By Bruce Berlet

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – The Connecticut Whale hit the daily double Friday night.

First, All-Star right wing Jeremy Williams had a goal and two assists to back the 21-save effort of Dov Grumet-Morris in a 4-1 victory over the undermanned Bridgeport Sound Tigers before 5,742 at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.

CT WhaleThe Whale’s second victory after a four-game losing streak assured they would be back in the AHL playoffs after the first miss in their 14-year history as they closed out the win about 20 minutes after the Charlotte Checkers, their former ECHL affiliate, beat the Worcester Sharks, 2-1.

The Whale (40-20-2-6) clinched the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Atlantic Division when they moved five points ahead of the Sharks (36-30-4-9), who have only one game left compared to two for the Whale. The Whale will play division-leading Portland or second-place Manchester in a best-of-seven first round series that starts next week.

“It’s a good feeling because you always want to make the playoffs,” said Whale coach Ken Gernander, who was 12-for-12 as a player, assistant coach and coach with the former Hartford Wolf Pack before last season. “Now we want to do something. We’ve given ourselves an opportunity, and now we want to make something of it.”

The Whale’s strong forechecking and cycling caused havoc for the Sound Tigers (28-39-3-3), who have the AHL’s worst record but had won two in a row and were on a 7-2-1-2 run. But they had five players on amateur tryout contracts and one on a professional tryout deal on defense, and the Whale took advantage to amass a 40-22 shot advantage, including 18-3 in the first period.

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“Before the season, it’s always a goal to get to the postseason,” said defenseman/alternate captain Jared Nightingale, one of only eight holdovers from the 2009-2010 team. “We’ll enjoy that, but now is when the fun starts and most of the work begins. It’s a whole different season with a whole different bunch of guys, but you can always look back and also find a lot of positives. You don’t want that taste in your mouth again. The guys who came back this year learned from last year’s disappointments and made the most of this year.

“Hopefully we have lots more hockey to play. A lot of teams deal with a lot of injuries and call-ups, which is the nature of minor league hockey. But I think the team that adjusts the best has the most depth most of the time, so it’s a lot of credit to the guys in the dressing room that we stuck with it and found a way.”

Grumet-Morris rightfully called the clincher “a simple game and a very strong road game.”

“It really did result in exactly what we wanted,” said Grumet-Morris, who improved to 13-5-1 with a 2.00 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and one shutout. “We gave up under 25 shots, which is a great start, and did well in the special teams battle, and that’s usually the difference at this level.

“It was the same thing in the last game (a 4-2 win over Portland), but it was a two-goal game in the third period so from now on, you pretty much have to assume every game is going to be that type. Small details are going to be the difference at every level, from the NHL all the way down to the amateur level.”

Despite the lopsided shot advantage in the first period, the Whale didn’t beat Mikko Koskinen (36 saves) until Williams picked off a clearing attempt by Cameron Wind, one of the Sound Tigers’ young defensemen, and passed to Ryan Garlock, who converted his own rebound with 2:38 left. Until then, Koskinen had stopped Evgeny Grachev’s backhander off a steal at 1:03, made a toe save on Williams’ deflection at 4:31 and stopped Kris Newbury’s partial breakaway at 9:14. The Sound Tigers then sustained a tough break when right wing Rhett Rakhshani, presented crystal in a pregame ceremony honoring him for being named to the AHL all-rookie team, didn’t return after he sustained an injury when checked by Brodie Dupont with 7:05 left.

The Whale continued to press on a carryover power play early in the second period and made it 2-0 at 1:11 when Williams’ 40-foot shot deflected off rookie defenseman Blake Parlett’s leg and past Koskinen off a setup by Newbury.

“I was trying to get out of the way, but the puck hit me and went in,” a smiling Parlett said of his second AHL goal and what proved to be his second game-winner in 23 games with the Whale. “But I’ll take it.”

The Sound Tigers then pressured Grumet-Morris for the first time, and he had to be alert to deny good bids from the slot by David Ullstrom and Aaron Ness at 2:28 and 3:06.

