Archive for January, 2013

Whale Add Carroll

January 30, 2013

The Whale did indeed add to their forward ranks earlier today, agreeing on a Professional Tryout (PTO) deal with Andrew Carroll, who was playing in the ECHL with the Idaho Steelheads, after spending all of last season in the AHL with Hershey.

Carroll Action Shot Hershey

Andrew Carroll as a Hershey Bear

In joining the Whale, Carroll comes full circle back to where his AHL career got its start, which was with four games in a Wolf Pack uniform in 2009-10.  Since then, the Shoreview, MN native and former University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog has played in 120 more AHL contests, 93 of them with the Bears.  He has also totaled 115 ECHL games in three-plus years, and has been a good offensive force at that level, scoring 52 goals and racking up 93 points.  This year with Idaho Carroll had a 12-19-31 stat line in 36 games and had been hot lately, with goals in three straight games (3-0-3) and points in six straight (3-3-6) and 11 of his last 12 (4-8-12).

Carroll has been more of a physical grinder at the AHL level, with 14 points and 210 PIM in his 124 career AHL appearances.

The addition of Carroll gives the Whale 12 healthy forwards on their roster, and, happily, the news out of New York on Ryan Callahan is not too bad.  After Callahan underwent an MRI on his injured left shoulder today, the Rangers announced that the captain was expected to be out of action for 10-14 days.

Rangers Win, but Callahan Hurt

January 30, 2013

A good news/bad news night for the Rangers last night.

The big club continued its recovery from a 1-3-0 start with a third win in four games, a 2-1 decision at Madison Square Garden over Philadelphia, but a pall was cast over the triumph by a third-period injury to captain Ryan Callahan.

Callahan was grappling with the Flyers’ Max Talbot and, after both fell to the ice, Callahan got up in obvious pain and skated directly to the locker room, with his left arm clearly compromised.  The television replay made it look like the injury occurred when Talbot grabbed hold of Callahan’s jersey and pulled on it, and Callahan looked to be in quite a bit of pain as he went off.

Ryan Callahan with the Wolf Pack, circa November 2007

Ryan Callahan with the Wolf Pack, circa November 2007

It looked like a shoulder injury at first blush, and indeed media reports out of New York indicate that Callahan will have an MRI on his left shoulder later today.

Sounds like Chris Kreider, who has been bothered by an ankle problem, did a light skate today but is a ways away from playing, so that leaves the Rangers with only 11 healthy forwards.  It will be interesting to see if the big club puts in a call to the Whale for a forward before tomorrow night’s game at MSG against Pittsburgh, or if the Rangers simply play Stu Bickel, who skated only three shifts last night as the Blueshirts basically went with five defensemen, up front on the fourth line, as they did for two games last week.

The Whale played a man short in Saturday’s win over Springfield, so if the Rangers do make a callup Connecticut will be down two players, unless Marek Hrivik makes a real quick recovery.  I would certainly expect the Whale to add a forward before the weekend, regardless of what the parent club does.

Chad Johnson’s First Coyote Start Memorable

January 29, 2013

Nice night for former Whale mainstay Chad Johnson Monday, as he rang up his first career NHL shutout, in his first Phoenix Coyotes appearance, a 4-0 home win over the Nashville Predators.

It’s an all ex-Whale/Wolf Pack goaltending tandem right now for former Hartford Whaler Dave Tippett’s Coyotes.  Johnson is up from Portland to replace Mike Smith, who is injured, and Phoenix’ other ‘tender is none other than Jason LaBarbera.

The Phoenix telecast had a neat shot of LaBarbera, sporting an impressive pre-playoff beard, congratulating Johnson right after the final horn, and that is a portrait of the two netminders who have played the most games in Whale franchise history.  Johnson appeared in 136 Wolf Pack/Whale contests over three seasons before signing with Phoenix as a free agent this past summer, and LaBarbera saw action in 182 games for the Pack from 2000-01 through 2004-05.

Chad Johnson, in one of his 136 career Whale/Wolf Pack outings.

Chad Johnson, in one of his 136 career Whale/Wolf Pack outings.

Johnson stopped 21 shots in Monday’s game, which was his first NHL appearance since March 31, 2011, when he played one period of mop-up duty for the Rangers in relief of Henrik Lundqvist in a 6-2 loss at the Islanders, and only his fifth career NHL start.  In another cool twist, Monday was the first time Johnson’s parents had seen him play an NHL game in person.

