Many New York Rangers and Hartford Wolf Pack fans have a lot to look forward to this season for sure when it comes to their prospects and hot new draft picks rising up the developmental ranks; and while some fans may have been scratching their heads about Chris Kreider’s demotion and J.T. Miller’s future, their first two games with the Hartford Wolf Pack certainly gave scouts and team executives and fans something to think twice about.
The Wolf Pack opened their season on October 5th at the XL Center in Hartford, hosting the Norfolk Admirals before a crowd of 6,347 fans eager to see some turnaround from last season’s disappointments and challenges. The Norfolk Admirals and Hartford Wolf Pack have a budding rivalry in the Eastern Conference stemming from their last playofff matchup that saw the Norfolk Admirals advance 4 games to 2 back in the 2nd Round of the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs. There have been considerable roster changes and moves on both teams since then but the fiesty attitudes between these two franchises remain intact.
The first period saw both teams playing hard physically and though there were zeroes on the scoreboard, there was no shortage of shots on goal and power play opportunities. 8:18 into the 1st Period saw Norfolk Admirals’ Z. Stortini and Hartford Wolf Pack’s Michael Haley throw some gloves aside for a little fighting. Stortini finished the game with 12 penalty minutes. Shots on goal were even at 9 each side and both Cam Talbot of Hartford and F. Anderson of Norfolk were solid in net for each team. It wasn’t until 1:15 into the start of the 2nd Period that Norfolk broke the scoreless tie with a goal by Steven Whitney. The Wolf Pack blistered the Norfolk net with a total of 15 shots on goal in the 2nd Period but came up with a 0 on the scoreboard. Standing out though was Chris Kreider with 7 shots on goal. He wouldn’t get on the scoresheet though until the 3rd Period when he assisted on a heart attack of a much-needed goal by rookie D. Powe with just .04 seconds left in regulation to tie up the game and force an overtime.
It was D. Kristo that gave the Hartford Wolf Pack some life though and scored the first Wolf Pack goal of the season and his first goal of his professional career in a Wolf Pack uniform. Kristo was assisted by Aaron Johnson and Michael Haley at 5:38 of the 3rd Period.
After a scoreless overtime period, the game went into a shootout. Rickard Rakell and Devante Smith-Pelly both scored for Norfolk and Danny Kristo scored the one shootout goal for Hartford. The final score after a nail biter of a game was Norfolk Admirals 3 – Hartford Wolf Pack 2.
On October 6th, the Hartford Wolf Pack were back in action with a Sunday afternoon matinee in the XL Center before a modest but loud 2,128 fans. In net for the Wolf Pack was Jason Missiaen while guarding the net for the visiting Albany Devils was Kevin Kinkaid. The Albany Devils come into Hartford this season with a bit of a hot streak cooking against the Hartford Wolf Pack, having won last season’s season series against Hartford. Hartford on the other hand, has an impressive home record they have bulit on and traditionally have always done well against Albany, at one time earning a 13-0-0-0 win streak vs. Albany when the team was named the Albany River Rats.
Albany scored first right off the bat just :51 seconds into the game but Hartford responded rather quickly at 9:13 with a goal by J.T. Miller, assisted by Andrew Yogan and Brandon Mashinter. Chris Kreider put the Wolf Pack in the lead, still in the 1st Period, with a goal assisted by J.T. Miller and Danny Kristo at the 14:00 minute mark. Later still in the 1st Period though the Albany Devils tied it up with a goal by D. Wohlberg at the 18:57 mark. Albany had a 9 – 7 advantage over Hartford in shots on goal for the first period but the score at the end of the period was 2 – 2.
The second period was another back and forth battle but again J.T. Miller stepped up and scored his second goal of the game to secure a 3 – 3 tie going into the 3rd Period. J.T. Miller ended the game with two goals and an assist and this was just as he had come off a red eye flight from the west coast after playing in the New York Rangers’ season opener versus the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale on October 3rd.
The Wolf Pack’s game winner came defencemen D. McIlrath, his first professional goal. Some doubted McIlrath’s skills and development and wondered if he’d ever find his niche among the New York Ranger’s blue line roster but as it turns out, perhaps his demotion to Hartford lit a spark or added edge to his game?
Considering just these two games and keeping in mind that the season really can’t be dicided in just these two games and there is plenty of hockey still to go in this anything can happen league, I am still impressed by this start. For one thing, the Wolf Pack have already begun to address some of their offensive issues and have at least shown a more physical presence in front of the opposing netminders and have put up more effective screens, better forechecking, and increased their shots on goal. They have also shown signs of an improved power play, going 1 for 4 on Sunday and 1 for 8 on Saturday whereas last season we were lucky if we even scored a power play goal in a weekend. While 2 for 12 is not fantastic, it does indicate that the team is creating power play opportunities. On the flip side, the penalty killing unit allowed 2 goals on 10 power plays against this weekend. The team could always be more disciplined and I could see in Sunday’s game that they were definitely more disciplined as a team than what I’ve seen as a fan in last season’s campaign.
The Hartford Wolf has depth and youth and early indications are that this is a fast and physical team with a lot of scoring potential. With the inclusion of Brodie Dupont on a professional tryout contract in addition to other veteran players like team captain Aaron Johnson, Brandon Mashinter, and D. Syvret, the youth will be lead by a dependable backbone of experience and physicality.
Rachel McLeod has been a Wolf Pack fan since 1997 when the franchise relocated to Hartford from Binghamton.