Archive for January, 2014

Fast Cranking at Healthy Scoring Pace

January 30, 2014

Here’s a feature on Jesper Fast that I just posted to the Wolf Pack’s official website, www.hartfordwolfpack.com:

A Hartford Wolf Pack offense that was among the least potent in the AHL for much of the first half of the season has suddenly broken out for a total of 18 goals in its last four games, and the one individual who has been the biggest contributor to that is Swedish-born rookie Jesper Fast.

Fast has only played in 19 of the Wolf Pack’s first 42 games, due to the fact that he started the season with the parent New York Rangers, suiting up for eight NHL contests, and then suffered a high ankle sprain in his third game with the Wolf Pack, missing 14 games.  After his return December 20, the 22-year-old winger managed only two goals and five points in his first ten games, but then went on a run that saw him score six times in the next five games, including back-to-back two-goal outings.Action Shot for Blog - 01-30-14

“We thought we’d have a good player in Jesper Fast when he came to us, and then unfortunately he got injured right away,” Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander said earlier this week.  “And everybody thinks when you’re cleared to play (after being injured), you’re a hundred percent and firing on all cylinders, and the reality is, he missed six weeks, and it’s not like you have a training camp and you get to build to a return to the lineup.  It took him a little bit of time to get his feet underneath him, but now he’s returned to form.”

Fast agreed with his coach’s assessment that being back to full health was the biggest single factor in his hot streak, saying, “My body feels good, I’ve been working hard to get back.  It’s just having a good time out there and playing with some good guys.  It’s good to start to get some points.”

Those “good guys” are linemates J.T. Miller and Ryan Bourque, with whom Fast has formed a trio that has combined for 13 points in the Pack’s last four games, three of which have been wins.  According to Gernander, Fast’s hockey smarts are one of the biggest keys to the line’s success.

“I think Jesper Fast is someone that always makes his linemates better,” the Pack bench boss said.  “He does all the little things, he’s very intuitive, has real good hockey sense.  So I think he’s kind of a stabilizing influence for that line, and his chemistry with J.T. gives J.T. a little bit more liberty to try things offensively, knowing full well that you’ve got a guy that can read off you, both offensively to jump into holes, and also defensively if need be.”

Miller said of Fast, “He’s a tremendous player, he’s got a lot of upside.  He’s not very big, but he definitely makes the most of it, and he plays like a big guy.  He’s always being physical and initiating the contact, and obviously he’s pretty hot right now, we’ll try to keep getting him the puck.  He’s a big part of our offense right now and a big part of the team’s success.”

That physical part of the game has always been a strength for Fast, despite his relatively slight stature, at six feet and 185 pounds.  He has scored most of his AHL goals from the high-traffic area right around the net, and that was the case for him on the bigger ice surfaces in Europe as well.

“I’ve always tried to be around the net, where it all happens,” Fast said.  “That’s where you have to be if you want to score goals.

“There are more battles here (in North America).  It’s a smaller rink, so there are a lot of battles out there.  I think it fits my style pretty well on the small rink.  Of course it’s an adjustment here, but I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable out there.”

As far as his synergy with Miller, Fast’s comment was, “I like playing with him, he’s a really skilled player, he can protect the puck.  I think he brings a lot of attention on himself, so it gives me some extra space when he gets the puck.”

“We have a good forechecking line, with speed, with Bourquie and Jesper,” said Miller, “and I try to get in there and use my size and just try to find people open, and obviously the power play’s been really good lately.  We’ve just got to make sure we keep capitalizing on those chances, but I think most of our success comes off the rush and the forecheck.

“We have a little bit of everything on the line right now.  Everybody can play, with their skill, and everybody can shoot the puck and play offense, but they’re (his linemates) both defensively responsible and it makes it easier on me, and that’s a huge part, when you’re spending less time in your zone.”

Fast summarized, “We all three work hard.  I think we know each other, what we’re good at, just work hard and use what we’re good at.”

Gernander has counted on the Bourque-Miller-Fast line in all situations, but Fast has been particularly dangerous on the power play.  Three of his six goals in his recent run have come in man-advantage situations, part of a Pack power play streak of six goals in three games.

“We talked a little bit about it, and we can’t just let the puck go around, we have to shoot the puck and create second chances from the rebounds,” Fast said of the power play.