After the game, Johnson said to NHL.com’s Jerry Brown, “It was an easy game, and I had a lot of help. I wanted to help the team win and the opportunity was there tonight.  I wasn’t nervous, but I didn’t know what to expect because it’s been awhile since I’ve been in NHL action. Getting my feet wet in the first period was important.

“My parents never had a chance to see me play in the NHL, I’m sure Mom might be crying a little bit. We were going to spend some time with me in Boston and New York, but we had a change of plans. The weather is warmer here and I think everyone’s pretty happy with how it turned out.”

NHL.com reported that Smith skated by himself Sunday and Monday, but made it sound like his return was not imminent, so Johnson may get another couple of shots to show whether he can be a consistent success at the NHL level.

LaBarbera had started Phoenix’ previous two games, after coming in for Smith midway through the first period of a 5-1 win over Columbus on Wednesday.

Whale Turning the Corner?

January 28, 2013

In baseball they always refer to the All-Star break as the traditional midpoint of the season.

It’s not the actual halfway point, but the “psychological” one, so to speak.

If the same can be said of the AHL All-Star break, then hopefully the Whale are making a statement that the second half will be a lot more positive than the first.

The last three games going into the break were wins for Connecticut, the first winning streak of any kind for the club since Thanksgiving weekend, for pete’s sake, and all of a sudden the Whale have taken five straight at home.  Prior to that, they had won only five out of 16 all year at the XL Center, and had lost four in a row and five out of six.

That home turnaround comes just at the right time too, being that the Whale are in the midst of playing six straight and ten out of 12 on the home rink, their most home-heavy stretch of the season.

Also, the Whale have at least a point in nine of their last 12 overall (7-3-1-1), a run that has elevated them to the .500 mark (20-20-3-1, 44 pts.) and into second place in the Northeast Division, the first time since December 8 they have been as high as alone in second.  They are also up to a tie for ninth in the Eastern Conference, just one point out of the last playoff spot.

Weary, it seems, of watching the Whale’s lack of consistency, the parent Rangers tweaked the Connecticut roster with a pair of trades, the second of which packed Connecticut’s leading goal-scorer, and second-leading point-getter, Chad Kolarik, off to Pittsburgh.

Neither of the guys acquired in the two deals, Brandon Mashinter and Benn Ferriero, were exactly tearing up the league in terms of numbers, and it was tough to see a good egg and exciting player like Kolarik go, but sometimes when a team isn’t achieving to the level expected, a shuffle of the deck can be a tonic, and that certainly seems to have been the case with the Whale.

Brandon Mashinter fires home his first Whale goal, beating Manchester's Peter Mannino.

Brandon Mashinter fires home his first Whale goal, beating Manchester’s Peter Mannino.

I always liked Mashinter when he played against the Wolf Pack/Whale for Worcester, a versatile combination of size, great shot, pretty decent wheels and a mean streak, and it seems like the change of scenery has been exactly what the doctor ordered for him.  The 6-4, 230-pounder didn’t make a big impact his first two games, but since then has points in four straight, and now has more points, six, in six games with the Whale than he had in 30 games with the Sharks.

Ferriero, meanwhile, had four goals and 18 points in 34 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, in his first year with the Pittsburgh organization after three seasons with San Jose, mostly as Mashinter’s teammate in Worcester.  Not terrible numbers, but nothing like the 16-19-35 in 41 games that Kolarik had with the Whale.  Ferriero acquitted himself well in his one game with the Whale, though, earning an assist on the first goal of Friday’s 4-1 win over Manchester, and then promptly got himself called up to the Rangers, who were down to 11 healthy forwards when Chris Kreider injured an ankle.

The parent club apparently was ready to sign 38-year-old forward Jason Arnott, but that deal has been scotched by health issues.  Not seeing anything on the rumor mill right now about other targets, but from the quotes that have come out in the New York media, it certainly seems as though the Blueshirts will continue to look around for proven sources of forward depth.  Can’t see them going too long with no extras available up front.

In addition to Mashinter’s contributions, another Brandon, that being Segal, put up some key points in last week’s three wins, including the overtime game-winner with 57 seconds left Wednesday against Adirondack, the Whale’s first win in six OT games on the year.  That drew a huge sigh of relief from the Whale side, after a seemingly comfortable 5-1 lead slipped away in the last 27 minutes or so of that one and the Phantoms tied it with 21 seconds left in regulation.

