By Bruce Berlet
In 13 seasons in the NHL, Wade Redden never missed more than 18 games. In fact, in 10 of those seasons, the defenseman played at least 75 of 82 games.
So the 22 games that Redden has had to sit out since he was injured in the Connecticut Whale’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Providence Bruins on Dec. 17 have been uncharted territory. Not to mention being rather agonizing and a bit boring at times, though it did provide more time at home with wife Danica and 17-month-old daughter Leni.
“I’ve been making the most of that,” Redden said. “One thing that has helped me get through this is having them there. It’s not easy sitting out, but when you go home, life’s pretty busy so you have to keep going on day by day and get healthier. That’s all you can ask for.”
Redden, 34, the second overall pick by the New York Islanders in 1995 and a two-time NHL All-Star, has spent much of the past two months rehabbing an injury that has sidelined him twice as long as any other time in his noteworthy 15-year pro career. That included Thursday, when he had a 20-minute, post-practice “bag skate” under the watchful eye of assistant coach J.J. Daigneault, who handles the defense. Redden did plenty of huffin’ and puffin’ and needed a few minutes to catch his breath before doing an interview.
But, not surprisingly, Redden has remained professional in his approach to his recovery and discussing some of the most difficult times of his career as he is about to return to the game that he loves and has provided a lucrative livelihood. It was especially difficult in January, when the Whale went through an 11-game winless streak (0-6-3-2) to temporarily lose the Northeast Division lead to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
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“It’s hard just to be watching and skating (alone),” said Redden, who has 10 assists in 25 games, missing 28 total so far. “You want to be playing and going with the guys on the road. The most important thing is the games, so it’s hard sitting out those and having a chance to do something, especially in the bad stretch with all the close games and nothing to show for it.
“But when you’re not playing, the focus is just to get healthy, and I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with (athletic trainer Damien Hess and strength and conditioning coach Mark Cesari), so I’ve been feeling good about that. It’s been a process that has been good and has come a long way, and when I’m healthy and ready, I’ll be able to step right in again. Practices have gone fairly good, but I still do feel a little bit held back, especially with things that I have to do in a game like mobility and getting into certain positions when it can flare up and I don’t feel like I’m ready to go. The one good thing is I haven’t had any real setbacks. It has been getting better and better, and I’ve been able to do more, so I don’t see that changing. It’s just a matter of needing a little more time.”
But Redden didn’t need any time before breaking into a wide smile when asked about giving new father and fellow defenseman Pavel Valentenko some tips on raising a daughter. Valentenko’s wife, Ekaterina, gave birth to the couple’s first child, 8-pound, 6-ounce Polina, on Feb. 3, and Redden got Valentenko to visit www.babycenter.com as the Russian sat out seven games with an injury sustained in a 3-2 overtime loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 27.
“The website (information) starts even before birth,” Redden said. “You can put in the due date beforehand, and each week it sends you an update, where the baby is at and the stage of pregnancy. And there’s stuff about after the birth, just little things that you wouldn’t really know. I didn’t have any clue, so it’s pretty cool.”
Valentenko was beaming even more than Redden when asked about fatherhood and possibly returning to the lineup Friday night when the Whale hosts the Springfield Falcons at the XL Center.
“I’ve missed the guys, being with the team, and now I feel good and ready to go,” said Valentenko, who has been practicing since the middle of last week. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to have a baby. It’s like I have a different life. I feel more mature.”
What about those tips from Redden?
“He gave me some lessons to take care of the baby,” Valentenko said, smiling again. “We showed me some websites, and I learned some things about babies, like what to do at one month.”
Though their first loves might be at home, Valentenko and Redden said they are excited to get back to work, and their possible returns come at a good time for the Whale since defenseman Jeff Woywitka and left wing Wojtek Wolski returned to the New York Rangers on Wednesday after helping the team put together a 5-0-1-0 run and reclaim the division lead during two-week conditioning assignments.
The Whale has another busy weekend as they also host the Worcester Sharks on Saturday night and visit the Providence Bruins on Sunday afternoon.
It’s especially encouraging to be on the verge of playing again for Redden after an unprecedented absence in the fourth year of a six-year, $39 million deal that he signed with the Rangers on July 1, 2008. Redden’s $6.5 million annual cap hit doesn’t count toward the NHL salary cap when he is in the minor leagues.
The extended off time has given Redden more time to consider all his options.
