By Bruce Berlet

The Connecticut Whale enjoyed a rare day off Monday from the most hectic segment of their schedule, after two workmanlike bounce-back wins following a horrid showing in Toronto on Wednesday.

CT WhaleBut most players might have been a bit on edge while sharing time with loved ones on Valentine’s Day. The NHL trading deadline was only two weeks away (Feb. 28), and while the Whale was parlaying solid defensive work and goaltending from Dov Grumet-Morris with an effective power play into a 4-1 victory over Providence on Sunday, New York Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather was telling the New York Post’s Larry Brooks that he felt the organization had stockpiled enough assets to make a deal if needed.

“The last few weeks have made it a little more difficult to evaluate because first we had all those injuries and now with the guys coming back we’ve lost our rhythm,” Sather told Brooks after the Rangers rallied to end a season-high, six-game losing streak (0-5-1) with a 5-3 victory over the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin-less Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I think we have enough depth in the organization where if a move would make sense we would probably do that now. But I’m not going to give up a valuable piece. I don’t think that makes any sense.”

The Rangers, who have had as many as eight Whale players on recall due to injuries in New York, are more than a few pieces away from winning a Stanley Cup, unless Henrik Lundqvist regains his world-class stature and stands on his head in goal for two months. Their No. 1 need is a power-play quarterback since there is no chance they will bring back veteran Wade Redden and his $6.5 million salary. But it’s obvious that Whale graduates such as Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and most recently Michael Del Zotto just aren’t getting the job done to the satisfaction of coach John Tortorella. So the Florida Panthers’ Bryan McCabe, returning from a broken jaw, and Toronto Maple Leafs’ Tomas Kaberle will be investigated, along with a front-line center to try to help revive Marian Gaborik.

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

But Sather isn’t interested in parting with top draft picks or young front-liners such as Whale grads Staal, Girardi, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh. Sather has had his eye on center Brad Richards for months, and the Dallas Stars standout becomes a free agent this summer.

Brooks also mentioned the New Jersey Devils’ Jason Arnott, but Peter Forsberg is now out of the picture after ending his latest comeback try with the Colorado Avalanche on Monday. If Sather doesn’t offer a draft pick, players such young Whale forwards Tim Kennedy, Dale Weise and Evgeny Grachev or defensemen Tomas Kundratek or Pavel Valentenko might be on someone’s radar.

We’ll all know more in the next two weeks. Happy Valentine’s Day!!!


With goalie Chad Johnson out with a stomach ailment, the Whale was in emergency mode for a backup to Dov Grumet-Morris in Hamilton after a 9-2 drubbing in Toronto.

Fortunately, Brett Leggat, the brother of All-Star right wing Jeremy Williams’ fiancée, was available, so he was signed to a one-day amateur tryout contract and opened and closed the bench door as the Whale won 3-2 on Devin DiDiomete’s goal with 1:13 left. The highest level at which the 30-year Leggat has played was two seasons in the Ontario Hockey Association Senior League.

Leggat’s 15 minutes of fame ended when the Whale took off for a practice in suburban Syracuse, N.Y., on the way home for a pitstop before traveling to Providence for a game Sunday. By then, they had re-signed Pier-Olivier Pelletier to a second professional tryout agreement to back up fellow PTOer Grumet-Morris because Johnson was still ill and Cam Talbot had to miss his 11th game with a high ankle sprain sustained in a 6-3 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 16.

Pelletier played 54 minutes in his AHL debut with the Whale, a 7-3 loss to Hamilton on Jan. 21, when he stopped 18 of 22 shots, including a penalty shot. He had been 6-10-4 with a 3.41 goals-against average and .692 save percentage in 22 games with the Laredo Bucks of the Central Hockey League.

Grumet-Morris’ 21 saves and second-period, power-play goals by Brodie Dupont, Kris Newbury and Williams led the Whale (26-22-2-5) to a 4-1 victory over the Bruins in a preview of the Whale Bowl portion of the historic 12-day Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 between the two teams Saturday at 7 p.m. at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The Hartford Whalers legends will face the Boston Bruins legends in the opener of Whale Bowl at 4 p.m. Army plays American International College in the day’s first game at 1 p.m.


After four days off, the Connecticut Whale will make a second trip to Glen Falls, N.Y., and try to complete a four-game sweep of the Adirondack Phantoms on Friday night before a bus ride home for the Whale Bowl against the Bruins on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the second outdoor game in AHL history. The Whale will have their one outdoor practice at The Rent on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.

The Phantoms (17-30-3-3) have lost 3-0, 4-3 and 6-4 to the Whale but have improved dramatically since a horrific 4-26-1-1 start before their first back-to-back wins Dec. 17-18. They’re led by All-Star defenseman Erik Gustafsson (five goals, 27 assists), veteran left wing Denis Hamel (team-leading 17 goals, 14 assists), defenseman Danny Syvret (6, 17), left wing Michael Ryan (15, 6) and right wing Ben Holmstrom (8, 13). Much of the Phantoms’ improvement can be traced to the arrival of goalie Michael Leighton (4-6-1-1, 2.37 goals-against average, .918 save percentage), who led the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals against the Chicago Blackhawks in June but was back in the minors after he cleared waivers on Jan. 3 as the parent club went with Brian Boucher. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks didn’t re-sign goalie Antti Niemi because of salary-cap problems. Niemi signed with the San Jose Sharks.

