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AHL Weekly Release: Rockford going hog wild out West

WEEKLY RELEASE #10

rfd_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … It’s a new city with new rivalries in a new conference, but the Chicago Blackhawks’ top affiliate is on its way to duplicating its successful regular season from a year ago.

With points in seven straight outings and 14 of 17 since the start of November (10-3-1-3), the Rockford IceHogs have pulled even with the Chicago Wolves atop the wild West Division, where all eight teams enter the week above the .500 mark. Led by reigning AHL coach of the year Mike Haviland, the IceHogs are on pace for 108 points, the exact total achieved by the Blackhawks’ top prospects when they were based in Norfolk last season.

Martin St. Pierre, a First Team AHL All-Star in 2006-07, has vaulted to second in the league scoring race with 32 points in 23 games since joining the IceHogs on Oct. 16. The CCM/AHL Player of the Month for November has now tallied 211 points in 183 career AHL games. Troy Brouwer, who was a Second Team AHL All-Star and All-Rookie Team selection last season, is tied with St. Pierre for the team lead with 11 goals, including an AHL-high 10 on the power play.

Michael Blunden, a second-round draft choice by the Blackhawks in 2005, was limited by injury to 26 games between the AHL and the NHL as a rookie last year. He has not missed a game this season and is tied for third on the IceHogs in scoring (19 points) with Kris Versteeg, who has at least one point in seven straight games and 11 of his last 12. Petri Kontiola, in his first North American pro season after playing in his native Finland, has registered five goals and 19 assists for 24 points in 25 games, and made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks on Nov. 25 at Vancouver. Kontiola and Versteeg are among the seven IceHogs who have skated in the NHL for Chicago already this season.

Rockford’s roster remains infused with high draft picks. Rookie Jack Skille was selected seventh overall by the Blackhawks in 2005, and has 12 points in 25 games on the year. Cam Barker, who was picked third overall in 2004 behind only Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, currently ranks third among AHL defensemen with seven goals this season. David Bolland (2004), Bryan Bickell (2004), Danny Richmond (2003) and goaltender Corey Crawford (2003) were all second-round draft picks in recent years.

Crawford has earned each decision during Rockford’s current 5-0-0-2 run, registering a 1.91 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage. Each of the IceHogs’ last five games have gone past regulation, including four consecutive shootouts from Nov. 30 to Dec. 7.

Rockford, 6-1-0-1 on home ice this season, entertains Rochester on Friday and Quad City on Saturday. The IceHogs then head back out to play six of their next seven on the road after that.

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DAWES DOES GOODNigel Dawes set a Wolf Pack regular-season franchise record with six points in Hartford’s 7-1 win at Worcester on Saturday night. Dawes scored twice and added four assists in the effort, including setting up all three goals in Greg Moore’s first career hat trick.

Dawes returned from a six-week stay in the NHL with the parent New York Rangers and was held scoreless vs. Providence on Nov. 21, but since then has recorded eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points and a plus-8 rating in eight games.

QUICK WORK IN NHL DEBUTJonathan Quick earned the win in his National Hockey League debut for Los Angeles on Dec. 6, stopping 15 of 17 shots in an 8-2 victory over Buffalo. Quick, pressed into service because of injuries to Jason LaBarbera and Jean-Sebastien Aubin, was a third-round draft choice by the Kings in 2005. The first-year pro is 1-2-0 in three AHL appearances for Manchester this season.

Also on Dec. 6, defenseman Ryan O’Byrne recorded two assists in his NHL debut, helping Montreal to a 4-2 win over Boston. O’Byrne, who played 102 regular-season and playoff games as a rookie for the 2007 Calder Cup champion Hamilton Bulldogs, has eight points in 18 games with Hamilton this season.

Also making their NHL debuts last week were Springfield’s Liam Reddox with the Edmonton Oilers, and Philadelphia’s Steve Downie with the parent Flyers. More than 110 players have hit the ice in both the AHL and NHL already during the 2007-08 season.

ETC. … In a battle of the league’s top two teams, Providence scored three goals in 2:13 midway through the third period to earn a 4-3 win over visiting Chicago on Friday… Antti Pihlstrom and Janne Niskala each had a goal and an assist and fellow Finn Pekka Rinne made 23 saves as Milwaukee defeated Hamilton on Saturday, 2-1… Rinne, who has played in 21 of Milwaukee’s first 23 games this season, has allowed exactly one goal in each of his last three starts (2-1-0, 1.01, .965)… Mike Morris, San Jose’s first-round draft choice in 2002 (27th overall), made his professional debut on Friday and recorded an assist in Worcester’s 4-3 shootout loss to Manchester… Albany’s 2-0 win over Portland on Friday was the River Rats’ franchise-record seventh shutout of the season, and moved Michael Leighton into a tie for seventh place in AHL history with 27 career shutouts… Sidelined for 21 games by an ankle injury, 2007 AHL All-Star Karri Ramo earned his first win of the season by making 38 saves in Norfolk’s 2-1 decision over Philadelphia on Friday… Toronto’s Derrick Walser, Portland’s Andrew Ebbett and Springfield’s Rob Schremp are tied for the AHL lead with two overtime goals apiece… Matt Christie scored Portland’s first shorthanded goal of the season in Saturday’s 5-4 win at Providence, and it came with the Pirates skating two men down… Syracuse was held scoreless for the other 59:53, but Andrew Murray and Jeffrey Szwez scored seven seconds apart in the first period of a 2-1 win over Grand Rapids on Saturday, the Crunch’s first victory at Van Andel Arena since Jan. 10, 2003… Iowa rallied for a 3-2 win in San Antonio on Saturday when Marty Sertich scored with eight seconds left in regulation and James Neal won it in overtime… Peoria went 21 consecutive games against Calgary’s AHL affiliate without a regulation loss (18-0-0-3) before Saturday’s 4-3 victory by Quad City… The Hershey Bears collected a total of 4,640 stuffed animals on Sunday with the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss; the toys will be donated to various charities in central Pennsylvania.