By Bruce Berlet

CROMWELL, Conn. – As most of the Connecticut Whale players relaxed in the locker room after practice Monday morning, new/old right wing Dale Weise had a chalk talk session with assistant coach J.J. Daigneault.

CT WhaleDaigneault drew up some notable power plays of NHL teams such as the Dallas Stars and Philadelphia Flyers and tried to orchestrate a couple of plays that he thought Weise could do to try to best utilize his talents with a man advantage.

Weise didn’t play on the power play in 10 games with the parent New York Rangers, but he is certain to get plenty of ice time in all situations when the Whale hosts the Providence Bruins on Tuesday night at 7 in the start of a key four-game homestand against Atlantic Division opponents that they’re battling for playoff spots and position.

Weise averaged only 9.1 shifts and 6 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time in two stays on Broadway that ended Saturday night when he was reassigned to the Whale, while forward Evgeny Grachev and defenseman Del Zotto were recalled. Grachev and Del Zotto got the call after Brandon Prust (foot) and former Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman Daniel Girardi (ribcage, broken nose) were injured in a 3-2 shootout victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night, in which call-up Mats Zuccarello scored the only goal in the skills competition to improve to 3-for-3 in the NHL.

Grachev and Del Zotto are the seventh and eighth players on recall, but Prust recovered in time to play in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Washington Capitals on Monday night on a line with Brian Boyle and call-up Chad Kolarik. Grachev replaced call-up Brodie Dupont, who made his NHL debut against the Thrashers but was a healthy scratch as Grachev played with call-up Kris Newbury and captain/Trumbull native Chris Drury. Girardi took the morning skate but didn’t play Monday night, so Del Zotto, who had seven assists in eight games with the Whale, played his first with the Rangers since Jan. 2 alongside former Capital Mike Eminger. Michael Sauer took Girardi’s spot on the Rangers’ No. 1 defensive tandem with another former Wolf Pack player, All-Star Marc Staal.

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But Del Zotto will be headed back to Hartford soon if Rangers coach John Tortorella has his way. Tortorella said reports on Del Zotto were he was “a little inconsistent” with the Whale, but he’s confident the 21-year-old made strides after having been asked to work on things such as being more physical, keeping it simple and not having his stick in the air so much.

“To be honest, I’d rather have (Del Zotto) still playing down there,” Tortorella told reporters after the team’s morning skate. “But right now he is the guy in the situation with our club that we’re in,”

Del Zotto noted the difference between the NHL and AHL, starting with the mode of transportation.

“The first game was a 10-hour bus trip (to Norfolk), so, yeah, things are a lot different down there,” said Del Zotto, the Rangers’ first-round pick (20th overall) in 2008 and a member of the NHL all-rookie team last season. “But the guys were great to me and made me feel comfortable right away, so it was easy fitting in there. There’s a lot of things you’ve got to get used to, and mentally, it’s the biggest thing. Every game you’ve got to be ready and mentally prepare yourself.”

Tortorella also doesn’t want yo-yo treatment for Grachev, who was scoreless in six games with the Rangers in November but had 11 of his 12 goals and five of his six assists since rejoining the Whale, including his first pro hat trick in a 5-1 victory over Springfield on Saturday night that gave him six goals in his last three games.

“We don’t want to just keep on bringing him up and down, up and down,” Tortorella said. “I’ve seen players that you try to rush them into it, and I don’t think they ever get to where they could be if they went through the right process.”

Meanwhile, Whale coach Ken Gernander worked with his ever-changing cast of characters. Weise was back at right wing, center Todd White has recovered quicker than expected and skated with the team for first time since missing four games with an injury sustained in a 3-0 loss at Portland on Jan. 14, and Jyri Niemi returned to defense after playing left wing against Springfield.

“It was fun,” the smiling 20-year-old Finn said of his new/old position. “I started playing as a forward but have played defense since I was 14.”

While the Whale practiced, wing Chris McKelvie had surgery to repair a sliced toe sustained when he was stepped on in the second period Saturday night. McKelvie was playing his second game since being called up from Greenville of the ECHL on Thursday.

