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AHL Weekly: Fast start nice change for SA

WEEKLY RELEASE #6

AHL standings || Scores and schedules || League leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … A franchise with a history of early-season struggles, the San Antonio Rampage are bucking the trend with one of the AHL’s most impressive starts in 2010-11.

The Rampage posted a combined record of 9-30-2-2 in October and November of the past two seasons, digging a hole both years from which they were unable to recover. But San Antonio enters the new week winners of four straight games and 11 of its last 13, putting them in first place in the West Division (12-4-1-0) and tied for the overall AHL lead with 25 points. Under head coach Ray Edwards, who took over on Nov. 23 of last season, and featuring a roster which includes six former first-round draft picks, San Antonio ranks seventh in goals per game (3.29), fifth in power-play efficiency (21.2 percent) and fourth in goals allowed per contest (2.53).

The Rampage show three former first- or second-round draft picks among their top five scorers to date – 21-year-olds Mikkel Boedker (4-13-17) and Brett MacLean (7-8-15) and 22-year-old Viktor Tikhonov (3-11-14). Boedker, drafted eighth overall by the parent Phoenix Coyotes in 2008, is already nearly halfway to the 38 points he put up in 64 games for San Antonio last season; MacLean, a second-round pick in 2007 and an AHL All-Star as a rookie in 2009, leads all Rampage forwards with a plus-6 rating; and Tikhonov, a first-rounder (28th overall) in 2008, has at least one point in 11 of his last 14 games.

Another former first-round draft pick (eighth overall by Columbus in 2004), Alexandre Picard is tied for the team lead in goals (9-6-15) and shows 18-12-30 in 31 games for San Antonio since arriving from Columbus last year in a late-season trade. Tim Stapleton, who scored 28 and 30 goals the past two seasons for Toronto and Chicago, respectively, has 12 points (6-6-12) through his first 17 games in a Rampage uniform. Fellow newcomer Bracken Kearns, fresh off a career-best 15-36-51 effort for Rockford last year, has registered eight points (3-5-8) through 10 outings for San Antonio, and Andrew Ebbett, who spent all of 2009-10 in the NHL, has contributed a goal and six assists in nine outings.

Three key members of the Texas Stars’ 2010 Western Conference championship team moved down Interstate 35 to San Antonio for the 2010-11 campaign and are paying immediate dividends. Coming off a breakout 44-point campaign for the Stars a year ago, Mathieu Beaudoin is currently leading the Rampage with nine goals (tied) and 19 points through 17 games. Garrett Stafford places among the AHL’s defensemen leaders with 12 points (3-9-12) and has also played two games for Phoenix, and goaltender Matt Climie (8-3-0, 1.99, .939) ranks second in the AHL in save percentage, fifth in goals-against average and tied for third in victories. Climie’s counterpart, 2004 first-round pick Al Montoya, is out to a 4-2-0 start after winning four games during an injury-plagued 2009-10 season.

With the exception of Stafford and third-year pro Jeff May, San Antonio has employed a collection of rookies along its blue line. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 19 years old and drafted sixth overall by Phoenix in 2009, was assigned to San Antonio on Friday and recorded two assists in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Chicago. Chris Summers, a first-round pick (29th overall) in 2006, has a plus-6 rating to go along with his two points (1-1-2), and fellow first-year rearguards Maxim Goncharov (1-2-3) and Michael Stone (1-2-3) have three points apiece.

The Rampage enjoy a light schedule this week, with a Wednesday matinee on tap in Peoria before returning home on Friday for their first meeting of the year with second-place Milwaukee.

MARLIES ROLLING ON THE ROAD … The Toronto Marlies embarked on a season-high 10-game road stretch at the beginning of November having lost six of eight games to begin the campaign (2-6-0-0). But the Marlies have stormed back into the North Division race with an impressive 6-0-0-2 mark on the journey thus far, including four consecutive victories last week.

