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AHL Weekly: The envelopes, please

March 29, 2011

WEEKLY RELEASE #26

AHL standings || Scores and schedules || League leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Year-end awards ballots were due yesterday from American Hockey League coaches, players and media, and the American Hockey League will begin handing out individual awards later this week in recognition of its outstanding performers during the 2010-11 season.

There is no shortage of qualified candidates for the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award, given annually to the AHL’s outstanding rookie. Portland has been home to the Garrett Award winner each of the past two seasons with Nathan Gerbe (2009) and Tyler Ennis (2010) taking home the hardware, and the Pirates boast another frontrunner in former second-round draft pick Luke Adam, who leads all rookies with an average of 1.12 points per game (25-29-54 in 48 GP). Like Adam, Charlotte’s Zac Dalpe (21-30-51 in 56 GP) and Toronto’s Nazem Kadri (17-24-41) have impressive point-per-game averages while also seeing NHL action, and Bridgeport’s Rhett Rakhshani leads all first-year pros in assists (35) and points (55). Rakhshani and Springfield’s Tomas Kubalik (22-28-50) are the only rookies currently leading their team in scoring, and Albany’s Adam Henrique (23-22-55), Manchester’s Brandon Kozun (21-24-45) and Syracuse’s Kyle Palmieri (23-20-43) have also enjoyed stellar seasons.

First-year goaltenders Eddie Lack of Manitoba (26-19-3, 2.16, .928, 5 SO), Richard Bachman of Texas (26-16-5, 2.20, .926, 6 SO), Matt Hackett from Houston (21-14-4, 2.23, .920), and Martin Jones of Manchester (22-11-1, 2.29, .923, 4 SO) are garnering attention for the Garrett Award as well as for the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton netminder Brad Thiessen is a remarkable 32-7-1 in 42 appearances and leads the AHL in wins and goals-against average (1.88) while sharing the lead in shutouts (seven) with Binghamton’s Barry Brust (28-17-1, 2.56, .925). Mark Dekanich is 23-12-5 for first-place Milwaukee while ranking third in GAA (2.02) and first in save percentage (.931), and Hamilton’s Curtis Sanford (22-13-2, 1.93, .930) is also among the top five in both of those categories.

Fourth-year pro and former third-round draft pick Marc-Andre Gragnani has piled up 3-17-20 totals in just 13 games this month to take over the AHL scoring lead among defensemen with a career-high 60 points (12-48-60, plus-22), and is one of the prime contenders for the Eddie Shore Award as the league’s top defenseman. Binghamton features a pair of strong candidates in Andre Benoit (10-43-53) and Derek Smith (10-40-50), both of whom have also seen NHL action this year. 2010 Second Team AHL All-Star Maxim Noreau (10-43-53) is enjoying another solid season on Houston’s blue line; Rochester’s Mike Kostka (13-36-49) is the Americans’ leading scorer this season; Corey Potter (4-26-30, +24) and 2008 Shore Award winner Andrew Hutchinson (6-24-30 in 48 GP) have anchored Wilkes-Barre’s top-ranked defense; and Hershey’s Sean Collins leads the entire AHL with a plus-29 rating, also earning consideration.

Leading AHL scorers such as Binghamton’s Corey Locke (21-64-85), Oklahoma City’s Alexandre Giroux (30-41-71), Portland’s Mark Mancari (32-32-64), Hershey’s Keith Aucoin (17-50-67) and Brian Willsie (30-37-67), and Chicago teammates Darren Haydar (25-43-68) and Jason Krog (18-50-68) are among the candidates for the AHL’s First and Second All-Star Teams as well as the prestigious Les Cunningham Award as the league’s most valuable player. Aucoin (2010), Giroux (2009), Krog (2008) and Haydar (2007) are all bidding for their second MVP honor.

The winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach frequently translates the honor into future success at the NHL level. The most recent two selections – Guy Boucher (2010) and Scott Arniel (2009) – are both currently head coaches in the National Hockey League, as are previous winners Claude Julien, Marc Crawford, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette.

The award announcements began earlier this week when the AHL revealed the 30 team finalists for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as the AHL’s Man of the Year. The 2010-11 AHL All-Rookie Team will be announced on Wednesday, and the First and Second All-Star Teams will be unveiled on Thursday. A complete schedule of year-end award announcements will be available on Tuesday afternoon.

