Pack’s European Presence Comes up Big in Allentown

October 3, 2015

Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander was in a bit of joking mood after the Wolf Pack’s 3-1 preseason win at Lehigh Valley on Saturday, having seen his team control play in the third period to the tune of an 11-3 shots advantage and score a pair of third-period goals.

Of Slovakian-born Marek Hrivik (goal and two assists) and Czechs Peter Zamorsky (goal and an assist) and Richard Nejezchleb (two helpouts), who combined for seven points in the victory, the Wolf Pack bench boss quipped, “I guess those Eastern-Bloc countries mesh pretty well. I mean, when you add Zamorsky and Nejezchleb and Hrivik, they all had strong games.”

Staying with the European angle, North American pro newbie defensemen Zamorsky and Swedish import Calle Andersson manned the points on a Wolf Pack power play that was 2/6, and both scored.

Richard Nejezchleb (left) and Chris McCarthy (center) in preseason action for the Wolf Pack at Lehigh Valley (photo courtesy of JustSports Photography)

Richard Nejezchleb (left) and Chris McCarthy (center) in preseason action for the Wolf Pack at Lehigh Valley (photo courtesy of JustSports Photography)

“I remember saying to Beuk (Assistant Coach Jeff Beukeboom) before the game, ‘I don’t know, two of your rookies out there, that might be tough,’” Gernander smiled, “and he said, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ And they proved me wrong, they really played well on the back end on the power play, made some nice plays.”

Third-year pro netminder Jeff Malcolm went the whole way in Saturday’s game and looked impressively sharp. The only puck to get by the former Yale Eli was a healthy deflection by Taylor Leier from right in front of Malcolm, and though he didn’t get tested much in the third, Malcolm faced several good chances in the first 40 minutes, during which time the Wolf Pack were outshot by a margin of 24-18.

“There were a couple of instances where it got a little bit scrambly,” Gernander said of the Pack’s play in the defensive zone. “He (Malcolm) made a big save right prior to the one goal there. We went back the other way and scored a goal, but he made a big save prior to that. I liked his game as well.”

The game seemed to have a much faster pace to it than the Pack’s first preseason contest, a 3-2 overtime win Thursday night over Bridgeport at Wonderland of Ice. That’s to be expected, as the Wolf Pack’s Thursday lineup was mostly comprised of tryout players and they had only two tryouts, winger Alex Krushelnyski and defenseman Justin DaSilva, play Saturday, but Gernander felt that being in a regular AHL building, the Phantoms’ PPL Center home ice, had just as much to do with it.

“It’s a little bit different atmosphere, bigger building, bigger crowd,” he said. “It felt more like a road game, where we were in a night early, staying at the hotel. The whole feel just felt a little bit closer to regular season.”

Diaz, Megna Last two on way from New York

October 3, 2015

The parent New York Rangers got down the 23-man NHL roster limit Saturday by assigning veteran defenseman Raphael Diaz and centerman Jayson Megna to the Wolf Pack, after the two had cleared NHL waivers.

Megna is a guy who has spent the bulk of his three-year pro career in the AHL, but this is the 29-year-old Diaz’ first minor pro experience, after 201 career NHL games with Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and the Rangers and nearly 400 games in the Swiss A League, the top circuit in his native country. The Rangers kept Dylan McIlrath over Diaz as their seventh defenseman, which helps the Blueshirts with their salary cap situation but only by a margin of $100,000, according to Cap Friendly.

After reassigning Megna, the Rangers are at 14 forwards, two more than would normally dress for a game, and they are very close to the cap, with only about $150,000 in flexibility. It is doubtful that the team would want to stay that close to the limit, so it is quite likely that there will be more moves made in the near future.