Defenseman Mike Vernace, too, has suddenly found a groove offensively.  Vernace, who was the odd man out on the Whale defense right before the lockout ended and sat out four times in an eight-game stretch at the beginning of the month, has seven points in the last six games and scored the game-winner on a five-on-three second-period power play Saturday against Springfield.  That was his second goal in three games, after the seventh-year pro lit the lamp only once in his first 35 appearances of the year.

The Whale power play was 2/4 in that Wednesday win over Adirondack and has generated six goals in the last four games, after producing only three in the previous 12 games and six in the previous 20.

Whale Roster Shakeup

January 17, 2013

The Whale lost one forward named Brandon, so they had to go out and pick up another.

Brandon Segal was recalled Wednesday afternoon by the Rangers, who had only 12 forwards on their roster, one of whom, Brad Richards, had missed three days of practice with a flu bug.

Then, the parent club swapped second-year forward Tommy Grant to San Jose for fellow big winger Brandon Mashinter, a fourth-year vet who goes 6-4 and 230 pounds.

Mashinter skated in practice with the Whale this morning, on a line with J.T. Miller and Chad Kolarik, and when I asked Ken Gernander for his thoughts on his newest player, the Whale head coach responded, “A couple of years ago, right when he came out (of Junior hockey), he was a real effective, impact player.  He’s a big, physical guy, he’s net-front on special units, can tip some pucks and put in some rebounds because he’s got good hands for his size.  Size is an area where we could bolster our lineup, so we’re looking for him to be a good forechecker and finish some hits, and all around, be a pretty strong power forward.”

Brandon Mashinter (photo courtesy of Worcester Sharks)

Brandon Mashinter (photo courtesy of Worcester Sharks)

And on the loss of Grant, who was tied for third on the team with nine goals, playing mostly in a fourth-line role, “He scored some unexpected goals for us.  When you can get scoring off your fourth line, that’s always a bonus, but I don’t know that Tommy had the special-teams roles or the diversity that Mashinter’s going to bring to our team.  So for us, I feel it’s a pretty decent trade.”Undrafted despite his good size, Mashinter was signed as a free agent by the Sharks in March of 2009, as he was finishing up a 34-goal season in the Ontario Hockey League between the Kitchener Rangers and the Belleville Bulls.  He then scored 22 goals and had 117 penalty minutes in first pro year, 2009-10, with Worcester.  His goal totals the last two seasons have been 14 and 16, and he got into 13 NHL games last year with San Jose.

Mashinter’s size and strength will be especially key with the loss of Segal, who brought the most consistent down-low physicality of any of the Whale forwards.

Well, that’s a Little Bit Better…

January 15, 2013

Man, hockey can be a strange game.

The Whale came into Portland Tuesday fresh off one of their poorer games of the year, a 5-0 loss in Hershey in which they were effectively out of the game by the end of the first period, having given up three power play goals and fallen behind the Bears 4-0.

The Pirates, by contrast, were on a roll that had seen them win four straight, seven out of eight and 13 out of 15, and were going for their ninth consecutive home win, which would have been a franchise record.

Photo courtesy of Portland Pirates/Ron Morin

Photo courtesy of Portland Pirates/Ron Morin

So what happened?  Of course, everything went the Whale’s way, save for a fluke bounce on the Pirates’ only goal, and Connecticut left town with a 6-1 win under their belts.

Granted, the Pirates’ roster was significantly different than the one the Whale faced the last time the two teams met, which was a game on New Year’s Eve in Portland that the Whale led 3-0 going into the final minute-and-a-half of the second period, only to fall apart and lose 4-3.  The end of the NHL lockout cost the Pirates dynamic their leading scorer, Alexandre Bolduc, third-leading point-getter Andy Miele and a trio of blueliners, dynamic point producers Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Rundblad and hard-shooting Michael Stone.

Still, Portland had dominated their previous two games, winning in Bridgeport and Worcester, without all of those guys, and Pirate goaltender Mark Visentin had won six straight starts, with a goals-against average of 1.64 and a 95.3% save percentage over that span.

The Whale penalty-kill looked like it couldn’t get out of its own way Sunday, but it scored shorthanded on Portland’s first power play of the night Tuesday, and would end the evening six-for-six with a pair of shorties.  Again, go figure.

