Albany Week in Review

By Mike Buskus

Snow out west postpones game

For those who have forgotten their geography, Albany, New York is upstate, gets plenty of snow, and provides residents and visitors (when they are not at Pepsi Arena watching the River Rats) with such winter sports as snow-shoeing, down-hill and cross-country skiing and pond hockey. Area snow blower dealers usually do quite a business each season. Department of Transportation snow plow operators usually rack up some nice overtime during the winter season.

But, in its nine years in the American Hockey League as the affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, the River Rats have never had to cancel a game on account of too much snow, or excessively icy roads. Till now. On Saturday, December 29, 2001, the roads were clear and dry in Albany. There was no snow to speak of on the ground. But the situation was a bit different three hundred miles to the west. The New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) was closed west of Rochester. Buffalo, infamous for its winter weather and setting records in 1977, once again put its meteorologists on the front page. Buffalo and western New York received amounts of snow variously estimated at seven and eight feet in four days.

Meanwhile, the scheduled opponents of the Albany River Rats for the December 29 contest, the St. John’s Maple Leafs, were stranded in Hamilton, Ontario. Having played the Bulldogs at Copps Coliseum, the Maple Leafs were scheduled to bus out of Hamilton to Albany.

Efforts on Saturday to arrange a charter flight were unsuccessful and the Maple Leafs never got to Albany. The Rats were forced to postpone the game even though they had advance ticket sales of over 6,000.

Ticket-holders may retain that ticket and use it for the game to be rescheduled, or they may exchange it for a ticket to any remaining River Rats’ game this season.

Gionta gets chance in NHL

The call. Every prospect waits for it. It came last week for Brian Gionta.

While teammates were boarding a bus for a road game in Providence, the rookie from Boston College got the call to join the New Jersey Devils. With Petr Sykora out with the flu, Gionta joined the Devils on a western road trip.

Gionta was quick to credit linemate, Steve Guolla, for helping him advance his career prospects. Guolla has centered the line on which Gionta played in Albany, alternately with Jiri Bicek and Christian Berglund. Gionta was quoted in the New Jersey papers as crediting Guolla with helping a number of aspects of his game.
A healthy scratch in Vancouver, Gionta started in Edmonton. He skated a regular shift and played over 15 minutes. He was “even” on the plus/minus scale. According to media reports, he acquitted himself capably and coach Larry Robinson expressed satisfaction with the play of the youngster.

Gionta also played over 13 minutes two nights later at the Continental Air Lines Arena against the St. Louis Blues. When Sykora returned to the lineup after flu symptoms abated, Gionta remained with the Devils and Andreas Salomonsson was sent to Albany.

Meanwhile, Pierre Dagenais, who scored four points (2G; 2A) over a three-game stretch with the Devils, remains in New Jersey.

The week in review

Aside from its postponed game, the Rats played two road contests (Providence and Syracuse) and one home-ice tilt (Bridgeport) in the week between Christmas and New Years Day. All the Rats got for their troubles (three games played) was one point, that for a tie (2-2) in Providence.

On Wednesday, December 26, 2001, the Rats hoped to unwrap some Christmas presents that had been left under the tree. Unfortunately, neither Santa Claus nor the Bridgeport Sound Tigers obliged. The Rats lost, 3-1, with Scott Cameron tallying the lone Albany marker. Islanders’ prospect, Jason Krog, scored twice to pace the visitors’ effort.

Ken Sutton, former Rat and Devil, who signed with the New York Islanders over the summer as a free agent, had been sent to Bridgeport, but was recalled to the Islanders before the game and did not play in Albany.

On Friday night in Providence, captain Sylvain Cloutier scored his second goal for the Rats in as many visits this season to the (newly renamed) Dunkin Donuts Center. It was a go-ahead goal in the third period, but a late goal by Bruins’ prospect, Ivan Huml, deadlocked the score at two.

On New Years’ Eve, the Rats traveled to Syracuse. An opportunistic goal by Richard Rochefort (when J.F. Labbe got trapped in the corner trying to play the puck) tied the game at one, but rookie defenseman, Victor Uchevatov, later fell down at the point in the offensive zone and an odd-man rush resulted in the game-winning goal for Syracuse. An empty-net goal puffed up the Crunch’s margin of victory to 3-1.

The Rats signed former Hartford Wolf*Pack and Providence Bruins’ defenseman, Benjamin Carpentier, to a professional tryout contract this week. He debuted, wearing #7, against the Syracuse Crunch at the War Memorial Auditorium. He was “even” in his first game and played capably on defense.

Carpentier was a member of the Wolf*Pack’s Calder Cup winning squad, through he was frequently a healthy scratch with Hartford. The 1998-99 Hartford yearbook characterized him as “an extremely rugged and physical player who is sound on the blueline.” Carpentier is expected to have his first opportunity to play against his former Wolf*Pack teammates on Saturday, January 5 when Hartford visits Albany.

Miscellaneous news

After the press deadline for Albany Week in Review last week, Albany River Rats’ rookie defenseman, Mikko Jokela, was chosen as the league’s player of the week. He will be honored at an upcoming game and will receive a leather jacket.

Albany forward Jiri Bicek has been selected, for the second time, to represent the River Rats in the AHL All-Star Classic. On Thursday, January 3, 2002, the PlanetUSA roster was released and Bicek was on the squad. (The Canadien squad will not be named until Friday, January 4.)

Bicek is the Rats’ third leading scorer, with 17 points (8G; 9A) in 25 games. He also played one game this season in New Jersey.

John Hennessy, the voice of the Albany River Rats, who filled in last season for Mike Miller, the voice of the New Jersey Devils (770 AM, WABC), has, once again, been “called up” to the NHL. On Thursday, January 3, 2002, Hennessy filled in for Miller on the broadcast of the Devils vs. Predators game.

Albany Week in Review has selected rookie Scott Cameron as player of the week. For part of the season, he has been a healthy scratch. But last week, he scored two goals in three games and showed some offensive flair.