The right-handed-shooting Fast has found home in the left circle in the Wolf Pack power-play setup, looking either to get open for cross-slot passes from Miller, or get to the net for tips and rebounds.

“I don’t have to stay and wait for the puck, I feel comfortable there (on the left side),” Fast said.  “I have to be ready for the shot and find a spot to get open, but those guys make some good plays out there, so it makes it a lot easier for me.”

Fast’s scoring exploits lately have made things much easier on the Wolf Pack as a team, leading to the club’s most positive streak since the first two weeks of the season.  If the gritty Swede can sustain his current level of play, his ascent back to the NHL should be, well, fast.

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Wolf Pack Showing Signs of Offensive Life

January 27, 2014

I hadn’t truly realized how hard a time the Wolf Pack has had scoring goals this year until I noticed that Oscar Lindberg’s two-goal game in Friday’s 5-2 win over Springfield was only the second multiple-goal game a Pack player had put up all season, and the first since J.T. Miller had two tucks in the second game of the year!

Also, Friday night was only the third time the Wolf Pack had scored as many as five goals in a game, and Sunday’s 6-3 win at Adirondack marked the first time all season that the club has gotten to six.

The good news is, the Pack showed definite indications this weekend that the offense is coming around.

The club had been last in the league in goals-scored-per-game pretty much since Christmas, but 18 goals in the last five games has jumped Ken Gernander’s group up to 27th in that category, and the power play is coming off of back-to-back two-goal games.

Jesper Fast

Jesper Fast

Individually, Jesper Fast has all of a sudden broken out into a relative frenzy of goal-scoring, Miller has strung together a six-game point-scoring streak and, not coincidentally, the defensemen who have habitually been good point producers, like Danny Syvret an Aaron Johnson, are suddenly ringing up some distinctly noticeable numbers.

Fast and Miller are the engines that are driving the resurgence, which has helped lead the Wolf Pack to wins in three of its last five games.  Fast, who had only two goals in his first 13 AHL games this year, now has six in his last five, and Miller has nine points, all but one of them assists, in the last six games.

Those two have played together on a line for most of the time that Miller has been back in the AHL, and they are starting to show the confidence of players that feel like they are going to cause the opposition serious problems every time they are on the ice.  Fast scored seven seconds off the opening draw, won by Miller, in Friday’s 5-2 win over then league-leading Springfield–the fastest goal I think I’ve ever seen off an opening faceoff and the quickest goal from the start of a period in franchise history–and then put up consecutive two-goal games Saturday against St. John’s (the only bright spot in an otherwise ugly 6-2 loss) and Sunday at Adirondack.

That Sunday game had the feel of a statement game by the Pack, in that they started it quite poorly, much like Saturday’s clunker, giving up a goal only 49 seconds in and falling behind 2-0, but turned the ship around nicely, getting better and better as the afternoon wore on.  Trailing 3-1 as late as the 18-minute mark of the second period, the Wolf Pack scored the last five goals of the game, including the winner by Fast with 4:41 left off a great shift with linemates Miller and Ryan Bourque.

J.T. Miller

J.T. Miller

Of course, I thought a couple of other recent Hartford wins, including Friday’s, were turnaround games too, and they were followed by depressing losses, so we’ll see, but I was very impressed with the way the team shook off the bad beginning Sunday and progressively took over the game.

Syvret had an empty-net goal and an assist Sunday in his old barn, and he now has a four-game point streak, in which he has two goals and six points.  Johnson, who was so prolific on offense in the season’s first month, has quietly put together a stretch in which he has seven points in six games.  He made a great slap pass to Marek Hrivik for the power-play goal that got the Pack to within 3-2 Sunday, with 1:39 left in the second.  It seems clear that both Syvret and Johnson are benefitting, statistically anyway, from several of the forwards getting on somewhat of a roll.

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson

On the other side, Danny Kristo, who is still the only Wolf Pack player in double digits in goals (14) and is tied with Johnson for the team lead in points with 26, has hit a rough patch.  The rookie winger was a healthy scratch in Sunday’s game, with the coaches clearly looking to send a message to the whole team about the unacceptability of Saturday’s collective performance.  Kristo, possibly feeling the effects of already being past the number of games-played that would comprise an entire college season, has been held to one goal and four points in his last ten games, and the Wolf Pack need him to rediscover his scoring touch in order to make a realistic run at a playoff spot.  How Kristo reacts to the comeuppance will be highly significant for the team, and could have a big impact on his individual career as well.

