Friday night, $2 beers, $1 hot dogs, and some good old Wolf Pack hockey! What could be better on a chilly December night? Not much else. As usual the crowd at Hartford’s XL Center seemed pretty pumped up, especially after a crazy win in overtime during their road game Sunday verse the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (13-10-3-1). If anyone forgot, the Sound Tigers and Wolf Pack had a few frustrating games against each other over the last couple of weeks – so coming back home, both players and fans had every right to be excited. However, Friday night’s game was another emotion filled game, facing off against the Syracuse Crunch (18-7-3-0). Put at a disadvantage, the Wolf Pack (15-10-2-1) were without right wing Joey Crabb and head coach Ken Gernander after an unfortunate mumps outbreak earlier this week. Despite some disadvantages, the Pack’s rookie goalie Mackenzie Skapski was back on the ice – and from all accounts, he was pretty fired up for his first start back after missing a few games with an injury.
Hartford seemed to start off strong, but as strong as they appeared they faltered in terms of putting it in the net. Ryan Haggerty had a pretty early chance to lock in the first goal, but he was unable to capitalize on the chance. Both Shawn O’Donnell and Chris Mueller also had great opportunities to score early as well, but once again, were unable to capitalize. With a big hit from Ryan Bourque at 9:16 drawing a boarding penalty, the game began to get physical. With rampant pushing and shoving into the boards and big hits, it wasn’t long until a fight broke out. Crunch’s Philippe Paradis and Hartford’s Chad Nehring, who’d been going at it through the first period threw down their gloves and let the tension out. The rough play would only continue though, even moments before the end of the first there was still a huge threat of another brawl. The first period ended with both teams clenching their fists, as the scoreboard read 0-0. Following the end of the period a big brawl broke out with both teams going at it resulting in several penalties.
Coming back for the second period, Syracuse seemed ready to get the game going. At 2:12, Tanner Richard from the Crunch slid one past Skapski on a rebound. Allowing the first goal on the board, the Wolf Pack’s blood was boiling. The tension continued as the game became more physical, it seemed the Pack were beginning to lose composure. With a power play only moments later, the Wolf Pack failed to utilize this opportunity, as a majority of the man advantage was being played in the Wolf Pack’s own zone.
Notably frustrated, Conor Allen, Wolf Pack’s defenseman almost caused another fight against a Crunch player, however the refs were able to break the fight up. This didn’t stop Allen from a tripping penalty at 7:36 though. As the second period progressed, emotions were clearly running wild. Hartford was just racking up penalties, 9:09 Tommy Hughes was called for tripping, leaving for a 5-on-3 in Syracuse’s favor.
Clearly thrown off their game, the Wolf Pack managed to let another goal in. Slipping right past Skapski’s pads, Vladislav Nametsnikov got the puck in the net. By the end of the second, Syracuse was leading 2-0 and the physicality was certainly increasing.
The third period started off with a fight early on, between Syracuse’s Joey Mormina and Hartford’s Ryan Malone, who’d been battling it out the entire night. The fighting was beyond persistent through the third period. Over 75 penalty minutes were given out over the course of the game. With the last couple of minutes dawning on the game, it was quite clear the game was not going to be a victory for the Pack. With 2:30 left, Skapski was pulled from goal.
In the end the Wolf Pack seemed to crumble under the Crunch’s strong play. “We didn’t play our game, we just didn’t play well,” Mueller said. Then following up about the intense physicality he mentioned, “When things get physical, we really can’t cross that line.”
Some fans could be overheard grumbling that the loss was because of Gernander’s absence, however, assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom said, “When it comes down to it, hockey is hockey. It doesn’t matter who is coaching, it matters what the players are doing on the ice.”
The final score 2-0 Crunch, both teams equally had 24 shots on goal. The Hartford Wolf Pack will be home again on Saturday at the XL Center to redeem themselves with a game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (13-10-3-1).
This ended Hartford’s four game winning streak
The team will be without coach Ken Gernander Saturday also (mumps)