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Hartford newspaper stuff

From: 210   210 is a registered live IceCat
Date: 30-Apr-04

IceCats' Style More Upbeat
April 30, 2004

End-to-end hockey is a rumor in many locales these days.

The trapping Portland Pirates like to frustrate the opposition into turnovers while looking to counterattack. The Wolf Pack were patient enough to thwart that strategy, especially Wednesday night when they scored four times in the third period for a 4-0 clinching victory in their Atlantic Division semifinal series.

The tempo should be more upbeat in the best-of-seven division finals against Worcester starting tonight at 7:05 at the Civic Center.

"They're going to come at us, so I think our defensive corps is going to have to play much better," Pack defenseman Lawrence Nycholat said. "We were kind of streaky at times against Portland, so a big key will be for us to be sound and get the puck to the forwards and let them go to work."

The Pack will be looking to limit turnovers, get their cycle going down low and get the puck deep on a Worcester defense that includes rookie Aaron MacKenzie and veterans Terry Virtue, Aris Brimanis, Jame Pollock and Christian Laflamme.

"They have a real mature group of defensemen who have played a long time and know how to win, so we're going to have to pressure them," Nycholat said. "And they have a good mix of skilled forwards and role players, so we have to make sure we match their intensity and grit."

That combination, plus goalie Curtis Sanford, led the IceCats to a 5-1-1-1 record against the Pack, including a 4-0 loss in Worcester Dec. 30 that matched their worst of the season. The Pack also lost 3-1 and 5-2 at the Centrum in the final eight days of the season.

"They've been a very patient team with us," Pack coach Ryan McGill said. "Their defense has made it tough on our forwards in our zone by really pressuring them to make plays.

"We haven't played real well against them, so it'll be a matter of tweaking a few things and having a real character gut check."

McGill did some tweaking in the third period Wednesday, moving captain Ken Gernander from center to wing alongside Benoit Dusablon and Alexandre Giroux and shifting rookie Ryan Cuthbert into Gernander's spot between Jed Ortmeyer and Garth Murray.

The IceCats eliminated Manchester 4-2, winning in triple overtime in Game 5 before a four-goal second period led to a 6-1 rout.

"There are a few areas we know we have to be better at that we talked about, but I don't think we should be overly concerned about the record [against Worcester]," McGill said.

Goalie Jason LaBarbera, whose 30 saves Wednesday produced his 15th shutout of the season and second in the series, said he didn't care about the Pack's record against Worcester.

"We beat Portland all year, and they gave us a pretty good run," LaBarbera said. "[The IceCats] are pretty gritty and are as speedy up front as just about anyone in the league, so I think there will be more attacking.

"We obviously feel we're just as good as they are, but for whatever reason, they had our number. But it's playoff time, so if we worry more about what we do than what they do, I think we'll be all right."

IceCats coach Don Granato said he doesn't put much credence in the IceCats' record against the Pack in the regular season.

"You can almost throw the home and road records away when it comes to this time of year," said Granato, who scouted the last two games of the Pack's semifinal victory over Portland. "You look at statistics in the regular season, and by December and January, there's a lot of truth to them, but not in the playoffs. It's a different game where a lot more goes into it. You're so conscious and ultra-sensitive about mistakes that sometimes one team tightens up and one knows they have to press hard."

Virtue, who helped Providence and the Pack win the Calder Cup in 1999 and 2000, agreed that the regular season means little.

"There were a lot of close games with Hartford, and we got a little lucky a few times when they had a big edge territorially and [we] got some real good goaltending from Sanford," Virtue said. "And we were always ready. When you play the No. 1 team, you get a little more excited, and I think everybody got a little more fired up.

"But the playoffs are a little different. You really have to do all the little things against them because they're a hard-working team. We'll have to be ready to play hard and weather their storm for the first period."

