Whalers Alumni Moving Forward In Playoffs
The Whalers are done playing this season. Veterans have moved up to the pro ranks, older players have moved back home, and younger players are still going to high school at the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.
Plymouth President, General Manager and Head Coach Mike Vellucci and his staff are preparing for the upcoming Ontario Hockey League Draft, known as the Priority Selection, on Saturday, May 7.
Meanwhile, several Whalers alumni are still competing in the playoffs at all levels of professional hockey. Here’s a closer look:
NASHVILLE RELISHES FIRST-EVER PLAYOFF SERIES VICTORY: You’ve probably seen a great highlight goal by Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan as he stripped Whalers alum David Legwand of the puck and scored during Game 5 of the recent Nashville-Anaheim series.
Legwand and the Predators had the last laugh, though, with Legwand scoring an empty-net goal Sunday in Game 6 in Nashville’s series-clinching 4-2 win over Anaheim.
The Predators won their first-ever playoff series and many observers close to the scene felt there was some justice to Legwand’s empty-netter to close the series. Legwand is the first-ever player selected in the National Hockey League Entry Draft by Nashville and had gone 12 years before tasting playoff success in the NHL.
Legwand’s last playoff series win? Plymouth’s four-game sweep of Windsor in the first round of the 1999 Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
“It means a lot,” Legwand told The Tennessean about the Nashville series-clincher. “It’s a new step for this organization — playing into May.”
Like Legwand, Nashville head coach Barry Trotz has been with the team since the beginning and – along with General Manager David Poile - have all endured their share of heartbreak.
“We’ve been disappointed in the playoffs a few times,” Trotz told The National Post. “Now we’ve taken another step in winning a series. I always tell our players, if it comes easy, you probably don’t appreciate it a whole lot. And it’s been hard for us and I think the fans really appreciate it.”
The Predators may play the Red Wings in the next series.
MICHAL NEUVIRTH BACKSTOPS WASHINGTON: Whalers alum Michal Neuvirth was an integral part of Plymouth’s OHL Championship in 2007. Last spring, he backstopped Hershey to the American Hockey League Championship.
Now, Neuvirth leads the NHL playoffs with a 1.38 goals-against average and .946 save percentage after Washington eliminated the New York Rangers in five games in the first round.
“He didn’t give them a chance (to gain momentum),” Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau told the Toronto Sun. “He was great covering up pucks and he didn’t allow rebounds. I’m telling you - a lot of people don’t know his name too much, at least outside our circles - but he’s a heck of a goalie.”
JAMES NEAL’S OT WINNER IS THE REAL DEAL: James Neal has scored just twice since joining the Pittsburgh Penguins in a mid-season trade with the Dallas Stars, but one of the goals came in double overtime in Game 4 of the Penguins-Tampa Bay series.
"We've seen how he's going to get 34, 35, 40 goals for our team next season," Bylsma told NHL.com about Neal’s overtime winner. "He hasn't been able to really put those in the net for us. But he's had some opportunities in this series. … All I saw was the puck hitting the back of the net, the laser that it was. To see James get his reward, get the game-winner for us … the smile on his face was one of relief, but also one of getting a big goal for his team."
Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay play tonight in the seventh and deciding game of the series.
SEGUIN SITS, WILLIAMS COMES BACK FROM INJURY: Tyler Seguin has been a healthy scratch for Boston in their first-round series with Montreal, which continues tonight in Game 6 with the Bruins leading, three-games-to-two.
Bruins Head Coach Claude Julian is patient with Seguin.
“Anybody who has watched him play knows [Seguin] needs to grow and that’s going to come with experience and with time. We’re willing to give him that,” Julien told CSNNE.com. “But I think right now it’s about giving him that opportunity. There have been times he’s had to sit back because we don’t want him getting comfortable. By sitting him out every once in a while, he gets hungry.”
Justin Williams came back from a separated shoulder and scored three goals with an assist in six games, but the San Jose Sharks eliminated the Kings in six games last night.
HACKETT VS. SMITH IN CALDER CUP PLAYOFFS: The American Hockey League’s West Division Finals features the Whalers goaltending tandem from 2008-09.
Matt Hackett established himself as the Houston Aeros’ lead goaltender over the course of the regular season and currently leads the AHL playoffs with a 1.67 goals against average and .923 save percentage as Houston swept Peoria in four games.
Jeremy Smith moved between Cincinnati of the East Coast Hockey League and Milwaukee of the AHL earlier this season. He then replaced Chet Pickard as a backup for Mark Dekanich and took over for Dekanich (injured) during Milwaukee’s first round playoff series against Texas.
Smith helped the Admirals to their first-round elimination of the Stars, stopping 52 shots in double-overtime in Milwaukee’s 3-2 win over Texas to close the series in six games.
"I was seeing the puck really well," Smith (who finished with 122 saves in the last three games) told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I was really comfortable back there."
"It's tough when you lose your No 1 guy who was leading the league in save percentage," Milwaukee coach Lane Lambert said. "But our team is resilient. We have great leadership and we have guys who find ways to fight through adversity. For the most part, we've had many guys go down lately. We just keep finding a way to battle through it. I think it's just a credit to our team and the players on our team to continue to battle through whatever adversity is put at us.
“And it's a credit to Smith for stepping up to the plate. He's an athletic guy. He's not necessarily the most technically sound, but he battles and finds a way to keep the puck out of the net. He's done a real good job not only in the regular season, but now since he's had to replace Dekanich as the No.1 guy."