The Sound Tigers soon had back-to-back power plays and converted on the second as Matt Donovan intercepted John Mitchell’s clearing attempt and got the puck to Ness, who found Ullstrom in the right circle for a wrist shot that beat Grumet-Morris cleanly at 12:51.

The Whale nearly made it 3-1 on an ensuing power play, but Williams hit the crossbar for the third time in two games with 4:44 left in the period.

But the Whale then got a golden opportunity to break the game open when Sound Tigers veteran center Jeremy Colliton was given a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct when he ran Tomas Kundratek into the boards with 3:51 left. Before the puck was dropped, Sound Tigers defenseman Benn Olson was whistled for slashing Newbury, giving the Whale a 5-on-3 for two minutes.

It took only 53 seconds for the Whale to take advantage as Dale Weise got the puck to the left circle to Williams, who put a wrist shot off the crossbar and in for his team-leading 32nd goal and a 3-1 lead. The 32 goals tie his career high last season with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

“My one-timer for some reason isn’t hitting the net, and (assistant coach) J.J. (Daigneault) said I should take more wrist shots, maybe pump-fake and just throw wristers and it worked,” Williams said. “The last game against them didn’t end the way we wanted (a 5-1 loss), and they’re a hard-working team. They had a lot of guys out, but it’s tough to play a team that’s flying around out there. There’s not a lot of room, so if you’re not smart mentally, it’s going to be a long night.

“But fortunately guys got their legs moving, we matched their speed and we were smart with the puck. We wanted to take advantage of any sort of flaw on their side, and that was working down low. Guys filled in and were in the right spots, and it’s always a little easier when you’re not always second-guessing when you’re going to jump because there’s always a guy behind you.”

The Whale played especially smart defensively in the third period but gave the Sound Tigers three power plays, including a 6-on-4 for nearly two minutes after the home team pulled Koskinen for a sixth attacker with 3:33 left. But the Whale allowed only one shot on Grumet-Morris and got the insurance goal when Mitchell scored into an empty net with 54.2 seconds left.

When the final horn sounded, the Whale mobbed Grumet-Morris, who was quite the addition after being called up from Greenville of the ECHL and then signed to an AHL contract after helping the Road Warriors begin a run to the second-best record in the league.

“We played a pretty solid game, but we could have been a little more disciplined, though I can understand some of it because they want to defend their teammates,” Gernander said. “Now we’ll approach it as one game at a time and one step at a time. And it’ll be a little bit of everything from here on out. A lot of the playoffs is discipline in all areas of your game, and obviously there was a little bit of a test tonight.”

Williams, one of the Whale’s newcomers, was just happy to have another chance at the playoffs after being eliminated early last season.

“It’s definitely nice to make the playoffs with a couple of game left,” Williams said. “It’s nerve-wracking when it comes down to the final game. It came down to the wire, but we found a way. The guys’ confidence level going into this weekend was high, and it worked out and is a big deal for everybody.”

Tickets for the Whale’s first two home playoff games go on sale at the XL Center ticket office Saturday night, when the Whale have a rematch with the Sound Tigers. Tickets also will be available at 10 a.m. Sunday at and TicketMaster charge-by-phone at 800-745-3000.


The Whale lost Mats Zuccarello to a recall to the Rangers after he had four assists in three games after being reassigned last week. But centers Mitchell and Francis Lemieux returned after missing five and three games due to injuries. Mitchell played between Grachev and Derek Couture, and Lemieux skated between Williams and Tommy Grant.

The Whale scratched defenseman Jyri Niemi, injured forwards Chad Kolarik, Devin DiDiomete, Todd White and defenseman Michael Del Zotto and five players who signed amateur tryout contracts after finishing their college or junior seasons – goalie Jason Missiaen, forwards Kale Kerbashian, Andrew Yogan and Shayne Wiebe and defenseman Dylan McIlrath, the Rangers’ first-round pick (10th overall) in 2010. With the Whale having clinched a playoff spot, several of those players could get a chance to play in the last two games so Gernander can rest some of the veterans.