Pack Doings

Announcer Bob Crawford's "Pack Playoff Diary" of game summaries, information about players and a humorous take on the team's playoff journey is available at hartfordwolfpack.com and newyorkrangers.com. ... Center Benoit Dusablon and defenseman Jayme Filipowicz will host the Take It to the Next Level hockey camp June 14-18 at the Connecticut International Skating Center in Newington. Mites and squirts (ages 6-10) will skate daily from 5:30 to 6:50 p.m.; pee wees and bantams (11-14), from 7 to 8:20 p.m. The cost is $200 a person, with a $75 deposit due by May 21 and the balance by June 7. Contact Terry Kitchen at 860-281-4796 or nextlevel11@hotmail.com. ... Center Mike Harder, a member of the Pack's Calder Cup title team, scored the winner as Frankfurt won the German championship.


From: 210   210 is a registered live IceCat
Date: 01-May-04

Pack get jump on IceCats, take 1-0 lead

By JACK LAUTIER , Special to The Herald  05/01/2004
HARTFORD -- It’s tough to read too much into Game 1 of any best-of-seven series, but given the unusual schedule for this Atlantic Di-vision Final, the Hartford Wolf Pack accomplished what they needed to do.

Get a jump on the IceCats.

Friday’s 3-1 victory, highlighted by a pair of goals from Jed Ortmeyer and terrific work by Hartford’s penalty-killing unit (8-for-8), enabled the Wolf Pack to draw first blood in what figures to be a difficult series between two veteran hockey teams.

"It was pretty much a carryover from our last series (against Portland)," said Wolf Pack goalie Jason LaBarbera who had 27 saves in the game. "We were able to control the first two periods. We were able to play like we can."

Hartford’s focus was certainly much better than during the regular season where the IceCats out-scored Hartford 23-13 to dominate a series (5-2-1) on the strength of special teams -- nine power-play goals scored (in 41 chances) and a perfect 25-for-25 killing penalties.

But Ortmeyer, who found a niche killing penalties during an extensive stay with the parent New York Rangers, led Hartford’s charge out of the gate -- including a crushing hit on Jame Pollock, a defenseman who anchors Worcester’s power-play unit in the first period.

Overall, the Wolf Pack were aggressive to pucks, finished checks and made smart decisions killing penalties.

"We played as solid a game for one-and-a-half periods as we have all year, but we did take too many penalties today," Hartford coach Ryan McGill said.

In preparation for the series, McGill did stress to his players what needed to be done to counter Worcester’s man-advantage prowess.

"We did work hard on penalty-killing," McGill said."Worcester has skilled players who, if you give time, will make plays because they can move the puck pretty good."

"We had talked about that the last couple of days," Ortmeyer said. "To be successful against any power play, you need to disturb the flow (up ice) and Worcester likes to rush the puck.

"So by us being aggressive in their zone," Ortmeyer said, "it forced them to dump the puck. That gave time for Labs (LaBarbera) to stop it or for our defense to clear (the zone)."

Still, whatever edge secured by the Wolf Pack could vaporize immediately as the series now shifts to Worcester for the next two games -- tonight for Game 2 (7 p.m.) and Sunday (6 p.m.) for Game 3.

"Hartford is a good hockey team and they played really well," Worcester coach Don Granato said. "We’ve got to get ourselves going."

The IceCats, who played better once relocating their skating legs after a six-day layoff from eliminating Manchester in the division semifinals, may be without goalie Curtis Sanford and Pollock who didn’t play after getting rocked by Ortmeyer.

Following Friday’s game, Sanford had his right arm in a sling. He was unable to use his right hand to hold a fork as the IceCats had a team meal before heading home.

It’s possible that Sanford sustain a shoulder or wrist injury during a violent collision in the second period with teammate Aaron MacKenzie who crashed into the Worcester net in a desperate attempt to knock the puck away from Hartford’s Jozef Balej.

Balej intercepted a pass near the Worcester blue line and converted a short-handed breakaway at 8:56 as MacKenzie lunged at him from behind and careened into Sanford a split-second after Balej had scored.

