Wednesday night the Connecticut Whale opened up its pre-season schedule with a tilt against the Albany Devils at the Champions Skating Center in Cromwell, CT. It was great to see live hockey game action again; and it was a real pleasure to spend time with the super friendly Whale staff (notably Mr. Do It All, Brian Glynn, who stayed late to watch over my computer and other equipment when I went to handle post-game interviews down by the locker room). I also really enjoyed meeting and chatting with the Whale fans, Rangers fans, and BlueshirtsUnited.com fans that were on hand for the game.
As for the contest itself, the Whale dropped a 3-1 decision, outshot 34-19 by the Devils. But there was certainly a fair share of bright spots for the Rangers AHL farm team.
- JT Miller, the Blueshirts top pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, scored the Whale's lone goal---a laser of a one-timer from right wing during a 5-on-3 power play late in the second period. He also created several other chances with confident one-on-one moves and slick passes to his linemates, and his physical game was as advertised. Ken Gernander deployed Miller in all three phases of the game---power play, penalty kill, and even strength---and he did not look out of place, or 19 years-old, at all.
- The Kid Line, with Kyle Jean centering Christian Thomas and Andrew Yogan, impressed with their consistent buzzing in the offensive zone. All three of these youngsters---Jean is 22, Thomas and Yogan are 20---are clearly highly-skilled players, and they wove a nice chemistry together in their first game as linemates. "I'd love to stick with these two guys and see what we can do," Jean told me after the game. And I'd love to see it, too. Thomas, in particular, impressed with his quick release, and quantity of scoring chances, including a tracer off the post in the opening period of a still 0-0 game. Jean just missed out on open net late in the game. "You think at 6-foot-3 I would have been able to reach that puck," Jean joked with me afterwards. Solid debut for all three.
- Veteran defenseman Sean Collins, who joined the Rangers organization this summer after six years with the Capitals franchise, was clearly the rock Gernander leaned on in the back end Wednesday. Collins was solid at even strength, and was part of the Whale's top power play and penalty killing units. He also made the sweet pass on to Miller's tape which resulted in the Whale's only goal. Well done last night.
- I am not sure where goaltender Bryan Hince fits into the big picture---the 26 year-old is in camp on a tryout---but he has had a very strong training camp, and he looked pretty solid on Wednesday. Hince replaced Jason Missiaen in goal midway through the second period and stopped all 12 shots he faced. Hince looked particularly strong denying the Devils during a pair of goal-mouth flurries in the third period. Cam Talbot is still hurt, though should be returning befoire too long from his foot injury, and Missiaen and Scott Stajcer are both under contract, but Hince has been impressive, so far, for sure.
Turning Point of the Game: Veteran defenseman Brent Henley racked up 27 penalty minutes while beating on Albany's JS Berube---who, in turn, refused to fight back---late in the first period. Albany ended up with a seven-minute power play and scored twice, turning a scoreless contest into a 2-0 lead by early in the second period. The 32 year-old Henley has accumulated a whopping 2033 penalty minutes in 462 pro games in his career, so it's no surprise that he felt he was playing his role in that battle with berube, but after the game Gernander was not happy about it at all. "Obviously that seven-minute power play wasn't a very good penalty, and I didn't appreciate that...that wasn't good," said Gernander.
Fight Night: There were two other fights early on as 6-foot-6 Steven Delisle---who was acquired from Columbus in the Rick Nash trade this past summer---held his own in a first period scrap with Albany's Dan Kelly; and Michael Haley scrapped with Darcy Zajac early in the middle stanza. Haley had his mouth bloodied and was forced to miss most of the second period, but he did return later on to continue centering for Chad Kolarik and Miller.
Chad's Back: Kolarik, who had not played in any game since April of 2011, was in the Whale lineup and said he was a little tight in the first period, but settled in as the game wore on. To my eyes, he looked good---skated well, battled, and even rang a quick snap shot off the iron late in the second period. Kolarik's return is worth watching closely as he should not be a fogotten man in the Rangers system at all.
The Whale play the Sharks up in Worcester Thursday night. I will not be there, but Connecticut's great radio voice and Dean of PR, Bob Crawford will be, so follow his game updates on Twitter at @CTWhale and @HawkCrawford.
October 4, 2012