Editors Note: Peter Hindle will be writing about the Connecticut Whale for Black and Blueshirts. Here’s his first post regarding who to look out for this season.
Most Ranger fans may have decided to take the advice of the media and expect an NHL lockout for at least part of the upcoming NHL season. You may even be asking yourself; what am I going to watch if there is no Ranger hockey?
There is some good news for Ranger fans in the event of an NHL lock out. There still will be Ranger hockey, and it’s just going to be AHL Ranger hockey. This is every Ranger’s fans chance to take a look at their teams future. You will have a heads up when the NHL returns on who can be a call up in case of an injury. You can have a heads up on possibly which Connecticut Whale players would be able fill in and become a Ranger full time.
The Connecticut Whale play in Hartford Connecticut in the XL Center, the old home of the Hartford Whalers. The team will begin their 16th season on October 12 against instate rival, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Sound Tigers are the New York Islanders top affiliate.
Every year except 2009-2010 the team has made the playoffs, they last won the Calder Cup in 2000 as the Hartford Wolf Pack. If you like players like Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Carl Hagelin, Michael Del Zotto and Stu Bickel then you might want to pay attention to the Whale. I think there are some opportunities for a few players to step up and maybe into the Ranger lineup in a few years.
Now the roster on an AHL club rotates like shark teeth or bus boys in a restaurant. A lot of players coming and going throughout a season, but there is always a good core. The Connecticut Whale roster is still incomplete but we do know some of the bright spots that will hit the ice this season already.
You may recognize the name Ryan Bourque, you definitely will recognize his hall of fame father, defenseman Ray Bourque. Bourque had some huge highlights last season and even played in a Bourque brother battle in Hartford twice last year. Bourque’s older brother, Chris Bourque was on the AHL’s Hershey Bears(Capitals) last season. The brothers’ father was at both games and was great to fans in the arena. One of the challenges Bourque has is trying to push guys off the puck that are much bigger than he is. At 5’9″ and 168 pounds Bourque is one of the smaller Whale players. He has great speed and takes advantage of it when the opposition isn’t looking. His speed also gives him the ability to get ahead of plays. Bourque is also one of the toughest guys on the ice. Plenty of larger opponent defenseman have thrown their whole body at Bourque against the boards in an attempt to rattle him off his game. Each time I have seen that happen Bourque gets up as if he was hit by a pillow. Never letting it look like he was hit hard. He is the same size as Mats Zuccarello but the difference is he is much more durable. Bourque didn’t hit the scoring sheet a ton of times in his first full season with the Whale. He still tallied 14 points in 69 games this past season. He really started to show improvement in last year’s playoff run as well. Bourque tallied 2 goals and 1 assist in nine playoff games last season.
Another Whale forward who is the same size as Bourque is Christian Thomas, who also has a hall of fame father. Do you remember Steve Thomas, whom played a great career most notably with the Blackhawks? Thomas got his start on the Whale late in the season. Thomas finished up a year with the Oshawa Generals, where he scored 34 goals and 33 assists in 55 games. In the few games he played for the Whale he appeared to have a tenacity. The ability to get open in the offensive zone. He is going to be one of the more anticipated players to watch. Thomas played in five regular season games totaling one goal and one assist. He will get into his first full season of AHL hockey in just a few weeks.
Last year the Whale also called up J.T. Miller. Miller scored 25 goals and 37 assists in 61 games for the Plymouth Whalers. Yes, that’s another team named after the Whalers. Miller is another addition that has Whale and Ranger fans excited. Miller was selected as the 15th player overall in the 2011 NHL entry draft. Miller played for the Whale last season and looked great in eight playoff games. He had a nose for the net and created a few scoring chances. At 6’1″ and 190 pounds he is big enough to rattle around the boards and protect his teammates.
You may not see this guy in New York real soon for a call up, but you never know. He certainly plays the game with a hunger and ferocity which makes him fun to watch. Scott Tanski was the Connecticut Whale’s most fiery competitor on the ice last season. He even looks fiery on the cool ice, Tanski has a full head of red hair that can be seen as a blur coming up and down the ice. Through 67 games last year Ranger fans watched the 6’1″ 192 pound forward throw his body into opponents while hustling for loose pucks and working on the Whale’s checking line. He is a grinder who skates like he doesn’t know how to quit. Tanski tallied 11 points last year but most of his amazing plays aren’t the kind the media records on the scoring sheet. However the fans notice and appreciate him. Tanksi also had a playoff goal in 3 playoff starts for the Whale.
One of the most interesting off season questions for the Rangers and Ken Gernander, who is coach of the Whale, is between two good goaltenders. They have to decide who is going to be called up to back up starting goalie Cam Talbot. It may be Jason Missiaen, who is a mountain of a goalie at 6′ 8″. Last year for the Greenville Warriors Missiaen registered a record of 22-13-3 with a GAA of 2.71. He also was the goalie who was called up when Chad Johnson experienced some injuries last year. Jason never played in any games last year.
The other choice is Scott Stajcer, who made a big impression to fans last year in the Traverse City Tournament. Stajcer, is not as big a goalie as Jason but at 6′ 2″ he is not so small either, I believe he is quicker too. Stajcer played for Greenville also, he had a record 10-11-6 with a 2.96 GAA.
Most games will fall around the weekends. The best promotion night this season is going to be Friday nights as AEG, the company that runs the XL Center and the marketing of the Connecticut Whale, is offering one dollar hot dogs and 2 dollar beers. This has made fans excited as prices for a beer and a hot dog at the XL Center were close if not the same as MSG. There are 11 Friday night games this year against a variety of top NHL affiliates.
If we do see a lock out remember there will still be Connecticut Whale hockey. The baby Rangers will play a 76 game season 38 of which will be right in Hartford less than two hours away from MSG. If you need that hockey fix you can check them out by coming to a game in Hartford or watching them on AHL TV. Over the last 16 years Hartford has been the home of future Ranger stars.