legends on Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. in the opener of the doubleheader that’s part of the “Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest” on Feb. 11-23 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, where construction of the rink began Jan. 17 and snow removal will take place Thursday. The Whale and Providence Bruins will play at 7 p.m., and in case of bad weather, that 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, Pat Verbeek, 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 Ticketmaster.com 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 Ticketmaster.com.
BELATED HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ‘THE GREAT ONE’
I know I’m officially old when I’m wishing Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky a belated happy 50th birthday from Wednesday. In 1978, I saw a 17-year-old Gretzky play his final game with the Indianapolis Racers against the New England Whalers the night before being sold to the Edmonton Oilers with goalie Eddie Mio and forward Peter Driscoll for $700,000. One of the highlights of that season was Gretzky’s appearance in the 1979 WHA All-Star Game, a three-game series between the WHA All-Stars and Dynamo Moscow. The All-Stars were coached by Jacques Demers, who put Gretzky on a line with his boyhood idol Gordie Howe and his son, Mark. In the first game, the line had seven points, and the WHA All-Stars won 4-2. In Game 2, Gretzky and Mark Howe each scored and Gordie Howe had an assist in another 4-2 win. The line failed to score in the final game, but the WHA won again, 4-3.
I was fortunate to cover the Howes when they came to Hartford, and “Mr. Hockey” was still turning heads at 52 years old. In fact, he was the Whalers’ representative in the 1980 NHL All-Star Game in Detroit, and rather than the hometown player(s), in this case Red Wings’ Reed Larson, being the last player to be introduced for the Wales Conference team, it was Gordie, making his 23rd All-Star appearance with a record 10 All-Star goals. And instead of announcing Howe’s name, the public address announcer said, “And from the Hartford Whalers and representing all of hockey with great distinction for five decades, No. 9.” The 21,002 at Joe Louis Arena broke into a “Gor-die, Gor-die” chant and stood and roared for several minutes, forcing Howe to take a few bows and wipe away a few tears. Appropriately, Howe’s was the last name in the scoring summary as he assisted on the final goal by Real “Whalers Killer” Cloutier for his 19th All-Star point. It was the last of four goals in a 4:26 span in the final 8:20 as the Wales Conference rallied for a 6-3 victory over the Campbell Conference, which included a 19-year-old named Wayne Gretzky in his NHL All-Star debut.
I was equally as fortunate to witness one of the greatest feats in sports history when Gretzky recorded five points in four consecutive games in 1982, including one goal and four assists against the Hartford Whalers on what was designated as “Feed Gretzky Night” in Edmonton before the Oilers embarked on a seven-game road trip. He was two goals shy of tying Phil Esposito’s season record of 76, and after scoring once in the first two periods, he played virtually the entire third period, staying on the ice while the Oilers’ other four skaters changed. He failed to get No. 76, but barely, whiffing on a wide-open, goal-mouth crossing pass with 45 seconds left when the puck hit a chip of ice and bounced over his stick. I can still hear – and feel – the groans reverberating through Northlands Coliseum. Heck, even I was disappointed and upset, and there’s not supposed to be any cheering in the press box.
Then after covering a Whalers game in Vancouver on Saturday night, Hall of Fame announcer Chuck Kaiton and I took a red-eye flight to Detroit for the Oilers’ game against the Red Wings on Sunday night. Despite being shadowed by Paul Woods, Gretzky scored No. 76 and added four assists. Then it was on to Buffalo, where Gretzky broke the record, was saluted on the ice by Esposito and then demonstrated why he was considered a classier act off the ice than on it. A mob of reporters awaited Gretzky after the game, but knowing his hometown reporter, future Hall of Famer Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal, needed some comments ASAP, Gretzky pulled Matheson and this reporter, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time, into the back of the locker room shower and spoke with us for several minutes. It gave Jim and myself a jump on the opposition and helped immensely with deadline issues.
Now Gretzky is 50, and he and wife Janet have five children, including 22-year-old Paulina, 20-year-old Ty and 18-year-old Trevor, all of whom used to travel the NHL circuit, closing on Broadway when dad played three seasons with the Rangers before the curtain came down with “The Great Goodbye” on April 13, 1999. How appropriate! No. 99 retired in 1999. The most stunning statistic of Gretzky’s endless number of records in a mind-boggling career? If you take away all of the record 894 goals that he scored, his record 1,963 assists would still make him the NHL’s all-time scoring leader by 76 points over former Oilers teammate Mark Messier (1,887).
Later in 1999, on Nov. 22, Gretzky became the 10th player to bypass the three-year waiting period for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, which announced he would be the last player to do so. He was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in 2000, and his No. 99 was retired league-wide at the NHL All-Star Game. It was only the second number retired league-wide by a major North American sports league, the other being Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 by Major League Baseball in 1997. Later in 1999, Capilano Drive that runs past Northlands Coliseum was changed to “Wayne Gretzky Drive.” In 2002, 14 years after “The Trade” to Los Angeles, the Kings held a jersey retirement ceremony and erected a life-sized statue of Gretzky outside Staples Center. The ceremony was delayed until then so owner Bruce McNall, who had recently finished a prison sentence, could attend.
In 2000, Gretzky agreed to purchase a 10 percent stake in the Phoenix Coyotes in a partnership with majority owner Steve Ellman, taking on the roles of alternate governor, managing partner and head of hockey operations. He became head coach on Aug. 8, 2005, with associate head coach and former Whalers defenseman Ulf Samuelsson taking over in training camp in 2009 during an ownership dispute. Gretzky hasn’t had any official ties to the NHL since he stepped down as coach and head of hockey operations on Sept. 24, 2009.
Gretzky insists he holds no grudge toward the NHL or anyone connected with the league while continuing his connection from afar. Let’s hope the NHL never lets it come to that. No. 99 will always be No. 1 in my mind. Players today and forever should always remember that being an ambassador for the game like “The Great One” and “Mr. Hockey” should be the ultimate goal.
MONARCHS 4, WHALE 2
Manchester 0 3 1 – 4
Connecticut 1 1 0 – 2
First period: 1. Conn, Grachev 13 (Kennedy), 11:23. Penalties: Kolomatis, Mch (hooking), 3:03; Tessier, Ct (hooking), 7:09; Johnson, Mch (interference), 14:10; Clune, Mch (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:57.
Second period: 2. Mch, Voynov 10 (Meckler, Clune), 5:14. 3. Mch, Kozun 11 (Elkins, Teubert), 6:16. 4. Mch, Holloway 15 (King), 10:20. 5. Conn, Weise 10 (Dupont, Soryal), 13:41. Penalties: Weise, Ct (tripping), 3:02; Clune, Mch (fighting), 8:53; DiDiomete, Ct (fighting), 8:53.
Third period: 6. Mch, Zeiler 2 (Meckler), 19:10. Penalties: Newbury, Ct (boarding), 3:38; Dupont, Ct (interference), 8:27; Cliché, Mch (delay of game), 14:02.
Shots on goal: Manchester 10-12-11-33. Connecticut 12-5-8-25; Power-play opportunities: Manchester 0 of 4; Connecticut 0 of 4; Goalies: Manchester, Jones 17-5-0 (25 shots-23 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 14-16-3 (33-30); A: 5,802; Referee: Jamie Koharski; Linesmen: Luke Galvin, Brent Colby