The Whale is 4-2-0-0 against the Bruins (23-27-3-1), who have lost six in a row to fall into sixth place in the Atlantic Division. But they have been bolstered by the return of forwards Zach Hamill and Jordan Caron from the parent Boston Bruins. The P-Bruins’ leading scorers are All-Star center Jamie Arniel (15 goals, 17 assists), Hamill (3, 25), center Joe Colborne (12, 14), right wing Kirk MacDonald (11, 15) and center Maxime Sauve (13, 6), who had two goals in each of the Bruins’ two wins over the Whale. Rugged left wing Lane MacDermid, son of former Hartford Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid, has four goals, seven assists and 117 penalty minutes. Matt Dalton (7-8-0, 2.92 goals-against average, .904 save percentage, two shutouts) is 1-2-0 against the Whale. Veteran Nolan Schaefer is 9-15-1, 3.14, .897 with no shutouts.

The Whale is at Portland on Monday at 1 p.m. and then will play their first two games in Charlotte, N.C., against the Checkers, their former ECHL affiliate, on Feb. 24 and 26. They finally return to the XL Center on March 2 to face Springfield. Their ensuing home game is March 11 against Hershey, ending a brutal stretch of 10 road games in 12.

The Pirates (32-15-4-1) have won four in a row, including a 3-2 victory at the XL Center on Feb. 6 that enabled them to tie the season series at 3 in the teams’ fifth one-goal game. The Pirates are led by right wing Mark Mancari, who leads the AHL in goals (29) and is third in points (55). He’s followed by defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani (9, 27), left wings Colin Stuart (10, 22) and Derek Whitmore (20, 11) and center Matt Ellis (9, 21). Center Paul Byron (14, 17) is on recall to the parent Buffalo Sabres. David Leggio (14-4-0, 2.64 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) has been a nemesis against the Whale, including his only shutout, 3-0 on Jan. 14. Jhonas Enroth is 18-14-1, 2.83, .910, no shutouts.

The Checkers (30-18-2-4), the new AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, are on a five-game points streak (4-0-1-0) to move into third place in the East Division. Their leading scorer, All-Star right wing Jerome Samson (26, 28), is on recall to the Hurricanes. The top remaining scorers are left wings Jacob Micflikier (21, 22), Oskar Osala (13, 28) and Chris Terry (20, 20) and center Zach Boychuk (15, 25), who was reassigned to the Checkers on Sunday. The Checkers have gone all season with only two goalies, Mike Murphy (15-9-2, 2.95, .907, no shutouts) and Justin Pogge (15-11-2, 3.04, .908, no shutouts).


More than 22,500 tickets have been sold for Whale Bowl, the highlight of the Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 at Rentschler Field, assuring the Whale will break the AHL attendance record. A record 21,508 watched the host Syracuse Crunch beat the Binghamton Senators 2-1 at the New York State Fairgrounds on Feb. 20, 2010.

“It’s a great tribute to the people of the state of Connecticut, but we have to get 38,000 because we want to sell the place out,” said Howard Baldwin Jr., president and COO of Whalers Sports and Entertainment, which runs the Whale’s business operations and is handling the 12-day event. “Everyone else, the NHL, college and AHL, has sold out, and if Connecticut wants to be back on the (hockey) map again, which I know it does, everybody needs to come out and celebrate this.”

Before Whale Bowl is played, “Trinity-Wesleyan Day” is on Tuesday as the schools’ women’s teams play at 4 p.m., their alumni teams at 6:30 p.m. and the men’s teams at 8 p.m. High school and prep school games fill most of the schedule the remainder of the week until the Whale Bowl, at which about a dozen celebrities will mix in with the Hartford Whalers legends team and Boston Bruins legends team as they face off at 4 p.m., followed by the Whale-Providence Bruins at 7 p.m. The day’s activities begin with the Army-American International College game at 1 p.m. All tickets for the event are general admission except for Feb. 19.

Hall of Fame defensemen Brian Leetch, a Cheshire native, and Brad Park headline the Bruins legends team. Other commitments are Enfield native Craig Janney, former captain Rick Middleton, 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, 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 and Gary Doak 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, Ed Hospodar, Yvon Corriveau and the Babych brothers, Dave and Wayne. Norm Barnes and former captain Russ Anderson will be among the coaches.

Among the celebrities scheduled to play with one of the legends teams are filmmaker Bobby Farrelly, writer/director of such hit films as “Dumb and Dumber”, “There’s Something About Mary”, “Kingpin”, “Me, Myself and Irene”, “Outside Providence”, “The Heartbreak Kid”, “Stuck on You”, and “Shallow Hal”; and actor David Henrie, from “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “That’s So Raven”.

