📝 by Patrick Williams
Hartford Wolf Pack captain Jonny Brodzinski has heard about last season’s stretch drive for the club.
At 23-13-4-2 last season, the Wolf Pack had a grip on second place in the Atlantic Division and looked well on their way to going to the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2015. Thirty games later, the Wolf Pack found themselves packing up for the summer and heading home. That hold on second place had dissolved to a 32-32-6-2 finish after the Wolf Pack won only nine of their final 30 contests.
For much of that time, Brodzinski was on recall to the parent New York Rangers, and his absence certainly did not help matters for a team that was fighting to save its season. This year Brodzinski and the Wolf Pack want to head off any possibility of a repeat.
“We were pressing a little bit last year,” Brodzinski said of what he was told happened in Hartford amid that slump.
“Just playing the correct system that the coaches want us to, playing a simple game… As soon as you get away from that, it creates turnovers, it creates problems, and then guys are getting frustrated.”
Brodzinski and Rangers management recognize that the young prospects in Hartford need to experience the Calder Cup Playoffs this spring. At 19-19-3-6 and sixth in the Atlantic Division, the Wolf Pack are above the playoff line, but only by one point over Bridgeport and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. And it so happens that the Wolf Pack have the Islanders on their busy schedule this weekend, a Friday night date at XL Center to kick off a three-in-three for both teams.
This past weekend the Wolf Pack lost games to Lehigh Valley and Hershey, but Brodzinski came away encouraged. Hartford outshot the Bears, 34-20, and controlled play for long stretches on Saturday night.
“I think if we keep playing the way that we’re playing right now,” Brodzinski said, “we’re going to find a lot of wins, and we’re going to keep marching up the standings. I think we’re trending in the right direction these past couple games. Just sticking the course, not getting frustrated with each other. I think that was a big thing [last season].
“I just try to keep it loose around the locker room. At the end of the day, we’re playing hockey for a living. I mean, after a loss it can be pretty frustrating for a lot of guys. But you’ve got to put it behind you and move on to the next one, because this next one could be the biggest one.”
AHL All-Star forward Mike Vecchione is going to be sticking around Hershey for at least two more years.
The Bears announced Tuesday that the 29-year-old Vecchione has signed a two-year AHL contract for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons. Vecchione is third in scoring for the Bears with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) and was part of a Hershey contingent along with forward Ethen Frank and head coach Todd Nelson that represented the team last week at the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic in Laval.
Vecchione joined the Washington Capitals organization last season and hit a career high with 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) to lead the Bears in scoring. He has played 315 AHL games with Hershey, Colorado, San Antonio and Lehigh Valley.
The Belleville Senators face a roster shake-up going into a crucial six-day stretch in which they play four home games, including three with the Laval Rocket.
Back-to-back regulation losses last weekend in Cleveland left the B-Sens last in the North Division and eight points behind Rochester for a playoff spot. Now they have Syracuse coming to CAA Arena on Wednesday followed by the Rocket on Friday, Saturday and Monday. Laval is fourth in the North Division, nine points ahead of Belleville.
The parent Ottawa Senators have come calling as well, recalling goaltenders Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese. Ottawa announced that goaltender Anton Forsberg is “likely out for the remainder of the season,” according to NHL.com, following a net-front pile-up last Saturday against Edmonton. With Cam Talbot also out, Sogaard had already been recalled; Forsberg’s injury prompted Ottawa to put a call in for Mandolese on Monday.
On Monday, Sogaard was in net for a 4-3 overtime win against Calgary in which he made 34 stops. Mandolese, a sixth-round pick by Ottawa in the 2018 NHL Draft, could be in line to make his NHL debut as early as tonight when the Senators visit the New York Islanders.
Belleville, meanwhile, still has veteran Antoine Bibeau as well as rookie Logan Flodell on their roster.
Shoot the puck!
That is San Diego Gulls head coach Roy Sommer’s message to his players. For a team that is averaging 25.98 shots per game, fewest in the AHL, he would not mind his players being a little more selfish with the puck.
After all, Sommer estimates, one goal in the NHL could be worth $250,000.
“A guy scores 20,” Sommer said. “What’s that? Five million? So why wouldn’t you shoot the puck? I mean, that’s where the money is.”
Getting players more comfortable shooting the puck sometimes is a part of the development process — even with some of his more experienced players like forward Rocco Grimaldi. Last month Sommer and Grimaldi had a sit-down, and the head coach’s message was straightforward.
“I just said, ‘You’re getting too fine,’” Sommer explained.
Now Grimaldi has five goals in his past nine games, and he has uncorked 26 shots.
Top NHL scorers shoot the puck, Sommer said.
“They don’t look to dish. [The puck is] going to the net, and that’s the mentality [young players] have to get.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports, and is currently the co-host of The Hockey News On The ‘A’ podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.