Start of Something Big ?
THE START OF SOMETHING BIG?
Apologies to Christmas enthusiasts, but “The most wonderful time of the year” is a matter of perspective, and in hockey they’re just reaching that time right now. Of course, that’s also a matter of perspective. The final push to the playoffs is underway and for teams who saved the best for last it can truly be the most wonderful time of year. Count the Connecticut Whale among the American Hockey League teams playing their best hockey at the best time. Last night at the XL Center the Whale claimed their fifth win in a six game homestand, a 3-0 gem over the Worcester Sharks behind the 29 save goaltending of Cam Talbot and the first pro goal from rookie defenseman Sam Klassen, who’s play at the offensive end stepped up considerably during the homestand. When the playoffs roll around you want teams to be intimidated about playing in your building and the Whale is 9-2-0-1 over their last 12 home games, which should strike fear in a lot of hearts if they finish off the run they started in March and sew up a playoff berth. Right now they’re playing like a team with just that in mind. “Everybody’s aware of the importance of these games and these points” said coach Ken Gernander after last night’s win, that gave the Whale sole possession of 6th place in the Eastern Conference, the top eight teams advancing to the post season, “And you look at where you’re opponents are in the standings”. Right now Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is a point behind the Whale with Hershey two points back. As for the last playoff berth in the East, right now the Whale hold a five point lead over Manchester. There’s two weeks of hockey left and with most teams in the battle for berths it’s easy to detect a sense of urgency, but there appears to be a feeling of calm around this team, perhaps a product of having a goaltending tandem of Talbot and Jason Missiean taking turns putting up golden streaks in net. “You think all these points are so important you’re going to go out and do whatever and make a lot of mistakes”, said right wing Brandon Segal, one of the steadying veteran influences on the team, “But we’re just playing poised hockey.” It’s been an unusual season in the AHL. With the early season job action in the NHL most teams stocked their minor league teams with two way players with NHL experience to keep them playing. The Rangers didn’t have an abundance of such players and Gernander thinks that element, which hurt the Whale early in the season when they played against teams stocked with a talent level above the AHL norm, is turning around and paying dividends. “We haven’t had to make that kind of adjustment”, says Gernander, “And it’s really helped us come together as a team.” It may be the most wonderful time of the year for the Connecticut Whale, in the thick of the AHL playoff race, but a lot of people are predicting it’s just a beginning. The Global Spectrum takeover of the team and the facility goes into effect in July and already Frank Russo has brought in a respected young arena manager from Binghampton to manage the XL Center and Rentschler Field amid speculation there will be a brand change in the offing for the Whale when the management switch is made, a lot of smart money on the Hartford or Connecticut Rangers, to complete the identity and make it a team for this team’s fans. In hockey it’s the most wonderful time of the year, in Hartford there’s a lot of optimism that it’s just the start of something even better than that. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.