Famed former NHL referee Paul Stewart will officiate the game. Stewart, a Boston native, refereed more than 1,000 NHL games in a 13-year career. On March 15, 2003, he refereed his 1,000th game, becoming the only American-born official to accomplish the feat. He also officiated during the Canada Cup in 1987 and 1991 after an eight-year playing career with teams in the NAHL, AHL, NEHL, CHL, WHA and NHL.

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

The official charity of the Hockey Fest is “Sam’s Race for a Place,” a fund-raising effort spearheaded by West Hartford resident Samantha Udolf that benefits the Ronald McDonald House. Since Udolf, a successful competitive skier, founded Sam’s Race for a Place in June of 2008, it has generated donations of more than $43,500.

The Ronald McDonald House is a non-profit charity operating since 1991 that helps hundreds of families and children enjoy the comforts of home while they await treatment at area medical facilities. Udolf became familiar with Ronald McDonald House and its good works while volunteering there, and she conceived Sam’s Race for a Place after learning it is independently-funded and depends on grass-roots campaigns for nearly all of its support.

For more information about Sam’s Race for a Place, visit Donations also can be made through that web address. Besides the games, the Hockey Fest will include “Whale Town” featuring exhibitors, games and the Whalers Mobile Hall of Fame.

A complete schedule of games can be found at There will be a free public skate on Feb. 22 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to thank the sponsors and fans who supported the event.


Two Whale players, Johnson and Grachev, and former defenseman McDonagh, now on recall to the Rangers, are in the 150-card Heroes and Prospects trading card set by In the Game.

The three have all played with the Rangers, though Johnson’s five-game stint was last season. They are pictured on those cards in the uniform of the Hartford Wolf Pack, who were rebranded as the Connecticut Whale on Nov. 27.

In the Game has been making its Heroes and Prospects hockey set for several years, and it’s become a must-have for many hockey fans. This year’s 150-card set includes seven Hockey Hero cards, three international prospects, 90 Canadian major junior hockey league players and 50 AHL players. Many of the players have already been drafted, while others are expected to be early picks in upcoming NHL drafts.

There are a lot of memorabilia, autograph, jersey, game-used emblem and AHL 75th Anniversary cards, including the one of AHL Hall of Famer John Paddock, who coached the Wolf Pack to their only Calder Cup title in his first of three seasons, 1999-2000.

Other notable player cards are Logan Couture and Alex Stalock (San Jose-Worcester), P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens-Hamilton Bulldogs), Tyler Ennis (Buffalo Sabres-Portland Pirates), John Carlson (Washington Capitals-Hershey Bears), John Moore (Columbus Blue Jackets-Springfield Falcons), Blake Geoffrion (Nashville Predators-Milwaukee Admirals), Jared Staal (Carolina Hurricanes-Charlotte Checkers) and Linus Omark (Edmonton Oilers-Oklahoma City Barons), as well as Calder Cup champion cards Alexandre Giroux, Chris Bourque, Keith Aucoin, Andrew Gordon and Mathieu Perreault; non-memorabilia insert cards such as Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler and Eric Wellwood; and 75th Anniversary cards Billy Smith, Brett Hull, Bruce Boudreau, Doug Harvey, Eddie Shore, Emile Francis, Gerry Cheevers, John Slaney, Carey Price, Jason Spezza, Larry Robinson, Les Cunningham, Martin Brodeur, Milt Schmidt, Patrick Roy, Pelle Lindbergh, Terry Sawchuk, Mitch Lamoureux, Willie Marshall and Zdeno Chara.

The card sets cost $94.99 and are available at All-Star Game jerseys and merchandise are also available.


Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goalie Brad Thiessen has been named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week after allowing only three goals in five starts while going 4-1-0-0 with a 0.60 goals-against average and .971 save percentage (99 of 102) while the Penguins had their top seven scorers on recall to the parent Pittsburgh Penguins.

After missing the previous six games because of injury, Thiessen returned to the lineup last Monday and made 21 saves in a 4-0 victory over Albany in Atlantic City, N.J. He stopped 18 of 19 shots in a 4-1 win over Manitoba on Tuesday and earned his fifth shutout with 22 stops in a 2-0 decision at Bridgeport on Friday. After being on the losing end of a 1-0 score against Adirondack on Saturday, Thiessen wrapped up the week with 21 saves in a 7-1 victory over Hershey on Sunday.

Thiessen, a second-year pro from Aldergrove, British Columbia, ranks among the AHL leaders in wins (second, 22), goals-against average (third, 1.87), save percentage (ninth, .925) and shutouts (tied for second, 5) while posting a 22-5-0 record in 29 appearances.

The Whale nominated Dupont, who had three goals and two assists in three games. Other nominees includes Gustafsson, former Hartford Wolf Pack forward Jeff Taffe (Rockford) and former Rangers draftee Nate Guenin (Syracuse).