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With Christmas Break just around the corner, the Connecticut Whale played only one game this week which was against the Adirondack Phantoms on Wednesday night. The Whale was victorious over their division rivals, 3-2, and enters the Break on a high-note—seated in first-place in the Northeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference.

Jeff Prough making most of his call-up

First up on the agenda this week is a Whale call-up that has made team coaches very happy in recent games. While Whale’ 2011-12 roster skaters, Carl Hagelin, John Mitchell, Tim Erixon, and Stu Bickel are playing impressive hockey on their NHL call-ups with the New York Rangers; 25-year-old forward Jeff Prough has made his presence in the Whale’ line-up known through his terrific play over the past three games.

Prough, who signed with the Whale during the offseason, scored his first goal with the team during Wednesday’s victory. The former Brown University scoring leader scored while on the power-play after collecting a Pavel Valentenko rebound, and shoving it into Adirondack’s goal. As coach Ken Gernander might say, he was “Johnny on the spot” to put away that goal.

At this time last season, the fourth-year pro was a member of the New Jersey Devils franchise, on a contract with the AHL’s Albany Devils. Prough was a member of the Devils’ organization for three seasons, and saw time with Albany and Trenton (ECHL) during his time with the team. He also played eight games with the Lowell Devils before they moved to New York’s capital.

In his first two games with the team, Prough played on a line with veteran Jordan Owens and rookie Ryan Bourque. The trio played a physical game, and Prough helped to create a few scoring chances. Due to injury trouble, Owens was moved to the second-line, and Chris McKelvie would join Prough and Bourque on the third combination for Wednesday’s game. Once again, Prough played a solid game which, of course, included one goal.

The Whale now enters Break with three forwards injured—Mats Zuccarello, Aaron Voros and Kelsey Tessier. The club has four days off before their next game, which could be enough time for one of the three to return to the line-up. If that is the case, Prough might be returned to the ECHL to play for the Greenville Road Warriors, where he is second in scoring with 25 points (12 goals and 13 assists) in 21 games.

Whatever the case may be, Prough has made his mark with the Whale and has shown that he can play at the AHL level. If the Whale is hassled by injuries or player transactions in the future, Jeff Prough will likely be a name that the coaching staff unanimously decides to bring up.

Pavel Valentenko’s clutch goals

It seemed almost certain that the Whale and Phantoms were headed for an overtime decision as the clock ran down past the final 20-seconds of the third period, with a tied game at 2-2; but after a mind-boggling decision was made by an Adirondack skater to ice the puck that late in the game, the Whale took advantage of an offensive-zone faceoff win to take a late lead.

Kris Newbury was the centerman taking the draw, and he won it, sending the puck back to the point where veteran blueliner Brendan Bell was waiting. Bell then placed a perfect pass to 24-year-old rearguard Pavel Valentenko, who swung his stick forward on a one-timer and blasted the puck past the Phantoms netminder—Jason Bacashihua—and into their net for a goal and a 3-2 lead.

The clock read: 16.2 when the puck crossed the line, leaving little time for the Phantoms to comeback. Connecticut won, and stole both points.

For Valentenko, it was his third goal of the season and second game-winner in the past 10 games. On November 29, Valentenko scored with 4:04 remaining in the third period to give the Whale a 3-2 lead over the Hershey Bears. The Whale went on to win that game 4-2, with Valentenko tallying the decider.

Valentenko’s first goal of the season also proved to be an important one, as it jump started a Whale comeback win. On November 26, he scored with 5:37 left in the second frame to bring the Whale within a one goal deficit against the Springfield Falcons. The Whale would score twice in the third period to take a 3-2 victory.

One has to think that the Rangers’ front office is paying close attention to Valentenko, who, after a weak training camp, has played very well for the Whale so far this season.

Injury round-up

To cap things off before the holidays:

Mats Zuccarello has missed the past five games with a lower-body injury, and has not skated. Aaron Voros has been absent for the last three contests with an unspecified injury. Kelsey Tessier missed Wednesday’s game after taking a puck to the face during practice, and he is the most likely to return to action after the break.

On defense, veteran Wade Redden missed Wednesday’s game as well, and he is out with a lower-body injury.

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Tags: Nick Perri, CT Whale
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