Albany Week in Review

By Mike Buskus

Albany Week in Review #23

Broken record. No wins this week. Sorry.

Any writer covering a team that is in the basement must, to the reader(s), sound like a broken record. “Hey, didn’t we read that last week?” Well, reporting loss after loss is not exactly a picnic. On the other hand, this writer had occasion this week to run into a former Adirondack Red Wings’ fan (who converted to become a partisan of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute college hockey, rather than an Albany River Rats’ follower). This writer told Ron, the Wings/Engineers’ fan, that “now I know what it was like for you several years ago.” Ron, the Wings’ fan, got a laugh out of that.

You see, in the final two (of 20) years as the AHL franchise for the Detroit Red Wings, the Adirondack Red Wings were not really competitive. In a precursor to this year’s River Rats, the Wings were a mediocre team. In 1998-99, the Wings finished with 53 points in 80 games, with 21 wins, 48 losses, 3 overtime losses and 8 ties. The Wings that year (their last in the AHL) notched only 184 goals. The River Rats won the year’s head-to-head matchup, 9-2-1.

The last Adirondack game in franchise history was played on Saturday, April 24, 1999. It was a playoff game, in which the Rochester Americans won, 2-1, with only 1,732 fans in attendance at the Glens Falls Civic Center. (Fans of reform of the playoff scenario noted that the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, with 76 points in the standings, but last in the Mid-Atlantic conference, got cheated out of a playoff chance, while Adirondack squeezed in, with 53 points, only because Syracuse was even worse, with 48 points.)

The Adirondack Wings were supposed to move to Toledo, Ohio, after one year of inactive status, while a hockey arena was built in Toledo. Never happened. Detroit sent its prospects to various places, mostly to Cincinnati where the Mighty Ducks shared an affiliation. Next year, the Wings will send their boys to Grand Rapids.

But, some Wings (Adirondack) fans are still bitter. They lament the fact that Detroit, famous for spending millions on “veterans” for the NHL club, cut corners on staffing the AHL club. And Ron, the Wings’ fan, offered the hope that the Devils don’t do to Albany what Detroit did to Adirondack.

Reading between the lines, Ron (no friend of the River Rats, but a knowledgeable hockey fan) offered this type of gratuitous advice to Devils’ management: don’t let the Albany franchise field a weak, heavily tilted to young (rookie) talent squad three years in a row. Fans only have so much patience.

The week in review

Pesky former Rat. That’s what some fans thought when Bobby House, now wearing the Captain’s “C” for the Saint John’s Maple Leafs, got the game-winning goal on Tuesday night for the visitors from Newfoundland.

The goal, House’s 32nd on the season, was a fluke goal. On the far boards out by the face-off circle, House merely flung it in the direction of goaltender Scott Clemmensen. But, it hit a skate in front and went into the net. At the time, towards the tail end of the second period, it gave the Leafs a 3-1 lead. It stood up and became the game-winner as the Leafs won, 4-2, in the make-up game from last December, postponed because the Leafs were stuck in Hamilton due to a blizzard in Buffalo.

Even a particularly strong performance from Christian Berglund on Friday in Providence was unable to save the Rats, who lost late in the game to a sold-out crowd of 11,909 at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence. Steve Guolla tied the game with less than seven minutes remaining, but Ivan Huml of the Bruins got the go-ahead goal a minute and a half later, that became the Providence game-winner.

Steve Guolla scored in the first 25 seconds on Sunday afternoon in Hartford, but it was the only goal for the Rats and Hartford poured it on, winning 6-1. (At that, one Wolf*Pack goal was disallowed, on a goaltender interference call.)

At week’s end, the River Rats are stuck in dead last place, 27th out of 27 teams, with only 53 points. They are on an 11-game winless streak, having last won back on February 16 against Portland. Even the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, competing with the Rats for much of the year for title as “cellar dweller,” are now 10 points ahead of Albany in the standings (but the Baby Pens have played five more games, so theoretically, at least, the Rats could catch the Pens and avoid the embarrassment of being the league’s worst team at the end of the season).

AWIR player of the week.

This is a Rodney Dangerfield story. No respect.

Mike Rucinski, late of the Lowell Lock Monsters, and a Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect (now aging into “veteran”) for six years, must wonder if people who record box scores even know who he is.

You see, the AHL web site, run by the folks at Canoe,, posts game box scores after every game. This week, Mike Rucinski’s name has managed to appear on none of the three box scores for the Albany River Rats. Maybe they have trouble spelling his name. Maybe the stats-meisters have not read the transactions pages. Maybe they were looking for Ted Drury (the guy, a forward, that got traded for Rucinski, a blueliner).

Nope, if you searched the post-game box scores for evidence of what Mike Rucinski has done in his first three games in a River Rats’ sweater, you would not even know he was on the team.

On the other hand, beat writer Phil Janack, of the Schenectday Daily Gazette and Sunday Gazette, wrote a nice column about him last Sunday. Jonathan Scherzer, the new voice of the River Rats, interviewed him on Friday in the broadcast from Providence. Janack and Scherzer both revealed that Rucinski, playing for the playoff-bound Lowell Lock Monsters, was somewhat shocked to be traded, at this late point in the season, to a team out of playoff contention.

But, Rucinski was also philosophical about it. He realizes that after a number of years with one club, with only cameo appearances in the NHL, it may have been time to join a new organization. And, even if the Rats are out of playoff contention, scouts are always watching.

Albany Week in Review has chosen Mike Rucinski as Albany’s player of the week. Not because of the reverse Rodney Dangerfield effect. No, in three games this week, Rucinski played decent, solid hockey. Among other good plays, he stopped a sure goal by Ken Gernander in Hartford late in the second period, with J.F. Damphousse out of position, by swatting away the Hartford Captain’s backhander from two feet outside the crease.

Rucinski was minus-two for the week, in plus/minus, but not a single River Rat actually wound up in the plus for the week. (Only Lucas Nehrling, at “even”, avoided red ink in that category.) Rucinski was chosen by AWIR as player of the week for fitting in well with little or no time to practice and to learn the New Jersey system. He covered his man in front, battled well for loose pucks, and generally played solid defense. Rucinski stepped into a tough situation and acquitted himself well. He looks to be a team player and his veteran experience will be welcomed in Albany. So even if Mike Rucinski’s name failed to appear in any of the three box scores this week, his work on the blue line was not overlooked by AWIR. Welcome to Albany, Mike Rucinski. We expect good things from you.