SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … News and notes from the week ending Apr. 7:
EVERY VOTE COUNTS
The annual voting among American Hockey League coaches, players and media is complete, and the AHL will begin handing out individual awards this week in recognition of its top performers during the 2012-13 season.
As the premier development league for all 30 NHL teams, the AHL has once again been home to many deserving candidates for the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as the league’s outstanding rookie. The Providence Bruins have been sparked for much of the season by Ryan Spooner (14-37-51), who leads all AHL rookies – and the Bruins – in scoring; Torey Krug (11-26-37), one of the top-scoring defensemen in the league; and Niklas Svedberg, whose 34-8-2 record has helped put the B’s on the brink of the Atlantic Division title. Tyler Toffoli (28-20-48) of the Manchester Monarchs leads all AHL rookies in goals, and Bridgeport’s Brock Nelson (23-27-50), Houston’s Jason Zucker (24-24-48), Portland’s Chris Brown (25-15-40) and Lake Erie teammates Andrew Agozzino (18-30-48) and Mike Sgarbossa (19-25-44) are among the first-year pros also having standout seasons in the AHL.
The top three scorers among AHL defensemen this season are all rookies as well, garnering attention in the voting for the Eddie Shore Award as the league’s top blueliner. Despite not having played a game in the AHL for more than three months, Justin Schultz remains the top-scoring defenseman in the league this season after racking up 18-30-48 in just 34 games with Oklahoma City before his Jan. 13 recall to Edmonton. Norfolk’s Sami Vatanen has put up 8-36-44 in 59 games this season, and Adam Clendening has 7-36-43 and a team-best plus-16 rating in 68 games for Rockford. Matt Donovan of Bridgeport (13-28-41) is having a stellar sophomore season after making the AHL All-Rookie Team a year ago; Grand Rapids’ Chad Billins has 10-27-37 on the year and is also 5-for-5 in shootouts; Syracuse’s hard-hitting Radko Gudas leads the league in plus/minus (+32), and Crunch teammate Mark Barberio (8-32-40) is bidding to become the fifth back-to-back winner in the history of the Eddie Shore Award.
The race for the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender is another wide-open affair. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Jeff Zatkoff (25-19-0, 1.95, .920) enters the week ranked first in the league in goals-against average; Robin Lehner (18-10-2, 2.12, .938) established a league-leading save percentage prior to his recall from Binghamton to Ottawa; Curtis McElhinney (28-14-3, 2.25, .924) and his franchise-record nine shutouts have helped Springfield to its first playoff berth in a decade; and Rochester’s David Leggio (36-22-1, 2.56, .923) leads all netminders in wins, minutes played and saves. Elsewhere, Danny Taylor (17-10-2, 2.14, .919) has had a breakout season for Abbotsford, and Niklas Svedberg of Providence (34-8-0, 2.18, .924), Frederik Andersen of Norfolk (22-15-0, 2.08, .932), Cristopher Nilstorp of Texas (18-11-3, 2.26, .909), Petr Mrazek of Grand Rapids (22-13-2, 2.34, .916) and Magnus Hellberg of Milwaukee (17-12-0, 2.23, .922) have all excelled in their first seasons of North American pro hockey.
The battle for the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the league’s leading scorer is as close as it has been in recent memory; with two weeks left in the season, 10 skaters – representing 10 different AHL teams – are within five points of the overall scoring lead. Hershey’s Jeff Taffe (18-46-64) has the slightest of edges over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Chad Kolarik (28-35-63), Springfield’s Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (20-43-63), Rockford’s Brandon Pirri (20-43-63) and Peoria’s T.J. Hensick (17-46-63). Oklahoma City’s Mark Arcobello and Manchester’s Linden Vey have recorded 20-41-61 apiece, Gustav Nyquist, on recall to Detroit, has 23-37-60 with Grand Rapids, and Rochester’s Mark Mancari (21-38-59) and Connecticut’s Kris Newbury (18-41-59) round out the top 10.
The Willie Marshall Award goes to the AHL’s top goal-scorer and there are three players who have hit the 30-goal mark in the AHL this season, but all three begin the week on NHL recall. Texas’s Matt Fraser (33-13-46), who finished second with 37 goals as a rookie last year, currently leads the AHL with 33 markers, one more than Syracuse’s Tyler Johnson (32-26-58) and three better than Toronto’s Ryan Hamilton (30-18-48).
The winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach frequently translates the honor into success at the NHL level. Past winners include current NHL head coaches Jon Cooper (2012), Kevin Dineen (2006), Claude Noel (2004), Claude Julien (2003), Peter Laviolette (1999) and Barry Trotz (1994).
The award announcements begin as the 2012-13 AHL All-Rookie Team is announced on Wednesday, and the First and Second All-Star Teams will be unveiled on Thursday.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
The AHL’s trade and loan deadline is this Wednesday, Apr. 10, at 3 p.m. ET. Following the deadline, no player may be acquired via trade between member clubs, and no AHL club may accept a player on loan from a club other than its NHL affiliate.
In addition, the AHL’s playoff roster deadline is Monday, Apr. 22, at 3 p.m. ET, by which time all 16 playoff teams must submit to the league a list of playoff-eligible players. Only those players on a team’s playoff eligibility list, plus signed draft choices and players signed to amateur tryout contracts, are eligible to compete in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Players from lower professional leagues can also be added if they played in at least eight games in the AHL and/or a lower league in 2012-13.
The AHL’s Clear Day roster restrictions have been removed. Any eligible player on a club’s roster may participate at any time during the remainder of the regular season and the Calder Cup Playoffs.
X’S MARK THE PLAYOFF SPOTS
As the playoff races enter the final stretch, the first berths in the 2013 Calder Cup postseason were finally secured last weekend.
On Friday night, the Providence Bruins became the first team to clinch a spot when they wrapped up a 4-1 win over Albany. The Bruins, who are returning to the playoffs after a three-year absence, were perennial postseason contenders before that, reaching the playoffs in 11 consecutive springs, making five trips to the conference finals and winning the Calder Cup in 1999.
Just 24 minutes after the Bruins punched their ticket, the Springfield Falcons, Syracuse Crunch and Binghamton Senators all clinched playoff berths when Portland finished off a 4-2 decision over Manchester.
For Springfield, the “x” next to its name in the standings ended a nine-year playoff drought, the longest in AHL history. The Falcons’ most recent postseason appearance had come in 2003, when they were the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and defeated Hartford in a qualifying series before losing to Hamilton in the conference quarterfinals. Springfield would go on to wrap up the Northeast Division title on Sunday, the Birds’ first division crown since 1998.
Syracuse has qualified for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since a three-year run from 2000-02. The Crunch made the playoffs last season as an Anaheim Ducks affiliate, and return in 2013 as Tampa Bay’s top development club. The Crunch have never won the Calder Cup, but several members of their team did last year with the Norfolk Admirals.
Binghamton is back in the postseason, one year after finishing 30th and last in the overall league standings but two years removed from winning the city’s first Calder Cup championship. The Senators, locked in a battle for first place in the East Division with Syracuse and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, are bidding for their first division title since 2005.
On Sunday, the Texas Stars became the first team out of the Western Conference to clinch a playoff berth when they defeated San Antonio, 5-1. The Stars’ 40th win of the season sent them to the postseason for the third time in the franchise’s four-year history, and was a welcome relief after a pair of last-minute losses. Texas dropped a 3-2 decision to Oklahoma City when the Barons’ Tanner House scored with 14.6 seconds remaining in regulation on Friday, and fell 2-1 to Hamilton on 18-year-old Bulldogs forward Charles Hudon’s first professional goal with 24.5 seconds to go in regulation on Saturday.
Five teams have clinched playoff berths and only three have been mathematically eliminated, leaving 22 clubs to fight it out for the final 11 invites to the 2013 Calder Cup dance.
OLESZ IS MORE
Rostislav Olesz played the role of hero last week as the Rockford IceHogs breathed new life into their hopes for a trip to the postseason.
The former seventh-overall NHL draft pick (2004) notched seven points in four games last week, earning the CCM/AHL Player of the Week award and pushing the IceHogs into a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference. On Friday in Milwaukee, Olesz scored two go-ahead goals in the third period, the second one coming with 6:08 left, to propel Rockford to a 4-3 win. The next night, his goal with 2:31 to play completed a comeback from 4-2 down and gave the IceHogs a 5-4 victory in Peoria.
Rockford, which has won a league-leading 10 games when trailing after two periods (10-23-2-0), also got a goal and six assists from Brandon Pirri last week, as the third-year pro set a career high for points in a season (63).
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 less than two weeks remaining in the 2012-13 regular season, here are five match-ups to look forward to in the days ahead:
Chicago at Grand Rapids, Wednesday (7 ET) – While Grand Rapids looks to wrap up the Midwest Division title, Chicago heads to Van Andel Arena two points out of eighth place in the Western Conference after a split of last week’s four-game Southern road trip. The Griffins, back home after a 4-2-0-1 road trek, have won all six meetings from the Wolves this season, although the Wolves have earned points for three overtime losses and one shootout setback.