Kris Newbury had gone without a point in three straight games, allowing Chad Kolarik to catch him for the team points lead, and hadn’t scored a goal in 10 games, but seemed to have much more of a shooter’s mentality Tuesday and was rewarded with a pair of goals.  Kelsey Tessier, who scored the first of the two shorthanders, his first pro shorthanded tally, has two of his five goals on the year in the last three games, and Logan Pyett also scored, giving him four points (1-3-4) in the last four games and six, including two goals, in the last eight, since he sat out a pair of games as a healthy scratch.

Andrew Yogan picked up an assist for the second time in three games since he was brought back from Greenville, and Dylan McIlrath got the primary helper on Newbury’s second goal, for McIlrath’s first pro point.  Christian Thomas took a page out of his roommate McIlrath’s book by getting into his first pro fight, a spirited tilt with Brett Hextall in the third period.  That was a matchup of progeny of ex-NHL stars, as Thomas, as most Whale fans know, is the son of long-time NHL sniper Steve Thomas, and Hextall’s dad is none other than the extremely feisty former goaltender Ron Hextall.

Speaking of goaltending, not to be forgotten is the bounce-back effort Tuesday of Cam Talbot, who was the victim of that early meltdown in Hershey on Sunday.  Talbot was sharp from the get-go in Portland, and only a bad break, on a point shot that went wide and then went off the back boards, hit Talbot’s pad as he slid over and found its way into the net, separated him from a shutout.

The Whale couldn’t buy a goal their first two games against Portland, both at home.  They scored a grand total of one goal in those games, and that came with barely 30 seconds left in the first one.  Then they coughed up that seemingly comfortable lead in the third game of the season series, and it was starting to look as though the Pirates really had their number.  No hint of a collapse Tuesday, though, and all of a sudden the Whale are now quietly on a 3-1-1-1 run in their last six games.  Maybe not enough to strike fear in the hearts of the league’s top teams just yet, but reasonably encouraging nonetheless.

John Tortorella on Chris Kreider

January 14, 2013

Saw some interesting quotes from John Tortorella today, in a blog post by The Bergen Record‘s Andrew Gross, about Chris Kreider’s situation.  Certainly doesn’t sound like Tortorella is guaranteeing Kreider a spot on the team, but he is also careful to say that he doesn’t think Kreider is expecting a guaranteed spot.

 

From the Bus back from Hershey…

January 14, 2013

And a quiet one it is, after a fairly ugly 5-0 loss to the Bears in the second of the back-to-back games between the two clubs at Giant Center in Hershey.

I didn’t see this one coming, after the Whale played pretty well in Saturday night’s game against the Bears, controlling much of the play and battling hard in a 4-3 shootout loss.

Things went bad almost from the beginning on Sunday, with Hershey scoring 42 seconds in and then the Whale hamstringing themselves with penalty troubles.  The Bears built more and more momentum as the period wore on, scoring three power-play goals to build a 4-0 advantage and dominating in all areas.

Photo by JustSports Photography

Photo by JustSports Photography

Hershey had a somewhat different look Sunday than Saturday, with Ryan Potulny, Mattias Sjogren and Mathieu Beaudoin in the lineup after not playing Saturday, and long-time NHLer Tom Poti appearing out of nowhere to suit up for Hershey on a conditioning assignment from Washington, but I didn’t think that would be enough to make the two games look so radically different.  Hershey was playing its third game in three days too, and the Whale hadn’t played on Friday night.

Now it’s about four-and-a-half hours back from Hershey, and then right back out again Monday, heading to Portland for a Tuesday-night battle with the Pirates.

The Pirates lost four important players, defenseman Michael Stone and David Rundblad and forwards Alexandre Bolduc and Andy Miele, to recall to the parent Phoenix Coyotes, but still beat Worcester on the road, 3-1.  With the official opening of NHL training camps today, the transactions were coming fast and furious, and the Pirates were not the only team that got hit pretty hard.  No doubt there is going to be a ton of roster juggling over the next couple of weeks, as the NHL teams scramble to get the season started, and the Whale have to consider themselves fairly lucky to have lost only two players, Chris Kreider and Matt Gilroy, to the Rangers so far.

Gilroy was playing with the Whale on an AHL contract, so he had to be released from that before he could sign a free agent deal with the Rangers, and now would have to clear waivers if the organization wanted to send him back to Connecticut.

One interesting bit of minutiae from what was a fairly forgettable game Sunday…it was the first time in franchise history that the Whale/Wolf Pack had ever fallen victim to a shared shutout.  Dany Sabourin played the first period and got banged up in a get-together with Kris Newbury, and had to be replaced by Philipp Grubauer to start the second.  The only other shared shutout in franchise history was one during the Calder Cup year of 1999-2000 in which J.F. Labbe and Milan Hnilicka combined to blank the Philadelphia Phantoms in a late-season game in Philly.