Jayson Megna (Elsa/Getty Images)

Jayson Megna (Elsa/Getty Images)

“The more (cap) room the better,” was Ranger general manager Jeff Gorton’s comment to the media Friday. “For now, will go with 23 guys under the cap. We’re talking to people every day to see the scenarios of who might be available and what we might do. Realistically, not a lot comes out of it. But it’s good to know who’s available and what scenarios might be available down the road.”

And it does not sound at all like Diaz, or Megna for that matter, are being buried in the AHL. It’s just a numbers game at this point.

“This gives us good depth as we move forward here,” Ranger coach Alain Vigneault was quoted as saying by “With Diaz, and even Megna who had a real camp, these are real good options for us.”

On the Wolf Pack side, the addition of two high-end AHL players is definitely a boost, and Coach Ken Gernander is excited to see what Diaz will add to what otherwise is a fairly young blue line corps.

“Certainly he’s a very good player, and he’s going to help our power play, he brings a lot to the table,” Gernander said before Saturday’s Wolf Pack preseason game at Lehigh Valley. “It’s going to make some decisions for us a little bit tougher, because this year we seem to have pretty good depth at the defense position.”

Megna, for his part, is coming off of a bit of a breakout year, a 26-goal AHL season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2014-15.

“He should help shore up things in the middle,” Gernander said of Megna, “center’s always a real important position, and I thought he did a good job with the big club in camp, so we’re looking forward to getting him here as well.”

On the other side of the coin, from a development perspective, Gernander expressed excitement and satisfaction about the steps forward taken by McIlrath and Oscar Lindberg (also kept on the Ranger roster), who were both mainstays for Gernander the last two seasons.

“I think it’s great, I’m really happy for the two of them,” he said. “We’ve worked closely with them the last couple years, and you see how much hard work they’ve put into their careers, and to see it get paid off here for the opening roster, I think that’s great.”

Saturday’s game in Allentown is the Wolf Pack’s second of three preseason games, after they opened their exhibition slate with a 3-2 overtime win at Bridgeport on Thursday night. The playing roster in that game was comprised mostly of tryout players, but since then the overall camp roster has been pared down to a much smaller number.

“I think we’re getting closer and closer to our opening-day roster as the weekend goes on,” Gernander said. “(Saturday’s game) will probably be about 50-50 and then tomorrow, the game in Cromwell (against Bridgeport at 3:00, the Wolf Pack’s only home preseason tilt), we should be pretty close to our opening-day roster, minus a couple players.

Wolf Pack Make First Cuts

October 2, 2015

The Wolf Pack are down from 44 players, nearly two full teams, in training camp to 32 bodies in camp and 29 officially on the roster.

The difference in the two numbers is because of the status of goaltenders Cedrick Desjardins and Mackenzie Skapski and forward Nick Tarnasky. Those players are physically with the Wolf Pack but still are technically on the Rangers’ injured reserve because they are injured, and an injured player cannot be sent to the AHL until he is healthy.

Noreau Action Shot

Sam Noreau

Twelve players were moved on Friday prior to the Wolf Pack leaving for Allentown, PA and their next preseason action Saturday against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. All of those players were tryouts, except for defensemen Sam Noreau and Troy Donnay, both of whom are NHL-contracted guys. Those two will head to ECHL Greenville, Noreau for his third season in a Swamp Rabbit (nee Road Warrior) uniform and Donnay for his rookie pro year after five seasons in the Ontario Hockey League.

All of the players reassigned or released played in the Wolf Pack’s preseason opener, a 3-2 overtime win at Bridgeport Thursday night, except for goaltender Alex Vazzano. One other tryout, forward Alex Krushelnyski, who had an assist and was, I thought, the Wolf Pack’s most noticeable player, was kept around and made the trip to Allentown.

Meanwhile, the Rangers trimmed their roster down to the regular-season limit of 23 by placing forward Jayson Megna and veteran defenseman Rafael Diaz on waivers. That means that Wolf Pack products Oscar Lindberg and Dylan McIlrath have made the opening NHL roster, a big thrill for a pair of real solid guys.

