by Bob Crawford
Wolf Pack Director of Broadcasting/Media Relationswww.hartfordwolfpack.com
Well, those of us who follow the Hartford Wolf Pack would have liked to think that the team was going to go 80-0, but that obviously was not going to happen. You knew there would be some bumps in the road eventually, and last week certainly qualifies as a bit of a hiccup. Still, I think if you had told Jim Schoenfeld, Ryan McGill, Nick Fotiu & Co. at the start of the year that they could be 10-3 after 13 games, they gladly would have taken it right then and there.
It's too bad that Fedor Tyutin and Maxim Kondratiev are not staying the year with the Wolf Pack. They seem to have a nice chemistry together and certainly had played well for the Pack, although anyone can understand the pull of returning to one's native country. Combine that with the excellent money to be made in the Russian League these days, plus all the locked-out NHL guys pumping up the level of the competition, and it's awfully hard to argue with two young guys making the decision to head back home. They both look like NHL players to me, and hopefully their development will continue its upward track while they skate back in their homeland. The Rangers could have a great defense combo on their hands. Da svedanya, gentlemen, here's wishing you nothing but the best!
It seemed as though all the little things that the Wolf Pack had been doing right deserted them for a time during Wednesday's loss to Hershey, the Pack's first defeat of the season. Whether it was allowing the Bears' Dennis Bonvie to set up camp right in Jason LaBarbera's face, communication breakdowns in defensive coverage or LaBarbera surrendering nearly as many goals in one period as he had in his first six games combined, the whole package seemed to go awry for a span of about 26 minutes. The Pack recovered and outchanced the Bears for the rest of the game after falling behind 4-1, but were struck with a lack of finishing touch that would carry throughout the weekend. I thought the team actually played pretty well in Friday's 4-2 loss to Worcester, with bangers and crashers like Ryan Hollweg, Ryan Cuthbert and Jed Ortmeyer really rattling some cages. Some ill-timed penalties and a lost draw, though, contributed to the IceCats righting the ship after the Pack had tied it at one, and Worcester skated out with a 4-2 win.
Speaking of the IceCats, I think everyone in New England was saddened by the news last week that the parent St. Louis Blues have sold the Worcester franchise and that it's being moved to Peoria. While I'm an Illinois native myself and am sure that Peoria will be an excellent city for the league, I feel extremely bad for the good fans and hard-working staff of the current IceCats club. The Wolf Pack and Worcester have had some great battles over the years, and Worcester is one of those trips that's so short, it almost seems like a home game. They've had some darn good players come through there as well, like Ladislav Nagy, Michal Handzus, Eric Boguniecki, etc., and from a hockey perspective it was a real bonus to see those guys as much as we did. Given Worcester's perfect geographic location, hopefully some ownership group will do a deal to put a franchise back in there, because not having Worcester would be a big loss for the AHL.
After Friday night's game with the IceCats, it was a good old-fashioned home and home scrap with the archrival Providence Bruins. If you missed the great atmosphere inside the Hartford Civic Center on Saturday night you really missed something, as Scout Night and Sonar bobbleheads combined to bring out a near sellout crowd of 9,507, and they were loud. It helped that they saw a real entertaining game, with the Wolf Pack pouring 50 shots at the P-Bruin net but having to scratch and claw for a 3-2 win. Tyutin said goodbye to the home crowd with a pair of goals and fellow blueliner Lawrence Nycholat forced the game-winner through the pads of Providence backstop Hannu Toivonen with just 7:46 left in the contest.
Sunday's rematch in Providence ended up in a 1-0 loss, but for a fourth game in five days, it was decently entertaining as well. Steve Valiquette had to stop a penalty shot just 1:53 into the game, denied another breakaway and made three pretty glove saves in the third period. Those home and homes are great for the big rivalries. I've a heard more than one observer say that's one thing that's missing in today's NHL with 30 teams. When you get those back to backs going throughout the season with your divisional adversaries, the teams really develop a healthy dislike for one another and there aren't too many snoozers.
The Pack have been enjoying plenty of home cooking throughout the season's first four weeks, and now Friday's game in Portland starts a stretch of five straight road games. We'll see if a little time in the ol' "Iron Lung" gets the team back to its winning ways.