Uneventful Weekend

January 7, 2013

Not much going on in the first weekend of the new year, just the settlement of the NHL lockout, a World Junior gold medal for the USA and five out of six points for the Whale, with both of the wins by shutout.  Ho hum.

Closest to home, the turn of the year is one of those signposts in the season that you think about for a few minutes, but obviously doesn’t really have any significance relating to how a team plays on the ice.  On the other hand, when you get past January 1 you see the halfway point of the season and the all-star break bearing down on you pretty quickly, and I imagine teams that have struggled, as the Whale certainly have for much of this campaign, at least subconsciously think of the new year as an opportunity for a fresh start.

The Whale certainly played like that was their mindset this weekend, and it translated into two shutout wins and an overtime loss in three games, after the Whale had not previously held an opponent off the scoreboard all year.

Don’t want to go overboard here…it’s not like the Whale dominated the games—they were outshot by nearly a 2-1 margin, 35-18, Sunday against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and allowed 36 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Glens Falls—but, whereas we have seen so many times this year the Whale find a way to make just enough mistakes to lose, this weekend they had the look of a team that was confident that they were going to find a way to win.

Of course, getting excellent goaltending makes you a threat no matter what else is going on, and the Whale’s netminding was unassailable in the first three games of 2013.  Cam Talbot stretched his streak of consecutive starts to 14, just four shy of J.F. Labbe’s 1998-99 franchise regular-season record, with a 25-save whitewash of the Phantoms on Friday and 34 more stops Saturday, before Jason Missiaen came through with easily his best AHL performance so far on Sunday.

The Whale were helped that day by the first reverberation of the end of the lockout, as the Penguins sat out two of their top forwards, leading scorer Beau Bennett and big winger Eric Tangradi, and Robert Bortuzzo, reportedly their most consistent defenseman, but Connecticut was short too, as banged-up forwards Marek Hrivik and Chris Kreider both had to be scratched after the warmup, leaving the Whale one skater short of the normal roster limit of 18.

Missiaen had not been in a game since returning to the Whale December 23 from a week with Greenville, and his last AHL appearance was 33 minutes of mop-up duty in relief of Talbot December 8 in Manchester, that gruesome 9-2 loss to the Monarchs.  The 6-8 AHL rookie was anything but rusty Sunday, though, and he frustrated a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton club that still iced a pretty dangerous lineup, even without the players that were scratched in anticipation of heading to training camp with the parent Pittsburgh club.  Trevor Smith had 26 goals for the Calder Cup-champion Norfolk Admirals last season, Warren Peters is a former 20-goal guy in the AHL, and defensemen Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin and Dylan Reese all are known as guys who will regularly chip in at the offensive end.

Jason Missiaen

Jason Missiaen

Missiaen was unyielding, however, and a Whale club that has been the most generous in the league in goals-against for most of the season all of a sudden has been unblemished defensively in 12 periods out of the last 16 (not counting Saturday’s OT), and has risen to 25th in the league in goals-against per game, at 3.11.

With Missiaen holding the fort in the twine, all the offense Sunday was provided by Kyle Jean, who took advantage of the extra ice time necessitated by the shortage of forwards to step up for his first two-goal game as a pro.  After an eye-opening start, Jean had experienced some rough sledding, managing only one goal and five assists in 27 games after producing 4-5-9 in his first seven pro outings, but he was dynamic on Sunday, powering home a pinpoint shot through a Micheal Haley screen on a first-period power play and hooking the puck deftly out of a net-front tangle and slipping it into the cage just short of the midway point of the second frame.

It was a well-timed reemergence by Jean, as J.T. Miller figures to be back in a Whale jersey for this weekend’s trip to Hershey, if he doesn’t go straight to the Rangers for the run-up to the start of the truncated NHL season.  With Miller having excelled in the middle after having been moved from left-wing at the end of November, a resurgent Jean would give the Whale some real oomph at the center position, although all personnel bets are sort of off at this point, until it becomes clear what the Rangers are going to do when they start camp (seems really weird to be talking about something like that at this time of year, doesn’t it?).

Still can’t say enough about the effort by Miller and his USA teammates over in Ufa, Russia, rising up from the brink of a round-robin ouster to roll through two medal-round games and eventually outlast a solid and fast Sweden team in the gold medal match.  They battled through some growing pains and hit a great stride just at the right time, and were clearly the best team in the tournament by the end of it.

