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.'
The Wolf Pack closed out an impressively-resilient Portland Pirates club with a 4-0 win Wednesday in Hartford in Game Five of the Division Semifinals, setting up a Division-Final matchup with another hard-working team, the Worcester IceCats.
The Pack beat the Pirates four games to one in the just-concluded set, but I think everyone who watched the games would agree that it was much closer than that. Really and truly, the Pack and Bucs just about played one another to a standstill, with the exception of two periods. Hartford put four goals into the net in the first period of Game Four on Sunday, and then found the twine again four times (including an empty-net goal) in the third session in Wednesday's decider.
I don't think anyone who saw the names on the Wolf Pack playoff roster doubted that the Pack were capable of some outbursts like that, but give the Pirates credit. They did a real good defensive job throughout the series. Congratulations to Portland head coach Tim Army and assistant Mark Kumpel (two real class guys) and their whole crew on a strong finish to their season. They had to scratch and claw even to get into the playoffs before beating a higher-seeded Providence Bruin team in the Qualifying Round and giving the Wolf Pack a real good challenge in this series.
This next match-up is an interesting one too, in that the IceCats, although they finished 12 points behind the Pack in the Atlantic Division standings, gave the Pack fits during the regular season series. The Wolf Pack were just 2-5-1 on the year against Worcester, and played some of their worst games of the season (which is saying something, because there weren't many bad ones this year) against Don Granato's club.
A sidelight to this series also involves one of the difficulties minor league teams face, that being building availability. In an impressive application of Murphy's Law, the circus is taking over the Centrum Centre in Worcester next week and the Hartford Civic Center the following week, necessitating a highly-unusual playoff series schedule. Instead of the garden-variety 2-2-1-1-1 or 2-3-2 format, this series has Game One in Hartford, Games Two and Three in Worcester (with the first three games being played on consecutive nights, standard operating procedure in the AHL during the regular year but very rare in post-season), then three in a row back in Hartford before a potential Game Seven in the barn of the IceCats, the lower-seeded team. Wild, but unavoidable, and it will be interesting to see if either team can take advantage of the atypical format.
Finally, if you're a Wolf Pack fan you could hardly avoid being a Kenny Gernander fan, and if you haven't seen it already, I think you'd enjoy reading Jeff Jacobs' piece in Thursday's Hartford Courant about Ken. Jeff has some extremely astute commentary about the Pack captain, and I would echo it all. It's been my privilege to be around "G" since back in our days with the Binghamton Rangers, and I don't know if I've ever seen a smarter, more reliable player. He's underrated as a wit, too. Like a lot of folks from his part of the country, he's not a loud guy but if you get him going, he'll come up with some of the funniest lines you'll ever hear.RELATED LINKS:Crawford's Pack Report: 'Road Warriors' Return Home (4/26/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Nothing Like Playoff OT (4/24/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Home Split, Off to Portland (4/21/04) >>WOLF PACK POST-GAME QUOTES:Courtesy of The Hartford Courant
Wolf Pack Head Coach Ryan McGill:
"The first game we just didn't have our legs under us [after a nine-day layoff] and didn't have our battle levels and hate levels up for the Portland Pirates. Then we got the juices flowing and the rivalry back. After the second period, we made a couple line changes and had enough character to realize what was at stake. There was no sense of panic, then after we scored, the guys kind of let loose and good things happened."
Wolf Pack goaltender Jason LaBarbera:
"During the second intermission, we talked about playing with more jump. The guys were excited in the room, and it showed on the ice because we came out flying, started hitting, created turnovers, got to the net, got pucks on net and created traffic and rebounds ... We got a little dirty, and we've learned how to close out a game by clamping down and being smart with the puck the last 10 minutes. Guys are confident and seem to come together as a team."