Of the two two tributes given out at tonight's River Rats game, the first happened before the opening faceoff, when the organization recognized the emergency and medical personnel from Massachusetts who cared for the team following the crash of its bus Feb. 19.
The second one came afterward, courtesy of the players themselves: Albany 4, Norfolk 2.
"It was obviously very emotional," defenseman Brett Carson said. Injured in the crash, costing him two games, Carson netted the winning goal with 9:46 left after the Rats blew a 2-0 lead.
"It was nice to recognize the people that helped us out a lot. We had a good crowd tonight, and it was nice that we could get them a win."
The former Knickerbocker Arena crowd was 4,059 in Albany's first home game since the crash. To me, it should have been more. Much more. Maybe if the rubber was orange and inflated instead of black and frozen.
In any event, the fans on hand gave Albany an ovation as they stepped on the ice for warmups, during the introductions, after a video of players talking about the incident played on the overhead scorboard between periods, and particularly at the end of the game.
"It was very exciting. Our fans have been very good," alternate captain Mike Angelidis said. "It was a pretty good crowd out there. They were loud and vocal, and it was good to see the mayor give out keys to the people who helped us. It brought back some old memories from the crash. Guys wanted to play hard for them and get them a win."
Bryan Rodney and Angelidis gave the Rats a 2-0 lead in the first period that lasted until early in the third, when Norfolk rallied on goals 3:06 apart. Carson broke the tie with a long wrist shot that sailed through traffic in front and wound up in the net. Jakub Petruzalek sealed it on an empty-net goal with 7.6 seconds to play.
"It's always nice to see the puck go in, especially a seeing-eye wrister from the point," Carson said. "but it was extra special tonight."
During a break in play late in the second period, a pair of on-air personalities from FLY 92 FM had the spotlight and the microphone in the stands and presented the team with a large "get-well" card that read, "Battered and bruised and still our boys."
There was also a poster propped up on a shelf in the locker room reading, "You're always in our hearts," signed by the occupants of Section 112-113.
Radio color analyst John Hennessy worked his first game since being hurt in the crash, along with partner Owen Newkirk. They were joined by injured Rats defenseman Casey Borer.
Late in the third period, Hennessy was announced as the Rats player of the game, and he was shown in action on the overhead scoreboard, waving as the crowd cheered. Unfortunately, there was no ad-lib from the PA announcer regarding Borer, seated to Henny's left.
Rats goalie Daniel Manzato finished with 31 saves tonight, including one that hit his mask and cost him half of his left front tooth.
Manzato was stunned with 12:35 left in the third period, less than two minutes after Norfolk tied it up, when a rising shot hit him squarely in the cage and drove the metal face mask backward. Manzato does not wear a mouthguard under his mask.
Play was stopped for a few minutes as Manzato was tended to by trainer Brian Maddox. Not three minutes later, Carson netted the winning goal.
"It's my first time," Manzato said. "I'm OK. No big deal. The good thing is we score the goal at the end to win it. It was a good game for us."
Had to ask Manzato's partner, Justin Peters, about his fight with Syracuse forward Alexandre Picard in the third period of Albany's 5-2 loss on Saturday. Picard had two goals and an assist.
Picard was being penalized for interfering with Peters when the two met up near the blue line in front of the Syracuse bench.
"He was getting a penalty. He hit me," Peters said. "He was skating up the ice and I was skating up the ice to go to the bench for an extra attacker. We bumped into each other a little bit and looked at each other and away the gloves went.
"I think he knew what I was thinking and I think he was thinking the same thing. He got his gloves off, but the linesman (Watervliet's Mike Emanatian) jumped in right away. He said it was his job to do that, but I wish he wouldn't have."
The bout can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHt2bERHfV4.
It was the third pro fight for Peters, who battled Binghamton's Kelly Guard as a rookie in 2006-07, and had another bout last season with the ECHL's Florida Everblades.
"I was saying to Geordie (Kinnear, assistant coach) last night that Petey could be our toughest guy," Daniels said. "We want him in the net, but Petey's an emotional guy. He's kept his emotions in check, and he had some frustration he wanted to get out, and he did. It's pretty good for a goalie; you get in a fight and you go right back in the net. He's got it all figured out."
With Carson back in the lineup, defenseman Mitch Ganzak was released from his pro tryout and returned to ECHL Wheeling. Albany's other three Double-A reinforcements, forwards Aaron Clarke and Ryan Cruthers and defenseman Ryan McGinnis, remain with the club.
How long they stick around depends on whether the Rats get defenseman Jonathan Paiement (facial lacerations) and forward Joe Jensen (concussion) back this week. Both were hospitalized from injuries suffered in the crash.
"I'm hoping we may get a few bodies back this week," Daniels said. "We won't know that until later in the week. Hopefully, that will happen."
The entire team will get Monday off, and several others will have Tuesday off, as well. The Rats are at Springfield and Worcester Friday and Saturday, and play Syracuse Sunday afternoon at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
This weekend will mark the first time the team has driven past the spot of its accident, in the Berkshire County town of Becket, Mass., some 56 miles east of Albany.
Pat Dwyer is wearing the 'C' as acting captain in place of defenseman Tim Conboy, who is on recall to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Tonight was actually the first time he wore it since the crash, since the letter itself was physically left behind in Albany when the team left for Bridgeport last week. They didn't return until after the Syracuse game.
"It's just something while Timmy's gone. It depends on when he comes back, if he comes back," said Dwyer, who was named captain for last year's playoffs by coach Tom Rowe after Keith Aucoin made the Canes' roster for good. "It's nice to wear it. It's an honor."
Rodney finished tonight with a goal, two assists and a plus-2 rating .... Scoring streaks: Carson, 2 games (1g, 1a); Nick Dodge, 3 games (0g, 3a); Angelidis, 2 games (2g, 0a) ..... Brent Sutter has three points (3g, 0a) has three goals in five games since joining the Rats last weed for condtioning.