Rats-Sound Tigers postgame
Tonight was going to be a special one for the River Rats, no matter what. Six days after their team bus crashed on the Mass Pike in an early-morning winter storm, they were playing hockey again.
And they played a lot of hockey: 60 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime before converting three of five shootout attempts to rally for a 3-2 win. The game lasted two hours and 30 minutes, and as tired as the patchwork Rats were, they were clearly energized by the win, and relieved at the same time.
"Just getting here today and getting dressed again, putting the jersey back on, definitely felt good," winning goalie Justin Peters said. Peters stopped 36 shots in regulation and overtime, and three of four in the shootout.
"From the drop of the puck, it just felt good to be playing again. The last couple of days dragged on, I thought. It was definitely good to get here, and even better to get the win."
Missing nine regulars, seven from injuries in the accident, Albany's lineup featured four players called up from the ECHL as well as rookie Brandon Sutter, sent down by the Carolina Hurricanes on conditoning. Sutter's father, New Jersey Devils head coach Brent Sutter, attended the game and spoke with his son outside the locker room afterward.
"Before the game, you could tell that it didn't really have a normal feel to a game. Everyone was a little nervous coming back, it was kind of tough jumping right back into it," Brandon Sutter said. "In the first period we were just OK, and after that we picked it up and played pretty well. It was a big win for us, and definitely showed a lot of character. It's a good start."
Bridgeport coach Jack Capuano couldn't help but applaud the Rats afterward, even if it meant taking a extra standings point.
"Knowing a little of their coaching staff and their players that have been around, the best thing for that team was to get on the bus, come to Connecticut and play a hockey game," Capuano said. "They did that, and they should be proud of their effort tonight."
Classy move by the Sound Tigers team and their fans tonight. As everyone stood, waiting for the national anthem, Bridgeport's announcer spoke over the PA system:
"Fans, this is Albany's first game since a February 19 bus crash that injured several of their players. From all of us here at the Sound Tigers, we'd like ot wish them the best for the rest of this season."
The crowd of 2,125 then cheered for the Rats, as Bridgeport players tapped their sticks on the ice or on the boards.
After the game, Bridgeport's booster club presented the Rats with a handmade "get well" card, signed by its members, which featured a River Rats logo on the front and read, "Welcome back to the Albany River Rats. Best wishes from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers booster club."
When it was time for the game's first star to be announced, it was Pat Dwyer that skated out. "In recognition of the River Rats return to the ice, Albany alternate captain Pat Dwyer will accept the game's first star," was the announcement. More cheers, and a hearty and sincere, "Thank you!" from Dwyer as he lifted his stick to the crowd.
Not sure who was responsible for that, or if it would have been the case win or lose, but it was a very nice touch.