Albany Week in Review

By Mike Buskus

Road woes continue

Nothing seems to work, as far as luck goes. On Friday night, the nuclear submarine USS Albany was in Norfolk harbor. On Sunday night, Hershey fans threw hundreds and hundreds of (stuffed) bears on the ice. Neither circumstance brought the slightest bit of luck for the Albany River Rats who, at 1-12-1 away from home, have sunk to the depths of the worst road team in the league. Quite a comedown for Rats’ fans who once boasted (just two years ago) that they had a winning record, lifetime, against every team in the American Hockey League and who were a solid road team.

In the week just past, the Rats dropped a 4-1 contest to the Norfolk Admirals and a 4-3 overtime loss to Hershey. In what was the last regular season game ever in HersheyPark Arena, the Rats had rolled up a 3-0 lead, then let in four unanswered goals, to see a road victory disappear, for a 4-3 loss. Lifetime, the River Rats are 11-7-0-2 on Hershey ice.

On Friday, in their second and final game this season against Norfolk, Albany mustered only one goal, a power play tally by Stephen Guolla, while giving up four, including two power play goals and an empty-netter. Ari Ahonen took the loss for Albany.

The road loss in Hershey should not have happened. The Rats scored the first three goals, all in the first 20 minutes. Joel Bouchard, a good puck-carrying defenseman, got his first goal of the season. Steve Guolla and Jiri Bicek combined on an odd-man rush for Bicek’s seventh goal on the campaign. Max Birbraer got his first on the season.

Then, an uncharacteristic (this season) bit of penalty trouble for the Rats gave the Bears the edge they needed. Three seconds after a hooking penalty to Steve Guolla expired, Vaclav Nedorest scored for Hershey. A 10-minute delay ensued, as arena staff picked up hundreds and hundreds of stuffed bears. (It was “bear toss” night, with the stuffed critters collected for distribution to disadvantaged children.)

But that was only the Bears’ first marker. Goals two and three were Hershey power play goals. With Jiri Bicek in the box for holding the stick, a very uncharacteristic bit of roughhousing by Andre Lakos really cost the Rats. Lakos got whistled for a double-minor (roughing and cross-checking), which resulted in a lengthy 5-on-3 for the Bears. Hershey cashed in almost immediately, then scored again on the second-half of Lakos’ infractions. Suddenly, the game was tied at three.

Nedorest of Hershey got his second of the night in overtime, to take a road win away from the Rats, who had to settle for a single point for an overtime loss.

The Rats’ road trip continues this week, with stops at the Copps Colliseum (Hamilton, Ontario) and the Springfield Civic Center (Falcons) on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

In transactions this week, defenseman Mike Commodore was recalled by the Devils, and forward Pierre Dagenais returned to New Jersey from his conditioning stint.

Player of the week

Although no River Rat had what would be called a really good week, Jason Lehoux has been selected as Albany Week in Review’s player of the week. The second year winger, who plays a rugged physical game, collected two assists and finished the week at +2 in the plus/minus category.

Gionta out with undisclosed injury

The mystery about the injury or illness to rookie Brian Gionta continues. For the third straight game (Syracuse, December 9; Norfolk, December 13; Hershey, December 15), winger Brian Gionta has not played.

During the pre-game radio interview on Sunday, coach Bob Carpenter characterized Gionta’s condition as a “minor injury,” but Carpenter did not elaborate. The coach claimed that Gionta could have played if the team needed him, but wanted him to rest.

The apparent effort to conceal the nature of his ailment or injury seems more reminiscent of playoffs, when the exact nature of injuries are concealed as if they were a state secret.

The only apparent reason not to disclose the nature of the injury would be to avoid tipping off opponents on any sore spot, so that checkers would not know where in particular to target Gionta with hard hits.

Although Gionta is a small player (about 5’7″, 165#), he has played a fearless game all season, being willing and able to fight through traffic to the net, behind the net and in the corners. AWIR wishes the BC grad a full and speedy recovery.

Christmas wish list

OK, everyone has a wish list. Albany Week in Review included.

Bring back the Adirondack Red Wings. They were the best rival the Rats ever had. Albany fans made the pilgrimage up to Glens Falls and packed the Civic Center there. Standing room only in Glens Falls was a regular event. Large crowds at the Knick in Albany, when the Wings came to town, were expected.

Hits. Hard hits. Boarding penalties. Charging penalties. Break the plexiglass. (OK, at least “rattle” the plexiglass.)

Short-handed goals. (Hey, come to think of it, this is on the Devils’ Christmas wish list, also.)

Special teams that are “special.” (Right now, the Rats’ power play is 20th at home (16.1%), 26th on the road (9.2%), and 26th overall (out of 27 teams), at 12.6%. Please! A little “power” in the power play. Penalty kill is not much better, at 19th on home ice (81.6%), 23rd away (76.8%) and 24th overall (79.0%).

Fans, lots of them! It has been five years since the Pepsi Arena (then called the Knickerbocker Arena) sold out (13,941 fans) for a hockey game. Lately, only 3,741 fans per game have been reported, with actual attendance somewhat below that as season ticket holders have gone shopping at area malls.