The Sound Tigers scratched forwards Brett Gallant, Chris Barton, Robin Figren, Phil Ginand and Jeremy Yablonski and defensemen Dustin Kohn, Anton Klementyev, Brett Motherwell and Mark Wotton, the captain.


Before the Whale and Sound Tigers have their rematch Saturday night, there will be an auction and sale starting at 5 p.m. in the XL Center atrium. Whale Bowl game-used Hartford Whalers and Boston Bruins jerseys will be up for bid, and Whale-used sticks and equipment will be for sale. And 3,000 fans will receive a free Whale travel mug courtesy of the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

The Whale will conclude the regular season Sunday at 5 p.m. when the Norfolk Admirals (38-25-9-7) visit the XL Center. The Admirals have qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2007 but have lost two in a row and six of seven. But they’ve won two of three meetings with the Whale, who took the last game 3-2 at Norfolk on Jan. 8. Marc-Antoine Pouliot (24 goals, 46 assists) is the Admirals’ runaway leader on offense, followed by Blair Jones (23, 28), Johan Harju (21, 27), Paul Szczechura (20, 29), James Wright (16, 30) and Matt Fornataro (17, 25). Cedrick Desjardins (15-6-1, 2.59, .905) has the two wins against the Whale, allowing only three goals for a 1.50 GAA with a .941 save percentage, but is on recall to the parent Tampa Bay Lightning. The goaltending is now handled by Dustin Tokarski (21-19-4, 2.60 goals-against average, .903 save percentage), Jaroslav Janus (1-5-1, 3.73, .874) and Pat Nagle, who hasn’t played an AHL game since signing a free-agent, two-year entry-level contract with the Lightning on March 22 after having an 18-14-5 record with 2.02 GAA, .923 save percentage and three shutouts in his senior year at Ferris State.

Fans will have a chance to win a player’s jersey in the annual “Shirts Off Our Backs” promotion, and 3,000 will receive a free Whale T-shirt courtesy of the Connecticut DOT. Entry forms for the “Shirts Off Our Backs” promotion will be handed out at the door, and drop boxes will be throughout the arena. Season ticket holders can enter the public and STH raffle. STH’s can go to the fan center to get a special ballot to enter the exclusive season ticket allotment. Half of the team’s jersey allotment will be reserved for season ticket holders, the other half is available to all fans, including STH’s. Jersey winners will be announced in the third period and directed to the Prize Den behind Section 124 and escorted to the zamboni entrance by promotion staff. After the stars are announced, winners will line up on the ice to receive their jerseys. The players will come out with the jerseys, present them to the winners, sign them and get their picture taken. The jerseys will be the road blue jerseys. The Whale’s season awards will be presented before the jerseys.


Former Hartford Wolf Pack center Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators was named the winner of the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s MVP on Friday.

Locke leads the AHL in assists (65) and points (86), establishing career highs in assists, points and plus-minus (plus-13) while leading the Senators to their first Calder Cup playoff berth in six years. Locke, who has recorded a point in 54 of 69 games he has played, will finish as his team’s scoring leader for the fourth consecutive season and is on the verge of winning his first AHL scoring title. He previously was the leading scorer for Hamilton (72 points), Houston (79) and Hartford (85).

Locke was named a first-team All-Star last week after representing the Senators in the AHL All-Star Classic in his fifth career appearance, extending his league record for career points with his 10th and 11th. A 26-year-old native of Toronto, Locke joined the Ottawa Senators organization as a free agent on July 7. He has 162 goals and 317 assists in 535 career AHL games in seven pro seasons and has one assist in nine NHL games. He won the Calder Cup with Hamilton in 2007 and has 45 points in 46 career AHL postseason games.