“I’m obviously really excited,” McIlrath said to the New York media after Ranger practice Friday. “It’s been a pretty long road to get to this point, so it’s even more gratifying when you reach this point having faced some adversity. I couldn’t be happier to be here now. It definitely doesn’t stop now, it’s just starting, and I have a lot of work to do.”

Rangers down to 25 Players

September 28, 2015

Most years in the recent past, the parent New York Rangers have waited until nearly the start of the NHL season to pare their roster down to regular-season size.

This fall, however, after having sent a total of 13 players to the Wolf Pack Friday and Saturday, the Rangers have their roster is down to 25 players, just two over the regular-season roster limit of 23.

The current Ranger group includes eight defensemen, and New York head coach Alain Vigneault is on record as saying he would like to keep eight, but that salary cap concerns will likely make that unworkable. So barring a trade, at least one blueliner is likely still to come down to the Pack, and the Rangers still have 15 forwards, at least one more than they would probably carry to start the regular year.

The Wolf Pack, meanwhile, have 44 players on their current roster, enough to split into two separate groups for their training camp practices. This is the first time in recent memory that coach Ken Gernander has had virtually his entire team in camp ahead of the preseason, but the Pack head man says that doesn’t change much as far as how he and his staff will approach things.

“The American League a lot of times is all about adapting to different things,” Gernander said after Monday’s practice. “It’ll be nice for us in that I think the guys that were in New York showed themselves well, so I like the talent that we have coming back (from the Rangers), and they all seem like character guys, I think they’ll get to know each other a little bit better in the intimate setting here at the XL Center. So there should be a lot of positives to the situation.”

The big challenge that the Pack braintrust faces, with so many players in camp, is parsing out action in the team’s three preseason games between the individuals who are certain to be regulars with the team and those who are relatively unknown and are looking to make an impression.

Magnus Hellberg (Elsa/Getty Images)

Magnus Hellberg (Elsa/Getty Images)

“That is the balancing act,” Gernander said. “We want to make sure that, first and foremost, the guys that are going to be on our team to start the season get the proper amount of work so that they’re ready for the season opener. We certainly have to give some looks and some consideration to guys that are battling for those last few roster spots, and as evidenced by last year, we’re going to need some depth and some callups, so have to get a good peek at all of them. Hopefully a good week of practice can be a bit of an indicator for us, and then we’re going to have to spread the games out as best we can.”

The Pack start the preseason Thursday night, traveling to the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport to battle the Sound Tigers, then play Saturday night at Lehigh Valley and host the Sound Tigers Sunday afternoon at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell.

One of the players assigned to the Wolf Pack in the last round of cuts is goaltender Magnus Hellberg, so it looks as though Antti Raanta has won the battle to be Henrik Lundqvist’s backup in New York. Hellberg is one of no fewer than six netminders on the Hartford roster, although two of those, Cedrick Desjardins and Mackenzie Skapski, are injured. Former Yale Eli Jeff Malcolm is back for his third year in the organization and has the inside track to start the season on the Wolf Pack roster alongside Hellberg, and Trumbull, CT native Alex Vazzano, who played the last two years at Sacred Heart, and Josh Robinson, who split last season between Austria and the ECHL, are the other two in camp, both tryout players.

Bodie is Latest Hopeful to Make an Impact

September 23, 2015

After Brian Gibbons (goal, two assists) and Jayson Megna (two goals), two forwards pushing for spots with the parent New York Rangers, had big nights Monday in New York’s preseason-opening, 6-3 win over New Jersey, it was a defenseman, second-year pro Mat Bodie, who stood out on the scoresheet Tuesday evening, in a 5-3 loss at Philadelphia.

Bodie, the second-leading point-scorer among Wolf Pack blueliners as a rookie last year, with five goals and 32 points in 75 games, scored two of the Rangers’ three goals against the Flyers. It was a big night for former Union College d-men at the Wells Fargo Center, as Bodie’s former Dutchmen teammate Shayne Gostisbehere scored twice for the Flyers.

