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AHL Weekly Release: Sound Tigers off to roaring start

WEEKLY RELEASE #6

bri06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … They won the AHL’s regular-season points title and reached the Calder Cup Finals in their very first season of existence seven years ago, but have not been to the postseason since 2006. This year, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers have used strong offensive starts from a pair of new forwards and stellar defensive play to race to the top of the AHL standings through the season’s first six weeks.

Guided by second-year head coach Jack Capuano, the Sound Tigers enter the new week at 12-3-0-2 (26 points), good for first place in the East Division and one point better than Hershey and Syracuse for the overall league lead. It marks the best start in franchise history for Bridgeport, which has been equally successful at home (6-1-0-1) and on the road (6-2-0-1) this season. Additionally, half a dozen members of the 2008-09 Sound Tigers have also appeared in the NHL already this season.

A big reason for the quick start has been a resurgent attack led by a pair of offseason acquisitions. On July 3, the parent New York Islanders signed both Kurtis McLean and Mike Iggulden, who were coming off successful AHL campaigns in 2007-08: McLean had posted 54 points in the regular season and reached the Calder Cup Finals with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, while Iggulden represented Worcester at the 2008 AHL All-Star Classic and led the Sharks in goals (29) and points (66).

United in Bridgeport, McLean currently leads the Sound Tigers with 19 points (6-13-19) in 17 games, and Iggulden ranks second with 18 points in 17 contests this year, including a team-high 10 goals. The duo has combined to rack up 20 points on the power play for a Sound Tigers unit that currently ranks fourth in the AHL at 21.0 percent (22-for-105).

Trevor Smith shows 12 points (5-7-12) this season after an impressive showing as a first-year pro a year ago. Rookie winger Jesse Joensuu, a second-round draft pick in 2006, has tallied six goals on just 16 shots (.375) through 15 games for the second-best shooting percentage in the league. Blake Comeau has added two goals and eight assists in 10 games, and two-time 20-goal scorer Ben Walter has returned to the lineup after missing the first month of the season due to injury.

Bridgeport’s blueliners, led by captain Mark Wotton, have helped Bridgeport claim the third-ranked defense in the league at 2.41 goals allowed per game. In his first full AHL season, Andrew MacDonald ranks fourth on the team with 10 points (3-7-10) in 16 outings. Jamie Fraser has seven points and a team-best plus-10 rating on the year, Jack Hillen has five points in nine AHL games after beginning his rookie season with the Islanders, and Chris Lee has contributed five assists in eight games since returning from an injury sustained in an NHL preseason game on Oct. 6. Brett Skinner, an AHL All-Star in 2008, had eight points in eight games for the Sound Tigers before earning his first NHL recall on Oct. 27; he has played 10 games with the Islanders since.

Bridgeport has also benefited from a strong goaltending corps in the early going. Rookie Peter Mannino is out to a 6-1-2 start (2.46, .912) to his pro career, including one shutout. Fellow first-year pro Nathan Lawson has allowed a total of three goals in winning his first three appearances. And Yann Danis, a 2007 Calder Cup champion with Hamilton, was 3-2-0 (2.38, .911) prior to his Oct. 27 recall to the Islanders.

Fresh off a come-from-behind 3-2 shootout win in Houston on Sunday, Bridgeport travels to San Antonio to face the Rampage on Tuesday before a key date in Hershey on Saturday night.

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A POSITIVE DEBUT … Worcester goaltender Taylor Dakers, who has had a rough few months off the ice, made his season debut for the Sharks on Sunday and stopped all 11 shots he faced in a 3-0 victory at Springfield. It marked Dakers’ first professional shutout and just the second as a team in the three-year history of the Sharks.

Dakers, a fifth-round draft pick by San Jose in 2005, went 7-11-1 as a rookie for Worcester last season but ended the campaign on a three-game winning streak in which he stopped 75 of 80 shots (.938). However, his 2008-09 campaign was delayed by a back injury suffered in training camp and the death of his father last month.

The 11 shots allowed were the fewest by an AHL team since San Antonio was held to 10 shots by Cincinnati on Apr. 1, 2005. The Sharks, who outshot the Falcons by a combined 81-27 margin in two meetings last week, are surrendering a league-low average of 21.86 per game this season while firing a league-high 37.57 shots per game on opposing goaltenders.

REGIER MAKES QUICK IMPRESSION … It took Steve Regier all of four seconds in a St. Louis Blues uniform to find the scoresheet for the first time in his National Hockey League career.

Recalled earlier in the day from Peoria, where is the Rivermen’s leading scorer this season, Regier scored his first two NHL goals on Sunday in the Blues’ 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal. He was named the game’s first star. Cam Paddock and Jeff Woywitka, also Peoria recalls, each picked up an assist on one of Regier’s goals.

The 24-year-old Regier is in his fifth pro season and his first after four years in the New York Islanders organization. In 305 career AHL games with Peoria and Bridgeport, he has totaled 70 goals and 97 assists for 167 points.

THE BOUDREAU CHRONICLES … Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau, who ranks 11th on the AHL’s all-time scoring list and was a head coach for eight-plus seasons in the league, has signed a deal to publish his autobiography. The yet unnamed book, co-written with sportswriter Tim Leone of the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., is scheduled to be released by Potomac Books in October 2009.

Boudreau, who guided the Hershey Bears to the 2006 Calder Cup championship and back to the Finals in 2007, enjoyed a storybook rise to success with the Capitals in 2007-08. He took over a last-place squad on Nov. 22, 2007, and led them to the Southeast Division title with a 37-17-17 mark the rest of the way. On June 12, Boudreau won the prestigious Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year.

ETC. … Manitoba goaltender Cory Schneider has won nine straight starts (1.22, .952) since taking the loss in the Moose’s season opener on Oct. 10… Zenon Konopka scored the tiebreaking goal with 1:19 left in regulation to send Norfolk to a 4-3 win in Lowell on Tuesday, and then scored with 4.3 seconds left in the Admirals’ 2-1 win at Manchester on Saturday… Chris Minard’s current 14-game scoring streak (14g, 10a) is one shy of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton franchise record set by Billy Tibbets in 2000-01… Portland forward Mark Mancari has matched an AHL season high with a goal in six straight games (7-6-13)… Hershey has outscored its opponents by a 19-5 margin over its last three games, and has scored at least seven goals in a game five times already this season… Grand Rapids’ 3-2 win over Hartford on Friday night marked the Griffins’ first-ever game against an Atlantic Division opponent… After totaling eight goals during its six-game winless skid, Rockford combined for nine scores in defeating Milwaukee and Peoria over the weekend… Hamilton’s Matt D’Agostini is currently riding a four-game goal-scoring streak (6-0-6); five of his six goals in the run have come on the power play, while the other was scored shorthanded… The Bulldogs scored three shorthanded goals in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Rochester… Albany survived a Brad Snetsinger penalty-shot attempt in overtime on Saturday and claimed a 3-2 shootout win in Lowell… Peoria forward Chris Conner has a goal in each of his last five outings (5-2-7)… The Rivermen close out a run of 12 straight games in the state of Illinois on Nov. 22… Houston is in a stretch of playing 11 of 12 games at home, and its only road contest during that stretch is at in-state rival San Antonio on Nov. 29… Manitoba is the only AHL team yet to play an overtime game this season.