By Bruce Berlet

Cleaning out the notebook after cleaning off the driveway and sidewalk in the wake of the record snowfall from Winter Storm Benedict before heading to Washington, D.C., for my first visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the memorial service of local World War II hero Billy Colls:

CT WhaleThe Connecticut Whale is 2-1 on a four-game road trip that ends Friday night at 7 at Portland, where their new blue road jerseys will debut. The jerseys are available at the XL Center or The Hartford Store, 45 Pratt Street in Hartford. Prices, including sales tax, are $289 (authentic), $125 (senior replica) and $99 (junior replica).

The Whale (20-14-2-5) is in a second-place tie in the Atlantic Division with the Pirates (21-12-4-1), who had a three-game winning streak ended Tuesday night in a 5-2 loss to Binghamton as former Hartford Wolf Pack center Corey Locke celebrated his fourth consecutive AHL All-Star selection earlier in the day with two goals and two assists to increase his league-leading totals to 40 assists and 55 points. Locke’s production earned him a promotion to the Ottawa Senators on an emergency basis Wednesday, replacing former New York Rangers wing Alex Kovalev.

Whale leading scorer Kris Newbury (five goals, 30 assists) is on recall to the Rangers, so coach Ken Gernander will need even more contributions from All-Star wing Jeremy Williams (20 goals, 12 assists), wing Chad Kolarik (15, 14), center Tim Kennedy (8, 18), wing Brodie Dupont (7, 12) and his productive young defensive corps that now includes Michael Del Zotto, who has set up winning goals by Kennedy and Williams in his first three minor-league games. Forward Chris Chappell and defenseman Sam Klassen could make their Whale debuts after being called up from the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL this week because of the call-up of Newbury and several Whale injuries. After being delayed in getting to Hartford because of Winter Storm Benedict, Chappell and Klassen only practiced with the Whale on Thursday because practice was canceled on Wednesday. Chad Johnson (13-13-3, 2.49 goals-against average, .908 save percentage) and Cameron Talbot (7-2-2, 2.32, .922) have both performed well in goal. Talbot is 6-0-1 in his last seven decisions, including 38 saves Saturday night when the Whale increased their AHL-high total of overtime victories to five with a 3-2 win over the Norfolk Admirals.

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The Whale won back-to-back meetings with the Pirates on Dec. 29 (2-1) and Dec. 31 (5-4) on goals by Kennedy, a member of the AHL all-rookie team in 2008 while playing for Portland. Former All-Star right wing Mark Mancari leads the Pirates (12-3-3-1 at home) in goals (17), assists (20) and points (37). The best of the rest for coach Kevin Dineen, the former Hartford Whalers star right wing and captain, are center Paul Byron (13, 14), center Matt Ellis (7, 18), defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani (7, 17) and left wing Colin Stuart (7, 17). Rookie forward Maxime Legault scored in each of the Pirates’ three victories last week, registering four goals after tallying four in his first 32 games. Jhonas Enroth (12-11-1, 2.93 goals-against average, .907 save percentage) and David Leggio (9-4-0, 2.98, .908) split the goaltending.

The Whale returns to the XL Center Saturday at 7 p.m. to face the Providence Bruins in the start of a three-game homestand that will include former Boston Bruins standouts Rick Middleton and Reggie Lemelin signing autographs in the atrium from 6-7 p.m. and then dropping the ceremonial first puck. 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.

Other early commitments for the Bruins team (with more to come) are Hall of Fame defensemen Brian Leetch of Cheshire and Brad Park, who both 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 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 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

There also will be “a town hall meeting” Saturday starting at 6 p.m. in the atrium during which fans are encouraged to ask questions and make suggestions to Whalers Sports and Entertainment president and COO Howard Baldwin, Jr. The Whale has won the previous three meetings with the last-place Bruins (15-18-3-1), including 6-2 at the XL Center on Jan. 1. But the Bruins are 10-6-2-0 on the road.

Centers Jamie Arniel (14, 11), Zach Hamill (2, 21) and Joe Colborne (9, 11) lead a Bruins attack that has scored the third-fewest goals in the league (91). Right wing Jordan Caron, the Bruins’ first-round pick in 2009 who had three goals and four assists in 20 games with the NHL Bruins earlier this season, scored his first AHL goal on New Year’s Day. Left wing Lane MacDermid, son of former Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid, has two goals, three assists and 72 penalty minutes, second on the team to enforcer Nathan McIver’s 111, in 35 games. Veteran Nolan Schaefer (6-11-1, 3.32, .894) is carrying the goaltending load.