Wolf Pack Optimistic about Second Half

January 23, 2014

Here’s a feature I just posted to the Wolf Pack’s official website, www.hartfordwolfpack.com:

Friday night’s home game against the AHL-leading Springfield Falcons is the Hartford Wolf Pack’s 39th game of the season, meaning that the Pack are exactly halfway through the campaign.

And it almost goes without saying that club is hoping for much better things in the second half, after struggling to a 12-21-0-5 record through the first 38 games.

Danny Kristo

Danny Kristo

“I think we’re just going to try and regroup,” rookie forward, and team leading scorer, Danny Kristo said this week.  “It was obviously a frustrating first half we had as a team, but it’s not how you start it’s how you finish.  We’ve made a couple of roster moves and I think we got a couple of new guys who can really help us out, so we’re just going to try and go into the second half with a clean slate and start off hot with a couple of wins.”

As Kristo referenced, the Wolf Pack roster has undergone significant turnover in recent weeks.  Two veteran goaltenders, Dov Grumet-Morris and David LeNeveu, have been added, as has T.J. Hensick, an experienced forward who has scored at a better than a point-per-game pace over his more than 300 career AHL games.  On the other side of the coin, players who had been a fairly big part of the mix in the first half, such as Brodie Dupont, Kyle Jean, Jason Missiaen and Akim Aliu, were either released or moved down to the ECHL.

“I think they’re just showing that it’s unacceptable where we’re at right now,” Wolf Pack captain Aaron Johnson said of the moves that the organization made.  “The guys are going to need to take that and work even harder, find a way to get those extra points and show that they don’t want to be one of those guys that are going to get moved.”

Head Coach Ken Gernander said of the personnel shuffling, “It maybe would have been done sooner, but it’s really hard to find people at this time of year.  We knew we had needs that we had to address, but we didn’t want to just jump in and make a mistake either.  We wanted to get quality people, and not just a temporary fix, but something that we could build on moving forward.

“To some extent we had a lot of injuries in the first half, and that was a contributing factor as well.  You don’t want to kind of overstock your team, knowing full well that you were going to get some of these people back from injury.  So it was a little bit dicey as far as managing players and numbers and personnel in the first half, but now I think the moves we’ve made have really kind of shored things up, solidified certain positions and will allow us to have more success moving forward.

Ken Gernander

Ken Gernander

“I think the opportunity certainly exists to improve over the first half of the season,” Gernander continued, “from a growth perspective with a lot of our younger players, but also a personnel perspective.  We brought in Hensick, a little more offense up front, two goaltenders with some veteran AHL experience, and that should help shore up some of our things defensively.  So I expect a much improved team over the second half of the season.”

Johnson agreed that having the steadiness of Grumet-Morris and LeNeveu on the last line of defense is a help, but he would not point to goaltending as any kind of a weakness in the first half.

“I think we can count on all of our goalies, I think it’s really a matter of us playing well in front of them,” the veteran blueliner said.  “We’ve hung them out to dry in a lot of situations, you can only put so much on them.  It’s great to have their experience, but we can’t lean on them every game.  When we win hockey games it’s because we’re all playing, and when we lose hockey games we’re usually putting them in tough situations.  We need to play well in front of them.”

Kristo’s view of the roster overhaul from a rookie’s perspective was, “It’s been tough to see some guys go and have some new guys come in, but we’ve got good core leadership in our locker room, and the captains and leaders have done a good job helping those guys come in and helping them feel part of the team.  So hopefully those new guys can help us out, and we can just keep moving forward.”

That core leadership group that Kristo talks about is bolstered by the fact that goaltending is not the only position where the Wolf Pack boast a wealth of veteran experience.  In fact, the Pack are so seasoned a group that for most of the season, they have been over the AHL limit of five veterans with more than 260 games of NHL, AHL or European Elite League experience.  Included in that battle-tested crew are Johnson, Darroll Powe, Arron Asham, Danny Syvret, Micheal Haley and Hensick.

