Wilkes-Barre advances to Calder Cup finals over Hartford

By Ailyn Diaz





In a tight series of seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, “you<br />have to have character to peform” recognized Wilkes Ba

In a tight series of seven games in the Eastern Conference
Finals, “you have to have character to perform” recognized
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Coach Michel Therrien.  Character is not about artistry or fancy plays.  It’s about courage, discipline, and hard
work.  

 

In September of 2002 Michel Therrien, then coach of the
Montreal Canadiens noticed Jozef Balej’s
level of play during a scrimmage match. 
 He noticed Balej’s attitude on the ice.  He had speed, energy and a “beautiful talent
to be developed.”

 

At the age of nine, Balej was prompted by his father to
decide between hockey or soccer.    He
left his family home to play in a neighboring city in Slovakia which had a
hockey team.  Then when he turned 15, he
came to the United States and played three years with Portland of the WHL.  

 

The now twenty-two year-old right winger was happy with his
success but he wanted to win a championship. 
“Last year, the Hamilton Bulldogs went to the playoffs and we didn’t win
it,” he said, referring to the Calder Cup lost against the Houston Aeros.  He was prepared to win and in 15 playoff
games he scored nine goals and seven assists. 

 

League MVP Jason
LaBarbera
showed the same intensity for the Hartford Wolfpack. The New York
Ranger goaltender prospect nicknamed “Gonzo”, who jokes about his resemblance
to the Jim Henson character and wears his image on his helmet, knows that to
win games he must maintain a competitive edge. 

 

Other than his helmet, Wilkes-Barre goaltender 21-year-old Andy Chiodo knows not to take his
opponent LaBarbera as a joke.  He
understands his position and his aptitude. 
“You have to respect the fact that there are a lot of good shots on both
teams, a lot of talent.  It’s important
from a goaltender’s standpoint to make key saves at key times.”

 

In a tied series and a third period score of 1-1 then came
overtime and sudden death.  “We have to
have the killer instinct,” said Therrien. 
Hartford Wolf Pack Coach Ryan McGill was committed not to make any
improvements during overtime.  “If you
change too much you are looking for trouble.”

 

Although consistency in plays is important, character builds
upon discipline and taking “every little play (to) make the game count”, as
left winger 24-year-old Matt Murley pointed
out when he scored the winning goal in overtime.  Hockey’s Future frequently refers to Murley as “top notch
sniper.”   He proved it.  “I was standing in front of Colby (Armstrong) with the puck.  He took a great shot and I was lucky to take
my stick on it.” 

 

His excellent positional play and his ability to read right
winger Armstrong’s actions is what he refers as plain luck.  “We are building chemistry every series,” he
said of his linemate.

 

After the game, Coach Ryan McGill, who is mentioned by the
media as a possibility to fill the New York Rangers coaching vacancy, admitted
that he did not know what message to convey to his team.  “I don’t know.   It has been a disappointing finish of the season.  I’m out of words right now…That is what
happens in playoff hockey.  We didn’t
make the best of the play.  Lucky bounce
it went into the net.”

 

With the win, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins advance to
the Calder Cup Finals against the Milwaukee Admirals in a best of seven series.