Later in the day, wing Tyler Donati was recalled from the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL in case White can’t play Tuesday night. Donati signed an AHL contract with the Hartford Wolf Pack on Oct. 21 and was scoreless in eight games before being loaned to Elmira on Nov. 30. He had 10 goals and 11 assists in 17 games with the Jackals. Last season, Donati was the ECHL’s leading scorer and MVP with 38 goals and 76 in 67 games.

While Donati is a possible fill-in, the Whale will be counting on Weise, who didn’t have a point in limited ice time in 10 games with the Rangers after getting seven goals and five assists in 16 games with the Whale. When he was recalled a second time on Dec. 29, he ranked fourth on the Whale in goals and was tied for third with four power-play goals despite missing 18 games because of injuries.

When asked what he said to Weise upon his return, Gernander said, “I congratulated him, said good job (with the Rangers) and now it’s back to work. He’ll get his share of ice time.”

“It was a good opportunity to be up there for a month and really get a good taste of what it’s about,” Weise said.

“Obviously it’s good for everyone to get an opportunity and a couple of guys make their (Rangers) debuts (Kolarik, Newbury and Dupont). Obviously I’m happy for those guys, and it’s nice to have a couple of guys you know to hang around with.”

Weise will look to build on that opportunity against the Bruins and the Whale’s other opponents this weekend, Manchester on Friday night and Portland on Saturday night, before the three-day All-Star break.

“I feel fresher than I have all season, and I’m excited to be down here, get back to work and help the boys continue to win,” Weise said. “I’ve obviously got a lot of pent-up energy.”


What some players will do to get a shot at the next level.

After receiving word he had been called up by the Whale from the Stockton (Calif.) Thunder of the ECHL, wing Bretton Cameron took a red-eye flight out of Sacramento on Friday at 11 p.m. (Pacific time), landing in Atlanta at 6:30 a.m. (Eastern time) Saturday. After a 90-minue layover, he flew to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, arriving at 10 a.m. Cameron was picked up at the airport, dropped off his equipment at the XL Center and headed to the hotel, arriving at 11 a.m. for a two-hour nap before a pregame meal.

After returning to the hotel at 2 p.m., Cameron took another 90-minute nap and then checked in at the rink. The team bus left for Springfield at 4:30 p.m., and the opening faceoff was at 7:30.

So what was Cameron’s condition at the start of his AHL debut?

“I felt pretty good coming into the game with a little bit of nerves,” said Cameron, who played on a line with center Ryan Garlock and feisty wing Devin DiDiomete. “I didn’t feel like I had quite the step the first couple of shifts, but after the first period I settled down and felt more comfortable with my linemates and thought that we created some chances.

“As the game went on, though, I definitely felt the fatigue of the whole 24-hour deal. It was good to have the win. It was an exciting game.”

Adrenaline and nearly scoring helped Cameron carry on. His only shot, a laser from the high slot, glanced off Falcons goalie Gustaf Wesslau and fell into the crease, where DiDiomete scored his first goal to give the Whale a 3-0 lead against Springfield’s top line of Kyle Wilson, Tom Sestito and former Hartford Wolf Pack wing and captain Dane Byers. DiDiomete later registered his first two-goal game as a pro and came within inches of a hat trick after Gernander made the classy move of putting him on the ice on a power play in the final 30 seconds.

“It wish I had the 2-on-1 back (in the second period) to put it in a different spot, but I can’t complain when I’m getting chances, especially for my first (AHL) game,” Cameron said.

Cameron had 13 goals, 10 assists and was plus-10 in 29 games with the Thunder after getting 40 goals and 27 assists in 68 games in his final junior season with Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League. He was in Whale training camp this fall, when he learned about some of his current teammates, including his new linemates.

“It was easy to play with those two guys because they talked a lot and helped me out,” Cameron said. “And it helped that I knew them. I don’t think I played with them in camp, but just knowing someone before you come in makes it easier to talk to them. They were good talking to me on the bench and on the ice.”