When asked what the older players are harping on to the team, Johnson replied, “Just sticking to the game plan and making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.  The hitters need to hit, the goal-scorers need to score, and we just try and pass that on.  If the young guys ever have any questions, they know they can talk to us, and I think we’ve done a good job with the young guys so far.”

As for how the younger players have responded to the pressures of the AHL, the captain said, “There’s always guys that you can see kind of flourish as the season goes along, and then there’s guys that struggle a little bit.  That’s just part of pro hockey, because we’re playing at an elite level here.  As the season goes further, there’s going to be guys that are going to do the same.  There’s going to be more guys that are going to step up, and more guys that need to find their niche.”

Kristo is one individual who has occupied an important niche, posting team-best totals of 13 goals and 25 points in 36 games, and he remains upbeat about his rookie season.

“I think it was a good first half,” Kristo said.  “Obviously you can learn something new every single day coming to the rink, especially in the games, you can learn game by game, day by day.  I thought it was a good first half for me, and I thought I got better as it went on, and hopefully I can keep that going into the second half.”

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson

Gernander, whose job it is to groom players for the NHL level, feels that it remains to be seen how much the youngsters on his team have grown in the first half.

“I think it’s going to depend on how they finish the season,” he said.  “What kind of progress we’ll see in the second half is going to be one telling sign of what they’ve learned, and what kind of progress they’ve made in the first half of the season, and certainly not everyone develops on the same pace.  We’re not looking to have players drafted one spring and NHL-ready that following fall.  It’s a process, and as long as they keep trending up, that’s what we’re here for.”

One positive that can be taken out of the first half of the season, according to Gernander, is that the team’s adversity has forced players to show quickly what they are made of.

“I think it gave opportunities to certain people, rookies or others, that maybe would not have been afforded to them right away,” he said, “and some people did take advantage of them, and are, because of that, being able to broaden their role on the team, and it’s actually expedited their development.

“I think it gave a number of players opportunity that maybe wouldn’t have been available to them right away, to either make a case for further responsibility and extra ice time, and for some of them it maybe pointed out some weaknesses in their game, or some areas of improvement that must be addressed.  And unfortunately for some of them, it’s going to be in Greenville (with the Wolf Pack’s ECHL affiliate).  For some others, it’s got to be addressed here, but I think it exposed certain weaknesses that guys can be improving upon.”

The Wolf Pack enter Friday’s game 16 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and with seven teams sitting between them and the eighth-and-final playoff berth in the conference.  If there is one clear consensus in the locker room and the coaches’ office, it is that the group must ignore that “big picture” and, as the old cliché goes, take one game at a time.

“That’s going to be the key for us, is to focus, really, on that which you can control, which would be that one game at present time,” Gernander said.  “You don’t look in the rear-view mirror and you certainly can’t look ahead to certain things, but if we can maintain focus on the task at hand and play some of our best hockey, I think it’s (a postseason berth) still within reach.”

Johnson pointed out that, “One of the good things about the American Hockey League is that you play a lot of those teams so much that you’re able to get those kind of four-point situations.  Right now we just take it of game-by-game, look at the team that’s ahead of us, work our way to get to that team and then kind of work our way towards the middle of the pack.  You can’t, unfortunately, get into the playoffs in one or two games, it’s going to take a while, but I think we’ve got the team that’s able to do it.

“At the start of the season I think we learned not to give up.  And in the second (quarter) I think we got a little comfortable and maybe didn’t play our game.  A lot of the games that we win, it’s when we play 60 minutes.  We get back to playing 60 minutes, we’ll win more hockey games.”

Kristo summed up the task at hand by saying, “You just have to go at it day by day and come to the rink every single day, if it’s a practice, game or whatnot, and just try to get better.  And going into each game, just focus on that game.  Don’t think about the three games on the weekend and who you’re playing, just focus on that day and who you’re playing that day.  And if you take it one day at a time, you never know what can happen.”

And…some additional quotes that did not make it into the story:

On the team’s goals for the second half:

Aaron Johnson:  “Just start like we started the season, really, get back to the way we were playing those first 20 games, playing not necessarily 60 full minutes but making sure that in the third period we were able to come back and learn how to win again.  I think we’ve learned a lot in the first half, and now it’s just taking that and moving forward.”