“I don’t know what the (Rangers) plan is, but obviously we’ll see what happens this summer,” said Redden. “I want to work to get another chance in the NHL, and lots of different things can happen. When you’re rehabbing and knowing there’s not much time left in the season, you want to come back and be ready and show what you can do. Obviously it’s going to be important to showcase that if anybody was going to want me.
“One of motivating things in this rehab, too, has been to get back and be healthy and be strong and be good, especially with the playoffs coming up. Honestly, I’ve been very fortunate (financially), but I don’t sit there counting my money. That’s not what it’s about and not what you look back on at the end of a career. I’m sure a lot of guys would take my position in a heartbeat, and I wouldn’t trade it with anyone. But you make the best of what you’ve got, and I still want to play (in the NHL).”
ANOTHER THREE GAMES IN THREE DAYS FOR WHALE
After a 2-1 overtime loss to the Sound Tigers on Sunday ended a five-game winning streak, the Whale will try to start another when they host the Falcons (23-23-2-2). Springfield is eight points behind the Whale after a bizarre last weekend in which they lost 3-2 in overtime at home to the Whale on Friday night, lost 8-1 at Bridgeport on Saturday night and then rebounded to beat visiting Manchester 5-1 on Sunday as All-Star forward Cam Atkinson, former Wolf Pack wing Alexandre Giroux and Wade MacLeod each had a goal and an assist to back the 24-save effort of former UMass goalie Paul Dainton.
Atkinson, a Greenwich native who starred at Avon Old Farms and helped Boston College win two national championships, is second on the Falcons in scoring and among AHL rookies in goals with 27. His 41 points are fifth among first-year players and two fewer than Whale All-Star forward Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, who is tied for third. Former All-Star center Martin Pierre leads the Falcons in scoring with nine goals and 35 goals, followed by Atkinson, Giroux (17, 20), former Wolf Pack left wing and captain Dane Byers (10, 14), Matt Calvert (11, 11) and Nick Drazenovic (6, 16). Dainton is 6-3-1 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. Manny Legace, 39, the Hartford Whalers’ eighth-round pick in 1993, is 10-16-1, 2.84 and .902.
The Whale won the first five meetings with their I-91 rival and then went 0-2-0-1 before the 3-2 win Friday night when Wolski scored at 1:04 of overtime. Audy-Marchessault, a solid contender for the AHL All-Rookie team with Atkinson, has taken over the Whale scoring lead with 18 goals and 25 assists, followed by center Kris Newbury (18, 24 in 39 games), former Falcons right wing Andre Deveaux (13, 17) and All-Star Mats Zuccarello (10, 20 in 27 games). Chad Johnson played all six games in the Whale’s recent resurgence, stopping 180 of 189 shots, to improve to 15-10-5, 2.42, .919 with one shutout. Cam Talbot is 9-11-0, 2.96, .900 with two shutouts. Audy-Marchessault has a staggering 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) against the Falcons, while Atkinson (5, 3) and Giroux (1, 7) have led the Falcons against the Whale.
After playing the Falcons, the Whale hosts Worcester (23-16-4-5) on Saturday night and visits Providence (23-22-3-3) on Sunday afternoon. On Saturday night, the Whale and Whalers Sports and Entertainment will host “It All Starts Here” Night, which will pay tribute to players who spent time playing in the AHL in Hartford before moving on to the Rangers. It also will participate in USA Hockey’s “Hockey Weekend Across America” that is meant to spread the game throughout the country. Part of the initiative is also to provide opportunities for those who have not tried hockey, resulting in more people playing the game at all levels. Whale staff will participate in “Try Hockey for Free” clinics Saturday at Newington Arena (8:00 a.m.) and the Koeppel Community Sports Center at Trinity College in Hartford (10:30 a.m.).
The night will include special ticket deals, as those wearing a youth hockey jersey to the XL Center’s Public Power Box Office will be able to purchase special $10 lower-level end zone seats. Also, 5,000 fans will receive a Whale TV poster, compliments of Webster Bank. The poster will feature the theme of the night, “It All Starts Here”, with former Wolf Pack and Whale players and staff who have made it to the Rangers, including captain Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and rookie Carl Hagelin, who started the season with the Whale. For more information, visit www.ctwhale.com.
