By Matt Calamia
The Hartford Wolf Pack know as good as any team in the American Hockey League that consistency over an 82-game season could be the difference between a trip to the postseason and an early offseason.
A season ago, the Wolf Pack — then the Connecticut Whale — opened the season with four losses and then closed their campaign with six straight defeats to miss the playoffs by one point.
“We tried to reiterate that every point means something,” defenseman Dylan McIlrath told BlueshirtsUnited.com. “We’re not going to win every night and we know that, but we’re going to put our best foot forward.”
Thus far, the ‘Pack have done just that, picking up three out of a possible four points through two games this season in a shootout loss against Norfolk and a win over Albany.
Leading the way through the season’s opening weekend have been forwards Danny Kristo, J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider, arguably the organization’s top forward prospects.
Kristo has a goal and two assists in the two games, while Kreider has a goal and an assist. Miller, who was assigned to the Wolf Pack over the weekend, scored twice against Albany in the team’s 4-3 win.
“I don’t think it’s surprising that they show up on the score sheet,” said Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander. “That’s one of their strengths and hopefully that’s something they can bring to the Rangers” down the road.
“We’ve done a good job on our team defense and limiting the chances by our opponents,” Gernander added. “It’s been a team effort that’s enabled us to have that first weekend success.”
McIlrath, the Rangers’ 2010 first-round pick, picked up a goal himself against Albany after not scoring in 45 games last season.
“It’s definitely not something that’s asked of me, to produce offense, but I want to be a complete player,” McIlrath said. “It’s definitely nice to get one.”
McIlrath said he likes the balance of young players and veterans like Darroll Powe, Danny Syvret and Aaron Johnson, who was named captain. The squad named Powe and Michael Haley as alternates.
“You need those older, veteran guys on a young team like this to show us the way and they’re doing a great job,” McIlrath said.
Gernander echoed his defenseman’s sentiments.
“I think that’s an important part of what we do here: the development of the younger players and some of the players they’ll be playing side-by-side that you’d want them to look up to,” Gernander said. “It’s certainly a big benefit to us” to have those personalities in the room.
This weekend the Wolf Pack take on the Adirondack Phantoms — the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers — in a home-and-home series beginning tonight in Hartford and concluding tomorrow night on the road. The Phantoms enter the game 1-0.
“It’s starting to pick up,” Gernander said. “We can do a little bit of pre-scouting, but this early in the season, we’re looking for our team to put our best foot forward and play our best game and have the opponent adjust to us. There’s more emphasis at this time of year on competing and coming together as a team.”
For McIlrath, the early games of a season are used to establish a team identity.
“We want to be a hard-nosed, hard-working team,” he said. “We’re definitely going to have our hands full [with Adirondack] and we can’t take them lightly. It’s going to be a good test for us.”