On what the team learned in the first half:

Danny Kristo:  “I think we had a lot of guys with injuries and a bunch of different guys in the net, but I think we learned that when we do play as a team, we can hang in there with anyone and we can play with anyone.  So hopefully we can bring that going forward into the second half of the season.”

On what positives can be taken out of the first half:

Johnson:  “I think our power play had good spurts, our PK’s (penalty-kill) had good spurts, and each line has kind of had their day in the glory.  So it’s just a matter of finding what works and sticking with that.”

Kristo:  “We stuck together.  If you look back to the start of the year, when we won seven or eight in a row, we know we still have that in us, it’s the same guys that we had at the start of the year that are here right now.  So we’ve still got that in us, and we’re going to try and bring that the second half of the season.”

Kristo on the longer season in pro hockey, compared to the college level:

“It’s different playing almost double the games than you’re used to, but the most fun part of the game is the game, coming to the rink with a smile on your face and getting to go out there and compete versus other teams, so I’m excited to keep it going for the second half.”

LeNeveu Back, with NHL Contract in Hand

January 23, 2014

Today saw David LeNeveu return to Wolf Pack practice, which was moved back two hours from its usual 10 AM start time, due to the fact that LeNeveu did not clear waivers until noon.

It had been a whirlwind 24 hours or so for the veteran goaltender, who found out Tuesday afternoon that he was headed to New York to back up Cam Talbot in that night’s Ranger game at Madison Square Garden against the Islanders.  Henrik Lundqvist was too ill to dress for the game, and even if the Rangers had wanted to go the route of bringing one of their NHL-contracted goaltenders, Jason Missiaen or Scott Stajcer, up from the ECHL, that was rendered impossible by the snowstorm that was covering the Northeast.

So the Rangers tore up LeNeveu’s AHL contract with the Wolf Pack, which he had only signed the previous Tuesday, and replaced it with an NHL deal.  That meant that in a span of less than two months, LeNeveu had gone from being a guy who was home in British Columbia without a place to play, to having an NHL contract, and presumably the status as the third goaltender in the organization, with the Rangers.

David LeNeveu, in warmups before Tuesday night's Ranger/Islander game at Madison Square Garden (Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

David LeNeveu, in warmups before Tuesday night’s Ranger/Islander game at Madison Square Garden (Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

“It felt good, because the decisions I made at the end of last season were directed at my goal of being back in the NHL,” LeNeveu said after today’s practice.  “And it was not the way, maybe, that we envisioned doing it, but at the end of the day, it turns out that things work in mysterious ways and it worked out right for us.  Looking back, I’m glad we did what we did, it just took a more circular route than I think I thought it was going to take, but at the end of the day, that was it.

“It was nice going up there and being a backup for a night, I enjoyed myself, but at the same time, the end goal is to stick.  So one step at a time, and I’ve got to do my job down here now.”

Thus far, those job duties have consisted of starting assignments in the Wolf Pack’s last two games, a 4-2 win at Adirondack Friday night and a 5-1 defeat in Bridgeport Sunday.

“I felt I was playing pretty well,” LeNeveu responded, when asked how he thought the first two games went.  “Everybody made some mistakes, I made some mistakes, in that second game.  That’s the way hockey goes, but it’s only two games.  We’ve got a long road ahead of us here still, so we’re looking forward to playing well down the stretch.”

Also on the goaltending, and things more important, front, Dov Grumet-Morris and wife Rachel finally welcomed their second child into the world on Sunday.  Dov and Rachel now have two daughters, and Dov told me that the plan is for Rachel and the girls to pull up stakes and join Dov in Hartford as soon as the doctors give the OK for the new baby to travel.

Stu Bickel (lower-body injury) remained off skates at today’s practice, but Justin Vaive looks like he is back to full participation, and Brendon Nash is back practicing as well.  Shawn O’Donnell took the full practice today, but without contact.

LeNeveu Lands Ranger Deal

January 21, 2014

From not having a job in late November to the NHL before the end of January…not a bad rebound by David LeNeveu.

