By Bruce Berlet

HARTFORD, Conn. – Like their previous game Sunday and their parent club’s outing 24 hours earlier, the Connecticut Whale faced another “trap game” Wednesday night at the XL Center.

CT WhaleThe Whale had lots of reasons not to bring their best after winning five in a row against the Springfield Falcons, who were on an 11-game losing streak that knocked them out of playoff contention again.

For the second time in four days, the Whale came out flat but recovered for a critical come-from-behind decision, as a brilliant individual move by All-Star right wing Jeremy Williams set up John Mitchell’s tie-breaking goal with 8:43 left in a 3-2 victory before 3,176.

Williams maneuvered his way around and through the Falcons’ line of former Hartford Wolf Pack captain Greg Moore, leading scorer Tomas Kubalik and Trevor Smith and then had the presence of mind to find Mitchell in the high slot as he was falling to the ice. Williams was looking for defenseman Wade Redden, who helped devise the faceoff play that set the winning goal in motion. But Mitchell intervened, putting a 30-foot shot between the legs of Falcons goalie Paul Dainton, making his AHL debut as he works on finishing his degree at the University of Massachusetts.

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

“I kind of blacked out there,” a smiling Williams said of his series of dipsy-doodle moves. “Redden said on the faceoff play we were going to with him going down the wall me popping out (to cover the point). It ended up happening three or four times on one shift where he played forward and I played defense. It was fortunate play where I found some room.

“A blind squirrel even finds a nut once in a while because that’s the most inconsistent part of my game. Sometimes I can see the holes, and sometimes I can’t. Fortunately I was able to have a little bit of vision there. I thought Reds was coming down and tried to move it over to him, but Mitch ended up going into the spot was Reds was. I putted where I wanted, but Mitchell stepped up.”

Mitchell said he thought his longtime friend who will be the best man in his wedding this summer was going to shoot, so he planned to go to the front of the net and wait for rebound or deflection. But when Williams got tangled up, Mitchell went to the net figuring he was going to pass to Redden. But with Redden having moved up, Mitchell planned to cover the point so he could backcheck if needed. But the puck popped loose, and Mitchell got off a clean shot.

“I just wanted to grab the puck, turn and shoot it as quickly as I could,” said Mitchell, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 28 for a seventh-round pick in 2012. “That works out a lot of the time. Even in the NHL, goals are scored like that where guys just turn and shoot as quick as they can to surprise the goalie. That’s exactly what happened, but we have to be ready from the drop of the puck and be ready for the full 60 minutes. Desperation has kicked in, and the boys have responded well. That’s a bonus, but we want to go in ready from the get-go because that’s what it’s going to take to win games in the playoffs.”

The latest sagging start helped put the Whale (37-26-2-6) into a two-goal hole, but as they did Sunday in a 3-1 victory over the Falcons and the Rangers did Tuesday night in a 1-0 win over the Florida Panthers, they rallied from a sluggish beginning to win their fourth in a row and ninth in 11 starts to reach their high-water mark this season of 11 games over .500. They regained a four-point lead over the idle Worcester Sharks (33-26-4-8) in the battle for the third and final guaranteed spot in the Atlantic Division playoff race and remained one point in front of Binghamton (37-27-3-4), a 6-3 winner over Albany and fifth in the East Division in the fight for a possible crossover playoff berth. The crossover rule says the top four teams in the East Division and the top three in the Atlantic Division qualify for the playoffs, and the conference’s eighth and final spot will go to whichever has more points between the East’s fifth-place team and the Atlantic’s fourth-place club.

“We came out slow, but they came out hard and played very well and enthusiastically,” said Whale goalie Dov Grumet-Morris, who extended his AHL career-high winning streak to six games with 25 saves, including a game-saver off Moore with 4:09 left. “They certainly dominated the first half of the game, then we started to play in spurts and got some momentum at the end of the second period against a goalie who played an outstanding game and we were fortunate to have a great third period.”

The strong finish enabled the Whale to improve to 7-21-0-2 when trailing after two periods, but four of those wins have come in the last three weeks. The Whale are now 6-1-1-1 and have won six in a row against the Falcons (30-37-2-3), who are on a 0-11-1-0 slide since the loss of rugged wings Tom Sestito and former Wolf Pack captain Dane Byers via deals at the trade deadline. They were challenging for their first playoff berth since 2005 before the freefall dating to a 4-1 victory over Portland on Feb. 27. Their only point in the slump came March 5 in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Whale.

