Ex-Rats in town
If you happen to be at Crossgates Mall in the next little while, don't be surprised to see a group of (mostly) young guys, hockey player-types, hanging out on their day off.
The Hershey Bears got into town around 4 this morning and had an early afternoon team meeting before getting the rest of the day to themselves. Crossgates was at the top of the list for several players.
"I wouldn't call it a team outing, but there'll be a bunch of us there," Hershey defenseman Bryan Helmer said. "Maybe we'll go to the movies. We watch a lot of movies."
Helmer and Keith Aucoin, both of whom became fan favorites during different Rats eras, make their first appearance of the season with the Bears Friday night. For Aucoin, it's his first game back since Feb. 1, when he tied a franchise single-game record for assists and points with five in a 5-1 rout of Syracuse.
For Helmer, it's been a while. His last game in Albany came on March 10, 2000 as a member of the Worcester IceCats. He had an assist and an overtime fight with Steve Kelly in a 3-3 tie.
"It's been a long time," Helmer said. "I can't wait. I know it's a different organization, but it's still the River Rats. I have a lot of great memories here. It's going to be good."
Only Rats assistant coach Geordie Kinnear, who was Helmer's playing partner and roommate, is still around from Helmer's Rats' days, from 1993-98. Since leaving Worcester, he has played mostly in the West and Midwest, except for a brief stint with Springfield. He did play Albany in that short time, though it was in Massachusetts.
"I had three assists, I think," Helmer said. "After the game I was talking to Geordie and he said, 'If I was still playing, I'd have hammered you.' " Ah, good times.
While Helmer's time in Albany was part of the franchise's glory years, Aucoin's arrival signalled its turnaround from several dismal, non-playoff seasons. He was the focal point of that resurgence, and set a single-season scoring record (72 assists, 99 points) in the process.
"I'm looking forward to coming back," Aucoin said. "I had a lot of fun playing there, and as a team, we had a lot of success. It's going to be weird playing in a different uniform. It'll be a lot of fun, especially knowing a lot of guys on that team. Hopefully, they'll take it easy on me."
* - For the first time in a long time, Albany had a full complement of players, 24 in all, on the ice for practice this morning at RPI's Houston Field House. That includes injured forwards Joe Jensen and Stefan Chaput, who participated with yellow, non-contact sweaters.
"Everyone's not healthy enough to play yet, but we did have everyone out there, and that's always a positive," coach Jeff Daniels said. "It's good to have some extra bodies. Hopefully we'll get those guys back soon."
While Jensen is not expected back until next week, Chaput is possible at some point during a three-game weekend.
"Jensen I don't think will be available. That may change, but at this point, I'm saying no. We're staying patient with him," Daniels said. "Chaput may play. Today was more just to get on the ice and see how he responds. He'll go through the pregame skate tomorrow and hopefully he's an option for Saturday or Sunday."
* - Justin Peters will get the start in goal tonight. Daniel Manzato will see action in at least one game on the weekend.
"I definitely want Petey in there tommorrow night, and we'll go from there," Daniels said. "They'll both probably play this weekend; it's just a matter of what the rotation will be."
* - After hosting Hershey Friday night at the former Knickerbocker Arena, the Rats play at Hartford on Saturday and in Bridgeport on Sunday.
Albany is 0-10-0-1 in its last 11 meetings with the Wolf Pack, not having won since a 5-1 victory at home on Jan. 14, 2005. Its last win at Hartford was a 6-3 decision on March 8, 2003. Ari Ahonen was in goal for both wins.
The 11 consecutive victories is a Wolf Pack team record against one opponent.
* - In discussing Helmer, his friend and former teammate, Kinnear touched on a subject that is as important to success as mastering the X's and O's.
"When you play this game and you play it a long time, you wind up playing with a lot of people," Kinnear said. "Sometimes, you find a group that really cares for each other. That's what we had in Albany back then. The guys you win with, you always have a special spot for them. I won with Helms, and there will always be a special spot for guys like that. That's when you know you've really got something. It comes down to execution and systems and all that, but the true intangible is when you have a group of guys that care for one another and are playing for each other, not just for themselves."