So much of life is being in the right place at the right time, and, after being squeezed out of the goaltending market coming into this season, LeNeveu had his luck totally change this morning.  Henrik Lundqvist took sick and was deemed unable to dress for tonight’s New York Ranger home game against the Islanders, and that left the parent club in search of a backup goaltender.LeNeveu Action Shot

I wondered aloud in this space, when LeNeveu was signed last week and Jason Missiaen was dispatched to the ECHL, what the Rangers would do if they suddenly found themselves short a goalie.  LeNeveu signed an AHL contract with the Wolf Pack, and Hartford stablemate Dov Grumet-Morris is also on an AHL deal, so in order to recall a goaltender, the Rangers would either have to sign one of those two veterans to an NHL ticket or bring either Missiaen or Scott Stajcer all the way up to the Big Show from the ECHL.

Suddenly facing that exact situation, the parent club decided that using one of the three NHL contract slots they still had available on LeNeveu was the better option.  So not only did LeNeveu find himself an AHL gig to elevate him from the ECHL job he had scored in South Carolina, a week later an NHL deal falls into his lap.

What a great example of persistence paying off.  No one at all would have blamed the Cornell-educated LeNeveu if, at age 30 and after 10 full pro seasons, he had decided to pack it in when he found himself without a place to play at the beginning of the season.  He kept after it, though, took an ECHL job across the continent from his British Columbia home and his young family, and signed two PTOs with Providence before the Wolf Pack opportunity came up.

Now he has an NHL contract for the rest of the year and, at least for now, a position on the organizational depth chart as the Rangers’ third goalie.  Good story, and hopefully the source of some good karma for a Wolf Pack team that desperately needs some positive things to happen.

LeNeveu Excited to be Back with Wolf Pack

January 16, 2014

Here’s a feature I posted today on the Wolf Pack’s official website, www.hartfordwolfpack.com, on new/old Pack goaltender David LeNeveu.

With LeNeveu returning, the Pack now have a pair of veteran goaltenders on their second go-rounds with the franchise, LeNeveu and Dov Grumet-Morris.  They also are suddenly very experienced in net, after being extremely young there prior to Grumet-Morris’ arrival.

As you will read, it took LeNeveu until almost Thanksgiving to find a place to play this year, but since he hooked on with South Carolina in the ECHL in late November, he has been on a good roll.

His earlier tenure with the Wolf Pack was a quick snapshot, just 13 regular-season games and four playoff outings in 2007-08, but LeNeveu remembers Hartford as one of his favorite places.

Grumet-Morris Back, McIlrath Returns to Full Practice

January 15, 2014

Dov Grumet-Morris was back in the fold at the Wolf Pack’s practice today, but still had to hold off passing out any cigars.

The second Grumet-Morris baby has apparently still refused to make its appearance, with Grumet-Morris’ wife Rachel now a week-and-a-half past her due date.  Dov had rushed back to San Antonio on Saturday when the birth appeared imminent, his second trip in the span of a week, but things did not progress to the point of delivery, and today he was back on the job.  It doesn’t sound like anything is wrong, thankfully, but Mother Nature is not cooperating with the hockey schedule.

Dov Grumet-Morris

Dov Grumet-Morris

With Grumet-Morris back in town and David LeNeveu newly added to the Wolf Pack roster, Jason Missiaen was reassigned to Greenville.  Interestingly, both Grumet-Morris and LeNeveu are on AHL contracts, so if the Rangers were to need a goaltender, they would have to dip down into the ECHL and recall either Missiaen or Scott Stajcer, who was moved yesterday to the Florida Everblades.  That is, of course, unless they were to sign either Grumet-Morris or LeNeveu to an NHL deal.  According to capgeek.com, the Rangers currently have at least one NHL contract slot to offer of the 50 each team is permitted to carry at one time.

Here’s hoping Missiaen can find his game in the ECHL.  He’s a real hard worker and a real nice kid, and proved last year that at his best he’s a real good AHL goaltender, but right now he seems to be in one of those funks where the puck just won’t hit him, and the harder he tries, the worse it seems to get.  Tough to watch a good guy struggle, and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Missiaen can turn it around soon.

He and Stacjer will have to keep their phones handy too, in case Grumet-Morris gets called away again in the next couple of days to head to the delivery room.

Also notable today was that Dylan McIlrath returned to full practice.  The big D-man has been out since suffering a lower-body injury in the Pack’s last game before Christmas, December 21 against Springfield, and has been progressing nicely.  Haven’t heard it said yet that McIlrath is definitely returning to action this weekend, but it’s certainly looking like he has a good chance to do that.

