River Rats February Update

By Grethe Kvernes

On February 17th, the struggling Albany River
Rats made a most unexpected change: they replaced Dennis Gendron, their coach
over the past season and a half, with Robbie Ftorek, the coach who brought the
River Rats to the 1995 Calder Cup championship. As Ftorek’s name was announced
at the next home game a mere 24 hours later, the crowd rose to their feet and
cheered, clearly showing their appreciation and approval of the change.
Although the Rats lost the first game, the change paid off as the Rats went
1-0-2-1 in the next four games, including their first road win in 14 games.
Ftorek will undoubtedly continue to excel at developing individual talent, but
whether or not he will be able to make the River Rats a successful team once
again won’t really be known until next season. The River Rats are currently
last in the East Division of the AHL, and are 12 points out of the last playoff
spot. With only 20 games remaining in the season, hockey fans in Albany
will once again find themselves idle come playoff time.

Matus
Kostur
(0 wins, 4 losses, 1 tie, 3.98 goals against average)

For the majority of the past two and a half seasons,
goaltending duties for the River Rats have been shared between former Boston
College
standout Scott Clemmensen,
and former first-round draft pick ef=”http://www.hockeysfuture.com/prospect.php?pid=471″>Ari Ahonen. With
Clemmensen on indefinite recall to New Jersey,
the River Rats recalled Slovakian netminder Matur Kostur from Columbus
of the ECHL to provide some much needed relief for Ahonen. Kostur, who is an
old-fashioned standup goaltender, is an outstanding puckhandler, but his overall
technical skills are nothing out of the ordinary. However, now that he has the
luxury of working with full-time goaltending coach Chris Terreri on a regular
basis, Kostur should have a good chance of improving on his overall play.

Ilkka
Pikkarainen
(46 games played, 5
goals, 5 assists, -15, 74 penalty minutes)

The season was more than half over before Finnish winger Ilkka
Pikkarainen finally found the back of the net. With the confidence of having
the first goal behind him, Pikkarainen quickly added more goals and points, and
his confidence continues to increase with every game. While his offensive
contributions are important, Pikkarainen’s most important asset may be his
uncanny ability to get under opponents skin. However, his temper often gets the
better of him, and Pikkarainen needs to curb himself and learn to avoid taking
costly and unnecessary penalties.

Ahren
Nittel
(34 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists, -10, 20 penalty minutes)

Ilkka Pikkarainen may have struggled to score his first AHL
goal, but rookie Canadian winger Ahren Nittel struggled even more. The Rats had
played 57 games, and Nittel had appeared in 34 of those games before he finally
put up a point, scoring a goal against Alex Auld of the Manitoba Moose. Nittel was
drafted by the Devils in part because of his imposing stature (6’3”, 225lbs),
but in the AHL, Nittel is not one of the biggest players anymore, and he has
struggled to adjust his game accordingly. His overall play has slowly been
improving, and he should only continue to get better as he gets more ice time.

On March 1st, the River Rats lost defense
prospect Victor
Uchevatov
as he was part of the trade that sent former River Rat Christian
Berglund to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Russian center Victor Kozlov.
Uchevatov has been assigned to the San Antonio Rampage, the Panthers AHL
affiliate.