by Nicole Caporaso | AHL On The Beat
The 2017-18 season has been a period of opportunity for Hartford Wolf Pack players.
With Ryan Sproul’s assignment to the New York Rangers on February 12, the defenseman joins six other players currently on the New York roster that have played games with the Wolf Pack this season.
Sproul, who produced two game-winning goals in his last three games with Hartford, accompanies John Gilmour, Neal Pionk, Vinni Lettieri, Alexandar Georgiev, Tony DeAngelo and Peter Holland on the Rangers.
Lettieri, who scored 14 goals in 35 games for the Wolf Pack this season, notched his first NHL goal during his NHL debut on December 29 against the Detroit Red Wings. Following his first call-up, Lettieri said he couldn’t have been happier with the experience.
“It was definitely good to get the first goal out of the way, which was awesome,” he said. The guys are really good to me up there and overall, it was a great experience.”
The Minnesota native said the current situation in New York is remarkable for all.
“I don’t think we ever planned on having so many of us called up at the same time, and for us to be up here and be winning is even better,” Lettieri said. “I couldn’t be happier for the guys who are playing, too. They are confident, doing their jobs, and are fitting in like regular NHL players.”
More recently, New York’s 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames on February 9 was particularly special for two reasons –Gilmour and Pionk were able to make their NHL debuts in the same game. Not only did both players finish the night with a plus-one rating, but Pionk earned the Rangers’ coveted “Broadway Hat” for his four hits, three blocked shots and two takeaways.
“Receiving the call and making my debut in Madison Square Garden was a dream come true,” Pionk said.
Gilmour echoed Pionk’s sentiment, as nearly a lifetime of hard work culminated into the big night at MSG.
“What a feeling it was getting that call – the best call I ever received,” Gilmour said about being notified of his promotion to the Rangers. “My debut was everything I dreamed about my entire life and more.”
For Georgiev, his call-up on February 10 marks his second assignment to the Rangers.
“It was a bit too good to be true,” Georgiev said after returning to the Wolf Pack following his initial December 5 call-up. “You dream about getting called up and then when it happens…I just couldn’t believe it for the first few minutes.”
Now, after posting two shutouts and allowing only 15 goals in his last eight Wolf Pack starts, Georgiev will again have an opportunity to earn ice time with the Rangers.
“It’s a real honor to be wearing this legendary jersey, and I’m very interested in seeing how Henrik [Lundqvist] prepares for the games, so I can try to note some of the things he does that help him play at such a high level,” Georgiev said.
For Keith McCambridge, the Wolf Pack’s head coach, it’s important that the culture of the team is headed in the right direction.
“A big part of what we’re trying to do in Hartford is have the identity take shape how we want it to in regards to the umbrella between the New York Rangers and ourselves,” he said. “Also, making sure those young players are continuing to work on the deficiencies in their game in the American Hockey League and also building off their strengths.”
McCambridge’s club has had success, as a run of strong play from mid-January into February inched the team to the cusp of a playoff spot.
Lettieri hopes the Rangers can likewise make a run at post-season play.
“These are important games coming up, and I hope that we can continue down the path we are on and get ourselves into a playoff spot,” he said.
Though McCambridge might miss Lettieri’s offensive prowess or Pionk’s steadfast defense in Hartford, he’s happy for the opportunities his players have to shine at the national level.
“For a coaching staff, it brings a smile to your face when you see those guys get their opportunities and make the most of them in the NHL with the New York Rangers,” he said.