SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … News and notes from the week ending Jan. 20:
STARS TO COME OUT IN PROVIDENCE
The best and brightest in the American Hockey League will shine in Providence this weekend as the 2013 Dunkin’ Donuts AHL All-Star Classic takes place Sunday and Monday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
This year’s event, in front of a packed house at the Dunk and an international television audience, continues a tradition which first started in 1942, while also returning to the place where it was reborn nearly two decades ago.
The first AHL All-Star Game was held in Cleveland as a fundraiser for U.S. and Canadian efforts during World War II, and featured such stars as AHL Hall of Famers Les Cunningham and Eddie Shore. The game returned in 1954, and for the next six seasons featured the defending Calder Cup champions taking on a team of league All-Stars. Many of the greatest players in league history took part, including a cast of future AHL Hall of Famers that includes Fred Glover, Johnny Bower, Frank Mathers, Willie Marshall, Mike Nykoluk, Zellio Toppazzini and Noel Price, as well as future NHL standouts like Emile Francis, Gump Worsley, Brian Kilrea, Fred Shero and Don Cherry.
After the 1959-60 season, the event was not held again until current league president and CEO David Andrews revived it 35 years later in Providence, which this year becomes the third city to host two modern-era All-Star Classics (Hershey, 1996 and 2011; Portland, 2003 and 2010). In 1995, a team of All-Stars from the AHL’s six Canadian-based teams squared off against All-Stars from the league’s 11 U.S.-based clubs. The annual Skills Competition was added in 1996, and the format was modified in 1997 to pit Canadian-born players against those born outside of Canada. In 2010, the All-Star Classic became an East vs. West showdown for the first time since that inaugural game in 1942.
The 1995 game in Providence included future AHL Hall of Famers Tim Tookey and Jody Gage as well as up-and-coming NHL stars like Steve Sullivan, Martin Lapointe, Mattias Norstrom, Dwayne Roloson and Cory Stillman. Dennis Bonvie, who would go on to become the AHL’s career leader with 4,493 penalty minutes, scored the first goal in modern All-Star history, propelling the Canadian side to a 6-4 victory.
The list of stars tabbed to head to Rhode Island this year include young standouts like Robin Lehner (Binghamton), Tyler Johnson (Syracuse), Tim Erixon (Springfield), Nino Niederreiter (Bridgeport), Beau Bennett (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), Gustav Nyquist (Grand Rapids), Jason Zucker (Houston) and Mike Sgarbossa (Lake Erie).
Of the 597 players to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic since the event was reinstated in 1995, nearly 93 percent have competed in the National Hockey League, including Patrice Bergeron, Daniel Briere, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Mike Cammalleri, Zdeno Chara, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ryan Miller, Zach Parise, Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne, Bobby Ryan, Martin St. Louis, Cory Schneider, Jason Spezza and Eric Staal.
Whether they are in Providence or in front of their televisions or computer screens, fans will be able to catch the 2013 Pepsi AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Sunday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. ET, and the 2013 AHL All-Star Game on Monday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. ET. Produced by NESN, the telecasts will air live (and, where available, in high definition) on a comprehensive network of regional television partners in the United States, on Sportsnet nationally in Canada, on ESPN America overseas and worldwide via streaming at AHL Live (ahllive.com). A complete listing of network and air times can be found at theahl.com (bit.ly/V6ROJB).
AHL HALL OF FAME TO WELCOME NEWEST MEMBERS
As part of the festivities for the 2013 Dunkin’ Donuts AHL All-Star Classic, four new members of the American Hockey League Hall of Fame will officially be enshrined. The Class of 2013 – Harvey Bennett, Ken Gernander, Jim Morrison and Peter White – will be honored during the AHL Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence on Monday, Jan. 28, at 11 a.m. ET.
AHL alumni Don Sweeney and Tom McVie will serve as honorary team captains in Providence, and their careers will also be recognized at Monday’s ceremony.
STARS IN STRIPES
The American Hockey League has named the on-ice officials for the 2013 AHL All-Star Game in Providence.
