By Mike Buskus
ALBANY, NY. (November 2, 2001). Scott Clemmensen got his first professional start tonight in Albany. (He played 20 minutes in relief of Martin Brodeur during the Devils’ 6-1 loss to Washington on opening night, stopping 3 of 4 shots.) With Devils’ General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, chief scout, Dave Conte, and countless other Devils’ scouts and senior management watching, Clemmensen played capably, but his defense did not do him justice in front of the net. The 3-1 loss belonged to the blueliners, rather than to the netminder, before the crowd of 5,888 at the Pepsi Arena.
The main bright spot for the River Rats tonight was winger Jiri Bicek, who generated strong short-handed chances while killing penalties, gave some spark to the offense and relentlessly chased down loose pucks. He also scored the lone Albany goal, a power play goal from the right wing circle. For his efforts, the media bestowed “third star” on Bicek, though this writer would have elevated the honor to “second” in a valiant effort in a losing cause.
Tonight, NHL referee Paul Stewart made another comeback effort. A year or so ago, battling back from cancer, he went down to the AHL to demonstrate his abilities in the orange armband. This evening, while rehabilitating from an unspecified injury, Stewart was on the ice before the teams’ pre-game skate, skating around the ice. When his name was announced as referee, a sizeable number of fans applauded, a rare tribute to referees who are more used to boos than to cheers.
Nothing that the referee said or did affected the outcome of the game tonight. While Albany had to kill off five power plays inthe first period, to none for Hershey, the River Rats were very successful on the first three, generating a total of five short-handed shots during the first two Bears’ man advantages. Using Jiri Bicek and Brian Gionta (among others) on the penalty kill, those speed demons accelerated with pucks and put a scare into Phillipe Sauve, though no rubber behind him.
Hershey finally struck paydirt at the 16:00 mark of the first period,when Matt Herr was camped out at the left post and Sascha Goc was unable to budge him from the spot. After rookie Radim Vrbata’s shot bounced free near the crease, Herr poked it home. (Former River Rat, Bryan Muir, picked up the other Bears’ assist.)
The next goal by Hershey, less than two minutes later, was a defensive breakdown. Yevgeny Lazarev skated right to left through the slot and uncorked it between the hash marks with no defender on him (Sascha Goc was the nearest Rat).
Jiri Bicek narrowed the gap to one with a shot from the right wing circle midway through the second period. However, six minutes later, the Bears had a two-on-one with rookie Vrbata cruising up left wing and Jeff Daw skating up the right side with his stick on the ice waiting for a pass. Goaltender Clemmensen was watching the man with the puck, as one might expect. The defender (sorry, my notes did not record the culprit) failed to stop the pass and Daw had an easy “shovel in” for the insurance goal.
The Bears settled into a “dump in”, “dump out” game and played effective puck control at center ice.
The Rats mounted several scoring attempts late, particularly when a series of Hershey penalties gave Albany a 5-3 with just under two minutes remaining. Albany pulled the goaltender for an extra attacker, but a slashing penalty to Bruce Gardiner of the Rats reduced the size of the Rats’ attack force. Had the game gone into overtime, Albany would have had a carry-over power play, as a pair of penalties by Hershey in the final minute (Kelly Fairchild for holding the stick; goaltender Phillippe Sauve for slashing) were called but the running of those infractions was delayed, as the Bears were already down to three skaters.
The power play excitement in the final two minutes of play failed to net an Albany goal, to the credit of Hershey penalty-killers and netminder Sauve.
The final margin of Hershey’s victory, 3-1, was attributable to a sagging Albany defense. The Rats surrendered the blue line far too easily and failed to do much checking or hitting. Ironically, one of the few really good hits by Albany, a nice check by defenseman, Josef Boumedienne, early in the third period, was whistled by referee Paul Stewart as charging.
The win by Hershey represents its third victory in a row, and fourth without a loss, after opening the season with only one victory in the first eight games.
The three stars: third, to Jiri Bicek of Albany for an inspired effort ant the Rats’ lone goal; second, to Alex Riazantsev of Hershey, for Hershey’s second goal (the game-winner); and, first, to Hershey rookie Radim Vrbata, for two assists, including a great effort on the Daw goal for speed which created the 2-on-1 and a perfect pass.
Albany hosts Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday, November 3.