Pack head coach Ken Gernander, who was back at the XL Center Wednesday after his contributions in Traverse City, coaching the Ranger team in the NHL Prospects Tournament, and at Ranger training camp, was excited to see one of his key guys from 2014-15 have such a strong night Tuesday.

Mat Bodie

Mat Bodie

“We really appreciated what he (Bodie) did for us last year, it’s excellent to see guys get an opportunity and have some success there (at the NHL level),” Gernander said. “So we were real pleased for Matt.”

Gernander’s Ranger counterpart, Alain Vigneault, said this about Bodie to the media after the Philadelphia game, “I remember him a little bit from last year and there’s no doubt that there’s some progression on his part. You guys asked me a lot about (Dylan) McIlrath, but one of the guys that (the Wolf Pack) coaches said that during their playoff run last year was so good, and played with Dylan, was Bodie and tonight I could see why.  He’s got a little big stick and knows how to put it defensively, and when he’s got the puck on his stick most of the time he makes the right plays with the puck.  He had a strong game for us tonight and that was good for us to see.”

With Bodie’s output Tuesday night, Gibbons’ and Megna’s contributions to Monday’s win, and Oscar Lindberg scoring in both games, Gernander feels that the players who are hoping to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL are making strong statements.

“By and large, it looks like there is going to be considerable depth and there’s going to be a lot of competition for some spots” the Wolf Pack bench boss said. “We were proud of the group the way they played last year down the stretch into the playoffs, and to see them get rewarded with some success here in the preseason–it’s just a real likeable group and you’re always pulling hard for them–it’s good to see them have some success.”

Meanwhile, the Ranger organization Wednesday made its first roster cuts, sending a dozen players to the Wolf Pack, returning six underage players to their respective Junior clubs and releasing one goaltender, Jake Smith, outright from his tryout. Many, if not most, of the first Wolf Pack assignees will be on the bubble between Hartford and its ECHL affiliate, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, and Gernander is expecting the same battle level for roster spots in his camp as has been on display at Ranger training camp.

“If our guys are pushing for opportunities at the NHL level, there’s a strong amount of depth,” he said, “and it’s going to be even more competitive here as we try to fill out our roster.”

Players will report to Hartford Friday for Wolf Pack camp, with the first practice slated for Sunday morning at the XL Center.

Gibbons, Megna Make Strong first Ranger Impressions

September 22, 2015

Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna, two veteran forwards who can reasonably be said to be “on the bubble” between grabbing one of the last couple of forward spots on the Ranger roster and being top-six forwards with the Wolf Pack, had big nights Monday in the big club’s preseason opener, a 6-3 win over New Jersey at Madison Square Garden. Gibbons had a goal and two assists and Megna scored twice.

Megna and Gibbons were both July 1 free-agent signings by the Rangers, Gibbons from the Columbus organization and Megna late of the Pittsburgh/Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Both spent some quality time in the NHL last year, Gibbons getting into 25 games with the Blue Jackets and Megna 12 with Pittsburgh, both are relatively young but with solid pro experience (Gibbons four years and Megna three), and neither was getting too carried away about what Monday night’s performances might mean in their quests to make the Rangers.

Jayson Megna (23), Brian Gibbons (24), and others, celebrate a Ranger goal in New York's preseason opener win over New Jersey (MSG Photos)

Jayson Megna (23), Brian Gibbons (14), and others, celebrate a Ranger goal in New York’s preseason opener win over New Jersey (MSG Photos)

“You control what you can control,” Megna told the media after the game. “You can drive yourself nuts looking at the lineups, who’s playing who’s not, every night. For me, I’ve been on two pretty good teams–fortunate to be in two great organizations like this one and Pittsburgh–where the lineups are stacked. So you just have to leave it all out on the ice and prove to the coaches you can help the team win.”