The first period resembled the opening 20 minutes Sunday, when the Whale came out sluggish but pulled out a win. This time, they were outshot 10-5 in the first period and never seriously threatened Dainton, who signed an amateur tryout contract Monday after finishing his career at UMass, where he was 6-18-5 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .908 save percentage with one shutout in 32 games this season.

“After winning three games in three nights and having a little break, you have to recapture that intensity,” Whale coach Ken Gernander said. “We had addressed that we wanted to have a much better start than (Sunday), but that wasn’t the case. But again the guys stuck with it and found a way to get the two points. If we want to make a run in the playoffs, we can’t wait until the second period to get going.”

Grumet-Morris made excellent stops off a wide-open Kyle Neuber at the left post at 6:21 and Petr Kalus in front with 3:44 left in the period. But the Falcons got the period’s only goal from one of Dainton’s former Hockey East rivals, left wing Wade McLeod, who also signed an ATO on Monday after completing his eligibility at Northeastern, where he led the Huskies in scoring the last three seasons, including career highs in goals (22), assists (23) and points (45) in 38 games this season. He scored in his first pro game when he took a long cross-ice pass from David Savard, skated into the left circle, outmaneuvered Tomas Kundratek and beat Grumet-Morris to the glove side with 1:58 left in the period.

The Whale heeded Gernander’s words during the first intermission to shoot more, and Dainton had to stop strong bids by Kris Newbury, Evgeny Grachev and Pavel Valentenko in the opening minute. Grumet-Morris then denied Kubalik breaking in off right wing at 1:28.

Then six seconds after the Falcons’ first power play expired, Cody Goloubef took a pass from Kubalik and fired a 40-foot shot that went past Grumet-Morris at 8:59 as he was being screened by Moore and Whale defenseman Stu Bickel.

The Whale finally showed some steady life, and Ryan Garlock picked off Theo Ruth’s pass in the neutral zone, skated into the Falcons’ zone and pushed the puck ahead to the right circle to Derek Couture, who beat Dainton to the far stick side at 11:52.

“Finally one goes in for me,” said Couture, who has had several excellent scoring chances since being called up from Victoria of the ECHL but had only scored when the opposition put the puck in its own net. “Keep shooting and they’re going to go in. It’s got to happen. I played the same way all the time, and if the goals go in, it’s kind of a bonus in my (checking) role. … It’s a good team to be on that builds throughout the game. You can tell that we just gradually took over that game. And night in and night out Dov keeps kicking for us.”

Grumet-Morris kept the Whale close when he stopped Trevor Frischmon’s shorthanded rush down left wing with 22.5 seconds left in the period. Given that reprieve, the Whale got even on the carryover power play into the third period, but it didn’t come easily. Dainton (31 saves) made a diving stop to smother Brodie Dupont’s rebound of Williams’ shot at 38 seconds. But 16 seconds later, Dale Weise got inside Nick Holden, kicked the puck to Newbury and then redirected his centering pass past Dainton to tie it.

“We had good pressure on the power play, and I just kind of redirected the puck to Newbs, who’s a good passer,” Weise said. “I beat my man to the net and he gave me a great pass.”

Then with the Whale on their third period rise, Grumet-Morris had Moore talking to himself as he stopped his rush down left wing at 2:54. He then somehow got his left pad on an even better bid off another left-wing rush while sprawled in the crease at 4:09, then stopped a secondary chance by Ben Guite.

“Moore made a great play to cut in and made a great move, and I got lucky and made a lucky save,” Grumet-Morris said. “That’s a standard desperation play all goalies do. That’s nothing special or unique to this level or myself. When he extends his hands to go around you, he loses the ability to lift the puck. When he goes to the full extension, I know he’s trying to go around me but he’s not going to be able to lift it, so I try to take away everything low.”

The Falcons pulled Dainton for a sixth attacker with 1:22 left, but the Whale didn’t allow a shot the rest of the way in notching yet another come-from-behind win.

“The third period is when this team just seems to come on and want to play, but that’s good and bad,” Weise said. “It’s good because no lead (for the opposition) is safe because we know we can come back, but you can’t spot good teams leads like that. These are big games and big points for us, and I don’t know why we’re not able to get up for them. They don’t mean as much to them as they do to us, but give them credit because they came out hard while playing for jobs.

“I don’t have the answer why we don’t have good starts, but at the end of the day, we got the two points and we’ll address that tomorrow.”