Sanford left the game at that point, replaced by rookie Jake Moreland who spent the bulk of the year in the ECHL.He’s appeared in four games for Worcester -- three in relief.


From: 210   210 is a registered live IceCat
Date: 02-May-04

Perfect Pack Of Penalty Killers In Opener
May 2, 2004
By BRUCE BERLET, Courant Staff Writer

Jason LaBarbera had his record playoff shutout streak at home stopped in the final minutes, but that's about the only negative for the Wolf Pack Friday night.

LaBarbera came within 3:33 of his 16th shutout of the season and third in a row in the postseason, settling for a 3-1 victory over the Worcester IceCats in the opener of the Atlantic Division finals before 2,065 at the Civic Center.

"The guys set the tone right from the start," said Pack wing Jed Ortmeyer, who had his first two goals of the playoffs and helped killed all eight IceCats power plays. "We disrupted their flow [on the penalty kill]. We talked about being more aggressive and forcing them into making plays they weren't used to making. We were determined to get up the ice and make them dump the puck."

The IceCats were 5-1-1-1 against the Pack during the season thanks largely to being 9-for-41 on the power play, including 9-for-25 in the wins and tie, compared to 0-for-25 for the Pack. But the IceCats rarely got set up with the man advantage except during their third power play in the second. But Jozef Balej intercepted an Aris Brimanis pass and outracing Aaron MacKenzie to the puck, scoring shorthanded at 8:56 while being hauled down by the IceCats defenseman.

MacKenzie crashed into goalie Curtis Sanford, who was forced to the bench in favor of Jake Moreland and was sitting the locker room after the game with his right arm in a sling.

"The first period and a half was as solid as we've played all year," Pack coach Ryan McGill said. "You have to them credit in the third period for turning up the pace. We knew their defensemen were going to be in the rush, and they played real desperate."

The Pack impressed the IceCats, who had been off for six days since running their winning streak on the road in the playoffs to six games, including all three in a first-round victory Manchester. The Pack eliminated Portland 4-1 Wednesday.

"That's a good team that played really well," IceCats coach Don Granato said.

"They were still flying and we had six days off, but give them credit," MacKenzie said. "They could have said, `We played Wednesday and we're tired.' "

Brimanis prevented the first score at 25 seconds when he cleared Alexandre Giroux's bid off the goal line, then Jason LaBarbera came out to stop a wide-open Peter Sejna from 20 feet in front at 3:55. The Pack got a 5-on-3 power play for 1:35 but managed only one shot, then one more on the ensuing man advantage.

But the Pack began pressing hard off their cycle down low and broke in front when Jed Ortmeyer deflected Lawrence Nycholat's shot from the left point off Curtis Sanford and in at 14:26.

Belaj scored to make it 2-0, but the IceCats continued to get the benefit of referee Dan O'Rourke's calls, finishing with eight of last nine power plays, including a brief 5-on-3. But the Pack had the best scoring chance late when Moreland had to come down to stick aside Cory Larose's partial breakaway at 8:35 of the third.

The IceCats finally broke through with 3:33 left when Peter Sejna passed into the high slot to Mike Glumac, who beat LaBarbera low to the glove side through a screen, ending his shutout streak at home at 227:29.

"I didn't see the shot," LaBarbera said. "But we won, and that's the important thing."

LaBarbera, the AHL's MVP, was assured of going 22-3-4 in his last 29 decisions when Ortmeyer scored into an empty net with five seconds left.

Two Return

Pack right wing Jason MacDonald returned after missing 29 of 30 games with shoulder and neck injuries, and former IceCats wing Jeff Heerema was back after being a healthy scratch the previous four games. They replaced forwards Ryan Cuthbert and Lucas Lawson. Other scratches were defenseman Matt Kinch and forwards Juris Stals and Brandon Cullen. Those still on the injury list are goalie Phil Osaer, defenseman Jayme Filipowicz and forwards Layne Ulmer and Bobby Andrews, who visited Dr. Kerry Johnston in Montreal this week for tests of a concussion that has sidelined him 19 games since March 14. He is out indefinitely.