Working Monday night’s contest will be referee Ryan Fraser (in his 15th AHL season) along with linesmen Joe Andrews (20th season) and Bob Paquette (21st season).
It will be the first AHL All-Star assignment for all three.
PENGUINS PREVAIL IN THE COLD OUTDOORS
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins got a goal from Paul Thompson 1:19 into overtime to pull out a 2-1 win over the Hershey Bears in the 2013 Capital BlueCross AHL Outdoor Classic at Hersheypark Stadium on Sunday evening.
A sellout crowd of 17,311 fans braved dropping temperatures and steady winds to witness the fifth outdoor game in AHL history. The two-day event, which included an alumni game on Saturday and a Fan Fest in the stadium parking lot, was part of the celebration of the Bears’ 75th-anniversary season in the AHL.
MAKING AN IMPACT
With the National Hockey League returning to action last week, many players who spent the first three months of the season playing the AHL have made immediate contributions to their parent clubs.
Cory Conacher, the AHL’s most valuable player, top rookie and leading goal-scorer in 2011-12, made his NHL debut on Saturday night and picked up a goal and an assist in Tampa Bay’s 6-3 win over Washington. Conacher, who has been joined in the Bolts lineup by fellow 2012 Calder Cup winners Keith Aulie and Pierre-Cedric Labrie already this season, has totaled 2-3-5 in his first three contests, one point off the NHL scoring lead, after putting up 12-16-28 in 36 games with Syracuse.
Chris Bourque, who won the AHL’s scoring title last season, made his Boston Bruins debut on Saturday as he and his father, Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, became the fifth father-son combination to play for the B’s. Chris had 8-20-28 in 32 games with Providence this season.
Justin Schultz, the AHL’s top scorer among rookies and defensemen with Oklahoma City this season (18-30-48), scored his first NHL goal vs. San Jose on Tuesday, with assists from former Barons teammates Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (8-12-20) and Jordan Eberle (25-26-51). Ottawa’s Jakob Silfverberg, Binghamton’s top scorer this season (13-16-29), notched his first NHL goal vs. Florida on Monday, and Brian Lashoff scored in his NHL debut on Monday after being recalled by Detroit from Grand Rapids.
Other AHL grads making their NHL debuts have included Worcester’s Matt Irwin (San Jose), San Antonio’s Michael Caruso (Florida), Lake Erie’s Patrick Bordeleau (Colorado), Hamilton’s Brendan Gallagher (Montreal), Toronto’s Mike Kostka and Leo Komarov (Toronto) and Adirondack’s Tye McGinn (Philadelphia).
In net, Texas’s Cristopher Nilstorp made his NHL debut with Dallas on Sunday and stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 1-0 loss at Minnesota, and Toronto’s Ben Scrivens got the start in each of the Maple Leafs’ first two contests, stopping 39 of 42 shots (1.53, .929) combined.
Goal-scorers in the NHL already this season include Norfolk’s Kyle Palmieri (Anaheim), Rochester’s Cody Hodgson (Buffalo), Springfield’s Cam Atkinson (Columbus), Manchester’s Jordan Nolan (Los Angeles), Houston’s Mikael Granlund (Minnesota), Bridgeport’s David Ullstrom and Travis Hamonic (N.Y. Islanders), Milwaukee’s Ryan Ellis (Nashville), Adirondack’s Sean Couturier (Philadelphia), Toronto’s Nazem Kadri (Toronto) and Chicago’s Zack Kassian (Vancouver).
A total of 126 players who skated in the AHL during the NHL lockout appeared on NHL opening-night rosters.
FIVE TO WATCH
Match-ups to look forward to in the week ahead:
Springfield at Albany, Wednesday (7 ET) – Springfield brings a five-game winning streak into the Times Union Center for a date with Albany. The Falcons have opened up a 12-point lead over the rest of the Northeast Division, and are 13-4-2-0 on the road this season. The Devils, 6-3-0-2 since the Christmas break, have earned five of a possible six points from Springfield on the year (2-0-0-1).
