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AHL Weekly: Stars ready to shine again

WEEKLY RELEASE #15

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The 2010 Time Warner Cable AHL All-Star Classic, set for Monday, Jan. 18 and Tuesday, Jan. 19, will bring some of the best young players in hockey to the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine, to continue a tradition that actually dates back more than 65 years.

Although 2010 marks the 16th installment of the modern All-Star event, the first AHL All-Star game was held on Feb. 3, 1942, under the support of league president Maurice Podoloff. The game, played at the famed Arena in Cleveland, was a fundraiser for U.S. and Canadian efforts in World War II and featured some of the most notable names in league history, including AHL Hall of Famers Les Cunningham and Eddie Shore, two men whose names now grace AHL awards honoring the league’s MVP and outstanding defenseman, respectively.

The AHL All-Star Game returned in 1954, and for the next six years the contest featured the defending Calder Cup champions taking on a team of league all-stars. Many of the AHL’s great players of the era participated, including AHL Hall of Famer Fred Glover, who played in all six of these games. Other AHL All-Stars in the 1950s included future Hockey Hall of Famers Johnny Bower, Frank Mathers, Brian Kilrea, Henry Lumley, Pierre Pilote, Gump Worsley and Emile Francis.

Following the All-Star Game in December 1959, the event was not held again until current league president and CEO David Andrews revived it 35 years later. In Providence on Jan. 17, 1995, a team of All-Stars from the AHL’s six Canadian teams faced off against All-Stars from the league’s 11 U.S.-based clubs. The annual Skills Competition was added in 1996, and the format was modified in 1997 to the current set-up pitting Canadian-born players against those born outside of Canada.

The 2010 edition will once again feature a collection of the AHL’s brightest stars, including rookie standouts Logan Couture (Worcester), Tyler Ennis (Portland) and Lars Eller (Peoria), all former NHL first-round draft picks; leading scorers Corey Locke (Hartford), Dustin Jeffrey (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux from the Hershey Bears; and top goaltenders Cedrick Desjardins of Hamilton, Jonathan Bernier from Manchester and Alexander Salak from Rochester.

Since 1995, more than 94 percent of all players to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic have competed in the National Hockey League. Thirty-seven former AHL All-Stars were selected to participate in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver next month, including Patrice Bergeron, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Zdeno Chara, Ryan Miller, Zach Parise and Eric Staal.

Fans in Portland and a live international TV audience are set to once again witness the AHL’s best face off in the 2010 Ducks Unlimited AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 18 (8:00 ET) and the 2010 AHL All-Star Game on Jan. 19 (6:00 ET). The AHL All-Star TV network will reach over 100 million households; visit theahl.com for a complete schedule of airtimes.

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AHL HALL OF FAME INDUCTIONS SET … As part of the festivities for the 2010 Time Warner Cable AHL All-Star Classic, the AHL will be inducting four new members into the league’s Hall of Fame. The Class of 2010 includes Macgregor Kilpatrick, John Paddock, Marcel Paille and Bill Sweeney, and will be enshrined as part of the 2010 AHL Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Ceremony presented by Portland Press Herald, to be held at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland on Jan. 19 at noon ET.

Current Toronto Maple Leafs and United States Olympic team general manager Brian Burke will serve as guest speaker at the ceremony, and former Portland Pirates goaltender Byron Dafoe and ex-Maine Mariners defenseman Ken Daneyko will be the honorary captains at the event.

ALL-STAR OFFICIALS NAMED … The American Hockey League has named the on-ice officials for the 2010 AHL All-Star Game in Portland. Chris Brown will serve as the game’s referee, while Mark Messier and Jack Millea will be the linesman. It will mark the first AHL All-Star appearance for all three men.

BEARS KEEP ROLLING … For the second straight season, the 72-year-old Hershey Bears have established a new franchise record for longest regular-season winning streak. The Bears, who first eclipsed their previous record last year by winning 11 straight games from Nov. 14 to Dec. 7, 2008, topped that mark on Saturday when they collected their 12th consecutive victory, a 3-2 decision at Manitoba.

Hershey swept its two-game weekend set in Winnipeg – which featured a rematch of last spring’s Calder Cup Finals – and has outscored opponents 52-22 over the course of the 12-game winning streak. The Bears, who are now 29-8-0-2 for an AHL-high 60 points, hold a 14-point lead atop the East Division and have not lost since a 3-0 setback at Albany on Dec. 11.

CROWDS ON THE RISE … AHL teams around the league enjoyed a strong weekend at the gate, as the 23 games from Friday through Sunday drew an average crowd of 5,226 fans, nearly a 14 percent increase on the league’s season average. The weekend was highlighted on Saturday by five-figure crowds in Chicago (13,555) and Milwaukee (12,482); and a season-high showing of 6,334 in Worcester, all of whom enjoyed victories by the home team. Providence drew 8,763 fans for a 3-1 win over Adirondack on Friday, and the two-game Hershey-Manitoba series in Winnipeg attracted a combined 15,563 fans to the MTS Centre.

ETC. … Through 37 games this season, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Dustin Jeffrey (12-29-41) has already eclipsed his 63-game rookie-year totals in goals (11), assists (26), and points (37)… Riley Armstrong delivered back-to-back game-winning goals in Abbotsford’s two-game weekend sweep of Texas… Hershey rookie Braden Holtby has won nine consecutive decisions (1.54, .948) and has allowed two goals or fewer in eight of the nine outings… Lake Erie rookie Ryan Stoa has scored 11 goals in his last 16 games… John Grahame made 37 saves in Adirondack’s 3-1 loss at Providence on Friday, his first appearance at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center since backstopping the Bruins to three consecutive conference finals appearances (1999-2001) including the 1999 Calder Cup championship… Dany Sabourin made an AHL season-high 51 saves in Providence’s 4-3 loss to Worcester on Saturday… The Sharks scored twice in the final three minutes to win that game, then dug out of a 5-1 hole to take a 6-5 overtime victory over Portland on Sunday… Four of Sunday’s six AHL games were decided in the OT period… Albany’s 3-1 win over Hartford on Saturday earned the River Rats a sweep of their two-game season series after the Wolf Pack had won 13 straight meetings between the clubs entering this season… Peoria went 4-for-6 on the power play in Friday’s 5-1 win over Toronto, its most man-advantage strikes since going 4-for-9 vs. Grand Rapids on Dec. 26, 2006… Saturday’s action featured some lopsided third-period shot totals, with Binghamton outshooting Lowell, 25-4; Chicago holding a 21-4 edge over Peoria; Worcester peppering Providence, 19-5; and Bridgeport blanking Springfield, 16-0… Syracuse has won all three of its visits to Norfolk this year, but is 2-14-2-2 in all other road contests.