Brett Berard barely had time to settle in before hitting the ice with his new teammates as the Hartford Wolf Pack(28-25-11, 67 points) played three games in three days over the weekend, taking a possible four of six points to pull within a single tally of their Connecticut rivals, the Bridgeport Islanders(30-25-8, 68 points), who they host on Wednesday evening, for the Atlantic Division’s sixth and final playoff spot.
The New York Rangers have made it an organizational goal for their AHL affiliate to break their eight-year drought and qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs. General Manager Chris Druy has continuously displayed a commitment to the matter with his trade deadline acquisitions, the transfer of Berard, and now the arrivals of prospects Adam Sykora and Adam Edstrom.
Both players’ development teams’ seasons in Europe came to an end, respectively, and are expected to join the Wolf Pack this week to gain North American experience over the final eight regular season games and possibly more should they reach the postseason.
Leading the playoff push has been 21-year-old Will Cuylle, as the winger compiled a hat trick while engineering Hartford’s biggest comeback of the season on Friday against the fourth-seeded Springfield Thunderbirds(St Louis affiliate).
With the Wolf Pack trailing 5-2 in the third period after yielding five unanswered goals, Cuylle pounced on a power play opportunity, positioning himself in the slot, before depositing Ryan Carpenter’s feed top-shelf and over the glove of Thunderbirds goaltender Vadim Zherenko, trimming the deficit to two. Then, ten minutes later, at the 16:02 mark of the stanza, Johnny Brodzinski delivered.
With Hugh McGing in the box for slashing and the extra skater out in favor of netminder Louie Domingue, the forward’s clapper found the twine, opening the floodgates. Initially struggling to generate offense back at even strength, Hartford was gifted with another man advantage when Nikita Alexandrov was called for tripping at 16:46 and capitalized.
Tanner Fritz settled a pass to the middle from Brodzinski before netting his seventh on the season to tie it. The stage was then set for Cuylle, who culminated his big night by scoring the Wolf Pack’s fourth power-play goal of the period with 54 seconds remaining to send hats flying and fans hollering, securing a thrilling 6-5 victory.
Following the “Comeback heard around Hartford,” the pack looked to replicate their success the next night, but Garret Sparks had other ideas and stopped all 21 shots he faced in a 4-0 revenge win for Springfield. Frustrated at the expense of being blanked on home Ice, Hartford traveled to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA, for a match with the eighth-seeded WBS Penguins(Pittsburg’s affiliate), who trailed the Wolf Pack by six points with a game in hand.
Back in his old barn, Domingue was sharp with 27 saves on 28 shots and didn’t need much from Hartford’s offense, though they gave him plenty anyway. Zac Jones got things started by scoring a minute into the contest, weaving his way through Penguins defenders like a hot knife through butter before his quick strike beat goaltender Dustin Tokarski’s glove side for the early 1-0 lead.
A few minutes later, trade-deadline acquisition Will Lockwood finished a two-on-one rush with Carpenter to double Hartford’s advantage before Fritz found Brodzinski for a one-timer, completing the Wolf Pack’s three-goal first period.
Anton Blidh, acquired by Drury on deadline day from Colorado for Gustav Ryhdal, potted his first in his new threads, taking a loose puck behind the net before skating to the slot and going bar-down on Tokarski to make it 4-0. Although Jonathan Gruden’s power play clapper in the third spoiled Dominique’s shutout bid, Turner Elson answered with an empty-netter to seal the much-needed 5-1 win, as they prepare to welcome their reinforcements from Europe.
ADAM SKYKORA AND ADAM EDSTROM TO JOIN PACK:
On Tuesday morning, their respective league teams announced that Adam Edstrom and Adam Sykora are on their way to Hartford and are expected to make their debuts sometime this week. The 20-year-old Edtstrom, selected by New York in the sixth round at 191 overall in the 2019 draft, appeared in 42 games for Rögle BK and recorded nine goals and 19 points, not including his assist in the decisive game five of the first round, or his game-winning goal in the second round opener against Skellefteå, a series they would lose in six tilts.
The 6’8, 225 IBS forward, is known to be a tremendous skater with a tenacity fit to win board battles consistently and has the skill capable of scoring goals which he’ll be able to unlock in the smaller North American rinks.
Meanwhile, Sykora,18, was the Rangers’ second-round pick at 34th overall last Summer and will finally cross the ocean to play in this continent after previously declining to do so twice, despite the pleas of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, who selected him first overall in the 2022 draft. With the HK Nitra of the Slovak Tipos League, the 5’10 172 IBS winger, had eight goals and 21 points in 38 regular season games and recorded three assists in their 4-1 quarterfinal series loss to HC- Košice.
Both players will start the 2023-24 season with Hartford, no matter the result of this one.