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AHL Weekly Release: Top to bottom, West remains tight

WEEKLY RELEASE #20

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.
… The Chicago Wolves may be distancing themselves from the rest of the pack, but the eight-team West Division continues to be the best in the AHL from top to bottom.

West Division
(through Feb. 18)
GPPts
Chicago5277
Rockford5770
San Antonio5468
Peoria5666
Milwaukee5561
Quad City5560
Houston5459
Iowa5656

Chicago’s seven-game winning streak has propelled the Wolves to a seven-point lead over Rockford (0-6-1-1 in its last eight) as they vie for their second division title in four years. Chicago has dominated both ends of the ice during the streak, outscoring opponents 25-7. They boast the AHL’s leading scorer in Jason Krog (74 points), the league’s top goal-scorer in Brett Sterling (28 goals, tied with Bridgeport’s Jeff Tambellini) and the top-scoring defenseman in Joel Kwiatkowski (17 goals), while goaltender Ondrej Pavelec leads all AHL rookies with 21 victories and is 6-0-0 with a 1.17 GAA and a .958 save percentage in his last six starts.

Rockford’s skid has also allowed the teams behind it in the standings to mount some pressure. The IceHogs own just a two-point lead over third-place San Antonio, which is 7-2-1-3 as it wraps up a very successful 14-game road trip in Grand Rapids on Tuesday night. The Rampage are gunning for their first taste of playoff hockey since 2003.

Peoria snapped a seven-game winless streak with a 4-3 shootout win over San Antonio on Feb. 15, leaving them fourth in the West with 66 points. Hannu Toivonen, who backstopped Providence to the AHL’s conference finals in 2005, has won four of his five starts with the Rivermen this season.

Milwaukee sits fifth in the West thanks to a 3-0-1-0 surge in its last four games, and their 61 points would be good enough for a sixth consecutive postseason berth if the season ended today. The fifth-place team in the West will cross over and compete in the North Division bracket if it finishes ahead of the fourth-place club from the North; the Admirals are currently one point ahead of Quad City, two up on Houston, four ahead of Syracuse and five clear of Iowa for that final spot.

With none of the eight teams in the West sitting below the .500 mark after Monday’s action, the race to the Calder Cup Playoffs is poised to come down to the wire. Several key intra-divisional games are on tap for this week, beginning with Quad City visiting Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

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CLEAR DAY SET … Clear Day for the 2007-08 season is set for Thursday, February 28. Each AHL member club is required to submit its Clear Day list to the league office by 3:00 p.m. ET on that day.

Only those 22 players listed on a team’s Clear Day roster are eligible to compete in the remainder of the AHL regular season and in the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension. Teams may also add signed junior players or players on amateur tryout contracts after Clear Day, but only once their respective junior or college seasons are complete.

ICEHOGS, FANS SHOW SUPPORT FOR NIU … The Rockford IceHogs wore their road red uniforms at home on Friday and Saturday in support of the students, faculty and staff at Northern Illinois University, located about 40 miles south in DeKalb, Ill.

Said IceHogs team president Ryan Washatka in a statement: “A tragedy of this magnitude is hard to comprehend, and our condolences are with the university.”

AHL GRADS HELP KINGS DOUSE FLAMESTeddy Purcell, the MVP of the 2008 AHL All-Star Game last month, scored his first career NHL goal in Los Angeles’s 6-3 win over Calgary on Friday. But he was far from the only AHL graduate to lead the Kings on this night.

Brian Boyle, currently second to Purcell in AHL rookie scoring, also had a goal for the Kings; Kevin Dallman, just back in Los Angeles after a conditioning stint in Manchester, scored his first goal of the season; 2006 AHL Rookie of the Year Patrick O’Sullivan scored shorthanded; 2000 Calder Cup Playoffs MVP and 2001 AHL MVP Derek Armstrong chipped in with a goal and two assists; and 2004 AHL MVP and two-time AHL Goaltender of the Year Jason LaBarbera made 39 saves in the victory.

ETC. … Eighteen former Albany River Rats were in the lineup for the Carolina-New Jersey NHL game on Monday afternoon, including 2007-08 Rats Keith Aucoin, Ryan Bayda, Tim Conboy, Casey Borer, Wade Brookbank, John Grahame, Andrew Ladd and Joe Jensen, who was making his NHL debut… 2008 AHL All-Star Mike Iggulden made his NHL debut for San Jose in a game at the N.Y. Islanders on Monday… Brett Sterling has potted three consecutive game-winning goals for Chicago, giving him a league-leading seven on the season… Hershey’s Josef Boumedienne is riding a 13-game scoring streak, the fourth-longest streak by an AHL defenseman in the last 17 years; Andy Delmore had a 15-game run for Syracuse in 2005-06, Chris Snell put together a 15-game streak for St. John’s in 1993-94 and Sergei Zubov had points in 14 straight for Binghamton in 1992-93… Dane Byers has scored a goal in five straight games for Hartford… Making his home debut for Grand Rapids before 10,062 fans on Friday night, Darren McCarty recorded a hat trick and posted the first four-point game of his pro career to lead the Griffins past Lake Erie, 6-3… Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 89 of 93 shots (1.35, .957) in winning two of his three conditioning starts for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton… Manitoba drew a total of 24,805 fans to its two-game weekend set vs. Toronto, a Moose record for consecutive home games… Over its last nine games, Houston has outscored its opponents 22-6 in five wins, and has been outscored 11-1 in four losses… Quad City has participated in 15 shootouts, one off the single-season AHL record… Providence is 22-4-2-1 in one-goal games this season… After a home-and-home sweep over the weekend, Lowell is now 6-1-0-0 on the season vs. Manchester, and 9-27-6-4 vs. the rest of the AHL.