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Sabres Central

Wolf Pack Maul and Mangle Amerks
By Rick Anderson
May 29, 2000

It was a beautiful spring evening in Rochester, N.Y. The trees were in full bloom, the sun was shining and the Rochester Americans were hosting their first game of the AHL's 2000 Calder Cup Finals before a packed house of 11,200. Everything was in place for a festive occasion except for one thing - the Amerks themselves. The huge throng of Amerks fans were treated to a 3-1 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack and went home in a sour mood. After tying the Wolf Pack one game apiece in the series with a stunning 4-1 victory Friday night in Hartford, the Amerks could not get anything going in front of rocking home crowd.

Hartford left winger Daniel Goneau ties up Amerks defenseman Dmitri Kalinin with the clutch-and-grab style that the Wolf Pack played all night in their 3-1 win over Rochester.
[Rochester D & C Photo]

The Wolf Pack smothered the Amerks with a hard-hitting physical defensive game and took advantage of a couple giveaways to win this one easily. When the Amerks did penetrate the Pack's defensive blanket, they could not get the puck past goalie J.F. Labbe, who made 29 saves on the night. He was particularly spectacular when the Amerks were able to get one breakaway and a couple other odd-man rushes in on him. He was blocking shots left and right and made numerous glove saves when he had to.

"We played better tonight," Labbe said. "They came out strong last game where they scored some big goals on turnovers. Tonight, we did it. We created some turnovers in their own zone.... It was a big team effort tonight."

At the other end, Mika Noronen was solid in the nets, especially in the early going when he had to make 13 saves in the first period. All told, Noronen made 21 stops on the night, but that wasn't enough as the Wolf Pack capitalized on the few chances the got.

"They managed to do to us what we did to them," said Amerks winger Joe Murphy. "They got us frustrated, which is uncharacteristic for us, but we'll take our medicine, learn from it and we'll be a better team for it on Wednesday."

With only 1:15 remaining in the first period, P.J. Stock was able to get his stick on a shot by Derek Armstrong from the left faceoff circle and the puck fluttered over Noronen into the back of the net. The way the Pack was manhandling the Amerks, fans knew that it would be difficult to come back from that 1-0 deficit. In fact, in Game One of the series, Hartford beat the Amerks by that very score.

T
Doug Houda rides Hartford forward away from the net as Mika Noronen guards the side of the net.
[Sabres Central Photo]

he Amerks, take a page from their parent Buffalo Sabres, have their own "No goal" controversy. It happen at 4:45 of the second period when Darren Van Oene appeared to have scored the tying goal when he popped in a rebound just after Joe Murphy was stonewalled by Labbe on a semi-breakaway. The goal was disallowed when Hartford's Tomas Kloucek knocked the net off the moorings just before the puck went in. Amerks coach Brian McCutcheon was infuriated over the ruling and had a long heated discussion with referee Dean Warren for a couple minutes.

"Our replays shows that Joe (Murphy) did not even touch the net," fumed McCutcheon. "It was knocked off by (Kloucek). If I know the rules correctly, the goal should have counted."

Warren reasoned that Kloucek unintentionally knocked the net off by trying to force Murphy wide when he broke in on Labbe.

With the sour taste of losing a hard-earned goal being nullified still in their mouths, the Amerks had another break go against them two minutes later. With over 6 minutes gone by in the second period, the Pack converted a Amerks turnover into a 2-0 lead when Chris Wells recovered the loose puck at the Rochester blueline and threw a perfect pass to Brad Smyth. Smith got in close and tipped it past the befuddled Noronen.

"We made a point of going out and working hard," Wells explained. "When you work hard and you move you feet ... you can be satisfied with yourself. We got a couple of lucky bounces tonight and a couple of lucky goals. We definitely made it a point of just working hard."

Mika Noronen falls to his knees to block a shot.
[Sabres Central Photo]

Finally, the Amerks were able to get one past Labbe when Witehall was called for goalie interference at the 13:30 mark. Doug Houda, the old veteran of NHL wars, was able to blast a shot from the point that got past the otherwise unbeatable Labbe at 14:54 of the second period. Dominic Pittis was credited an assist on the goal, which set a Calder Cup playoff record for most assists at 25.

Labbe then took a page out of Dominik Hasek's playbook. When J.P. Dumont staked past Labbe, he lightly brushed the goalies' pads. Labbe flopped to the ice and gave a performance not even worthy of a Grammy. He withered as if he were in pain and his act was good enough to fool Warren. Dumont received a tripping penalty and the Wolf Pack took that opportunity to put the game away when Smyth scored his second of the night. This was the final nail in the coffin for the Amerks. They were as good as dead against a goalie who was stopping everything the Amerks could throw at him.

"We wanted to redeem ourselves after not playing very well the last game," said Smyth. Smith is now tied with J.P. Dumont for the playoff lead in goals at 12.

Not only did the Amerks have to contend with the stellar play of Labbe, but they also had bad officiating to contend with. This was a night were the referees let everything go and then suddenly decided to call spot penalties that weren't anything as flagrant as the ones left uncalled. Both teams got away with virtual muggings in the first period. On almost every shift, punches were freely thrown, players were tripped, slashed and high sticks were prevalent. Referee Dean Warren made the NHL officiating look impeccable with the shoddy game he called Sunday night.

Mika Noronen prepares for a slap shot from the point.
[Sabres Central Photo]

"Certainly they're letting more go than they did in the first three rounds," said Rochester defenseman Mike Hurlbut. "But if you watch the NHL and the stuff they're getting away with, it wasn't much different."

One of the most glaring non-calls was when Johan Witefall tripped Jeremy Adduono just as he got the puck with a gapping empty net to shoot at during a power play early in the second period. Then Warren called that brush-by incident where Dumont "tripped" Labbe and the Amerks were shorthanded for much of the second period. The game really got chippy in the third period when there were fights galore and with only 1 second remaining in the game, the two teams went at it like a scene from "Slapshot." Pittis and Armstrong got roughing penalties while Hartford's Wells got a misconduct.

Now the Amerks find themselves behind 2 games to 1 in the Calder Cup Finals. They have to rebound in a hurry if they don't want to go back to Hartford with their backs against the wall behind 3-1.

"We're trying to do the same things as we did in Game 2 against them," explained Joe Murphy. "That was getting the puck deep and trying to play the body and force them into making mistakes. They played a good game so we didn't get the breaks we wanted to. We'll just see if we can solve it for next game."

"In Game 2 we didn't play after the first 10 minutes; we might as well have stayed in the dressing room," said John Paddock, Wolf Packs' coach. "Tonight we played a gritty type game and we paid a price to win."

The Amerks knew that if they had struck first in the contest, the result may have been much different.

"We had our opportunities, especially early, where we could have got the lead," McCutcheon said. "Certainly it helps for either team when they get the lead. You can play a little more defensive when you have it. When you're behind in the score, you continually give a good effort. We just couldn't seem to find the back of the net. That leads to frustration."

"I give credit to Hartford. They played really hard for 60 minutes,"chipped in Denis Hamel.

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