By Mike Buskus
ALBANY, NY. (November 24, 2001). The weight that the Albany River Rats lifted over their shoulder tonight was not extra poundage they put on with a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. No, instead, the River Rats lifted a proverbial albatross around their neck. Two streaks were ended tonight. The league’s longest winless streak (a baker’s dozen, 13) belonged to the River Rats, dating back to October 20. Also, the home-ice winless mark (half a dozen, dating to October 27), also had Albany’s name on it.
Those dubious marks of distinction may remain in the record books for a while this season, but the emotional outburst on the ice cleared the entire bench and brought the 4,385 fans at the Pepsi Arena to their feet as Albany defeated Rochester, 3-1.
The visitors from Rochester got on the board first, with a turn-and-shoot wrister from right winger Milan Bartovic, midway through the first period. Bartovic’s fourth marker on the season came from the right face-off dot as he spun and snapped the shot past a stationary Ari Ahonen.
Over the next five minutes and change, Rochester got into penalty trouble, with three consecutive infractions giving the Rats power plays that included 4-on-3 and a brief stretch of 5-on-3. However, the Rochester defense was particularly sturdy and Albany had trouble getting the puck in deep. Albany managed only two shots on goal during those three power plays. The best scoring chance came from Pierre Dagenais, at the 15:36 mark. Mika Noronen’s glove stopped Dagenais from the right wing circle.
But, after twenty minutes, the visitors led 1-0, on Bartovic’s goal. Within the first minute of the second period, Rochester goaltender, Mika Noronen, learned a lesson that other netminders have learned the hard way: don’t be so quick to play the puck on a dump-in at the Pepsi Arena. Brian Gionta dumped in the puck from outside the blue line and Noronen raced to play the puck. Only thing was, the puck caromed sharply from the boards into the vacated net. Gionta carded his seventh goal on the campaign, with assists to Stan Gron and Mike Commodore.
The River Rats got another power play chance late in the second period after Taylor Pyatt high-sticked Brian Gionta. Though the Rats’ bench was yelling for a five-minute major, as the high stick appeared to have dislodged a tooth from Gionta’s mouth, referee Scott Hoburg saw no blood and declared it to be a minor penalty. Gionta ran into the locker room with the trainer, but managed to come back out in time for the second-unit of the power play and collected an assist, along with Steve Guolla, as rookie defenseman Mikko Jokela fired a blue-line shot through a screen and past Mika Noronen to give Albany a 2-1 lead.
Hard-charging fore-checking by Steve Guolla mid-way through the third period set up a goal by Stan Gron, to give Albany its final margin, 3-1, and only the second victory on the season, the first since October 19.
The three stars: third, to Albany goaltender, Ari Ahonen, with 38 saves on 39 shots; second, to Brian Gionta, with a goal and an assist; and, first, to Steve Guolla of Albany, with two assists and at least four smart defensive plays in front of the net, clearing rebounds for Ari Ahonen. No quarrel with those votes on the stars.
In the absence of Richard Rochefort and Ted Drury, Steve Guolla wore an “A” for alternate captain tonight. Judging from his on-ice leadership, as well as his regular selection by media in the three-stars voting, some fans expressed the hope that the “A” is a permanent fixture on Guolla’s jersey. (He wore an “A” with the Kentucky Thoroughblades.)
The River Rats are off until next Friday, when they host the Worcester IceCats at home in Albany.