SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … News and notes from the week ending Mar. 31:
For one night, it all came together for Oklahoma City Barons forward Anton Lander.
The 2009 second-round draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers notched his first career hat trick and also dished out three assists in the Barons’ 7-3 win in Rockford on Saturday, setting both a franchise record and an AHL season high with six points on the night. With the victory, the Barons improved to 7-0-0-0 all-time at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
It was an unexpected offensive eruption for the 21-year-old native of Sundsvall, Sweden, who came in with 25 points in 118 games between Edmonton and Oklahoma City over the last two seasons. Saturday’s effort capped an eight-point week and helped Lander garner CCM/AHL Player of the Week honors – and earn a recall by the Oilers.
Lander, who had just two previous multiple-point games in his North American career (two-assist efforts with Oklahoma City exactly one year earlier, on Mar. 30 and 31, 2012), authored the first six-point game in the AHL since Nov. 27, 2010, when Tomas Tatar had seven points (two goals, five assists) for Grand Rapids in a wild 10-8 win at Chicago.
GAGNON GAINING GROUND
It’s been a tale of two seasons for St. John’s IceCaps forward Aaron Gagnon, who has been making up for a disappointing start with a torrid second half.
Gagnon was a key contributor on the IceCaps squad that reached the Eastern Conference Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2012, notching 14-20-34 in 63 regular-season games and adding 5-4-9 in 15 playoff contests. But Gagnon managed just a single assist over the first 25 games of the 2012-13 campaign before being sidelined for the next six weeks due to injury.
Since returning to the lineup on Feb. 10, Gagnon has produced 11-12-23 in 18 games, ranking second only to teammate Eric O’Dell (13-12-25) among all AHL scorers during that time. He was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Month for March after tallying 18 points in 11 outings, and he brings a 12-game scoring streak – tied for the longest in the AHL this season – into April.
A sixth-year pro, Gagnon set career highs in goals (27), assists (31) and points (58) in 2009-10 when he helped the Texas Stars to a Western Conference championship.
KEEPING A “LEG” UP
For the second year in a row, David Leggio is the premier workhorse among American Hockey League goaltenders, leading the league in minutes played, shots faced and saves for the Rochester Americans.
Leggio has appeared in 57 of the Amerks’ 67 games so far this season and has a record of 35-21-1, marking just the seventh time in the franchise’s 57-year history that a Rochester goaltender has won at least 35 games in a season.
Most wins in a season, Rochester Americans
48 — Gerry Cheevers 1964-65 (AHL record)
41 — Ryan Miller 2004-05
39 — Ed Chadwick 1959-60
38 — Gerry Cheevers 1963-64
37 — Daren Puppa 1986-87
36 — Martin Biron 1998-99
35 — David Leggio 2012-13
The fifth-year pro has played 3,433 minutes and has stopped 1,765 of the 1,910 shots he has faced in 2012-13, ranking fifth in the league with a .924 save percentage. With nine games remaining, he could challenge the AHL record for saves in a season (2,005), established by Mike O’Neill with the Baltimore Bandits in 1995-96.
Last season, Leggio finished second in the AHL in minutes played, just two periods of work behind Milwaukee’s Jeremy Smith, but was first in shots faced (1,721) and saves (1,579) while going 28-24-2 and leading the Amerks to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Since Feb. 22, 2012, Leggio has started 82 of Rochester’s 93 regular-season and playoff games and has earned 48 of the team’s 50 wins.
BEARING DOWN ON 10K
With two home games remaining, the Hershey Bears are all but assured of eclipsing the 10,000 mark in average attendance for 2012-13.
Currently at 9,995, the Bears host Syracuse on Apr. 6 before closing out the regular season at home against Manchester on Apr. 21. Hershey is vying to become the fifth team to draw more than 10,000 fans per game since attendance figures were first officially tracked by the AHL in 1962-63.
In 1971-72, the Boston Braves averaged 11,208 in attendance in their first season of play at the 14,994-seat Boston Garden, establishing a record that would stand for more than a quarter of a century. From 1997-2000, the Philadelphia Phantoms topped the 10,000 mark three consecutive years at the 17,380-seat Spectrum, peaking in 1998-99 with an average of 12,002 fans per game.
The Bears will average more than 10,000 fans per game this season while filling the 10,500-seat Giant Center in Hershey to near-capacity. To date, their 35 home games at Giant Center have averaged 9,786 fans per game (93 percent), while the club packed Hersheypark Stadium with 17,311 spectators for the Capital BlueCross AHL Outdoor Classic on Jan. 20.
PRIMED FOR THE POSTSEASON
Updated every morning until the end of the regular season on theahl.com, the AHL Playoff Primer offers a snapshot of the current race to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
To check out the Playoff Primer, visit theahl.com and click on “Playoff Primer 2013” under the Standings link.