Kale Kerbashian made his pro debut with the Whale, replacing Devin DiDiomete and playing on a line with center Francis Lemieux and Kelsey Tessier. Kerbashian signed an amateur tryout agreement for this season and an AHL contract for next season on Monday. The 5-foot-11, 173-pound Kerbashian joined the Whale after getting 37 goals and 51 assists in 68 games with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League. The 20-year-old free agent from Thunder Bay, Ontario, saw his first pro action last season when he had two goals and an assist in four ECHL games with Wheeling.

Besides DiDiomete, who was injured Sunday, the Whale scratched defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Jyri Niemi and forwards Todd White, former Falcons right wing Chad Kolarik and Chris McKelvie, who skated for the first time Wednesday since surgery to repair an injury sustained in a 5-1 victory over the Falcons on Jan. 22. That happened in his second game after being recalled from the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors. He missed his 25th game Wednesday night. … The Falcons scratched goalie Gustaf Wesslau, defensemen Mike Commodore, Brent Regner and Anton Blomqvist and forwards Kyle Wilson, Tomas Kana, Chris D’Alvise, Mike Blunden and Maksim Mayorov, recalled earlier in the day by the parent Columbus Blue Jackets. … Greenville clinched the ECHL’s South Division title in their first season with a 3-1 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays on Tuesday night. The Road Warriors are affiliated with the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.


The first-year Charlotte Checkers, the Whale’s former ECHL affiliate, make their second visit to Hartford Friday night and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are in town Saturday night to end a five-game homestand. The Whale then plays successive games at Providence on Sunday and April 1.

The Checkers (39-25-2-6) lost to the Whale 4-2 on opening night Oct. 9 but won 5-1 and 1-0 at home on Feb. 24 and 26. The Checkers beat Adirondack 5-2 Tuesday night thanks to going 4-for-11 on the power play. Their balanced attack is led by left wings Chris Terry (29, 27) and Jacob Micflikier (24, 28) and centers Zach Boychuk (19, 33) and Zac Dalpe (19, 28), the AHL’s third-leading rookie scorer who has a goal and three assists against the Whale. Right wing Jerome Samson (26, 28) is on recall to the parent Carolina Hurricanes.

Rookie Mike Murphy (21-11-3, 2.53 goals-against average, .919 save percentage, two shutouts) has the two wins against the Whale, allowing only four goals in three appearances. He has shared the goaltending with Justin Pogge (18-16-3, 3.10, .908) as the Checkers are the only AHL team to use two goalies throughout the season.

Hockey Ministries International Northeast is sponsoring “Faith & Family Night” that includes the band Scarlet Fade performing in the XL Center atrium before and after the game. Contact AHL Chapel Coordinator Rick Mitera at 860-817-6440 or [email protected] to order $10 tickets for upper bowl seats. Anyone who buys a ticket through Hockey Ministries will receive a $2 coupon for parking. For more information on Hockey Ministries, visit


Congratulations to AHL coaching legend John Paddock, who led the Wolf Pack to their only Calder Cup title in 2000 and will be inducted into the Binghamton Hockey Hall of Fame on Friday night at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena before the Senators play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Award-winning goalie Corey Hirsch and BC Icemen standout Chris Grenville will join Paddock in the Class of 2011. Paddock, 56, led the Binghamton Rangers and Senators to successful inaugural seasons that ended in the third round of the playoffs. He had a 121-90-24 regular-season record in Binghamton before taking over as co-coach of the B-Senators in 2004-05. He was honored by the Wolf Pack last season after being inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame.

“I’m thrilled by (the induction),” Paddock told the Binghamton Press. “Those years were a big part of my career. They were good times professionally and also in the community. This is something above and beyond, and I’m very grateful.”

Paddock is the only coach to lead three teams to the Calder Cup – Maine Mariners, Hershey Bears and Wolf Pack. He also was coach and general manager of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes before joining the Wolf Pack and then returning in 2002 to where he had some of his most memorable hockey moments.

“Binghamton was Rangers territory, so it was pretty neat for Binghamton to have the Rangers as their parent club,” Paddock said. “I was there the first year they came. It was an exciting time. Then with Ottawa, lots of players that played in Binghamton went on to be the supporting cast of that Stanley Cup finals team (in 2007). On the flip side, we finished first overall the lockout year (2004-05), then lost in the first round. That was one of my bigger disappointments in hockey.”