The Whale and Sharks, who won two straight games and three of four before a 4-3 loss at Portland on Wednesday night despite three power-play goals, have split two games in Worcester. Sharks coach Roy Sommer became only the fourth coach to win 500 AHL games Saturday night when Worcester won 3-2 in a shootout at Hershey. After a 5-2 victory over Portland on Sunday and the loss to the Pirates on Wednesday night, Sommer, the dean of AHL coaches, is 501-497-90 in 14 seasons. He trails only Hall of Famers Fred “Bun” Cook (636-413-122), Frank Mathers (610-512-134) and John Paddock (589-438-98), who led the Wolf Pack to the Calder Cup in 2000.
Sommer’s first career win came on Oct. 17, 1998, a 6-4 victory over the Albany River Rats. David Cunniff, the son of former Whalers wing and assistant coach John Cunniff, played for Albany that night and has been Sommer’s assistant coach since 2002. No. 500 came in dramatic fashion as his newest player, former Wolf Pack center Tim Kennedy, scored his first goal as a Shark with 1:16 left in regulation before Brodie Reid converted in the seventh round of a shootout and Tyson Sexsmith finished 7-for-7 in the shootout for the win. Kennedy, acquired from the Florida Panthers for defenseman Sean Sullivan on Jan. 26, has two goals and six assists in seven games with the Sharks, who are led in scoring by center Mike Connolly (10, 19), left wing John McCarthy (12, 16), defenseman Matt Irwin (8, 20) and right wing Jack Combs (12, 12), though McCarthy is on recall to the San Jose Sharks. Sexsmith (10-8-5, 2.14, .924) and Finnish rookie Harri Sateri (11-9-0, 2.60, .906, two shutouts) are sharing the goaltending with veteran Antero Niittymaki (2-3-0, 3.01, .890) on loan to the Syracuse Crunch.
The Whale is 3-1-0-1 against the Bruins (23-22-3-3), who have lost four of their last five games and are led by rookie right wing Carter Camper (11, 24), center Josh Hennessy (15, 15), rookie left wing Craig Cunningham (10, 11) and defensemen Matt Bartkowski (3, 17) and rookie David Warsofsky (2, 18), though Hennessy is on recall to Boston. Left wing Lane MacDermid, son of former Hartford Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid, has four goals, eight assists and a team-high 99 penalty minutes. Anton Khudobin (18-16-3, 2.57, .920, two shutouts) and Michael Hutchinson (4-9-0, 2.52, .920) have handled most of the goaltending.
FANS GAME 7 ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY
Falcons fans beat their Whale counterparts 12-7 last Friday night for a sixth straight win in their inaugural seven-game series. The final game is March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, at 4 p.m. at the XL Center, and tickets ($16) and more information are available at facebook.com/whalefalconsfangame.
The series was originated by Seth Dussault of Easthampton, Mass. Matt Marychuk of Glastonbury created a Facebook page to see if there were any interested players, and he and Dussault managed the social media page as interest grew. They used the page to sign up fans to play and communicate between the players and managed to fill rosters for each fan team. The idea caught the attention of the Falcons and then Whale front office, leading to players of all ages and skill levels participating in the series. A portion of ticket sales benefits Defending the Blue Line, an organization that helps children of military families play hockey. The first five games raised $850 for DBL. … College students can get discounted Whale tickets to weekday games with a “Ditch the Dorms” deal. For Monday through Friday games, students who show a valid student ID at the Public Power Ticket office at the XL Center can get $2 off upper-level tickets and $5 off lower-level seats. … Fans can bid on AHL All-Star Classic jerseys, helmets, gloves and pucks at www.theahl.com. Zuccarello, Audy-Marchessault and Atkinson were on the Eastern Conference team, which was captained by former Wolf Pack left wing Boyd Kane, captain of the Hershey Bears. … Albany Devils right wing Joe Whitney has been named winner of the reGen Recovery Beverage/AHL Performance of the Month Award for January. On Jan. 6, the Devils trailed the Norfolk Admirals 4-0 in the third period before rallying for the largest come-from-behind victory in history. Whitney capped the comeback when he scored at 3:31 of overtime to give the Devils a 5-4 victory. Whitney, a 24-year-old rookie from Reading, Mass., is the Devils’ leading scorer with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 46 games. reGen is the AHL’s official recovery beverage. … Former Wolf Pack and Rangers wing Ryan Hollweg of the Portland Pirates will have knee surgery next week for a torn ACL and is likely out for the season.
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