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Atlantic: Bissonnette bounces back

by Adam Kimelman
How far off the NHL radar was Paul Bissonnette this season? A year earlier, when he showed up for Penguins training camp, he was told, very simply, no thanks.

Don't unpack your bags. We don't want you. Go home.

"They said there's no future in the organization for me," Bissonnette told "It was parting ways."

Bissonnette was coming off his best pro season, with 10 goals, 42 points, 115 penalty minutes and a plus-12 rating in 65 games with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. But a lack of maturity and poor decision-making on and off the ice soured the organization on Bissonnette.
"It was a minor-league mentality," Penguins General Manager Ray Shero told "We didn't like the attitude, didn't like what he was doing on the ice. We sat down and told him we weren't happy with him. We didn't give him the exhibition games or scrimmages internally, and told him our expectations as a person and as a hockey player. If we had a chance we'd look to move him to another program. He went home and waited to get traded or reassigned."

Bissonnette went home to Welland, Ont., and tried to stay in shape by skating with the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara Ice Dogs. He waited 5 weeks, but nothing happened.

"That was a pretty long 5 weeks and a long time to reflect," Bissonnette said. "It's either you're going to suck it up and fight back or you're going to be flipping burgers. I know I wanted it."

Bissonnette said he wanted to go back to Wheeling, and the Penguins agreed as long as he abided by certain guidelines.

"We told him, 'We need you to be a good influence on the kids there and start playing hockey,'" said Shero.

Bissonnette re-committed himself to the game, working hard and behaving better on and off the ice.

"A lot of things had to change," he said. "I worked really hard to change my habits, more off the ice than on. … If we have to be there at 9, I'm at the rink at quarter after 8. I'm not afraid of hard work."

His effort certainly was noticed.

"The way he played, the coaches were very happy with his attitude," Shero said. "He played very hard for the team, did good things off the ice, made good decisions."

He had 17 points in 22 games in Wheeling, which earned him a call-up to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. There he was shifted from defense to forward, and finished with 8 points, a plus-5 rating and 145 penalty minutes in 46 games.

The new attitude carried over to training camp this season, but he kept his expectations low.

"I came to camp hoping to play on the third line in Wilkes-Barre," he said. "Be an agitator and create energy. I had a good summer of training. I came into camp with an open mind and a little bit relaxed because at least I would be in the American League."

But when the season opened in Stockholm, Bissonnette was there. And while he's scoreless with 10 penalty minutes, he's stuck around to play 5 of the Penguins' first 9 games.

"I thanked them when I made it," Bissonnette said. "It was their choice (and) I'm more than thankful. I said some things that were bad, and for him (Shero) to forget those things is nice."

Terrible behavior -- For better or worst, Philadelphia fans have gained a reputation as a rowdy, obnoxious bunch.

Some of it's deserved (throwing batteries at J.D. Drew for not signing with the Phillies after they took him second in the MLB Draft), while some has become urban legend (yes, they booed Santa Claus, but people at the Eagles game that day said he was drunk and disorderly); either way, Philadelphia fans are passionate for their sports teams, and have no problem expressing their joy or displeasure.

But Saturday, they went too far when some miscreant lobbed a smoke bomb onto the Wachovia Center ice during a replay review in overtime Saturday against the Devils.

The bomb, which was shaped like a road flare, landed in the Devils' zone and skidded near the Devils' bench. Flyers captain Mike Richards tapped it with his stick, which caused plumes of sour-smelling smoke to billow out. Flyers defenseman Ossi Vaananen then carried the bomb out to the Zamboni chute at the other end of the ice, leaving a smoke trail that enveloped both benches and caused about a 5-minute stoppage.

Both benches were cleared, with the Devils obviously getting the worst of it.

"I sent our guys out (on the ice) because we couldn't breathe," said Devils coach Brent Sutter. "Just told them to go out to the other side of the ice and we (the coaches) went down the tunnel."

Patrik Elias, who complained of a sore throat and a headache from the smoke, said it reminded him a soccer match in Italy, where that kind of behavior is more frequent. He also said the Italian soccer authorities had the right solution.

"Maybe they should do the same thing that they do in Italy when they throw the flares -- one-game misconduct for fans so they can't come in," he said.

Sadly enough, Saturday's fiasco wasn't the first flare-related incident at a Philadelphia sporting event. During a Monday Night Football game in 1997 at Veterans Stadium, an Eagles fan shot off a flare gun, with the incendiary device landing in the upper deck of the stadium. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

"I looked at a few options and decided Bridgeport was the best opportunity. I know the organization. It's where I had some of my best years. Ownership was great to me and I left on really friendly terms with the team."
-- Mark Parrish

A minor step back -- Mark Parrish is a former All-Star who's scored 20 goals 6 times in 9 NHL seasons, including 5 with the Islanders, during which he averaged 23 goals per season and played in the 2002 All-Star Game.

So why is he playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders' AHL affiliate?

Parrish was bought out by the Wild this summer, 2 years into a 5-year deal. He scored 35 goals in 142 games, but the club looked at his salary and performance and decided it could live without him.

Out of work, waiting for the phone to ring, Parrish finally got a call from his former teammate, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow. Snow made the offer of a 25-game tryout contract with Bridgeport, and Parrish accepted.

"I looked at a few options and decided Bridgeport was the best opportunity," Parrish told "I know the organization. It's where I had some of my best years. Ownership was great to me and I left on really friendly terms with the team."

The tryout deal allows Parrish to sign with another NHL club at any time and does not affect the Islanders' salary cap.

News and notes -- Add Hal Gill to the list wounded Penguins defenseman. Gill is suffering from an undisclosed injury, but team officials said his malady is not nearly as serious as the injuries that have sidelined Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. … Speaking of injured defenseman, the Islanders were looking at going into Monday's game without Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, Andy Sutton and Freddy Meyer. It's a disappointing repeat to last season, when Martinek was the blue-line leader in games played, with just 69. … Has the Curse of Sarah Palin been lifted in Philadelphia? The Republican vice-presidential candidate dropped the puck opening night at the Wachovia Center, and the team proceeded to lose its first 6 games. Palin dropped the puck in St. Louis on Friday, which happened to coincide with the Flyers' first win of the season. … Once it was determined Rangers coach Tom Renney was OK after getting clubbed over the head with a stick during Friday's game, the ribbing began. Goalie coach Benoit Allaire wore a name tag so Renney would know who he was; GM Glen Sather sent him a helmet; and assistant coach Perry Pearn remarked, "Now that he's gone, we've got a chance." Renney was behind the bench for Saturday's game.

Contact Adam Kimelman at
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