Paddock was promoted to assistant coach in Ottawa for the 2005-06 season and then took over as head coach in 2007-08. After being fired the next season, he was named coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, and is now an assistant general manager to former Whalers coach and GM Paul Holmgren. Paddock also played 10 seasons professionally, including 102 NHL games and winning a Calder Cup with the Mariners… Oklahoma City Barons right wing Colin McDonald, a Wethersfield native and son of former Hartford Whalers defenseman Gerry McDonald, has scored 32 goals this season after totaling 34 in his first three AHL seasons. He had his first pro hat trick at Rockford on Friday.


Former Wolf Pack and Rangers forward Lauri Korpikoski scored the winner with three minutes left in the second period Tuesday night as the Phoenix Coyotes beat the St. Louis Blues 2-1 to solidify their hold on fourth in the Western Conference and move within one point of the third-place San Jose Sharks, who hosted the Flames on Wednesday night.

Korpikoski, the Rangers’ first-round pick (19th overall) in 2004, has career highs in goals (18), assists (19) and points (37) this season and is plus-19, second on the Coyotes to Adrian Aucoin’s plus-21. He assisted on Ray Whitney’s goal and then tied Radim Vrbata and captain Shane Doan for the team lead in goals after entering the season with only 11 goals in his first two NHL seasons. While he doesn’t have a single power-play goal, Korpikoski does have seven points in his last eight games while playing between Whitney and Vrbata in place of the injured Martin Hanzal, and his 38 points are 27 more than he had all last season.

“Two more big plays by Korpi, he’s really meant the world to us all season,” Doan said. “No one is surprised to see him scoring like this. He’s an elite player and everyone has been kind of waiting for him to put it together. We count on him to break the game open with his skill.”

Korpikoski, known for his defense and penalty killing but named the game’s No. 1 star for his offense, said, “I’m playing with good players and on the top line. I think it’s normal when you get more chances to score and you put it in. I think it just comes with the opportunity to play.”

Another player with local ties having a career season is Hamden native Jonathan Quick, who made 27 saves in regulation and overtime and then stopped two of three shots in a shootout in the Los Angeles Kings’ 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday night. The game was scoreless until the Kings’ Jarret Stoll scored with 5:52 left, but Olli Jokinen tied it on the game’s next shot 55 seconds later. Quick made four big saves during a Flames power play late in overtime before earning the victory and No. 1 star as the Kings moved two points ahead of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks into a tie for fifth in the tightly bunched Western Conference playoff race.

“Every point we get, whether it’s one point or two points, it helps build a resume to make the playoffs,” said Quick, who improved to 8-0 in shootouts this season. “We’re just trying to get two points every time we’re out. We got two points and that’s all that matters.” Stoll got the Kings even in the shootout after Alex Tanguay beat Quick, and Anze Kopitar gave the Kings the win when he slipped the puck through Miikka Kiprusoff’s legs.

At the other end of the spectrum is former Rangers and Wolf Pack forward Manny Malhotra, who will miss the rest of the season and playoffs because of a left eye injury. Malhotra, in his first season with the Vancouver Canucks, was injured when a shot by the Colorado Avalanche’s Erik Johnson hit him in the face during a game March 16 and then had surgery. The Rangers’ first-round pick (seventh overall) in 1998 has 11 goals, 19 assists and is second in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage at .617.


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 protected].


Springfield        1 1 0 – 2
Connecticut       0 1 2 – 3

First period: 1. Spr, MacLeod 1 (Savard, Holden), 18:02. Penalties: None.

Second period: 2. Spr, Goloubef 5 (Kubalik, Smith), 8:59. 3. Conn, Couture 2 (Garlock), 11:52. Penalties: Filatov, Spr (slashing), 2:52; Parlett, Ct (tripping), 6:53; Lemieux, Ct (interference), 13:35; Goloubef Spr (holding), 19:03.

Third period: 4. Conn, Weise 16 (Newbury, Dupont), 0:54 (pp). 5. Conn, Mitchell 6 (Williams, Grachev), 11:17. Penalty: Guite, Spr (high-sticking), 1:55.

Shots on goal: Springfield 10-11-6-27. Connecticut 5-13-16-34; Power-play opportunities: Springfield 0 of 2; Connecticut 1 of 3; Goalies: Springfield, Dainton 0-1-0 (34 shots-31 saves). Connecticut, Grumet-Morris 10-3-1 (27-25); A: 3,176; Referees: Terry Koharski, Marcus Vinnerborg; Linesmen: Brent Colby, David Spannaus.