As the season winds down, the Albany River Rats wanted to avoid making history. It is bad enough that, for the second straight year (and only the second time in the franchise’s nine-year existence), the Rats will not qualify for post-season play. But, some American Hockey League records (none to brag about) were up for grabs.
The Rats’ winless streak, dating back to game #53 on February 16, 2002 (when the Rats doubled the Portland Pirates, 4-2), stretched through all of February and almost all of March. When the week started on Monday, March 25, 2002, the streak was 19 and counting. A 3-1 loss at home, against the St. Johns’ Maple Leafs on Wednesday, stretched the count to 20. A 2-0 blanking in Philadelphia (45 saves by Ari Ahonen on 46 shots; one empty-net goal), upped the dubious distinction streak to 21.
For the record (see page 144 of the 2001-2002 American Hockey League Guide & Record Book), the worst stretch of games without a victory belongs to the Pittsburgh Hornets, who played 23 games (between February 3, 1963 and March 27 of that year) without tallying a victory (0-22-1). The 2001-2002 Albany River Rats came perilously close to inking themselves into the record book for that record. For a league with 65 years of history, that would not be an achievement that fans, players or management would want to have their team identified with.
Fortunately, River Rats fans at the Pepsi Arena saw the Rats, back-stopped by goaltender J.F. Damphousse (24 saves on 25 shots) defeated the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 3-1, with goals by Brett Clouthier (game winner), Stan Gron and Steve Guolla fueling the victory.
The Sound Tigers soundly defeated the River Rats the next night, 6-0, at the Arena at Harbor Yard, to get revenge and control the season series, 6-1-1.
Sadly, for Albany fans, the River Rats will almost certainly go down in history as the team that scored the fewest goals in a season. The record is now held by the (now defunct) Adirondack Red Wings. In 1998-99, the Wings scored only 184 goals. Through 76 games (with only 4 more to play), the River Rats have only scored 162 goals. Albany would have to score 23 goals this week, or 5.6 per game, to avoid the dubious distinction of scoring the fewest goals ever by an AHL team during a season.
In the week just past, the Rats won one game (against Bridgeport), but lost three. Christian Berglund had the only Albany goal in the 3-1 loss last Wednesday to the Maple Leafs. With the Rats on a power play in the final minute (thanks to tripping by former Rat, Bobby House), and the goalie (Scott Clemmensen) pulled, Albany was working a 6-on-4. Unfortunately, the puck bounced over Joel Bouchard’s stick at the blue line in the attack zone and Donald MacLean had a breakaway, unassisted, short-handed goal to seal the Leafs’ victory, 3-1. The Rats were in the game all the way, and it was a tough way to lose.
The road loss in the City of Brotherly Love was a shutout, 2-0, with an empty net goal. Goaltender Ari Ahonen made 45 stops on 46 shots, as Albany was badly out-shot, 47-16, by the Phantoms.
The Rats won on Saturday night, at home, edging the Sound Tigers, 3-1, to snap the winless streak and avoid making history for the longest futile stretch. The home-and-home series with Bridgeport the next night saw the Sound Tigers get revenge, with a 6-0 blanking (Rich DiPietro) and Scott Clemmensen getting tagged six times on 39 shots.
Albany Week in Review player of the week
Jean-Francois Damphousse, sometimes left out of the mix in terms of starts and ice time (he did spend much of the season in New Jersey, backing up Martin Brodeur), picked up only his third win on the campaign (as against 10 losses and 2 ties), with 24 saves on 25 shots.
Though he only played in one of the four River Rats’ games this week, for anchoring the team in the first win in a month and a half, J.F. Damphousse gets AWIR’s vote for player of the week.
For the record, only three River Rats wound up in the black, in terms of plus/minus, for the week. Defenseman Joel Dezainde and forwards Carlyle Lewis and Mike Rupp each registered “+1” for the week. Blueliner Benjamin Carpentier was even, as were forwards Stan Gron and Jason Lehoux. Everyone else was in the minus.
Given those numbers, and the team’s 1-3 record this week, goaltender J.F. Damphousse seemed the logical choice for AWIR player of the week.
Here and there
Special teams this week were awful for the River Rats. Albany failed to score with the extra attacker in 10 chances. The Rats allowed two goals on nine opponents’ power plays.
The River Rats close out the season this week, with home games on Wednesday (Hamilton) and Sunday (Syracuse), plus excursions on Thursday (to Portland) and Saturday (to Syracuse).