From: 210   210 is a registered live IceCat
Date: 03-May-04

Balej Lifts Pack 12 Seconds Into OT

May 3, 2004
By BRUCE BERLET, Courant Staff Writer

WORCESTER -- Jozef Balej likes to play a little game going into overtime, telling himself he's going to score.

"You've got to believe in yourself," Balej said. "I gain more confidence in myself when I do that."

Balej and his Wolf Pack teammates were brimming with confidence after he roofed a shot from his knees 12 seconds into overtime for a 4-3 victory over the Worcester IceCats Sunday night.

"What a goal. He was down and out, but he still had the presence to get it up and over," IceCats coach Don Granato said. "It was a heck of a skilled play."

The second-fastest overtime goal in team history capped the Pack's rally from three one-goal deficits for a record seventh consecutive playoff victory. It gave the Wolf Pack a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Atlantic Division semifinals and a chance to clinch at home Wednesday night.

"It was a frustrating playoff game where you had to just try to gut it out, and that's what we did after rope-a-doping for a while," Pack coach Ryan McGill said.

"It was an unbelievable character win for sure," said goalie Jason LaBarbera (24 saves), who is 16-1-4 in his last 21 on the road.

Balej scored his AHL-leading fourth playoff winner after Dominic Moore picked off a clearing attempt by Terry Virtue as Virtue was trying to avoid Garth Murray's check. Murray went to the net, and Moore got the puck in front of Curtis Sanford (32 saves).

"[Murray] was making a good run to forecheck, so I saw [Virtue] was running out of time and space," Moore said. "I tried to cut off the only play [Virtue] had and then saw [Balej] in front and tried to get it to him. He's a great player who made a great play."

Said Balej: "Garth did a good job on the forecheck, and I knew the goalie was down so I knew I had to get it up. The team worked really hard, stuck together, and when you do what the coaches tell you, good things happen."

McGill played Balej on every line, comparing him to the Dallas Stars' Jere Lehtinen.

"Whenever somebody's in a funk or they need something to get going, they put Lehtinen on that line," McGill said. "Jozef Balej was one of those guys tonight and has been since he got here [at the end of the Rangers' season]. He makes everybody better, and that's a tremendous thing to have in your back pocket. He's tenacious on the forecheck, finishes checks, and if he tries things that don't work, he comes back and doesn't ever quit on anything. He has a lot of leadership ability."

The IceCats took their first lead of the series when Virtue's shot from the right point deflected in off Pack defenseman Jamie Pushor at 2:30 of the second. It was their first power-play goal in 16 tries.

With 2:14 left in the period, Moore stole the puck from Virtue, deked Sanford to the ice and scored his first AHL playoff goal to tie it at 1.

After a quiet start to the third, the teams scored four goals in 3:51. Ryan Ready fired a shot from the left circle past LaBarbera at 8:54. Chad Wiseman scored short-handed off Balej's pass at 9:58 to tie it.

Before the power play ended, the IceCats took a 3-2 lead on Jon Coleman's 40-foot slap shot at 10:54, but the Pack tied it again when Cory Larose deflected Lawrence Nycholat's right point shot past Sanford at 12:45.

The Pack's Benoit Dusablon jammed in a rebound with 4:11 left, but referee Dan O'Rourke waved it off because of Jed Ortmeyer's incidental contact with Sanford.

"We watched the tape and felt [Ortmeyer] got out of the crease in ample time for the goaltender to get across, make a save and the rebound went in," McGill said. "But it's a discretionary call that a good ref in this league has to make, and he's a good ref.

The Pack persevered thanks to Balej, who has at least one point in a team-record eight consecutive playoff games.


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