It’s already been a great development year for Miller, what with being able to play in the AHL as a 19-year-old, consistently elevating his play throughout the first half of the Whale season and now being one of the biggest contributors to a great international success for USA Hockey.  Can’t wait to see where he takes it from here, as he returns from the World Juniors to the pro ranks.

And what a relief that the NHL CBA mess finally got settled, short of a second lost season in nine years.  Still waiting on details to emerge on when exactly camps will start, how many games the season will be, what they will do about the trade deadline, etc., but just the fact that there will indeed be NHL hockey this year after all definitely lifts a pall of gloom from the entire sport.

Now the interesting question from a local perspective will be what effect the start of the NHL season will have on an AHL campaign that is already almost half complete.  Some of the AHL clubs that have been powerhouses so far, like Oklahoma City, figure to get pretty thoroughly cleaned out, but it is less clear how much teams that haven’t been loaded up with erstwhile NHLers will be impacted.  As I wrote earlier in this piece, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s playing roster was clearly affected Sunday by the impending needs of the parent club, and word is coming from around the league of other teams shutting down key players who are heading shortly to NHL camps.  Have not heard anything about who from the Whale might be going to camp with the Rangers, but Larry Brooks of the New York Post is reporting that the parent club will summon Hrivik, Kreider, Haley and Matt Gilroy.  Also have not seen any mention of what will happen with Wade Redden.  With talk of amnesty buyouts, wouldn’t be surprised to see him be subject to one of those, but it sounds like that is not going to be allowed to happen with anyone until the end of the season.

Interesting times, and it’s going to make for a crazy next month or so, that’s for sure.

Miller, Team USA, get it Done!

January 5, 2013

Great job by J.T. Miller and his U.S. National Junior Team cohorts, who finished off a tremendous World Junior Championship run with a 3-1 win this morning over defending-champion Sweden to capture the WJC gold medal in Ufa, Russia.

It was a tight game all the way, and Sweden actually scored first, but the U.S. eventually pulled it out, with Miller making the late defensive play in his own zone that sent Vince Trocheck away for the game-clinching empty-netter.

That victory capped off a classic case of getting hot at just the right time, for a USA squad that lost three of its first four round-robin games and faced a must-win situation against Slovakia in their last game of the round-robin just to reach the medal round.  Miller and his mates came up big in that game, trouncing the Slovaks 9-3, the start of a three-game stretch in which the U.S. outscored its opposition by a combined margin of 21-4 on the way to the gold medal game.

(Photo courtesy of usahockey.com)

(Photo courtesy of usahockey.com)

The contest against Sweden was quite a bit different than the way the offense flowed in the Slovakia game, a 7-0 victory over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals and the statement 5-1 triumph over Canada in the semis, and the U.S. needed a couple of distinctly ugly goals by Rocco Grimaldi in the second period to bring them back from that 1-0 deficit.  Once they got the lead, though, the USA seemed to play a smart game and kept the prime chances-against to a relative minimum.  When they did give one up, goaltender John Gibson was there.  He made 26 saves in the game and captured tournament MVP honors, with a 1.36 goals-against average and glittering 95.5% save percentage.

Miller, for his part, shone for the USA as an assistant captain and one of the group’s key older players.  The assist on Trocheck’s open-netter was Miller’s seventh helper of the tournament, which tied him for second-most among all tourney skaters.  Overall, Miller finished with nine points, adding two goals to those seven assists, and that was good for a tie for the U.S. team lead and for fifth overall in the tournament.

The gold medal was the third ever in the USA’s World Junior Tournament history, and all three have had a distinct Whale/Wolf Pack presence.  In addition to Miller’s contributions this year, Al Montoya backstopped the U.S. to the 2004 WJC title before moving on to the Wolf Pack crease two years later, and Ryan Bourque and Chris Kreider were both regulars for the 2010 USA squad that knocked off Canada in overtime of that year’s gold medal game.

It’s a long trip back stateside now for the boys, but I have to think that the excitement of winning gold, especially the way they did it with the great late charge, will be enough to keep them all on a high as they go back to their regular teams.  Miller was playing pretty darned well for the Whale before his departure, and it will be interesting to see how much more jump he has in his step when he returns to the AHL.

In any case, congratulations, J.T., on a great accomplishment and look forward to getting you back in a CT Whale jersey!