February 19, 2012

AHL Journal: Bridgeport's Wotton hangs 'em up

By Dan Hickling

In honor of the impending reunion of the fabulous Monty Python, we'll shamelessly swipe this well-known Flying Circus line.

“And now for something completely different.”

That said, this space will depart from its customary pattern and, instead, take a twirl around the seven AHL rinks for a look inside.

Bridgeport

Longtime Sound Tigers captain Mark Wotton called it a career. (Photo by Dan Hickling)

The Sound Tigers have been the hottest team in the AHL since New Year's Day (13-1-1) and show no signs of cooling off. Incredibly, the Tigers are 8-0-0 on the road during that stretch and will now play three games at home during the upcoming long weekend. … The biggest news in Bridgeport came off the ice with the official retirement of Mark Wotton, the team's former longtime captain. Wotton, who spent the last five of his 15 AHL seasons on the Shoreline, was the epitome of an old-school defenseman. A warrior's warrior. “I had the privilege of playing hockey for 17 seasons and developed many lifelong friendships that I cherish to this day,” Wotton said in his farewell statement. “It was an honor to serve as the Sound Tigers captain for each of the five seasons I played in Bridgeport. I look forward to continuing to work within the Islanders organization.”  No doubt Wotton's No. 4 will be hoisted to the Webster Bank Arena rafters, once he can be pried out of his Manitoba nesting grounds.

Connecticut 

The Whale pulled out of their dreadful slide in a big way, having gone 5-0-1 in their last six starts. In the process, they reclaimed the top spot in the Northeast Division, and hold a three-point lead over Bridgeport. All of this has been accomplished without the aid of bad boy forward Sean Avery, who could scarcely be any deeper in coach Ken Gernander's doghouse.

Manchester

The big news coming out of the Queen City this week were the en masse promotions of glue guys Jordan Nolan and Dwight King to Los Angeles. Both reported to Long Island, where the Kings were visiting. For Nolan, it was his NHL debut. Making the story better was that both notched their first big-league goals one night later in the Kings’ 4-2 win at Dallas.

Portland

First-time promotions were also in order for a pair of Pirates – winger Matt Watkins and defenseman Michael Stone – who were summoned by Phoenix after Thursday's grueling 1-0 shootout win against Los Angeles. … Portland enters the weekend in the ninth spot in the East (54 points), one point behind both Bridgeport and Worcester in what is shaping up as a terrific (and crowded) playoff race.

Providence

Needing to make up ground, and quickly, the P-Bruins have to do so this weekend against Hershey, Springfield and the Whale -- and without the steady hand of second-leading scorer Josh Hennessy (Rockland, Mass.). Hennessy and defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk were both called up by Boston in advance of its six-game road sojourn. … Nice to see the P-Bruins sign hard-working winger Bobby Robins for the remainder of the season. Robins, a UMass-Lowell alum, has been on the AHL periphery for a few seasons but has never had a chance to stick. Brought into Providence just after Christmas, Robins has added a little offense (2-4-6) and a lot of sandpaper (97 PIMs in 21 games). He is a team-best plus-six.

Springfield

Untiring in his efforts to reach fans (and potential fans) in Greater Springfield, Falcons club president Bruce Landon has been appearing in a series of weekly “webisodes.”  Landon has been a passionate father figure for the sport in Springfield, and his up close and personal musings are (let's steal another phrase) “must-see TV” appointments. … In the midst of a busy three-game weekend, the Falcons will host the Western Mass Knights adult sled hockey team in a charity match against a team from the Hampden Bank Men's League Sunday. Puck drop is set for 1 p.m., prior to the Falcons/Sharks dustup.

Worcester

Congratulations to Sharks coach Roy Sommer for notching his 500th (and 501st) AHL career wins (all of them coming in the employ of the San Jose Sharks). Sommer is just the fourth AHL bench boss to reach that plateau, following after Fred Cook (636 wins), Frank Mathers (610) and John Paddock (589). Those three are already honored members of the AHL Hall of Fame and Sommer's selection to that body is a no-brainer once he hangs up his whistle. And, still young at age 54, that's not likely to happen any time soon.

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.