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O’Neill, Pulkkinen win scoring races

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.Brian O’Neill of the Manchester Monarchs has won the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the leading scorer in the American Hockey League, while Teemu Pulkkinen of the Grand Rapids Griffins has won the Willie Marshall Award as the AHL’s leading goal scorer for the 2014-15 campaign.

O’Neill, who was previously voted the winner of the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s most valuable player this season, led the league in scoring with 80 points (22 goals, 58 assists) in 71 games played for the Monarchs, helping Manchester to the best record in the AHL. O’Neill had three separate scoring streaks of at least seven games each this season while putting up more points than he had in his first two pro seasons combined. A 26-year-old native of Yardley, Pa., O’Neill, who was named a Second Team AHL All-Star at right wing in 2014-15, has totaled 52 goals and 92 assists for 144 points with a plus-62 rating in 192 career AHL games, all with Manchester.

The AHL’s leading-scorer trophy was originally named after Wally Kilrea, who held the AHL’s single-season scoring record when the award was instituted in 1947-48. That year, Carl Liscombe broke Kilrea’s record, and the award was renamed in his honor. In 1955, the AHL Board of Governors voted to name the trophy after John B. Sollenberger, a long-time contributor to the league as manager and president of the Hershey Bears and former Chairman of the AHL Board of Governors. Previous winners of the John B. Sollenberger Trophy include Fred Glover (1957, ’60), Willie Marshall (1958), Bill Sweeney (1961, ’62, ’63), Don Blackburn (1972), Paul Gardner (1985, ’86), Bruce Boudreau (1988), Peter White (1995, ’97, ’98), Derek Armstrong (2001), Jason Spezza (2005), Alexandre Giroux (2009), Keith Aucoin (2010), Corey Locke (2011), Chris Bourque (2012), Brandon Pirri (2013) and Travis Morin (2014).

Despite spending much of the second half of the season in the National Hockey League with the Detroit Red Wings, Pulkkinen captured the AHL goal-scoring title with 34 goals in 46 games, and finished with 61 points for a league-best 1.33 points per game. A First Team AHL All-Star at right wing, Pulkkinen had an eight-game goal streak from Dec. 19 to Jan. 7, beginning a stretch that saw him score 23 times in his final 21 AHL contests. The 23-year old native of Vantaa, Finland, also recorded five goals and three assists in 31 NHL games with Detroit this season.

The AHL’s goal-scoring award was established in 2004 to honor Willie Marshall, the AHL’s all-time leader in goals, assists, points and games played; winners include Mike Cammalleri (2005), Alexandre Giroux (2009, ’10), Colin McDonald (2011), Cory Conacher (2012), Tyler Johnson (2013) and Zach Boychuk (2014). Other previous yearly goal-scoring leaders include Bryan Hextall (1937), Lou Trudel (1942, ’45), Fred Glover (1951), Dunc Fisher (1958), Jimmy Anderson (1961, ’64), Yvon Lambert (1973), Gordie Clark (1980), Paul Gardner (1985, ’86), Jody Gage (1988) and Brad Smyth (1996, 2001).

In operation since 1936, the American Hockey League continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. Nearly 90 percent of all players competing in the NHL are AHL graduates, and through the years the American Hockey League has been home to more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Sixteen clubs will continue to vie for the league’s coveted championship trophy when the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway Wednesday.