Gibbons expressed similar sentiments, saying, “I think every time you get a chance to show the coaches that you can play at this level and they can trust you on the ice in different situations, I think that’s all I’m trying to do.”

Gibbons has played in 66 NHL games the past two years, having gotten into 41 with Pittsburgh in 2013-14 before signing with Columbus last summer. He has 5-17-22 in those 66 contests, and 101 points (33-68) in 194 career AHL games. Good numbers, but, according to his former Boston College teammate, and now fellow Ranger organization member, Chris Kreider, they do not do justice to Gibbons’ skill level.

“In college in particular, (Gibbons) was) the best player I played with,” Kreider said after last night’s game. “You see the poise, and he’s so fun to watch. He’s electrifying, high in skill, he’s dynamic. He’s a game changer and he sees things other people don’t.”

For Kreider to say that Gibbons was the best player he played with at B.C. is eye-openingly high praise, as Kreider’s other college teammates included the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Cam Atkinson, and Kevin and Jimmy Hayes.

Also in Monday night’s preseason opener, Oscar Lindberg scored, Ryan Bourque had an assist and Brady Skjei was +3 with an assist.

And, the Rangers go back-to-back with their first two exhibition contests, visiting Philadelphia tonight. Megna, Lindberg, Bourque and Dylan McIlrath were all announced as remaining in the projected lineup for the second game, and Mat Bodie is scheduled to dress as well.

Four tryout players are also slated to play in Philly: veteran defenseman Brett Bellemore, a veteran of 121 NHL games with Carolina and 300 AHL contests with Charlotte and Albany, former New York Islanders third-round pick Kirill Kabanov and rookies Richard Nejezchleb and Jayden Hart. Nejezchleb was a fifth-round selection by the Rangers as a 20-year-old in 2014 and actually started last season on the Wolf Pack roster while rehabbing an injury, before heading back to the Western Hockey League, where he was a better than a point-per-game guy (20-31-51 in 49 GP) with Brandon and Tri-City. Hart, meanwhile, is even more of a Cinderella story out of the WHL (Prince Albert), having been a tryout invite to the Rangers’ Traverse City Prospects Tournament team and having impressed enough not only to earn a spot at Ranger training camp, but to get tabbed for a preseason game as well. Hearing some real good things about him.

Ranger Preseason Opener a Chance to Impress

September 21, 2015

Took a ride down Monday to the Rangers’ MSG Training Center practice facility, which was abuzz with the excitement of the big club’s first preseason game that night at the Garden against New Jersey.

Monday’s training camp practice was divided into three groups, the second of which was the game group, consisting of the guys who were going to see action in the exhibition opener.

That game lineup included defensemen Dylan McIlrath, Brady Skjei and Chris Summers, forwards Ryan Bourque, Luke Adam, Brian Gibbons, Jayson Megna, Viktor Stalberg, Oscar Lindberg and Marek Hrivik, as well as goaltenders Antti Raanta and Magnus Hellberg.

Dylan McIlrath

Dylan McIlrath

All of those guys spent all or part of last season in the AHL (Bourque, Lindberg, McIlrath and Hrivik, of course, with the Wolf Pack) and all are in battles for whatever slots might be available in the season-opening Ranger lineup.

The general feeling among the media seemed to be that McIlrath and Lindberg, as young, relatively inexpensive players who are now subject to waivers if they are assigned to the AHL, are unlikely to end up with the Wolf Pack, and it appears certain that one of Raanta or Hellberg will be the backup in New York to Henrik Lundqvist, but nobody is assuring anybody, whether it is those individuals or anyone else, of anything at this early stage.

One thing is clear, with the Rangers tight up against the NHL salary cap, the organization is acutely aware that the depth that the Wolf Pack provides is likely to be vital to the big club’s success.

