It may be snowing outside, but it feels like the middle of summer up in the makeshift press box at the former Knickerbocker Arena. No truth to the rumor that the temperature is coming from the heat on the River Rats to beat Bridgeport tonight.
The Sound Tigers have won 12 of 15 games to move a point past Albany and into fourth in the East Division. In one form or another, the Rats have dropped two in a row and six of seven to fall to fifth, having played one more game than Bridgeport.
These two teams waged a stretch-long battle for the final playoff spot last season, with Albany coming out on top -- its first trip to the postseason in seven years. Their last head-to-head meeting in Sunday in Bridgeport.
Scratched from the lineup tonight for Albany are injured center Bobby Hughes and defenseman Brett Carson, who skated in warmups. One of the final cuts from Carolina's training camp, Carson is minus-9 with six assists in 18 games in 2008.
Line combinations from warmups were, left to right: Brandon Nolan-Jamie Johnson-Jerome Samson; Chris Blight-Joe Jensen-Jakub Petruzalek; Nic Blanchard-Mike Angelidis-Pat Dwyer; Trevor Gillies-Carson-Joel Rechlicz.
Defense pairings: Joey Mormina (still wearing the third 'A' as alternate captain)-Mark Flood; Casey Borer-Noah Babin; Bryan Rodney-Steve Ward. Borer returned to the Rats Thursday afternoon from Carolina.
Mike Leighton will start in goal for Albany, opposed by Joey MacDonald, who stopped 46 of 49 shots in a 6-3 win at Albany Feb. 15.
Bridgeport arrived at the rink shortly after 5, after a 2 1/2-hour drive turned into four hours by the weather. Beat writer Mike Fornabaio had the right idea; he got here Thursday night.
Had a chance to talk with Bridgeport's 19-year-old rookie sensation Kyle Okposo before the game. The kid's talent on the ice is matched only by his maturity off of it. One of the best things about this league is seeing these future NHL stars come through.