Toronto has surrendered three or fewer goals in seven of its last eight games, and reigning Reebok/AHL Player of the Week Jussi Rynnas leads all rookie goaltenders with a 1.95 goals-against average and .936 save percentage through his first eight appearances (3-3-1). Mike Zigomanis was assigned by the parent Maple Leafs just prior to this road swing and leads all Marlies skaters with 10 points (3-7-10) in the past eight contests. Justin Hodgman (3-5-8) and defenseman Matt Lashoff (1-7-8) each have eight points during the surge, and Joey Crabb boasts a team-high five goals (5-1-6) in that span.

After visiting Hamilton on Tuesday and Lake Erie on Friday, the Marlies return to Ricoh Coliseum for the first time since Oct. 30 and host Hamilton on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Sunday’s contest at 1:00 ET will be nationally televised live on CBC in Canada and on NHL Network in the United States.

LOCKE AND LOAD … Binghamton’s Corey Locke may be with his fourth organization in as many years, but he is as consistent as ever in putting points on the board. The four-time AHL All-Star is riding a 10-game scoring streak (5-12-17) for the Senators and has a point in 15 of 16 games to begin the year. Locke currently leads the AHL in points (23), assists (17-tied), power-play assists (10), and power-play points (13).

Locke, who won a Calder Cup with Hamilton in 2007, was his team’s scoring leader with the Bulldogs in 2007-08, with Houston in 2008-09 and with Hartford in 2009-10, when he posted career bests with 31 goals and 85 points. The 26-year-old Toronto native now has 416 points in 482 career AHL games.

Skating alongside Locke on Binghamton’s top line has been rookie forward Bobby Butler, who has produced a league-best 12 goals (12-6-18) – including three game-winners – through 12 games. Fellow rookie Colin Greening has occupied the other top-line wing for the Senators and shows 10 points (3-7-10) in 15 contests.

ETC. … Hamilton’s David Desharnais saw his season-opening 13-game scoring streak (5-12-17) end on Sunday in a 2-1 loss to Grand Rapids… Former Lake Erie forward Chris Mueller entered Milwaukee’s two-game weekend visit to Cleveland with 1-0-1 in 13 games this season, then notched 4-1-5 in leading the Admirals to back-to-back wins over the Monsters… Norfolk’s Mike Vernace, who scored on Friday at Adirondack and on Saturday at Bridgeport, registered a goal in two consecutive outings for the first time in his 244-game AHL career… Albany’s Matt Anderson missed his team’s first four games of the year but has posted a team-best six goals and eight points in 10 games since joining the lineup… Denis Hamel boasts six goals in five games since joining Adirondack’s lineup, and the eight-time 20-goal scorer now sits four tallies shy of 300 for his AHL career… Oklahoma City goaltender Martin Gerber is riding a personal seven-game winning streak since 4-1 loss to San Antonio on Oct. 22… Traded for each other on Thursday, Chad Kolarik and Dane Byers made their debuts with their new teams against each other on Saturday night; Kolarik scored a goal for Hartford but Byers notched the game-clinching shootout marker for Springfield as the Falcons downed the Wolf Pack, 4-3… Springfield’s Ben Guite had quite a memorable week: he and his wife had their first child, he was named captain of the Falcons and he played in his 500th career AHL game… Charlotte rookie Zac Dalpe, a second-round draft pick in 2008, is on an AHL season-high four-game goal-scoring streak (6-2-8)… Rochester had been 7-1-1-0 on the road this year before losing at Manitoba on back-to-back nights this weekend… Each of Grand Rapids’ seven losses this season – four in regulation and three in a shootout – has been decided by a one-goal margin… Abbotsford enters the week on a 5-0-0-1 run… Texas snapped an 0-for-25 slide on the power play by going 2-for-6 in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Chicago… Portland’s 5-2 win over Albany on Saturday extended its season-opening home points streak to nine games (8-0-1-0), one shy of the franchise-record 10-game run (9-0-1) attained by the 1994-95 Pirates, a streak which also occurred from the start of the season… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is tied for the AHL lead with five shorthanded goals; the Penguins’ fifth shorthanded goal last season didn’t come until Jan. 17… The AHL’s four Canadian teams are 17-5-0-3 in games played in the United States this season.