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AHL Weekly: Stars to descend on Hershey

WEEKLY RELEASE #16

AHL standings || Scores and schedules || League leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The 2011 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Capital BlueCross, set for Sunday and Monday, Jan. 30-31, will feature some of the best young players in hockey performing before sellout crowds at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., and in front of an international television audience, and it continues a tradition which was first conceived nearly seven decades ago.

Although 2011 marks the 17th installment of the modern All-Star event, the first AHL All-Star Game was held on Feb. 3, 1942, under the support of the league’s first president, 2011 AHL Hall of Fame inductee Maurice Podoloff. That game, played at the famed Arena in Cleveland, served as 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 participated in all six of these games. Other AHL-Stars in the 1950s included future Hockey Hall of Famers Johnny Bower, Frank Mathers, Brian Kilrea, Harry 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-based teams squared 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 pit Canadian-born players against those born outside of Canada.

The 2011 event will feature a format of Eastern Conference All-Stars vs. their Western Conference counterparts for the first time since the inaugural AHL All-Star Game in 1942. Rookie standouts Luke Adam (Portland), Rhett Rakhshani (Bridgeport), Bobby Butler (Binghamton) and Erik Gustafsson (Adirondack) will be joined by first-year goaltending studs Jake Allen (Peoria) and Martin Jones (Manchester). AHL leading scorer Corey Locke of Binghamton is set to make his fourth straight All-Star appearance, while fellow top offensive threats Alexandre Giroux (Oklahoma City), Jerome Samson (Charlotte), Dustin Jeffrey (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and Spencer Machacek (Chicago) are also bound for Hershey. The Hershey Bears will be represented in their home rink by second-year goaltender Braden Holtby, team points leader Andrew Gordon and veteran defenseman Lawrence Nycholat, along with the club’s entire coaching and training staff by virtue of Hershey’s 2010 Calder Cup championship.

Since 1995, more than 94 percent of all players to take part in the annual AHL All-Star Classic have gone on to compete in the National Hockey League. Ten former AHL All-Stars were selected for this year’s NHL All-Star Weekend, including 2009-10 AHL rookie of the year Tyler Ennis and 2009-10 AHL All-Rookie forward Logan Couture, along with former AHL All-Stars Eric Staal and Patrick Sharp (2005), Patrik Elias (1997), Martin St. Louis (1999), Ryan Kesler (2005), Dustin Byfuglien (2007), Zdeno Chara (1998) and Dan Boyle (1999, 2000).

Fans in Hershey or in front of their televisions will watch the 2011 Reese’s AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Sunday, Jan. 30, at 3:00 ET, and the 2011 AHL All-Star Game on Monday, Jan. 31, at 7:00 ET. Produced by Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, the two-day event will air live on TSN in Canada and on a comprehensive network of television partners in the United States. A complete listing of network and airtimes can be found on the official website of the American Hockey League, theahl.com.

AHL HALL OF FAME INDUCTIONS SET … As part of the festivities for the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Capital BlueCross, the AHL will be inducting four new members into the league’s Hall of Fame. The Class of 2011, including Mitch Lamoureux, Harry Pidhirny, Maurice Podoloff and Larry Wilson, will be enshrined as part of the 2011 AHL Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Ceremony, to be held at the Hershey Theatre on Monday, Jan. 31, at 11:00 a.m. ET.

AHL graduates and former Calder Cup champions Olaf Kolzig and Nick Kypreos will serve as the honorary captains in Hershey. Current Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau, who guided Hershey to the 2006 Calder Cup title, is slated to serve as guest speaker at the Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Ceremony, which will be emceed by Foster Hewitt Award winner Mike Emrick, an AHL graduate and now the lead play-by-play voice of the NHL on NBC and Versus.

ALL-STAR OFFICIALS ANNOUNCED … The American Hockey League has named the on-ice officials for the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Capital BlueCross in Hershey. David Banfield (sixth year) will serve as the game’s referee, while Tim Kotyra (20th year) and Bob Goodman (19th year) will be the linesmen. It will mark the first AHL All-Star appearance for all three.

WILD, WILD WEST … It’s shaping up to be a thrilling stretch run in the West Division, which features seven teams among the AHL’s top 15 in terms of points entering the new week. Those seven clubs are all separated by just four points in the standings, meaning that seventh-place Chicago (53 points) is conceivably only two victories removed from holding a first-place tie with Peoria (57 points).

The Rivermen’s hold on the top spot is tenuous, with a quartet of teams sitting just one point off the pace. Oklahoma City and Houston have both won seven of their last 10 games to move into a second-place tie (56 points) with Milwaukee and San Antonio. The Rampage had been in first place nearly all season before suffering through a recent 2-9-0-0 slide, but they have rebounded with a 2-0-0-1 mark in their last three outings. Texas checks in next with 55 points courtesy of back-to-back victories; and reigning division champion Chicago stands at 53 points. Despite occupying eighth place with 43 points, Rockford still has seven games in hand on the Wolves and has played fewer contests than any other member of its division.

Since Jan. 5, four different teams – Peoria, San Antonio, Milwaukee and Houston – have woken up one morning owning at least a share of first place in the West Division.

ETC. … Total attendance in 35 weekend games this past Friday-Sunday was 252,458 – an average of 7,213 fans per game… Saturday’s schedule featured six capacity crowds (in Hershey, Manchester, Portland, Rockford, Wilkes-Barre and Texas) and two lower-bowl sellouts (in Worcester and Lake Erie)… Michael Leighton made 38 saves in his return to Philadelphia on Friday as Adirondack earned a 4-2 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before 18,056 fans at the Wells Fargo Center, the 10th-largest regular-season crowd in AHL history… After surrendering three goals on six shots in a 7-3 loss to Hamilton, Connecticut goaltender Chad Johnson came back the next night with 35 saves on 36 shots in the Whale’s 5-1 win at Springfield… After Peoria went through a stretch of 173:42 without scoring a goal, Anthony Nigro and Chris Porter lit the lamp 1:21 apart in the third of Sunday’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at Lake Erie… With 26 goals through 42 games (26-25-51), reigning Reebok/AHL Player of the Week Mark Mancari of Portland is already just three shy of his career-high 29 goals, achieved in 73 games with the Pirates in 2008-09… There were three hat tricks around the AHL on Saturday night; in addition to Mancari’s trio of goals vs. Providence, Binghamton rookie Roman Wick scored three times at Manchester and Connecticut’s Evgeny Grachev recorded his first North American hat trick at Springfield… Syracuse is 13-7-1-1 when scoring three or more goals and 3-17-0-3 when scoring two or fewer… Charlotte is an impressive 12-2-0-0 in its last 14 road games… Lake Erie’s five-game winning streak from Jan. 14-20 matched a franchise record, originally attained from Feb. 20-28, 2009… Houston’s penalty-killing unit had surrendered one or zero power-play goals in 16 straight games before allowing Toronto to go 2-for-5 in a 4-2 loss to the Marlies on Sunday.