Ranger head coach Alain Vigneault referenced that Monday morning, when he said of the preseason opener, “We’ve got a lot of younger players that we want to take a look at, guys that people might say they’re more penciled in to go to Hartford. That’s not necessarily the case, it depends on how they play here, but it is an opportunity for us to get a read on, if we need them down the line, can we trust them in certain situations? And I would say if I’m a player, I’m excited about the opportunity to play a first exhibition game and show coaching and management what I’m capable of doing on the ice.”

Prospect Team gets first Win in Traverse City

September 14, 2015

After a pair of losses in which the Ranger prospect team was outscored by a combined margin of 7-2, the squad found the win column for the first time in this year’s Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament Monday, blanking the Columbus Blue Jackets prospects 4-0.

That marked the first-ever shutout for the Ranger organization in the history of its participation in the tournament, and the most prominent offensive contributions to the win were made by players who are good bets to spend some time on the Wolf Pack roster this season.

Adam Tambellini, a 2013 Ranger third-round draft pick who has exhausted his Western Hockey League eligibility, scored the only goal that it would turn out the Ranger team would need Monday, and added an assist, and Calle Andersson, a 21-year-old, Swedish-born defenseman and 2012 fourth-rounder, also scored and had a helper. Another European blueliner, Czech import Peter Zamorsky, scored a 5-on-3 power-play goal.

Adam Tambellini (

Adam Tambellini (

Tambellini, whose father Steve had a 553-game NHL career with the Islanders, Colorado/New Jersey, Calgary and Vancouver, and whose older brother Jeff has logged nearly 240 NHL games in his ten-year pro career and had two 30-goal seasons in the AHL, scored 47 WHL goals in 71 games with Calgary this past season and added 13 goals and 26 points in 16 playoff games. He is a tall (6-3), but slender (185 pounds) centerman, and it sounds as though his biggest challenge will be adapting to the physical grind of playing against men in the pros, after excelling for a season-and-a-half in the WHL following a short stint at the University of North Dakota.

Andersson and Zamorsky both remained in Europe last season after signing NHL deals with the Rangers in June of 2014, and it appears as though both of them are likely to make the move to this side of the pond for 2015-16. Competition will be stiff for spots on a deep Ranger blue line, so there is a good chance that Wolf Pack fans will get a peek at both Andersson and Zamorsky as they chase NHL spots.

Interestingly, both Andersson and Zamorsky left their respective home countries for their 2014-15 seasons, Andersson heading to Switzerland and Zamorsky, a Czech, starting in Finland and finishing in Andersson’s home nation of Sweden. Zamorsky had a strong finish with Orebro HK, with 1-4-5 in ten regular-season games and 2-2-4 in six playoff contests, after being named the Czech Extraliga’s best defenseman, and winning a league championship with Zlin ZPS, his hometown club, in 2013-14. Andersson, meanwhile, chalked up a total of 20 points (six goals and 14 assists) in 48 Swiss-A League games between Zug and Lugano this past season, following a 2013-14 campaign in which he did not get an opportunity to crack the top level in his home country with Malmo. He is currently the point-scoring leader for the Ranger prospect team in Traverse City, having posted an assist in the Rangers’ tournament opener, a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild prospects Friday, to go along with his two points Monday.

Beyond the production of Tambellini, Andersson and Zamorsky, the statistical star of Monday’s win, against a Blue Jacket group that had won both of its first two Traverse City outings, was goaltender Jake Smith. He stopped 38 Columbus shots in the game, as the Ranger team was outshot 38-26. Smith is a free agent invitee from the Ontario Hockey League and is old enough to play in the AHL, at 20 years old. He had an excellent finish to his 2014-15 season with North Bay of the OHL, posting the best playoff goals-against average (2.00 in 15 games) and second-best save percentage (92.7) in the league, but faces an uphill battle to earn a spot in the Ranger goaltending hierarchy. There might be an opportunity early to make an impression, with both Mackenzie Skapski and Cedrick Desjardins likely to start the season on the injured list, but once those two are ready to play, the crease will be crowded, with Antti Raanta, Magnus Hellberg and Jeff Malcolm all also in the mix behind unquestioned Ranger number-one man Henrik Lundqvist.