The award, first presented in 1948, honors the late Les Cunningham, a 2009 AHL Hall of Fame inductee who was a five-time All-Star and three-time Calder Cup champion with the original Cleveland Barons. Previous MVPs include former Wolf Pack center Derek Armstrong (2001) and goalie Jason LaBarbera (2004), former Hartford Whalers wing John Anderson of the New Haven Nighthawks in 1992 and former Wolf Pack wing Alexandre Giroux of the Hershey Bears in 2009.

On Thursday, Portland Pirates forward Luke Adam (28 goals, 33 assists and plus-20 in 55 games) won the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as the league’s top rookie. Adam, a second-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2008, leads AHL rookies in goals and is second in plus-minus. He started the season with two goals and two assists in an opening-night victory over Manchester on Oct. 9, the first of 16 multiple-point efforts. His 11-game scoring streak from Feb. 26 to March 22 was the longest by an AHL rookie forward since 2005. Adam also has three goals and one assists in 19 games with the Sabres. Adam is the third consecutive Portland skater to win the Garrett Award, following Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis, both of whom are with the Sabres. That’s high marks for Pirates coach Kevin Dineen, the former Hartford Whalers standout forward and captain whose No. 11 is retired in the XL Center rafters.


Former Wolf Pack right wing Ryan Callahan received the Rangers’ Players Player Award as voted by the players. The award recognizes the player who best exemplifies what it means to be a teammate. Callahan also was named the winner of the John Halligan Good Guy Award, chosen by the New York chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, which recognizes players’ cooperation with the media. The award is named in honor of John Halligan, a longtime Rangers and NHL public relations executive who died in 2010.

Callahan is serving in his second year as alternate captain, though he’s out indefinitely after sustaining a broken ankle when hit by a shot by Boston Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara. Callahan, who received a standing ovation when he walked onto the Madison Square Garden ice on crutches, ranks fifth among NHL forwards in blocked shots (77) and is 10th in hits (224). He leads the Rangers in power-play goals (10) and game-winning goals (five), ranks second in goals (24), points (49) and power-play points (15) and third in assists (25).

The media named goalie Henrik Lundqvist the team’s MVP for a record fifth consecutive year. Lundqvist leads the NHL in shutouts (11) and is tied for sixth in wins (35), ice time (3,947), save percentage (.923) and goals-against average (2.28). He is the only goalie in NHL history to post at least 30 wins in each of his first six seasons and is the first Rangers goalie to have six straight 30-win seasons.

Feisty left wing Brandon Prust received the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, presented by Lightspeed Trading as voted on by the fans, to recognize the player who performs “above and beyond the call of duty.” The award is named after New York City police officer Steven McDonald, who was paralyzed when he was shot in the line of duty in November 1988. McDonald and his son, city cop Conor McDonald, presented the award with Callahan, last year’s winner.

The award has been given annually to the player who fans believe plays with extra effort on the ice. Prust is tied for second in the NHL in shorthanded points (seven), tied for third in shorthanded goals (five) and is tied for fourth in fighting majors (18). He’s fourth on the team in hits (157). … Rangers captain and Trumbull native Chris Drury, out since Feb. 3 with a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery, skated for the seventh straight day Friday and pushed to play in the team’s regular season finale Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers no longer hold their playoff destiny in their hands after a 3-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night. Now the Rangers need help from the Carolina Hurricanes and/or Buffalo Sabres or they will miss the playoffs for second consecutive year and assure there won’t be a team from the Metropolitan New York area in the postseason for the first time since 1966. If the Rangers don’t make it, Zuccarello and defenseman Ryan McDonagh could rejoin the Whale for the AHL playoffs, as they were on the Whale’s Clear Day list.


So sorry to hear about the death of former Hartford Wolf Pack coach EJ McGuire on Thursday he lost a five-month battle with cancer that was diagnosed in December.