The league-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (30-8-0-0) complete the week’s action with a Sunday visit at 3 p.m. in the first of two meetings with the Whale. The high-powered Penguins have a 13-point lead over Norfolk and Charlotte in the East Division. Leading scorer Dustin Jeffrey (15, 22) is on recall to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but other threats are right wing Nick Johnson (13, 13), left wing Brett Sterling (11, 15), forward Eric Tangradi (16, 7), left wing Tim Wallace (11, 12) and center Joe Vitale (8, 14). Corey Potter, the third all-time leading scorer among defensemen in Wolf Pack history (21 goals, 81 assists in 246 games), leads Penguins blueliners in points with 17 assists in 35 games. Brad Thiessen (17-3-0, 2.06, .921) and John Curry (13-5-0, 2.35, .910) have both excelled in goal.

It’s a Guida’s Family Value Day in which family value packages start as low as $48 and includes 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.

The three-game homestand concludes against the North Division-leading Hamilton Bulldogs (22-13-1-4) on Jan. 21, when former Wolf Pack standouts and close friends Terry Virtue and Todd Hall of Hamden will sign autographs in the XL Center atrium from 6-7 p.m. and then drop the first puck. Virtue is an assistant coach with Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League, whose owners include Paul MacDermid, and Hall is an assistant coach with the No. 1-ranked Hamden High hockey team, which won the state Division I title the last two years.

The Bulldogs’ top two scorers, center David Desharnais (10, 35) and former New Canaan High School and Taft School-Watertown star wing Max Pacioretty (17, 15), are on recall to the Montreal Canadiens. The remaining top offensive threats are right wings Aaron Palushaj (5, 17) and J.T. Wyman (10, 9) and defenseman Brendon Nash (2, 17). Center Ryan Russell, the Rangers’ seventh-round pick in 2005, has five goals and six assists in 39 games. Veteran Curtis Sanford (13-7-1) is fifth in the league in GAA (1.82) and save percentage (.936).

It’s a special Family Value Night at which New Britain Rock Cats mascot Rocky will be on hand with Whale mascots Pucky and Sonar. There will be a giveaway, a table setup and autograph session, and the New Britain High School marching band will perform the national anthem and during the first intermission. Tickets in the lower level are $16 and include a soda and pizza slice or hot dog. Visit

Virtue will be making a pit stop on his way from his home in Tara, Ont., to Worcester, Mass., where he’ll be one of the first six inductees into the Worcester Hockey Hall of Fame on Jan. 22 at the DCU Center. It’s “Salute to the IceCats Night,” the name of the AHL franchise that preceded the Sharks in Worcester, and Virtue will be inducted with former Whalers wing Scott Young, Kelly O’Leary, Eddie Bates, Larz Anderson and Marvin Degon Sr., father of former Wolf Pack defenseman Martin Degon.


Right wing Dale Weise, on his second recall from the Whale, skated on the Rangers’ fourth line with Sean Avery and captain and Trumbull native Chris Drury Tuesday night. … Former Wolf Pack Marc Staal is the first Rangers defenseman other than Leetch to be named to an All-Star roster since Kevin Lowe in 1993. The 23-year-old Staal, the Rangers’ first-round pick (12th overall) in 2005, said he was told by his older brother, Eric, captain of the host Carolina Hurricanes who is likely to captain one of the teams in the pick-up game, not to select him in the Fantasy Draft that will be conducted two days before the All-Star Game on Jan. 30. “I don’t think I could handle being on his team,” Marc Staal told the New York media. “He’s too mouthy.” Take that, bro!!! Staal, who turned 24 on Thursday, is considered by most to be the Rangers’ MVP in the first half of the season after averaging 25:29 a game, leading defensemen with six goals, being plus-9 while usually playing against the opposition’s best players while paired with former Wolf Pack defenseman Dan Girardi and playing the power play. Another former Wolf Pack, gritty right wing Ryan Callahan, led the MVP voting until he broke his left hand while blocking a shot by Pittsburgh Penguins All-Star defenseman Kris Letang on Dec. 15 while leading the team in scoring. He has resumed skating but is expected to be sidelined another three weeks. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist was named to his second All-Star Game (his first was in Montreal in 2009), and center Derek Stepan was one of 12 rookies chosen to participate in the skills competition Jan. 29. … The Whale’s eighth Tip-A-Player Dinner and Sports Carnival, presented by Aetna, is Jan. 23 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. … Howard Baldwin Jr. has a new Twitter account accessible to Whale fans at howardbaldwinjr. … Barb Underwood, a former Canadian national skating champion who now specializes in strength skating, was back with the Whale before and after practice Tuesday. She was especially interested in watching and recording data on players that she hadn’t previously seen such as forwards Oren Eizenman and Jason Williams.