Gernander spoke well of Cameron.

“I thought he did all right,” Gernander said. “It wasn’t the first time we’d seen him, so it wasn’t completely unexpected or a complete shock, and I’m sure he’ll get more and more comfortable as things go on. The part that makes it easier for individuals to join the team and to participate is when everybody is adhering to the structure. You don’t have to adlib or freelance at all.”


The Whale (22-17-2-5) will be seeing plenty of familiar faces the next few weeks, starting with “Two for Tuesday” night as fans can purchase two upper-level $12 seats for the price of one. The offer is good only at the XL Center box office and cannot be combined with any other offer.

The Bruins (20-20-3-1) are in a tie for fifth place with Springfield (20-21-1-3) and seven points behind the third-place Whale after a 2-1 shootout victory over Manchester on Sunday. The Whale is 3-1-0-0 against the Bruins, winning the first three games by a combined 12-3 score before losing 3-2 at home on Dec. 15. Rookie goalie Cameron Talbot won his three starts against the Bruins but won’t be available as he is still recovering from a high ankle sprain sustained in a 3-0 loss at Portland on Jan. 14. Pier-Olivier Pelletier, recalled from Laredo of the CHL on Wednesday, is expected to be the backup to Chad Johnson through the break for the AHL All-Star Classic on Monday and Tuesday at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa.

The Bruins, 25th in the AHL in goals (108), are led by centers Jamie Arniel (14 goals, 14 assists), Zach Hamill (3, 24) and Joe Colborne (11, 13). Rugged left wing Lane MacDermid, son of former Hartford Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid, has three goals, five assists and 98 penalty minutes, second on the team to Nathan McIver’s 130. The Bruins have been bolstered by the addition of veteran center Trent Whitfield, who has one goal and three assists in 10 games and scored the winning shootout goal Sunday. Rookie Matt Dalton (6-4-0, 2.67 goals-against average, .912 save percentage, two shutouts) backstopped the Bruins to their only win over the Whale on Jan. 15 with 34 saves. He had a shutout until the final 2:30 after the Bruins’ 6-foot-4, 235-pound Brian McGrattan received a 5-minute major, 10-minute misconduct, game misconduct and subsequent one-game suspension for leaving the bench and making an illegal check to the head on 5-9, 177-pound Kelsey Tessier with 4:14 to go. Tessier got a bit of revenge when he set up Oren Eizenman’s goal with 21/2 minutes left, and Dupont scored on a 6-on-3 with nine seconds left, but it was too little too late. Veteran Nolan Schaefer (7-12-1, 3.12, .902, no shutouts) had 41 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped four of six shots in the shootout win on Sunday.

The Monarchs and Pirates visit the Whale on Friday and Saturday nights. The Pirates (27-13-4-1) overtook Manchester (27-16-1-3) for the Atlantic Division on Sunday when they beat Worcester 6-5 in a shootout while the Monarchs were losing their shootout. 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 and former Hartford Whalers star and captain Kevin Dineen. Park and Cheshire native Brian Leetch, another Hall of Famer who played for the Rangers and Bruins, also will play for the Bruins legends against the Hartford Whalers legends Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. before the Whale faces the Providence Bruins at 7 p.m. The doubleheader is part of the “ Whalers Hockey Fest” on Feb. 11-23 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, where construction of the rink began on Jan. 17. In case of bad weather, the Whale-Bruins game will be played Feb. 20 at the XL Center

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. … Pirates right wing Mark Mancari was named Reebok/AHL Player of the Week on Monday after getting eight goals and two assists and being plus-7 in three victories and a loss. He had back-to-back hat tricks in a 5-2 victory over Providence on Saturday night and a 5-4 shootout win over Worcester on Sunday, moving the Pirates back into sole possession of the Atlantic Division lead. Mancari now leads the AHL in goals (26) and is third in points (51) in 42 games, including 12-7-19 in a current 11-game scoring streak. The Whale nominated Grachev, who had four goals in two games. Other nominees included South Windsor native Jon DiSalvatore, a right wing with the Houston Aeros