Traverse City Tourney Starts Friday

September 10, 2015

The perennial first official step in the Ranger organization’s season is the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, MI, and don’t look now, but the onset of that event is upon us.

The Wolf Pack coaching staff of head man Ken Gernander and assistants Jeff Beukeboom and Pat Boller will again be responsible for piloting the Ranger squad in Traverse City, and they departed for the journey today, with their first action being the tournament opener tomorrow, a 3:30 faceoff against the Minnesota Wild prospect team.

Mat Bodie in action at the 2014 Traverse City Prospects Tournament (courtesy of

Mat Bodie in action at the 2014 Traverse City Prospects Tournament (courtesy of

A roster of 24 youngsters is accompanying the Pack braintrust to northeast Michigan, and only one of them, defenseman Brady Skjei, has yet seen any action with the Wolf Pack. Four others, European defensemen Calle Andersson and Petr Zamorsky, fellow blueliner Ryan Graves, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League product, and forward Adam Tambellini, are Ranger-signed players who are age-eligible to play in the AHL. Another six, goaltender Brandon Halverson, defensemen Ryan Mantha and Sergei Zborovskiy and forwards Ryan Gropp, Keegan Iverson and Brad Morrison, are New York draft picks who are still too young to be assigned to the Wolf Pack. The rest are tryout invitees from various Canadian Major Junior clubs.

Of those free-agent tryouts, six would be eligible for the AHL if they showed enough in Traverse City to entice a further look.

Two of those are goaltenders from the Ontario Hockey League, Taylor Dupuis (Sarnia) and Jacob Smith, and Smith is coming off of a big playoff performance this past spring. He helped his North Bay Battalion team get as far as the league semifinals, posting the best postseason goals-against average (2.00) and second-best save percentage (92.7) in the OHL.

Forward Anthony DiFruscia, another OHLer, had 26 goals, 51 points and 130 penalty minutes last season for the Niagara IceDogs, and fellow winger Jayden Hart got 11 games of AHL experience with Rochester at the end of last year, after a 22-goal, 49-point, 94-PIM campaign with Prince Albert of the Western League.

Centerman Mark Simpson, a product of the Quebec League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan, is 6-5 (although listed at only 189 pounds), and D-man Jerret Smith (no relation to Jacob)goes 6-2 and 212 pounds and had 11 goals and 38 points in 2014-15 for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds.

Full schedule information for the Traverse City tournament can be found here, and scores, stats and other info are available through Pointstreak here.

Several “Re-acquaintances” Highlight Pack Schedule

August 31, 2015

Yes, Wolf Pack fans, the Rochester Americans are still in the AHL.

I know that is easy to forget, as it’s been more than 13 years since the Pack and Amerks have seen each other, and since meeting in the 2000 Calder Cup Finals the two clubs have played only four times in 15 seasons, but the renewal of acquaintances between Hartford and Rochester is one of the interesting aspects of this year’s Wolf Pack schedule, which was officially released on Thursday.

It was sad to see good markets like Manchester, Glens Falls, Worcester, Norfolk, Hamilton and Oklahoma City leave the league, but the re-jiggering of the AHL map that was required by the westward move of five franchises caused Rochester, Toronto and Utica to be shifted to the Eastern Conference.  That ensures that Wolf Pack fans will get a look at crops of prospects that they have basically never seen before.  Rochester’s affiliate is Buffalo, and it’s been since 2010-11, when the Sabres were aligned with Portland, that the Wolf Pack has played a Buffalo affiliate.  The Pack also last saw the Maple Leaf-affiliated Marlies in 2010-11, and haven’t gone up against prospects from Vancouver, which is Utica’s NHL parent, since playing a four-game series against the Manitoba Moose in 2008-09.