Michael Kantor is also looking like he is ready to play, after sitting out the last two games.  Kantor was hurt for four games, and then got banged up again in his first game back, Friday in Worcester.  Brendon Nash, meanwhile, has started skating after practice, and Shawn O’Donnell is still off skates for now.

Wolf Pack Light up Transaction Wire

January 14, 2014

The Wolf Pack roster had already undergone some significant tweaks over the past couple of weeks, and it got shaken up again today.

The changes were mostly subtractions, but there was one addition, and a notable one at that.  After bringing back former Wolf Pack Dov Grumet-Morris in mid-December, the Pack signed another one of their exes today, 11th-year pro backstop David LeNeveu.  LeNeveu was with the Pack for 13 games back in 2007-08. Ken Gernander’s first season as head coach, after being acquired by the Rangers from Phoenix in the trade-deadline deal that sent Al Montoya to the Coyotes, and had a pretty good run down the stretch that season.  The former Cornell Big Red was 8-3-2 in those 13 outings, with a 1.83 goals-against average, a 92.4% save percentage and one shutout.

David LeNeveu, in 2007-08 action with the Wolf Pack

David LeNeveu, in 2007-08 action with the Wolf Pack

That was LeNeveu’s first experience outside the Phoenix organization, which drafted him in the second round in 2002.  That was after his freshman season at Cornell, where he had two of the best goaltending years in NCAA history.  The Fernie, B.C. native has been a well-traveled man since his first Wolf Pack stint, seeing further AHL action in Iowa, Springfield and Oklahoma City and playing two seasons in Austria.  This year he was out of action until signing an ECHL deal with South Carolina November 27, and quickly proved with the Stingrays that he can still play.  LeNeveu pitched shutouts in both of his first two ECHL outings, and totaled three shutouts, a 1.64 GAA and a 94.0% save percentage in eight games.

With LeNeveu joining the roster, Scott Stajcer was moved back to the ECHL, and to a new destination.  He’ll be joining the Florida Everblades, after playing the first eight games of his ECHL season with Greenville.  Grumet-Morris remained away from the team, having gone back to San Antonio to be with wife Rachel, as they await the arrival of their second child.  As I write this on Tuesday night, haven’t heard any word yet on whether the blessed event has yet occurred.

Along with Stajcer, also deleted from the Wolf Pack roster today was Kyle Jean, who was reassigned to Greenville, and Brodie Dupont, Akim Aliu and Sam Klassen, all released from their PTOs.

Dupont was hamstrung by the AHL veteran rule, with the Wolf Pack finding themselves with two extra veterans after adding T.J. Hensick.  Hensick’s arrival also made the Pack somewhat crowded with centers, which hurt both Jean’s and Dupont’s causes.  Also, the Wolf Pack and Rangers have never seemed to like to carry more than one or two extra players on the Pack roster, and with Michael Kantor getting healthy and Justin Vaive in for a look after a great start with Greenville, I think the feeling was there were just too many extra bodies around.  That’s a tough break for the likes of Dupont and Aliu, but with the way the Wolf Pack’s record has shaken out thus far, it’s certainly no surprise that the organization is shuffling up the deck.

Klassen has given the Wolf Pack some quality minutes, as he certainly did last year, and the fact that he is headed back to the ECHL seems to indicate that Dylan McIlrath is close to a return, and that Bretton Stamler has intrigued the coaches enough that they would like to get a bigger sample size to judge his long-term prospects.

Hensick is the kind of high-end player who could really make a difference in the Wolf Pack’s second-half fortunes, and I posted a feature about him today to the Wolf Pack’s website, at http://www.hartfordwolfpack.com/news/detail/hensick-pumped-to-be-back-in-ahl.

I wondered if the veteran pivot might be upset by his sudden waiver detour to Hartford, after he thought he was headed to Abbotsford, whose presence in the Western Conference would have meant more familiar ground for Hensick.  He was quick to say, though, that just the opposite was true, that he was flattered by the Wolf Pack and Rangers’ interest in him, and that he is excited to get a taste of life in the Eastern Conference, especially given the easier travel out this way.