Albany Week in Review

By Mike Buskus

Goaltenders get their due

Goaltenders finally got some recognition this week for the Albany River Rats. Not that they have not played well to date, but the team’s record (one win in the first 17 games going into this week) overshadowed the performance between the pipes.

This past week, though, Devils’ prospects Ari Ahonen and Jean-Francois Damphousse both got some notice in the press. Ahonen got his first professional victory in the American Hockey League, as he stopped 38 of 39 shots on Saturday, November 24, 2001 as the River Rats beat the Rochester Americans, 3-1. It was only the second victory in the campaign through 20 games. Ahonen earned “third star” for his efforts.

J.F. Damphousse got his first start in the NHL. Though he took a loss, as the Devils were unable to score against Tampa Bay’s Khabibulin, Damphousse made 20 saves on 22 shots. One of the goals was a power play marker; the other was a rebound shot. Media reports gave Damphousse favorable grades for his NHL debut. He was credited with showing “poise”, a term that certainly reflected his AHL performance the past several seasons as he played in front of a weak Albany defense (judged historically).

Damphousse, the Devils’ 1st choice (24th overall) in the 1997 entry draft, hopes for a few more starts with the Devils, sandwiched in between Martin Brodeur’s assignments. If he does not get another start soon, he will probably be sent back to Albany, where he has split time with Ari Ahonen and Scott Clemmensen. All three are promising prospects, though Damphousse has the most seasoning with AHL experience.

The week in review

Only time will tell whether this past week was the “turning point” in the season. The fans sure hope so. Coming into the week, the River Rats had only chalked up one win in 17 games, the same number that had been tallied last season, which ended with the team failing to make the playoffs for the only time in franchise history.

But some good things happened this week. The Rats tied the Lowell Lock Monsters, a very good team, 2-2, in a Thanksgiving-eve contest. (Last Sunday, at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, the same teams skated to a 4-4 draw.) Steve Guolla notched the team’s first short-handed goal of the season, thanks to an assist from Jiri Bicek.

On the road in Bridgeport on Friday, the Rats lost 2-1 in overtime, against a Sound Tigers team whose defense was fortified by former River Rat (and Devil), Ken Sutton. Sutton, signed as a free agent by the Islanders over the summer, was not getting much playing time with coach Peter Laviolette and was sent down to the AHL. Brian Gionta had the lone goal for the Rats, but Scott Clemmensen earned “second star” in Bridgeport for his 39-save effort.

On Saturday, on home ice against the Rochester Americans, the River Rats got their second win on the season and Ari Ahonen his first AHL victory. The Rats got lucky on a “dump in” from center ice by Brian Gionta. When Amerks’ goaltender, Mika Noronen, left the cage to play the puck, he was surprised to see the disk take a hop off the metal dividers between the glass and carom into the empty net. Gionta later had some offsetting bad luck, as a high stick from Taylor Pyatt took chips out of two of Gionta’s teeth. The promising rookie went into the locker room for quick repairs, though, and got back onto the ice in time to assist on the ensuing power play goal. Aggressive forechecking by Steve Guolla set up an insurance goal by Stan Gron, and the 3-1 margin of victory lifted a heavy weight off the shoulders of the Albany River Rats.

Stay tuned for a “first quarter” grade report, to be posted later this week.