Wilkes-Barre and Hartford square off in AHL playoffs

By Ailyn Diaz

Hartford Wolf Pack vs

Communication is something Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Coach Michel Therrien important in developing prospects.  He learned from experience coaching the
Montreal Canadiens.  At times, he might
even forget that his team is playing in the American Hockey League and mention
the opposition as the Flyers or the Rangers.


Despite losses or wins, Therrien enters the press room as if
it were the Bell Centre in Montreal with insurmountable confidence.  Every playoff game night, he delivers a
message to the future Penguins by objectively looking at their level of
play.  He will remark about their
conditioning, about turnovers or modes of executing plays.   For Therrien, this type of coaching
mentality permits players to believe that they are part of the big club and can
make a difference in their  future not
just in winning the Eastern Conference Finals or the Calder Cup.


Recently, media circles have mentioned Hartford Wolf Pack’s
coach Ryan McGill as a top prospect for the New York Rangers head position to
replace Glen Sather.  McGill likes the
idea, especially if he could add a Calder Cup on his résumé.  But the 35-year-old coach, who would like to
become the third youngest coach in history after Paul Maurice named at age 28
and Scotty Bowman at 34, did not foresee clashing with Wilkes-Barre Scranton
Michel Therrien’s confident National Hockey League approach.  


McGill’s style is classic junior hockey.  You play defensively.  You stick to rules.  You win. 
Easy?  That is exactly how he
coached the Kootenay Ice to win the Memorial Cup (2001-2002) with the likes of
Colorado Avalanche prospect speedy right wing Marek Svatos and Edmonton Oilers center Jarret Stoll.  But during
the finals, this approach appears to falter in front of Therrien’s NHL
experienced team with the likes of 22-year- old offensive minded left winger Tomas Surovy who scored the winning
goal against the Philadelphia Phantoms and 21-year-old goaltender Andy Chiodo who claimed two consecutive
shutouts in the past series.


“We weren’t so naïve to think that coming in here we were
going to be fantastic.  But, if you look
at the mistakes we’ve made.  They
capitalize on our mistakes,” said McGill skittishly as he faced his first loss
in the last eight games.  “I believe
that it is a case of us not bearing down.”  


One prospect who is attempting to bear down is right winger Jozef Balej.  Balej’s sophomore
season in the American Hockey League proved to be successful as he became the
leading scorer for the Hamilton Bulldogs. 
He encountered chemistry with Czech teammate forwards Tomáš Plekanec and Slovak teammate Marcel Hossa scoring 25 goals with this
team.   Language and culture
provided common ground to spark the scoreboard and memorable plays, but then
Balej was traded to the New York Rangers in the Kovalev deal and his
performance lacked luster.


During the post-season, he is attempting to regain his
confidence and follow his own motto. 
“You’ve got to believe in yourself.” 
The young Slovak who wears a signature railroad cap has a point in each
of the Wolf Pack’s nine playoff games previous to encountering the WBS


Certainly, Coach McGill believed he had an edge on the team
after sweeping the Worcester Ice Cats in four games.  He scouted the WBS Penguins as they played against the Philadelphia
Phantoms and believed that “the guys (knew) what to expect from them and the
building (Wachovia Arena).  It’s very
warm in the building.  Pucks seem to
bounce a lot. “ 


But it’s not just the puck bouncing that McGill had to
encounter but the “Chiodo Dragon” who caught the pucks.  “(Their) goaltender was good, but if the
goaltender is good you need to find a way to solve him.”  


He answered with 24-year-old goaltender Jason LaBarbera who has size on his side at 6’3’’ and 220 lbs
compared to diminutive Andy Chiodo who appears shorter than his stated
5’11”.  But despite a strong game on his
part, LaBarbera encountered difficulty on the ice.  During the third period of the first game of the series, a shot
fell on top of the net.  LaBarbera
turned around to get the puck and stumbled down writhing in pain.  The trainer attempted to help him up but the
young goaltender was unable to lift his head. 
For the rest of the game, veteran Stephen Valiquette replaced him on
goal.  For more than one hour, LaBarbera
stayed behind locked dressing room doors as his teammates prepared to leave for
the hotel.


McGill gave his own account of the report.  He attempted to negate any rumors that his
star goalie was injured.  eHeHHe’s fine.  He’s just a little dehydrated.  He’s not hurt.  He will play…”  


Despite LaBarbera going down on the ice, most of the
Hartford Wolf Pack troubles relate to special teams. “We could be more urgent
around the net.  In saying that, we made
two glaring mistakes on our penalty kill…The first one we weren’t low
enough.  (That is) our forwards weren’t
low enough, quick enough.” 


He said referring to center/left winger 23-year-old Chad Wiseman who is generally known for
his speed and passing abilities. Wiseman was the third leading scorer when he
played for the Cleveland Barons under the San Jose Sharks’ development system,
but needs to work on his defensive play. 
“They got the puck back to the point and (they) were able to develop a
power play. “


 “The second one they
went the wrong way with the puck.” 
After he mentioned that the mistakes were glaring, McGill minimized them
to “two little mistakes.”


Immediately after the game, his players left the dressing
room without any idea what skills to improve. 
They dressed and packed their equipment without working out a game


“You don’t know me. 
So I don’t talk to the team after the game,” he said to Hockey’s Future
in his post game commentary rather upset with the situation.  “So, just for you to know.  I’ll tell them tomorrow.”