Sunday, November 28, 2010

Whale Rides Wave Of Huge Crowd To Shootout Win In Connecticut Debut

Last night in Hartford was the debut performance of the Connecticut Whale and regardless of the outcome of the hockey game the support given by the fans on this night would have made it a victory for the franchise.  On the night the attendance figure was 13,089 which was the second highest total in history for an AHL game played in Hartford only trailing 14,115 fans that were there on January 24, 1998.  Obviously this was just one game, but there are NHL franchises that would do anything to have that kind of attendance figure pop up on a nightly basis and is why whenever there is talk of relocating teams Hartford is a place that a lot of people will discuss as getting a return of the NHL.

Now for the game itself in the end the Whale would avenge the loss their former brand the Wolf Pack suffered the night before at the hands of Bridgeport Sound Tigers.  The game the night before had an embarrassing end as the club would turn a sure victory and a 3-0 lead in the final 7 minutes of action into a 4-3 SO loss, which is chronicled here.  This game just as the one the night before would go to OT and eventually a shootout with the final result being the key change as the Whale would take it 3-2.

Saturday’s crowd was second only in franchise annals to an attendance of 14,115 for a game against Springfield on Jan. 24, 1998 – and Baldwin got special enjoyment when Jeremy Williams beat goalie Nathan Lawson high to the glove side to give the Whale a 3-2 shootout victory, their first in four tries this season.

The play was pretty uneventful early on in the first as both teams played solid defensively and limited the chances they would allow the opponents.  Stu Bickel who was just acquired for the much maligned Nigel Williams would be involved in the first fight for the Whale franchise against Olivier Labelle at 10:59 of the opening period.  The fight itself was not much to watch other than one solid right by Bickel that landed and then a wrestling match broke out with Bickel taking Labelle down to the ice though I guess it counts as a victory for Bickel.

The Whale offense certainly was not shy about putting the rubber on the net as they would fire 45 shots on the night at goalie Nathan Lawson.  The best line of the night for the Whale was that of Brodie Dupont, Jeremy Williams and the newly acquired Oren Eizenman.  Eizenman was making his debut after being acquired for future considerations this week from the Columbus Blue Jackets farm team; Syracuse Crunch.  The line would create chances like Eizenman’s wraparound attempt that Lawson would stick aside.

Similar to yesterday’s game the team would dominate the second period putting on consistent pressure but Lawson was up to the task early on.  The biggest save of the night for Chad Johnson may have come just past the midway point of the period as coming out of the penalty box Olivier Labelle was sprung on a breakaway and tried to beat Johnson on the backhand to the blocker side but Johnson stood his ground, waited out the shooter and got the blocker on the shot.

Late in the period Brodie Dupont would finally break the seal on the scoreboard at 15:00 when he would deflect a Stu Bickel point shot by Lawson.  That goal will give Dupont a place in Whale and trivia history as the first goal scorer ever for the franchise.  The goal was also big for Brodie Dupont as a hockey player because he has struggled so far this season as the goal would only be his 2nd of the year in 19 games.  A key play on the goal that will not show up on the boxscore was the pinch in by Tomas Kundratek that let the play cycle back behind the net to Devin Didiomete before eventually heading back to the point for the Bickel shot and Dupont deflection.  At the end of two the score was 1-0 Connecticut but shots were a much more dominant 29-11.

Early in the third Rhett Rakhshani, who was critical to the Bridgeport comeback the night before, tied it at 1 6:22 in.  The play was a defensive breakdown and then a deflection off the skate of Rangers fan favorite Wade Redden’s skate right to Rakhshani on the doorstep who beat Johnson.   Later in the period the afore mentioned Eizenman would make his debut a memorable one as he would score the go-ahead goal at 14:05 of the period.  The play on the goal was beautiful as Rangers top defensive prospect Ryan McDonagh would feed Dupont who would lay a perfect tape to tape pass on the stick of Eizenman for the redirection passed Lawson and the 2-1 lead. 

Just as was the case only one night earlier the Whale would not be able to close out a lead late in the game as with 2:12 remaining Anton Klementyev would beat Whale defender Jared Nightengale and forward Kris Newbury to a rebound in front and then put the puck through Chad Johnson to tie the game at 2.  Giving up a late goal again could have created a here we go again type atmosphere for the Whale who have been very bad this year in one goal games, but they would find a way to get to the shootout.

In the shootout Chad Kolarik would score and Chad Johnson would stop each of the first four attempts for the Sound Tigers leaving Jeremy Williams with a chance to end it all and he did by shooting high glove on Lawson and sending the huge crowd into a frenzy over the win.

The Whale would win the game, but once again the story was the crowd and how that huge crowd would help the club rebound from moments of adversity that might have taken this team down on other nights.  So to the fans who came out I send a stick salute and expect the same to be the case this evening when the Whale play the Adirondack Phantoms at 5pm.  Adirondack has been awful this season and with a win the Whale can possibly move out of the basement of their division.

highlights of the game below.