I didn’t start covering the Wolf Pack until the season after EJ left Hartford, but the man who spent more than 40 years in hockey as a coach and administrator was always so pleasant and energetic whenever I met him after he guided the Wolf Pack to an 81-55-17-7 record in 1997-98 and 1998-99 and a berth in the Eastern Conference finals in the team’s inaugural season. That included a tenure as vice president of the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, a position he held from 2005 until he got beat by an opponent that no one beats at 58. McGuire was the architect of many of the innovations that Central Scouting pioneered in the past decade to achieve its mandate of providing the teams with the most comprehensive list of NHL entry-draft-eligible prospects.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman related a story that senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell told him about when he became coach of the Rangers in the mid-1990s and reached out to McGuire as a possible assistant. But McGuire had already committed to coaching the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.

“Even though he could have made four times as much money and come to the NHL, he didn’t do it because he felt the need and felt it was appropriate, it was his values, to honor the commitment to the youngsters in major junior,” Bettman said.

Campbell later shared his thoughts on McGuire.

“EJ was one of those pure-and-simple hockey people,” Campbell said. “When I retired as a player and became an assistant coach in Detroit, I run into EJ, who had moved from Philadelphia during the Keenan years and went with Mike to Chicago – when the assistant coaches did all of the coaching that coaches did at the time that wasn’t just coaching but was handing out meal money, working out players when they were ready to come back from injuries, figuring out how to do ice time.

“EJ was the first assistant coach with the group of us assistant coaches who figured out a system other than by longhand to do ice time. He was one of the few educated assistant coaches, the rest of us were just dumb jock players. We all gravitated toward EJ. He had a university degree and I think he had it figured out, computers at that time in the mid-’80s.”

I’m sure the passionate, selfless and tireless good guy EJ is smiling through that familiar moustache somewhere in that Great Rink in the Sky.


Miami of Ohio senior forward Andy Miele won the Hobey Baker Award, signifying college hockey’s best player, on Friday night at the Frozen Four at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Miele’s 71 points (24 goals, 47 assists) in only 39 games were 11 more than runner-up Matt Frattin of the University of North Dakota as he became the first Miami RedHawk to win the award. The other finalist was Boston College junior forward Cam Atkinson of Greenwich, who prepped at Avon Old Farms, led the 2010 national champion Eagles in scoring for the second consecutive year and has two goals and two assists in his first three pro games with the Springfield Falcons.


Connecticut     1 2 1 – 4
Bridgeport       0 1 0 – 1

First period: 1. Conn, Garlock 3 (Williams), 17:21. Penalties: Weise, Ct (roughing), 0:39; Colliton, Bri (hooking), 0:39; Donovan, Bri (hooking), 19:14.

Second period: 2. Conn, Parlett 2 (Williams, Newbury), 1:11 (pp). 3, Brd, Ullstrom 17 (Ness, Donovan), 12:51 (pp). 4. Conn, Williams 32 (Weise, Newbury), 17:03 (pp). Penalties: DiBenedetto, Bri (goaltender interference), 3:06; Weise, Ct (hooking), 10:36; Nightingale, Ct (slashing), 12:35; Bidlevskii, Bri (interference), 14:07; Dupont, Ct (fighting), 16:09; Colliton, Bri (major-boarding, fighting, game misconduct-boarding), 16:09; Olson, Bri (slashing), 16:09; Couture, Ct (roughing), 17:21; Redden, Ct (hooking), 17:21; Marcinko, Bri (roughing, goaltender interference), 17:21.

Third period: 5. Conn, Mitchell 7 (Grachev, Couture), 19:05 (en). Penalties: Nightingale, Ct (delay of game), 6:33; Williams, Ct (roughing), 10:39; DiBenedetto, Bri (interference), 11:15; Nightingale, Ct (roughing), 15:58; Garlock, Ct (fighting), 19:40; Neigum, Bri (fighting), 19:40.

Shots on goal: Connecticut 18-12-10-40. Bridgeport 3-11-8-22; Power-play opportunities: Connecticut 2 of 6; Bridgeport 1 of 5; Goalies: Connecticut, Grumet-Morris 13-5-1 (22 shots-21 saves). Bridgeport, Koskinen 11-21-1 (39-36); A: 5,742; Referee: Marcus Vinnerborg; Linesmen: Paul Simeon, Luke Galvin.