Worcester coach Roy Sommer will coach his 1,000th regular-season AHL game Friday night when the Sharks visit the Springfield Falcons. Sommer, who has spent his entire 13-year AHL career coaching the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliates in Kentucky (1998-2001), Cleveland (2001-06) and Worcester (2006-present ), will become just the fourth coach to reach that milestone, joining 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. … Veteran defenseman Bryan Helmer, who signed with the Oklahoma City Barons last Friday night, is closing in on another milestone. With four assists in his first three games with the Barons, Helmer had 517 points (120 goals, 397 assists), two shy of tying John Slaney’s career record for a defenseman, entering a game at Peoria on Thursday night. Helmer is already the AHL’s all-time leader among defensemen in assists and games played (985), and he has appeared in more Calder Cup games (138) than any player at any position. The native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is a three-time Calder Cup champion, winning with Albany in 1995 and captaining Hershey to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. … The Albany Devils are proving to be quite the anomaly this season. Goalie Mike McKenna posted a 26-save shutout and Michael Swift scored twice Tuesday in a 2-0 victory at Worcester as the Devils improved to 10-7-0-1 on the road. But they’re 5-13-0-2 at home. And Swift has nine goals in the last 11 games, including at least one in eight of those games. You figure it out. … Only two AHL games this season have been scoreless through 65 minutes (regulation and overtime), and Milwaukee’s Mark Dekanich has been the winning goaltender in both of the shootouts, including a duel with Toronto’s Ben Scrivens on Saturday. … Springfield erupted for a season-high seven goals in a 7-3 win over Charlotte on Saturday, but the Falcons still have not had an eight-goal game since back-to-back 8-4 and 14-2 victories over Providence on Dec. 29-30, 1999. … Adirondack, which became the last team in the AHL to play a shootout game on Dec. 31, has gone to the skills competition in five of its last six outings, winning against Rochester and Albany twice before losing twice at Abbotsford.


Still, this writer and everyone else in the Whale family wish former Wolf Pack wing Nils Ekman a speedy recovery from a stroke he suffered on Dec. 28, when the Djurgardens IF right wing was hospitalized in Stockholm, Sweden, after complaining of a migraine headache, poor balance and numbness on one side of his body when he woke up in the morning. Doctors diagnosed that the 34-year-old former AHL/NHL/European player had suffered the stroke after a restricted blood vessel had stopped carrying normal blood flow to his brain.

Fortunately, Ekman’s long-term prognosis is promising, although he will need at least three months of rest and almost certainly will miss the remainder of the Elitserien season. Ekman was released from the hospital last weekend to be with his family and then was moved to an in-patient rehabilitation facility to begin the road to recovery. After a short period, he will start out-patient therapy. He still is suffering from double vision and physical unsteadiness but has regained some use of his motor functions and is communicative.

“It has been an extremely positive week,” DIF team doctor Bengt Gustavsson told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

Ekman, who played 264 NHL games in parts of five seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins, returned to Sweden this season for his third stint with Djurgarden. He had spent the previous three seasons playing in Russia.

Ekman played for the Wolf Pack in 2002-03, when he had career highs for goals (30) and points (66) in 57 games.

After one season in Hartford, Ekman was traded to the Sharks for wing Chad Wiseman, who is now with Albany.

Ekman’s loss for the season was a major blow to DIF as he was one of the team’s most accomplished offensive players. But recovery from the stroke for the Calgary Flames’ fifth-round pick in 1994 is paramount these days. May it be as speedy as Ekman is on his skates.