Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bonus recap: AHL comes to the Rock!

Last night at the Prudential Center an announced crowd of 3,274 came to watch an AHL game between the Devils' affiliate in Lowell and the Rangers' Wolf Pack team. Some of the season ticket holders (the ones who paid in full early) got access to a special meet and greet with the NHL Devils players and coaches before the game in the Fire and Ice lounges and were given free seats for the hockey game.

While I wasn't among their number for reasons that would take another blog to explain, I did want to see the game itself so I paid the $15 for a GA ticket and wound up sitting third row in Section 10 with a friend and her family by where the Devils defend. Before last night I had a dreadful record seeing the Devils' minor league team. Zero for six to be exact, combined between Albany and Lowell - and with only one game that so much as went to overtime (ending after like nineteen seconds).

I've only been to Lowell once though a couple years back (and predictably they lost 6-1), and that was a tough four-hour drive each way, especially with blizzard-like conditions the last hour coming back home so this was a nice opportunity to see the kids without going too far out of my way. I was especially looking forward to the game when I heard Vladimir Zharkov and Matthew Corrente were being 'sent down' thanks to the convenient timing of the minor league game at the Rock, seeing as the NHL team played Tuesday and is playing again tomorrow at home so it's not like either had to travel and both can be back with the big Devils by Friday.

At least they were two players I knew of, although going through the roster I'd heard of more of the team than I realized between seeing a preseason game earlier this year and having many of the players at least make cameos with the big boys this year. This was a chance for all of the Lowell players to make impressions though, especially considering the Devils' braintrust was staying for this game. Plus this was an important division game on top of that, given that Lowell is sitting in third with a 21-14-3 record (45 points) while Hartford's right behind them in fourth with a 19-13-1-4 mark (43 points).

Both starting goaltenders I had heard of though, between the pipes for Lowell was former second-round pick Jeff Frazee, while Hartford started Steve Valiquette, still in purgatory since taking that 8-3 drubbing at the hands of Sidney Crosby and company in Pittsburgh and being demoted. According to the scoresheet I got before the game, he hasn't been doing too well down there either (4-3-1 with a 3.28 GAA and .890 save percentage). Frazee is the most highly touted of the Devil goalies in the system but he's been outplayed this year by castoff Mike McKenna, and gave an unfavorable first impression during the preseason at the Rock.

Last night however, Frazee and the rest of the Devils started off really well, inspired by the presence of the men they have to impress to eventually get a shot at playing full-time at the Prudential Center. While the first period was quiet in terms of scoring or even quality chances, there was early feistiness. A lot of that can be attributed to Lowell's Louis Robitaille, who was hitting people every chance he got and wasn't afraid to mix it up either - dropping the gloves at 12:32 of the first period after being challenged by Hartford's Devin DiDiomete. Robitaille wound up with the extra penalty from an interference call but Lowell did a good job of killing off three power plays in that period, allowing only seven total shots.

During the intermission, I had an interesting encounter on the concourse while going on the other side of where I was sitting to get something to drink. On the next line over were none other than Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson talking and laughing about god knows what, but they were actually having a good time with each other like old friends normally would. I got tired of the line wait so I just crossed over and shook the coach's hand, told him he was doing a great job this year and to keep it up. He smiled and said thanks, and I went back towards my seat. As it turned out, the Devils let you buy food at the lounges after the game started. Might have saved me a lot of walking if I'd known that but I wouldn't have seen our esteemed coaches either!

In the second period, there were finally a couple of goals, and more action on top of that. On a Lowell power play, defenseman Matt Taormina fired a shot through traffic that went past Valiquette at 2:37 to give the baby Devils a lead. Zharkov and Ben Walter assisted on Taormina's goal. Minutes later, Lowell's leading goalscorer Nick Palmieri deflected a Corrente point shot in and doubled the baby Devils' lead at 6:31. One-time Devil (for a few games) Tim Sestito also assisted on the goal.

Even a lead wasn't enough to curb Robitaille though. Perhaps his 157 PIM's in 32 games would lead you to believe he was a psycho but from what I saw last night, he has a method to his madness. His hitting and yapping eventually got under the skin of both winger DiDiomete - who got a matching roughing penalty with Lowell's Myles Stoesz after slamming Robitaille against the boards - and defenseman Michael Sauer, who received a penalty for instigating a fight with Robitaille that eventually got him tossed. Robitaille was shirtless by the end of the fight but still yapping with the Hartford bench from the penalty box and unlike our Andrew Peters, he had his uniform tied down so he was not tossed himself.

For most of the first two periods, Lowell seemed to have the upper hand, particularly defensively but late in the second and early in the third perhaps they ran out of gas a little after the adrenaline rush early. Hartford came on and scored twice 3:28 apart in the third with center Paul Crowder breaking the shutout with a rebound goal, then Dale Weise tied the game at 6:43 with a deflection. On both goals, defenseman Illka Heikkinen got an assist, a name that's scarily close to our own Illka Pikkaranen's...or Heiniken beer for that matter!

As far as the fans go, although the announced attendance was over 3,000 it looked more like 2,500 to me and the Ranger fan quotient was down, partly because of their own home game against the Stars at the same time. Plus only Devil sth's got into the meet and greet (with the exception of the odd Ranger fan that just had to find a way to show up, as per firsthand reports). All of the Devil fans in front of me came loaded for bear, and their target was Bobby Sanguinetti as they screamed at him all night, hoping to get his attention. One of them claimed to know his sister but whether that's true or not who knows...either way they were hopped up all night long and it was kind of amusing to watch.

Though the game had been a good one - something was still missing, the storybook winner in front of the home fans. Palmieri's second goal of the game did the trick, with just a minute remaining as he floated a shot from the right board that somehow got through Valiquette. Without seeing a hi-tech replay other than the one quick one on the jumbotron it looked like a soft goal that didn't hit anything in front. Palmieri's goal (assisted by Sestito and Cory Murphy) gave Lowell a 3-2 lead and eventual victory after two hours and fourteen minutes of fun hockey. For the cherry on top there was a full-out brawl after the final buzzer, god only knows what started that but Frazee showed some feistiness of his own, duking it out with P.A. Parenteau at the bottom of the pile and both got roughing minors at 20:00.

If I can upload a picture later, maybe I will seeing as I got some good ones including a couple of the fight at the end of the game since I already had my camera ready to take a picture of the Lowell players as they celebrated their victory! Palmieri (two goals), Sestito (two assists, +1) and Heikkinen (two assists, +2) were the three stars of the night. If I was doing a three stars myself I'd put Robitaille in there somewhere cause he certainly made an impact.


Derek Felix said...

sounds like a fun time. Fights, goals, brawls. Must be the 'A.' It seems the Devils really treat their fans well.

Hasan said...

I forgot to mention they had actual programs for $3. When I went to Lowell they had zilch as far as game programs.

Derek Felix said...

nice. Ya know. That Pack-Rats game I went to with Nic in 02 I remember Lundmark won it at the buzzer in OT. And she didn't even flinch. It was like she expected it. lol

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