And now back to our show....
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Technology is a great thing .... when it works.
It appears that several glitches that plagued the Saratoga Race Course press box this week involving the wireless and cable signals have been solved, and we're back in business. It got so bad we were reduced to using the old dial-up system to send stories to the paper, which is sort of like using the Pony Express to deliver an overnight package across the country. It gets there..........eventually.
So what did we miss during our absence? Naturally, a lot:
* - The Adirondack Phantoms made two hires, naming Greg Gilbert head coach and Owen Newkirk play-by-play broadcaster. Gilbert will be an excellent addition to the organization, someone with extensive playing (837 NHL games) and coaching (12 years as a head coach in NHL, AHL and OHL) who is young enough at 47 to relate to his players, and vice versa.
Likewise, Newkirk is a nice pickup for the new AHL team, coming off two seasons with the Albany River Rats, who blamed cost-cutting measures for his release. It will be interesting when the two teams meet (that's 12 times, folks), especially when John Hennessy, Newkirk's broadcast partner last year, makes one of several expected cameo on-air appearances when he isn't doing UMass-Amherst games.
* - Saratoga Race Course got off to a strong start, both in attendance and handle, on Wednesday, despite getting hit by rain halfway through the card. Thursday was as picturesque a summer day as you'll ever have up here, but the rain has returned in full force today. Let's hope, like the technical problems, it's just a glitch.
* - Defenseman Bryan Helmer, an original River Rat who captured his second career Calder Cup this season with Hershey and returned to the NHL at the age of 36, signed a one-year contract to return to the Bears. He's bearing down on John Slaney's AHL record for most lifetime points by a defenseman, which would be a nice milestone for one of the nicest guys ever to play the game.
* - Here's a new one: ex-Rats forward/defenseman Wade Brookbank has signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was announced today, along with forward Wyatt Smith. Brookbank, 31, has been in the organization before, playing 39 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2006-07.
* - The Rats have adopted the slogan, "Our Town, Your Team," for the upcoming season, their 17th in the AHL. Fans are being asked send in pictures and videos of themselves showcasing their "River Rats fandom" at various Capital Region landmarks, and some may be used for TV or print ads or viral videos.
In what has been long overdue, the team also announced the creation of a Rats Hall of Fame, with its initial class being inducted this season. Great idea. Players, coaches, moments and fans will be honored in an interactive exhibit in the atrium of the former Knickerbocker Arena later this fall. Didn't mention anything about beat writers. Sigh.
* - For the fourth straight year, the Rats will be auctioning off a special third jersey for charity this season. This time, the team is asking fans to vote on which sweater they want to see the players wear (www.albanyriverrats.com/fanzone/McDonalds/). Albany raised a total of $60,000 for Ronald McDonald House with its first three auctions.
Guess that's it. I think. I'm sure you'll let me know.