by Bob Crawford Hartford Wolf Pack Diector, Media Relations and Broadcasting
We got a taste of both the ridiculous and the sublime last week, but happily for the Wolf Pack, there was more of the latter than the former, as they sandwiched a clunker of a loss between two uplifting home victories.
The Pack were lucky enough to catch Bridgeport twice during the week, in a time when nothing is going right for the Sound Tigers. Despite having to go with a patchwork lineup, though, the injury-riddled Tigers made the Wolf Pack work real hard for two points in Wednesday's game at the Civic Center. The Pack outshot Bridgeport 45-24 in the game, including 33-14 after the first period, but the Wolf Pack trailed 2-1 as late as the 11:13 mark of the third, when Dominic Moore tied it on a Pack power play. Then the shootout once again was kind to the Wolf Pack, as they prevailed 3-2 in the penalty-shot contest to win the game by the same score. I thought maybe the Pack's shootout luck had run out, when Rob Collins and Matt Koalska hit on the Sound Tigers' first two attempts and Wade Dubielewicz stopped two of the Pack's first three shooters. Jason LaBarbera stiffened thereafter, though, and Jeff Hamilton and Chad Wiseman solved Dubielewicz to gain the Wolf Pack the win. That was the Pack's fifth straight victorious shootout, and gave them the AHL lead in shootout wins.
The other significant thing about Wednesday's game was the fact that its first period contained a milestone point in Wolf Pack history. Ken Gernander, as closely identified with the Wolf Pack as any single player with a franchise that I've seen in all the time I've been around this league, became the Pack's all-time leading scorer with an assist on an Alex Giroux power play goal. The play was typical of Ken, a simple, smart play, just getting the puck at the net from the power-play point so that a teammate might get a tip on it, the kind of play we've all seen him make so many times before. It's been my pleasure to chronicle each and every one of Ken's 344 points in a Pack uniform, and I'd have to say that watching how he thinks the game and approaches the job all these years (he and I have shared the same work address for 10 seasons now) has been a thrill and an education all at the same time. He may be 35 years old and more along the size lines of a tax accountant than your typical 2005-era hockey player, but give me a team of 20 Ken Gernanders and I'll win a lot of games (not to mention have a lot of laughs).
Then it was off to Albany and a date with the River Rats, who trailed the field in the Eastern Conference and had lost their previous 11 outings. And...the Pack fell into the same trap that befell them the weekend before in Springfield, that of failing to be ready to play 60 minutes against a team whose record is a shadow of what the Wolf Pack's is. The Rats controlled play from the outset in Friday's game, and throttled the Pack 5-1, the first time all year that the Wolf Pack had given up as many as five goals. You would have thought that the Pack would have been extra wary of the River Rats, after the defeat to Springfield the previous Saturday had cost them a chance to tie for first place, but the Pack appeared flat from the start in Albany. The River Rats' roster seems a lot better than their record, however, and guys like Dean McAmmond and former Wolf Pack Pascal Rheaume played like the NHL-seasoned veterans that they are.
That marked the 40-game halfway point of the Pack's season (hard to believe it's half over already!), and even though the first half ended with the disappointment of the loss in Albany, the Wolf Pack still were playing better than .700 hockey and stood just a point out of first place overall. It's interesting to hear Ryan McGill and guys like Gernander assess the season, though, as they hardly seem overly happy with it. On one hand, it almost seems contradictory to refer to a team as "inconsistent" that has won 28 of its 41 games, but that is the word that gets thrown around the Wolf Pack locker room and coach's office. On the other hand, I guess you can point to that sense of perfectionism as a big reason why the team has been so successful over the past year-and-a-half. These guys are not at all content to be winning with what they consider to be a less-than-outstanding effort, when they feel the team could be clicking even better, and will need to play better to get deep into the playoffs.
And as ugly as that loss to the River Rats was, at least it was on the road, and the club was primed for a much better effort on Saturday night at home, with the Scout Sleepover Night game sold out. Once again the Pack were up against a team, in the Sound Tigers, who were desperate to get out of a slide (Bridgeport had lost seven straight), but this time the Wolf Pack matched their opponent's desperation. McGill's troops delighted the full house by jumping out to a 2-0 first-period lead, and then beat back good Sound Tiger pressure during the final 40 minutes to win by a count of 4-0. That win gave the Pack a 5-1 edge in the GEICO Connecticut Cup matchup vs. the Sound Tigers, and upped their league-best home-ice record to 19-3-0-1. Whatever ups and downs the team has had in the first half, one constant has certainly been the excellence of their play in front of the home folks. In fact, in the last two months, the Wolf Pack have lost a grand total of one home game in regulation, going 13-1-0-1 in 15 games inside the friendly confines of the Hartford Civic Center during that time.
Another challenging week is on tap this week, as the Pack return to divisional action for four games. They'll hook up with Springfield again on Wednesday night at home, visit Worcester (6-2-1 in eight games coming out of the weekend) Friday, and then play home-and-home with Lowell, Saturday and Hartford and Sunday on the road. The Lock Monsters are on a good run too, having won six straight and eight of nine as of the beginning of the week. Saturday night will be your last chance to see the Wolf Pack at home for a period of three weeks. After that contest they play seven in a row in enemy rinks.