St. John’s at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Wednesday (7 ET) – Having pulled out of a 2-10-2-1 tailspin with four consecutive victories, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hosts St. John’s in the teams’ second meeting of the season. The Penguins enter the game one point out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference and just two points ahead of the IceCaps, who are 3-0-0-1 in their last four games.
Abbotsford at Charlotte, Friday (7 ET) and Saturday (12 ET) – Abbotsford has regained a share of first place in the North Division thanks to a four-game winning streak, and the Heat open up a five-game road stretch with a pair in Charlotte. Danny Taylor (3-1-0, 0.98, .952) and Barry Brust (1-0-0, 0.00, 1.000) have combined to allow five goals in Abbotsford’s last five games; the Checkers are averaging 3.75 goals per game while winning seven of their last eight.
Houston at Grand Rapids, Friday (7 ET) and Saturday (7 ET) – Grand Rapids, 6-1-1-0 in its last eight at home entering the week, entertains Houston for a pair of games to close out the pre-All-Star schedule. The Aeros, who begin the week looking to snap a nine-game road winless streak (0-6-2-1) and a six-game losing skid overall, are tied for the eighth spot in the Western Conference The teams will meet three times in 13 days (the Aeros return to Van Andel Arena on Feb. 6).
Texas vs. San Antonio, Friday (8:30 at San Antonio) and Saturday (8 ET at Texas) – Winners of nine of their last 10, the Texas Stars begin the week tied atop the league standings with 55 points as they prepare for a home-and-home set with San Antonio. The Stars have scored 20 goals in their last three games, with rookies Alex Chiasson (4-2-6) and Jamie Oleksiak (0-6-6) notching six points each. The Rampage have won seven of their last nine home games, but are 0-5-0-0 vs. Texas this season.
There have been 24 hat tricks and 84 shutouts recorded in the American Hockey League through Jan. 20:
With a 2-1 shootout win over Albany on Saturday, Springfield extended its winning streak to four games for the first time since Dec. 23-30, 2006, after failing in each of its 12 previous attempts to win a fourth game in a row… The Falcons then defeated Bridgeport on Sunday, 4-1, for its first five-game winning streak since reeling off nine straight wins from Mar. 6-28, 1998… When he took the ice for Springfield on Friday vs. Connecticut, defenseman Bryan Helmer became just the third player in AHL history to appear in 19 different seasons; Willie Marshall and Fred Glover both skated in 20 AHL campaigns during their careers… Paul Thompson’s game-winning goal for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Sunday’s outdoor game was his second overtime strike of the season, tying Houston’s Jason Zucker and Portland’s David Rundblad for the AHL lead in that category… With its 11-6 win in Rockford on Saturday, Grand Rapids became the first AHL team to score 11 goals in a game since Dec. 30, 2005 (an 11-5 Chicago win over Peoria), and the first to score at least 11 on the road since Providence’s 14-2 victory in Syracuse on Nov. 25, 1998… Picking up a goal and three assists in that loss to Grand Rapids, Brandon Pirri became Rockford’s career scoring leader with 130 points, surpassing Jack Skille (128)… Attendance for Chicago’s game vs. Houston on Saturday was 15,021 – the third crowd over 14,500 at Allstate Arena this season… Texas has just five regulation losses since Nov. 23 (19-5-3-1), but three of them have been to Oklahoma City… Since a 5-1 win over Hamilton on Nov. 30, Abbotsford has gone 21 games without scoring more than three goals in a contest… St. John’s is 14-5-1-2 in one-goal games this season, but 4-15 in games decided by more than one goal… With 1,156 games coached in the AHL, Worcester’s Roy Sommer is now exactly 100 games behind all-time leader Frank Mathers (1,256)… Bates Battaglia, a former forward with the Beast of New Haven, Toronto Marlies, Syracuse Crunch and Rochester Americans and an AHL All-Star in 1998, has been announced as a contestant on the new season of CBS’s The Amazing Race, which premieres Feb. 17.