by Bob Crawford
Wolf Pack Director of Broadcasting/Media Relationswww.hartfordwolfpack.com
The Wolf Pack's amazing roll continued this past week, and I think the wildest thing about it has been that there really hasn't been anything extraordinary about it, except for goaltending and defense, that is. The Pack seem to be approaching every game exactly the same, and doing exactly as much as it takes to win.
One thing that has really stood out to me has been how balanced the Wolf Pack's attack has been and how thoroughly some of the players whom you might have pigeonholed as role players have contributed to the offense. At the start of the year, with the Balejs, the Moores, the Wisemans, Tyutins, etc. joined by a sniper like Jeff Hamilton, I expected the Pack to be the kind of team whose top two lines would just blow the doors off the opposition, while the rest of the players would just be counted on to eat up some ice time without getting scored on.
I guess it shouldn't surprise me, given what the Ryan McGill/Nick Fotiu-coached squad accomplished last year without any glittering offensive statistics, that this year's Wolf Pack has turned out to be a team on which all four lines chip in meaningfully, but I still think it's remarkable what good work the supposed plumbers and grinders have done. That was particularly in evidence in Monday's school-day game and on Saturday against Bridgeport, when the electric top line of Dominic Moore, Joe Balej and Chad Wiseman was pretty much held in check. A pair of Ryans, Cuthbert and Hollweg, two guys that I can look in the eye, which is a another way of saying they aren't the biggest guys out there on the pond, keyed their respective lines by running into anything in an opposing jersey and generally making life miserable for the other side. Trevor Gillies continued his impressive play on the forecheck, while stepping up for every heavyweight bout that was available. And how about Craig Weller, pointless through the first seven games, ripping home the game-winner against the Sound Tigers (off some great digging by Gillies and Cuthbert) and then racking up the Pack's first two-goal game of the season Sunday vs. Springfield?
That tells you all you need to know about the Pack's team game, that before Sunday they hadn't had anybody score more than one goal in a game, and Balej became the first Hartford player on the year to manage as many as three points in a contest that day too. I know everyone on the team felt good for Weller, who even before he found the points column had made himself invaluable to the team with his ability to play both defense and forward equally well. He'd made several good hits in other games, too, that while they didn't earn him any assists, led directly to Wolf Pack goals, so it was poetic justice that he was able to capitalize on a couple of opportunities of his own. He's got a really good, heavy shot and I look for him to put a bunch more pucks in the net as the year goes on.
Another guy who impressed me this past weekend was Maxim Kondratiev. It's hard to get to know Max because of the language barrier, and he cuts kind of a mysterious figure on the ice with his blue-tinted eye shield, the likes of which I've never seen before, but it's clear that he is an extremely skilled, heady player. Like his buddy Fedor Tyutin, Kondratiev seems to see openings to jump through or put the puck through more quickly than the other guys on the ice and never seems to get into a panic out there, uncharacteristically for a young defenseman. Lot of pressure being traded for Brian Leetch, but I think the Rangers have found themselves another good young prospect.
The Pack would need to win the first three of their four games this week to break the AHL record for most consecutive wins to start a season. That was set by the 1984-85 Rochester Americans, who were coached at the beginning of that year by none other than...Jim Schoenfeld. How's that for an irony? That was Jim's first coaching experience, too, and he actually went on to come out of retirement later that season and get back into uniform for the parent Sabres. Now, 20 years later, he has a chance to be part of breaking his own record. Only in sports!