The Wolf Pack's Tony Tuzzolino, in 1999-00 action against the Rochester Americans.

The Wolf Pack’s Tony Tuzzolino, in 1999-00 action against the Rochester Americans.

In addition to the long-standing rivalries with close neighbors like Springfield and Bridgeport, the realignment, and the schedule, will bring the Wolf Pack some new divisional rivalries too.

In their 18 seasons in the AHL, the Wolf Pack have never been in the same division with the storied Hershey Bears, alongside whom they will reside in the Atlantic Division.  Same story with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who will be playing their 17th AHL season in 2015-16.  And despite never having been in the same division with Hartford, those are two teams with whom the Pack have had some thrilling playoff series, including this past spring’s nip-and-tuck, six-game battle with the Bears.

Ken Gernander’s club will also be re-kindling some old animosities with the Providence Bruins, who were at one time the Wolf Pack’s biggest rival.  The Pack and Bruins have played out of different divisions for the past four years, and were down to a four-game season series last year, after regularly duking it out at least eight times a year through the Wolf Pack’s first 14 seasons of play.  It will again be an eight-game Hartford-Providence season series in 2015-16, and the Pack will be seeing a lot more of the Portland Pirates as well.  Portland and Bridgeport will be the two most familiar opponents on the Wolf Pack schedule, with both season series’ featuring ten games each.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will also be a divisional opponent this year, as the Phantom franchise was for the last three seasons of its run in Glens Falls, and the Pack will face Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton six times each, while seeing the other Keystone State club, the Bears, four times.

Aside from that relatively short season series with Hershey, the schedule is heavily weighted towards divisional competition.  With ten games against Bridgeport and eight against Springfield added to the rest of its Atlantic Division slate, the Pack will play 52 of their 76 games against divisional rivals.  And with the return of playoff qualification being determined by division, as opposed to conference, standings, key points will be on the line in all of those division games.

One fairly familiar foe from the past several seasons, the Albany Devils, have been moved out of the Pack’s division, but the two clubs will still meet six times during the season.  That is good from a travel perspective, as Hartford and Albany are an easy day trip from one another, less than two hours apart.  As far as the rest of the Devils’ North Division, the Wolf Pack play the Americans, Utica and St. John’s four times each and Binghamton, Syracuse and Toronto twice each.

Ah, the Crunch, we hardly knew ye’.  Eight-game division series last season, after not playing one another at all the previous season, and having met only 18 times in the Pack’s first 17 years, and now back to separate divisions and only two meetings.

The Pack begin the 2015-16 season with four straight home games, then play seven of their next 11 on the road.  By the time they get to December 27, they will have played only 14 home games out of 31 total outings, and then, from December 29 through January 10, they have six straight at home, their longest homestand of the campaign.  The longest stretch of consecutive road games is five, which occurs twice, and the Pack finish with four straight on the road, including their only Canadian road trip of the year, with a morning-start game in Toronto and a season-concluding pair of games in St. John’s.

So the IceCaps, a team the Wolf Pack have played each year of IceCaps’ existence but who also will showcase an unfamiliar roster, due to an affiliation change from Winnipeg to Montreal, bookend the Pack’s schedule, as a Hartford-St. John’s matchup will kick off the Wolf Pack’s docket October 10 at the XL Center.

Finishing the regular season in Newfoundland, as the Pack did two seasons ago, is seemingly a good deal, as the chances of weather-related travel problems, the one negative to what is always a fun time in North America’s easternmost locale, are considerably less in mid-April than they would be in the dead of winter.  Taking points out of Mile One Centre is no easy task no matter what the calendar says, though, and could be especially tough if playoff spots, or positioning, are on the line when the Wolf Pack and IceCaps bring down the curtain on the regular year April 15 and 16.


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