Texas at Charlotte, Thursday and Friday (7 ET) – The top two teams in the South Division meet for a pair at the Time Warner Cable Arena as Texas invades Charlotte. The Stars, seven points up on the Checkers with six games remaining, can clinch the franchise’s first division title by sweeping the two-game set. Texas is 4-1-1-0 against Charlotte this season, but the teams’ most recent meeting was a 4-2 Checkers win in Cedar Park back on Mar. 23.
Bridgeport at Syracuse, Friday (7:30 ET) – Entering the week four points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Bridgeport plays its only game of the weekend on Friday night in Syracuse. The Crunch, vying for their first division title since 2002, snapped a four-game losing streak with a win in Hershey on Saturday night, but enter the week having scored just 11 goals in their last eight games. The Sound Tigers have won three straight visits to the War Memorial since their last loss, a 4-1 setback on Nov. 25, 2005.
Hershey at Manchester, Saturday (7 ET) – Hershey visits Manchester on Saturday night in the middle stop of a three-game weekend road swing through New England. The Bears enter the week tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference, with the Monarchs sitting in a three-way tie for 10th, four points back. The most recent meeting between these teams was a wild 6-4 Manchester win on Mar. 23, in which Linden Vey and Colton Yellow Horn each scored twice to lead a Monarchs comeback from 3-0 down.
Rockford at Milwaukee, Saturday (8:30 ET) – With the last playoff positions in the Western Conference changing hands daily, Rockford and Milwaukee collide for the 12th and final time this season. The IceHogs’ four-win effort last week included a home-and-home sweep of the Admirals and left the rivals tied for eighth at 79 points each. Even with those two losses to Rockford, Milwaukee is 10-3-1-0 in its last 14 games. Admirals goalie Jeremy Smith is 5-1-0 against the IceHogs this season; Magnus Hellberg is 0-5-0.
There have been 46 hat tricks and 152 shutouts recorded in the American Hockey League through Apr. 8, and 76 AHL players have made their National Hockey League debuts this season:
Last week’s hat tricks (0)
Last week’s shutouts (6)
Magnus Hellberg, MIL — Apr. 6 at Charlotte
Frederik Andersen, NOR — Apr. 6 vs. Binghamton
Matt Climie, CHI — Apr. 6 at Oklahoma City
Jeff Zatkoff, WBS — Apr. 6 vs. Albany
Niklas Svedberg, PRO — Apr. 7 at Connecticut
Jeff Deslauriers, HOU — Apr. 7 vs. Hamilton
With two weeks remaining, Milwaukee (Jeremy Smith and Magnus Hellberg), Providence (Niklas Svedberg and Michael Hutchinson) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Jeff Zatkoff and Brad Thiessen) are the only teams in the AHL to have only two goalies see game action this season… Prior to Saturday’s 7-1 loss, Worcester goaltender Alex Stalock had been 11-0-1 with a 1.51 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in his career vs. Springfield… In his Rochester debut on Sunday, Matt Hackett stopped 39 of 41 shots and also assisted on the game-tying goal in the Americans’ 3-2 shootout victory at Albany… That loss was the Devils’ 12th via shootout this year, a new single-season AHL record… Binghamton, which sits two points off the lead in the East Division, is paced in scoring by Stephane Da Costa, whose 35 points rank him tied for 101st in the league; the Senators do have 10 skaters with double-digit goal totals and eight with a plus/minus rating of +10 or better… Saturday’s crowd of 10,943 fans – the largest ever for a regular-season game at Giant Center – pushed Hershey’s average attendance for the season to 10,021 with one home date remaining… Syracuse’s 2-1 victory over the Bears that night was the first victory as head coach for the Crunch’s Rob Zettler… Connecticut completed the home portion of its schedule with a 15-4-1-2 record in its last 22 home contests… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton held Albany to 11 shots in a 4-0 win on Saturday night, marking the 13th time this season that the Penguins have allowed fewer than 20 shots in a game… At week’s end, five of Toronto’s top six scorers this season were on recall to the parent Maple Leafs… Prior to Saturday night’s game vs. Connecticut, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers presented members of Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization created by members of the Newtown, Conn., community following the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, with a check for $20,000 from funds raised by the Sound Tigers Booster Club and auctions of donated jerseys from around the AHL and NHL.