January 19, 2012

AHL Journal: Whale's Christensen just wants ice

By Dan Hickling

With so many career AHL players straining to get up to the NHL, what possessed Erik Christensen of the New York Rangers to want to come back the other way?

Pride? Playing time?

What we know for sure it wasn't the paycheck.

The Rangers are paying every dime of his near million-dollar salary while the journeyman forward is playing with the Connecticut Whale on a two-week conditioning stint.

Still, after being a healthy scratch for 10 consecutive games with New York, Christensen was not only receptive to the suggestion that he go down to the Whale, he was downright eager.

“Money is the last thing I'm worried about at this point,” said Christensen, following the third of five games he’s slated to play with the Whale. “It goes back to when John Tortorella (Melrose, Mass.) asked me to do this stint; I jumped at the chance. To me it's all about playing the game for these two weeks.

“Sometimes we treat it like a job, and what we have to remind ourselves is it's what we love, as well. Playing matters, too. The money's great, but we're very fortunate to be doing it. Playing is the bottom line.”

Playing is something that Christensen had done precious little of this season. Just cameo appearances in 20 games netting only five points (one goal, four assists).

Those were followed by 10 consecutive games in the press box as a healthy scratch, a little more rust accumulating with each idle night.

The process could have continued for the rest of the year, but rather than waive Christensen as they did Sean Avery, the Rangers approached him about spending a little quality time in the AHL.

“I didn't have to (go), Christensen said. “But, for one thing, I don't think it would look very good. I'm pretty honest when I speak to people and when you're not playing, you're pretty miserable. It really sucks. You want to play, and you really take pride in what you do. And this is what you do.”

Christensen said that all of that forced inactivity had dulled his feel for the rapid pace of the game.

So it was that his first game with the Whale, in Norfolk, left him feeling as though he was on double-runners.

“I was moving,” he said, “but it felt like everybody was flying around me. That's normal. (But) I told (Whale coach) Ken Gernander that I hadn't seen that much ice time since I was in junior, which was, what, eight years ago.”

The Rangers are not shy about burying NHL salaries on the Connecticut roster, as the 2,300 NHL games logged by Whalies such as Avery, Brendan Bell and Wade Redden will bear out.

Unlike the other three, Christensen knows he'll be heading back to New York in a week. But back to what is anyone's guess.

“When I go back,” he said, “I don't know what's going to happen. So I'm just going to try to enjoy what I'm doing down here, and help the team try to win.”

Around the AHL

Speaking of Avery, who is a lightning rod for attention, one always seems to know when he is around. However on Wednesday, the controversial center was conspicuous by his absence in the Whale's 4-2 loss at Portland. Avery was benched by Gernander for unknown reasons for the final period and a half, even as Connecticut was battling its way back into what seemed destined to be a blowout loss. … The revolving door that is the Springfield Falcons dressing room took another spin Thursday, when well-traveled defenseman Greg Amadio was picked up in an AHL swap with Grand Rapids. Going the other way was winger Mike Thomas. Also, Springfield added ex-Boston College forward Brett Motherwell on a PTO. … The Manchester Monarchs are on another one of their streaks, albeit one they'd like to snap ASAP. The Monarchs, who had briefly surged to the Atlantic Division lead, have sagged to third under the weight of their current six-game losing skein. … And good news for the Worcester Sharks has come in the person of former All-Star netminder Alex Stalock. Stalock is just about ready to return after having missed most of the past year with a serious laceration.

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