by Bob Crawford
Wolf Pack Director of Broadcasting/Media Relationswww.hartfordwolfpack.com
Will the real Hartford Wolf Pack please stand up?
The Wolf Pack continued to exhibit a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality this past week, or, as Head Coach Ryan McGill put it, take themselves on a rollercoaster ride. Fortunately, however, Jekyll was more prevalent than Hyde, as the Wolf Pack finished off the weekend with a convincing win in Worcester and an inspiring overtime triumph over the world-beating Manchester Monarchs in Manchester.
Only in hockey could a team go from not being able to score a single goal throughout all of regulation and overtime, and 13, count 'em 13, shootout attempts, as the Wolf Pack were Friday night in a 1-0 loss to Lowell, to one night later filling the net with pucks, to the tune of six on 19 shots in the first two periods, on the way to a dominating win like the Pack's 6-0 verdict in Worcester. It almost became comical in Friday's exhibition, as one player after another from both teams failed to solve goaltenders Steve Valiquette of the Wolf Pack and Brent Krahn of Lowell. It began to look as though we'd be there all night, before Mike Zigomanis finally buried lucky number 13 for the Lock Monsters, and Jozef Balej missed the net on the Pack's last gasp. I know the Pack players felt badly about wasting a fantastic effort in goal by Valiquette, and they took it out on the IceCats the next night. The Wolf Pack have had some of their worst nights in franchise history in Worcester, where the former Centrum is now called the DCU Center, but Saturday evening was one of the best.
If you had told me that the Pack could sit out Jamie Lundmark and Balej and score six goals in 40 minutes in Worcester, I'd have had my doubts, but that's exactly what happened. I have to think that some eyes were opened in the locker room by the removal from the lineup of those two guys, who combined for 73 games in the NHL last year, and right from the drop of the puck Saturday the Wolf Pack played like they were on a mission. Jeff Hamilton started the scoring parade with a power-play goal just 4:03 in, and it didn't stop until Alex Giroux, a healthy scratch himself in two of the previous three games, potted his third of the contest with 0:42 left in the second period. And it's not like it was all firewagon hockey either. The Pack missed equaling a franchise low in shots-against by one, and the best commentary on how completely they dominated the game was the fact that Jason LaBarbera pitched a shutout on the road and was not among the three stars. I can't argue with that decision, either. I remember maybe two or three real quality chances that the IceCats had in the game and that's it, and the firm of LaBarbera & Valiquette certainly deserved an easy night after Valiquette could have been justified in suing for non-support on Friday.
In the statistical oddity department, it's hard to believe that a team with as many good players as the Wolf Pack could go over a hundred games without a hat trick, but that was the case, as before Giroux' hat on Saturday it had been since March 30, 2003 that a Pack player had found the net three times in the same game. Nils Ekman's hat trick that day was the franchise-record ninth of that season, and then the Eastern Conference-champion club of last year didn't have one. Go figure!
After that solid effort it was off to Manchester, where the Monarchs had put together a pretty so-so season. All they had done was win 20 out of their 21 games, average nearly four-and-a-half goals per game, and outscore their opposition at home by a margin of 50-13 in going 10-0. In short, one of the most dominating, if not the most dominating, start to a season by a team that I can remember in 17 years covering the league.
You could tell right off the bat on Sunday that the Wolf Pack realized that if they didn't bring their "A" game into the Verizon Wireless Arena they were going to get blown out. They were really hustling and paying careful attention to their assignments, and they became only the second team to score first on the Monarchs in 22 games when Blair Betts notched a shorthander with 2:08 left in the second. You can't win 20 out of 21 games in this league without being a special team, though, and the Monarchs showed that they definitely are by answering that goal on the same power play only 44 seconds later, and then taking their first lead only 24 seconds after that. The Wolf Pack then made a big statement about their character too, coming back not only from that deficit, but quickly answering another Monarch goal in the third period that made it 3-2 by tying it just 26 seconds later on a Jed Ortmeyer score.
And the Pack avoided the stress of another shootout by grabbing their first overtime win of the year on the first shot of the extra session. It was another great goal-scorer's goal by Hamilton, one of the purest goal-scorers that I've ever seen in the AHL. He got stoned one-on-one by Mathieu Garon on a terrific skate save, then had the presence of mind to backhand the rebound back toward the front of the net and put it off Garon's rear end and in.
It was an exciting ending to a great game. Really and truly, the entertainment value of the Wolf Pack action we've seen thus far has been by and large outstanding. Even the games like Friday night, where the team can't seem to score to save their lives, have been filled with good back and forth action. This week features another four-games-in-five-days extravaganza, all divisional games, with rematches against the Monarchs and IceCats. I'm sure when Lundmark and Balej get back into the lineup they'll be charged up to ensure that they never find themselves scratched from it again, and the Pack as a team will continue to be energized by the significance, even though it is still early in the season, of these four-point games.