The first honor paid tribute to the Massachusetts emergency personnel who tended to the Albany River Rats following their Feb. 19 bus crash came in an on-ice ceremony before Sunday’s game, the team’s first at the Times Union Center since the accident.
A second tribute came in the third period, when the Rats scored twice in the last 9:46 to produce a 4-2 win over Norfolk and cap their emotional return.
Defenseman Brett Carson, who missed two games from injuries in the crash, snapped a 2-2 tie with his fourth goal of the season, and Jakub Petruzalek sealed it on an empty-netter with 7.6 seconds left before 4,059 fans.
“It was obviously very emotional,” Carson said. “It was nice to recognize the people that helped us out a lot, and we had a good crowd tonight. It’s good that we got them a win.”
Sunday’s game was the fourth in five days for Albany (26-27-3-3),which made its return to the ice Tuesday in Bridgeport, a 3-2 shootout win. The Rats dropped road games in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Syracuse on Friday and Saturday.
“We had a little ceremony before the game, and saw a lot of familiar faces that we dealt with that night, so that was nice to see,” head coach-GM Jeff Daniels said. “The guys battled hard. They gave me everything they had.
“They looked gassed at times, but they deserve a lot of credit for finding a way. They gave up the lead, but we came back and got the win, and that was the main thing.”
Defenseman Bryan Rodney, who had a goal and two assists on the night, cranked a slap shot from the right circle for a power-play goal 10:21 into the first period to give Albany a 1-0 lead.
Alternate captain Mike Angelidis made it 2-0 less than five minutes later, skating up the right side and putting an off-wing wrister high in the left corner, despite the defensive efforts of ex-Rat Wade Brookbank.
“It was very exciting,” Angelidis said. “It was a pretty good crowd out there, and they were loud and vocal, and it was good to see the people that helped us. It brought back some old memories from the crash, but guys wanted to play for them, especially being at home, and get them the win.”
Albany goaltender Daniel Manzato stopped all 14 shots he saw in the second period to keep it a two-goal game, but Norfolk tied it on goals 2:03 apart early in the third.
Paul Szczechura was alone to stuff in a rebound at 2:43, and Pete Zingoni’s turnaround backhand banked in off the inside of Manzato’s pad at 5:46.
“We just wanted to play our game, and stay the course,” acting captain Pat Dwyer said. “We were on the bench saying, ‘We can do it.’ We were able to find a way.”
On the winner, Nick Dodge won a faceoff that Petruzalek pushed to the right point, where Carson sent a wrist shot that eluded the traffic in front and landed in the net at 10:14.
“I just threw it on net and Dodge had a good screen, and it snuck in somehow,” Carson said. “It’s always nice to see the puck go in, especially a seeing-eye wrister from the point, but it was extra special tonight.”
Representatives from the Lee (Mass.) Fire Department and Berkshire Medical Center were presented with keys to the city by Albany mayor Jerry Jennings and a proclamation from Albany county executive Mike Breslin. The Albany P.D. accepted on behalf of the Massachusetts State Police. . . .
Rats radio color analyst John Hennessy, who suffered head and neck injuries, worked his first game since the crash, and was named the Rats player of the game. He was joined by defenseman Casey Borer, who had his season ended by a broken neck. Borer wore a blue baseball cap that read, “Lee F.D.”
Norfolk 0 0 2 — 2
Albany 2 0 2 — 4
First period — 1. Albany, Rodney 3 (Sutter, Helminen), 10:21 (pp). 2, Albany, Angelidis 14 (Rodney), 15:01. Penalties — Rosehill, Nor double-minor (roughing), 4:13; Rosehill, Nor (interference), 8:21; Konopka, Nor (slashing), 9:26; Carson, Alb (boarding), 20:00.
Second period — None. Penalties — Olson, Alb (slashing), 9:21.
Third period — 3, Norfolk, Szczechura 13 (Lundin, Segal), 2:43. 4, Norfolk, Zingoni 3 (Henley), 5:46. 5, Albany, Carson 4 (Petruzalek, Dodge), 10:14. 6, Albany, Petruzalek 15 (Flood, Rodney), 19:52 (en). Penalties — Keller, Nor (boarding), 2:53; Segal, Nor (hooking), 10:41; Babin, Alb (holding), 13:56; Lundin, Nor (hooking), 15:14; Jones, Nor (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:52; Smolenak, Nor (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:52; Dwyer, Alb (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:52.
Shots on goal — Norfolk 4-14-15 — 33.
Albany 12-6-9 — 27.
Goalies — Norfolk, Helenius 4-5-1-0 (26 shots-23 saves). Albany, Manzato 12-7-1-0 (33-31).
Power-play opportunities — Norfolk 0 of 3. Albany 1 of 7.
A — 4,059. T — 2:12.
Referee — Jamie Koharski. Linesmen — Mike Emanatian, Steve Lemay.