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Crawford's Pack Report: Next Stop ... Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Throughout the 2004 American Hockey League Calder Cup Playoffs, Hartford Wolf Pack Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Bob Crawford will be checking in with his thoughts and analysis during the AHL's 'second season.'


Finally the Wolf Pack know who their next opponent is going to be.

They knew they were going to be matched up against somebody from the Keystone State, but until Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's 3-1 victory over Philadelphia Friday night, they weren't sure if they were headed to coal country or the City of Brotherly Love. Now it's set ... it'll be Wolf Pack-Penguins in the Conference Finals, and it will be a well-rested group of Hartford players that hits the ice for the series opener Tuesday night in Wilkes-Barre.

They'll have been off for 11 days by the time this series gets going, which is certainly plenty of time to get stale, but not even close to the longest layoff I've ever heard of. In 1991-92, when I was calling games for the old Adirondack Red Wings, we played the St. John's Maple Leafs in the Finals, and by the time that series started the Leafs had been sitting for no fewer than 17 days! Back then the AHL had three divisions, so at the end of the first two rounds you had three teams left. To eliminate one, they gave the team with the best regular season record a bye into the Finals and then had the other two play a best-of-three series for the other slot in the Finals. St. John's had the best record of the three teams left and had fairly breezed through their first two playoff series', so by the time the Finals rolled around they had been idle for what must have seemed like an eternity. So by comparison, 11 days is a quick turnaround.

And you know you've gone deep in the playoffs when you're meeting up against those teams you haven't seen much of in the regular season. The Pack banged heads in the first two rounds against Portland and Worcester, two divisional opponents that they probably knew as well as their own team. Hartford and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton saw each other only twice during the regular year, and I would argue that neither tilt showed much about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two clubs.

The first was right after the First of the Year in Wilkes-Barre, with the Wolf Pack in the throes of a season-worst five-game losing streak and thin on personnel. The Pack fell behind 2-0 in that one before storming back to score the final four goals of the contest and winning 4-2, to snap their skid. The second matchup was on the final weekend of the regular season and ended with the Wolf Pack prevailing in overtime. The Penguins had already clinched their spot in the standings by that time, however, and chose to rest five or six of their best players, all of whom were nursing bumps and bruises.

One interesting thing about Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is that they had a couple of players, Konstantin Koltsov and Brooks Orpik, join them at the end of parent-club Pittsburgh's season after spending the entire season in the NHL. It's not unusual for AHL teams to receive guys from Juniors or college for the playoffs who have not been with them all year, and often you see players who started the year in the AHL and then were called up early on rejoin the minor-pro team for the postseason (like Jed Ortmeyer this year and Jamie Lundmark last season for the Wolf Pack). I don't ever recall seeing a guy, though, spend the entire year with the big club, not playing a single game in the minors, and then get assigned to the AHL club at the end of the year. Clearly, though, it's helped the Penguins, who have knocked off two higher-seeded teams to get this far, and the Wolf Pack will be trying to derail their upset express.

- Bob Crawford

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