FIVE TO WATCH
With three weeks remaining in the 2012-13 regular season, here are five match-ups to look forward to in the days ahead:
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Norfolk, Tuesday (7:15 ET) – After last weekend’s sweep of Syracuse, Norfolk enters play just two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference thanks to a 14-5-2-0 surge in its last 21 games. The Admirals, who close out the home portion of their schedule with two games against Binghamton later this week, are 5-2-0-0 against the Penguins this season in a series that has seen the road team win six of seven. Wilkes-Barre enters the week sixth in the East, five points ahead of Norfolk.
Grand Rapids at Houston, Tuesday (8 ET) – After opening its 10-game homestand with an 0-1-1-1 mark, Houston plays four big home games this week, beginning with Tuesday’s rematch with Grand Rapids. The Griffins’ 3-2 win last Friday left the Aeros in sixth place in the Western Conference at week’s end, just three points clear of falling out of the postseason picture. The Griffins, in the midst of a seven-game road stretch, remain seven points up on Milwaukee atop the Midwest Division.
Milwaukee vs. Rockford, Tuesday (8 ET at Rockford) and Friday (8 ET at Milwaukee) – Rockford has a chance to shake up the Western Conference playoff race with a home-and-home set against Milwaukee this week. The 11th-place IceHogs, who also have a home-and-home with Peoria coming up later in the week, are just three points out of eighth and four points back of the Admirals in the seventh spot. Rockford rookie defenseman Adam Clendening leads all scorers in the season series with 0-9-9 in nine games.
Toronto at St. John’s, Friday (6 ET) and Saturday (6 ET) – Toronto pays a visit to St. John’s this weekend looking to solidify its lead at the top of the North Division. The Marlies, 8-1-0-2 in their last 11 and 12-3-0-2 in their last 17, play seven of their final nine games against teams who begin April outside of a playoff spot as they look to secure their own postseason berth for the second straight spring. The IceCaps finished last week’s road trip with four consecutive wins but remain 10 points back of eighth in the Eastern Conference.
Syracuse vs. Hershey, Friday (7:30 ET at Syracuse) and Saturday (7 ET at Hershey) – Entering the week tied atop both the East Division and the Eastern Conference, Syracuse tangles with eighth-place Hershey in a big home-and-home showdown. The Crunch have taken three of four from the Bears this year, but Hershey won the only meeting since the NHL lockout ended, a 5-3 decision on Mar. 3. Syracuse has scored eight goals in its last six games, losing three times by shutout.
There have been 46 hat tricks and 146 shutouts recorded in the American Hockey League through Apr. 1, and 73 AHL players have made their National Hockey League debuts this season:
Last week’s shutouts (6)
Sami Aittokallio, LE — Mar. 27 at Milwaukee
David Leggio, RCH — Mar. 27 vs. Syracuse
Cameron Talbot, CT — Mar. 28 vs. Worcester
Rob Madore, CHA — Mar. 30 vs. San Antonio
Frederik Andersen, NOR — Mar. 30 vs. Syracuse
Brian Elliott, PEO — Mar. 30 vs. Lake Erie
Between Jan. 4 and Mar. 29, Providence rookie Niklas Svedberg was 20-1-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage; the 2013 AHL All-Star is 17-3-2 on home ice this season, including 10-0-1 in his last 11 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center… Chicago’s Darren Haydar, who has 16-25-41 in 39 games since the Christmas break, has tied Larry Wilson for 10th place on the AHL’s career assists list (492) and has tied Peter White for 15th on the all-time points list (783)… Thirteen players had three-point games on Friday night, including hat tricks by Chicago’s Brett Sterling, Norfolk’s Patrick Maroon and San Antonio’s Jack Combs; 10 more players had at least three points on Saturday… Hershey’s Jeff Taffe begins the new week tied with Peoria’s T.J. Hensick for the AHL scoring lead; a member of the Bears has won three of the last four league scoring titles (Alexandre Giroux in 2008-09, Keith Aucoin in 2009-10, Chris Bourque in 2011-12)… Oklahoma City rookie winger Toni Rajala notched 4-12-16 and a league-best plus-12 rating in 13 games during March… Rockford’s Jeremy Morin scored an AHL-leading 10 goals in March… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Trevor Smith has reached the 20-goal plateau for the sixth time in as many AHL seasons… Charlotte rookie goaltender Rob Madore (3-1-0, 1.50, .960) has stopped 166 of 173 shots in the first five appearances of his AHL career, including a 43-save effort at Texas on Mar. 23 and a 44-save shutout of San Antonio on Mar. 30… Binghamton has scored 18 shorthanded goals this season; no other team has more than 11… Grand Rapids is two games over .500 (10-8-1-1) when trailing after the first period this season… From Feb. 10 on, Norfolk’s regular-season record during the last two regular seasons is 42-5-2-0 (28-0-0-0 last year, 14-5-2-0 this year).