by Bob Crawford
Wolf Pack Director of Broadcasting/Media Relationswww.hartfordwolfpack.com
The bad news from last week is the Wolf Pack lost another pair of games, making it five losses out of six games since the nine straight W's to open the season. The good news...since neither was a regulation defeat, the Pack got a point in both of the contests, allowing them to remain solidly in second place in the Atlantic Division, albeit a good ways behind the world-beating Manchester Monarchs.
It was great to see Jamie Lundmark back in Wolf Pack colors. What a skilled guy he is! He made one play in Portland Friday night, where he hopped around a defender and managed to maintain control of the puck to create a two-on-one, that most guys in the AHL just don't have the genes to pull off. And he just about shot the puck through a couple of Springfield Falcons on Saturday. Like Jeff Hamilton or Ken Gernander, Jamie is one of those guys that when you look at him without equipment on you wonder, how in the world does he shoot the puck so hard? It's not that he's small, he just doesn't have the enormous forearms or shoulders that you would think somebody would need to generate that kind of power.
It looked like Jamie was energized to be back in North America and to compete on the smaller rink in a kind of game more similar to the NHL than he found over in Italy. He's a guy who hasn't had the opportunity at the top level to put up the kind of numbers that he did in Junior and in this league, and it looks like he's serious about trying to dominate the AHL to the point that the parent club will have no choice but to use him in a scoring role. I think when you see him on home ice you'll be excited to ponder what he might accomplish this year.
Friday's game in Portland was interesting in that it was for the most part a more entertaining, up-tempo game than we had gotten used to seeing between the Wolf Pack and the Pirates last year. The Pirates were a real close-to-the-vest, defense-oriented team last season, and the Pack were way too disciplined to take a bunch of chances to try and draw Portland out of that style. This year though, Tim Army's club is noticeably more explosive. This kid Jakub Klepis who scored the last two goals Friday can really dangle, and Brooks Laich, who just about couldn't buy a goal after being acquired from Ottawa last February, scored a real nifty one against the Wolf Pack and is tied for the team lead in tallies. Throw in Steve Eminger
moving the puck from the backline and Michel Periard on the point and you've got a pretty skilled opponent.
Saturday evening was the Wolf Pack's first look at the progress of the renovations in Springfield, and they're certainly coming along nicely. The locker room areas look great, and the seating area is a huge improvement as well. It's amazing the difference that simply replacing old seats can make in the look of a place. It was a good, back-and-forth game between the two unfriendly cross-border neighbors, too. The Pack maintained their "offensively challenged" persona through the first two periods, failing to finish a number of excellent chances they generated against Springfield netminder Jamie Storr, and then showed some real character in the third frame by wiping out a two-goal deficit and getting that precious point for forcing overtime. Several times during the evening, the MSG production folks in the television truck commented to Brad Park and me about how much quality action there was out there. And these are guys that are used to covering NHL action.
In a scheduling quirk, this week will contain the entirety of the season series between the Wolf Pack and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, with the two teams reprising their classic seven-game playoff showdown of last spring. It seems like yesterday that that series was going on, and thinking about that overtime winner from Game Seven still brings back a stab of pain. It was a great battle, though, and I'm sure a lot of it will be re-hashed, particularly on Wednesday when the Wolf Pack visit the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre.
And turning to the north, how about that juggernaut that is the Manchester Monarchs right now? Not only were they 14-1 coming into this week, but they're absolutely blowing teams away! When you beat two clubs that got by the Wolf Pack, Hershey and Worcester, by 5-0 and 6-0 respectively, you're playing pretty darn well. "Gabby" Boudreau's club has averaged better than 4.5 goals per game in its first 15 games, and that's a staggering number in these defense-first times. Oh and by the way, they also came into the week with the best goals-against average in the league. And the amazing thing to me is, you look down their roster and they've got some real good players, like Mike Cammalleri, "Shooter" Smyth, Yanick Lehoux, Tom Kostopoulos, Noah Clarke, et. al., but on paper it doesn't look to me as though they are any deeper than several other teams that you could pinpoint. Clearly success has been contagious up there in the Granite State, and the Wolf Pack have to consider themselves somewhat lucky that they don't have to play the Monarchs until the fifth of December.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!