2 WEEKS, 12 PLAYOFF SPOTS ... Twelve of the 16 berths in the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs – including all eight in the Western Conference – are still up for grabs with just two weeks left in the regular season, and 20 teams are still mathematically alive in their quest to secure one of those dozen remaining spots in the AHL postseason.

League-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (105 points) had already punched its ticket to the playoffs but wrapped up its third East Division title in the last six years on Sunday with a 3-2 overtime win over arch-rival Hershey, the two-time defending division champs. The Bears (94) clinched the right to play for its third consecutive Calder Cup on Saturday night, the same night Atlantic Division powers Portland (94) and Manchester (93) also joined the postseason party. The Pirates will be in the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons under head coach Kevin Dineen, and the Monarchs will make their ninth appearance in 10 years since joining the AHL in 2001.

AUCOIN REACHES 700 ... Hershey Bears forward Keith Aucoin has battled through an injury-riddled season but continues to put up impressive numbers, and the reigning AHL MVP added another bullet point to his sparkling resume over the weekend when he became just the 21st player in AHL history to reach 700 career points. By week’s end, Aucoin had produced 211 goals and 491 assists for 702 points in 626 regular-season AHL contests since turning pro in 2001, and his next assist will move him into a tie with 2011 AHL Hall of Fame inductee Larry Wilson for ninth place on that all-time list.

Aucoin has finished among the AHL’s top 10 scorers five times in his career, and he’s currently in a tie for fifth with 67 points (17-50-67) despite being limited to just 49 games so far this season.

SENATORS TURN IT AROUND … After moving comfortably into a playoff position courtesy of an eight-game winning streak in February, Binghamton proceeded to lose eight of its next 10 contests to fall right back toward the postseason bubble. But the Senators have caught fire again with six consecutive victories in a nine-day span and are back on track to earn their first berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs since 2005, seven points up on Worcester for the Eastern Conference’s crossover spot and just one point behind fourth-place Norfolk in the East Division.

Binghamton has received balanced scoring in its six wins since Mar. 19, with eight players averaging a point per game or better. Kaspars Daugavins (3-4-7), Andre Benoit (3-4-7), Corey Locke (3-4-7) and Jim O’Brien (2-5-7) lead the charge with seven points apiece in that time, and Roman Wick returned from his first-ever NHL recall to Ottawa to record 2-4-6 in three games last weekend.

The Senators could still receive significant reinforcements from Ottawa for a Calder Cup run, as the recalled Erik Condra, Colin Greening, Bobby Butler, Patrick Wiercioch, Zack Smith and David Hale are all on Binghamton’s Clear Day list and eligible to return to the B-Sens.

ETC. … With a 3-2 overtime loss in Rockford on Saturday, Milwaukee tied an AHL single-season record by earning a point in its 15th consecutive road game (9-0-4-2), equaling a mark attained by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2005-06 and Rockford in 2006-07; the Admirals’ last regulation loss away from the Bradley Center came back on Jan. 13, a 3-0 setback at Manitoba… Ben Walter (2-12-14, +12), David Van der Gulik (3-9-12, +9) and Greg Mauldin (8-2-10, +8) have combined for 36 points and a plus-29 rating during Lake Erie’s team-record eight-game winning streak... Connecticut goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris had his personal seven-game winning streak (1.66, .935) snapped in Sunday’s 4-2 loss at Providence… Portland’s Derek Whitmore set a franchise record by scoring 13 seconds after the opening face-off on Feb. 13 at Bridgeport, and Corey Tropp equaled the mark last Tuesday (Mar. 22) vs. Worcester… Manitoba’s Marco Rosa returned from a two-month injury absence last weekend and tallied a goal in both ends of the Moose’s two-game sweep of Abbotsford… Oklahoma City’s Colin McDonald has racked up 34 goals (34-14-48) in 75 games this season after netting 34 goals in his first three AHL seasons combined… The road team has won five of nine meetings between Chicago and Rockford this season after prevailing only six times in the division rivals’ first 30 regular-season match-ups… Charlotte’s 8-2 win over Norfolk on Sunday marked the third time the Checkers notched at least eight goals this season, following a 9-5 win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 23 and a 10-3 triumph over Syracuse on Dec. 6… In road games this season, Binghamton is 10-0-0-0 when leading after the first period and 15-0-0-0 when ahead after the second... Houston swept Oklahoma City’s three-game weekend visit to Toyota Center, winning 4-1, 6-5 (SO) and 5-4.