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AHL Weekly: Restoring American pride

WEEKLY RELEASE #4

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … After two consecutive last-place finishes in the North Division, the new-look Rochester Americans are off to a fast start in 2009-10 as they look to restore some winning ways to the proud franchise and its fans.

With former NHL coach of the year and one-time Amerks captain Ted Nolan joining AHL Hall of Famer Jody Gage in the front office, and with Benoit Groulx returning for his second season behind the bench, Rochester has retooled its roster with a combination of veteran leadership and blossoming prospects. The result through the first 10 games of the season is an 8-1-1-0 record and a league-best 17 points, and a current seven-game winning streak that is the club’s longest since reeling off seven straight victories from Oct. 29 to Nov. 18, 2006.

Twenty-year-old Michal Repik paces the Amerks’ offense with six goals – including a pair of game-winners – and 11 points in nine contests. A second-round draft choice by the parent Florida Panthers in 2007, Repik is looking to build off the 19 goals and 49 points he put up for Rochester as a rookie in 2008-09. Kenndal McArdle (20th overall in 2005) and Keaton Ellerby (10th in 2007) are recent Panthers first-rounders currently in Rochester, and Shawn Matthias, a second-round pick by Detroit acquired by Florida in a 2007 trade for Todd Bertuzzi, began the season with the Panthers before rejoining Rochester after a five-game stint. Evgeny Dadonov, 20, brings high expectations to North America coming to the Florida organization from his native Russia, and fellow rookie Victor Oreskovich, who quit hockey after his final junior season in 2007, finally made his pro debut on Oct. 21 and picked up a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win over Binghamton.

In an effort to boost an offense that produced the AHL’s fewest goals per game last season, Rochester brought aboard several seasoned point-producers over the summer, and the early returns have been successful. Mike York, a veteran of 579 NHL contests, shows nine points (3-6-9) in 10 contests. Chris Taylor, a four-time 20-goal scorer during his seven previous seasons with the Americans (1999-2006), also has nine points (2-7-9) and is currently riding a four-game scoring streak. Graham Mink (3-5-8), a two-time Calder Cup champion with Hershey, and Jeff Taffe (4-3-7) each joined the Amerks after setting career highs in goals last season.

Rochester also shored up its defensive corps with the addition of Clay Wilson, a former AHL All-Star who has put up six points (2-4-6) thus far, five of them on the power play. Jason Garrison shows five points (1-4-5) in seven contests and earned a recall to Florida last week, while Michael Caruso has four assists and is tied for the team lead with a plus-4 rating after totaling 10 points and a minus-10 in 73 games as a rookie in 2008-09. Rookie goaltender Alexander Salak, who was named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week earlier today, is out to a 5-0-0 start (1.60, .947) and has not surrendered more than two goals in any appearance.

Rochester, which currently ranks fifth in the AHL in goals per game (3.30) and fourth in goals allowed (2.20), has a light week ahead, closing out its successful October with a visit to Binghamton on Friday.

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HOME COOKING CURES GRIFFINS … After stumbling out of the gate at 1-4-0-0, Grand Rapids finally opened its home schedule last weekend and promptly won three contests at Van Andel Arena in a three-day span.

The Griffins hosted a capacity crowd of 10,834 on Friday night – their 14th consecutive home-opening sellout – and posted a 5-3 win over Abbotsford. After taking a 4-3 shootout decision from Toronto on Saturday, Grand Rapids recorded a 6-1 triumph in a rematch with Abbotsford on Sunday. The Griffins’ power play went 9-for-26 (34.6 percent) on the weekend and converted four times in each win over the Heat.

Jeremy Williams lit the lamp in all three victories after scoring just once in his first five games in a Griffins uniform, and Michael Nylander posted five assists – all on the power play – after joining Grand Rapids on a conditioning loan from the Washington Capitals. Captain Jamie Tardif recorded his second career AHL hat trick in Sunday’s victory.

THE PUCK STOPS HERE … The Manchester Monarchs boast the hottest goaltending tandem in the AHL early on in 2009-10, and it has helped the team rise to the top of the Atlantic Division.

Jonathan Bernier (5-1-0), a first-round draft choice by the Los Angeles Kings (11th overall) in 2006, ranks fourth in the league with his 1.34 goals-against average and third with a .963 save percentage; teammate Jeff Zatkoff, a third-round pick in that same draft, is first in both categories (0.67, .978) while winning two of his first three decisions of the season.

Bernier registered his second consecutive shutout on Friday night, a 40-save effort in the Monarchs’ 2-0 win over Bridgeport. Zatkoff followed that up with 31 saves in a 2-0 whitewash of Providence on Saturday. The Monarchs have surrendered just one goal on 122 shots during their current four-game winning streak.

ETC. … After making his Wolves debut in a 1-0 shootout loss to Manitoba on Friday, Chris Chelios recorded two assists and a plus-4 rating in Saturday’s 7-1 Chicago win over Abbotsford… Arturs Kulda set a Wolves franchise record with his plus-6 effort in that victory… Mathieu Darche recorded his 200th career AHL goal in Hamilton’s 4-1 win over Manitoba on Tuesday… Mike Santorelli has four goals and four assists in his first four games with Milwaukee this season… Syracuse’s Derek MacKenzie scored his second shorthanded goal in as many games – and the 29th of his AHL career – on Friday vs. Binghamton… Springfield goaltender Devan Dubnyk piled up an AHL season-high 46 saves on Saturday at Worcester but took the tough-luck loss as the Falcons dropped a 1-0 decision in overtime… Norfolk’s Ryan Craig has a goal in four straight games (5-1-6) and a point in his last six outings (6-2-8)… Bridgeport rookie Tony Romano halted the Sound Tigers’ scoring drought at 173:34 with his first professional goal on Saturday vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton… Lowell goaltender Mike McKenna had recorded three shutouts in as many career appearances at Tsongas Arena – including one as a visitor with Portland on Apr. 4, 2008 – before surrendering three goals in a 4-2 loss to Springfield on Sunday… Manitoba has posted a 4-0-0-0 record this season after a loss but is just 1-3-0-0 following a win… Rockford is 0-2-1-0 in Peoria’s Carver Arena this season and 5-2-0-0 everywhere else… Peoria has killed off 13 straight opponent power plays after beginning the year just 14-for-21 (66.7%)… Hamilton has allowed just two goals during its current three-game winning streak, which includes triumphs over San Antonio and Texas last weekend… Rochester snapped a 12-game losing streak (0-11-1-0) at the Onondaga County War Memorial with Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win over host Syracuse… Manchester has gone its last eight games without allowing a first-period goal… The AHL’s top four offenses at week’s end resided in the Atlantic Division: Lowell (3.56 goals per game), Worcester (3.50), Providence (3.50) and Hartford (3.44)… Home teams are 82-34-11-3 (.685 points percentage) this season.