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.'
There's nothing like overtime in playoff hockey.
I'm prejudiced, but I don't care what sport it is - basketball, football, baseball, whatever ... nothing is as exciting as a playoff overtime game in hockey, when the next goal wins. And it's extra special when you have an extended OT, like we did Friday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center, almost 30 minutes of extra action, the kind where you hold your breath every time the puck gets near either net.
As great as playoff hockey overtime is, it's even better when you win, and the Pack did pull off a victory on Friday, when Jozef Balej scored a power play goal at 8:28 of the second OT, his third goal out of the four total that the Wolf Pack have tallied in the series so far.
"Joe" is relatively new to the Wolf Pack, and I had never seen him play before the trade that brought him to the Ranger organization because his AHL experience had all been with Hamilton, a team the Pack hadn't seen since the 2002 playoffs - before Balej began his pro career. What a player, though!
He's as skilled as anybody in the American League, if not the most talented player in the league, and he's a real battler too. He drew the penalty that led to his winning goal in Friday's game by taking a stick to the face, and got right back out there. With his skills he could be pretty successful just by playing on the perimeter, especially in the AHL, but he's always right around the net, taking plenty of abuse and giving as good as he gets. Plus, he's also a bit of a "character", sporting a blond dye job, a real cutting-edge wardrobe (especially compared to that of a dorky, bespectacled sportscaster - see picture attached to this column) and what you might call a "rock 'n roll" presence. He's been the best player in this series so far, and I certainly wouldn't be surprised if he puts the AHL in the rear-view mirror after this post-season.
The guys now get to enjoy a day off in Portland, exploring the delights of the Maine Mall (which is adjacent to our hotel) and resting up from Friday night's marathon, before jumping back into action in Game Four on Sunday.
The Pack have won two in a row since losing the series opener, and still have scored only four goals in the three games. I've got to figure that with the likes of Balej, Cory Larose, Chad Wiseman, Dominic Moore, Alexandre Giroux, Benoit Dusablon, Jed Ortmeyer, et al., the attack is due to break out for some big offensive displays sooner or later. With the Pirates still having plenty of fight left in them, those of us who follow the Wolf Pack will have to hope that it will be sooner.RELATED LINKS:Crawford's Pack Report: Home Split, Off to Portland (4/21/04) >>