AHL grads to battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup

stanley07_250.jpgThe 2007 Stanley Cup Final is set with the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks preparing to do battle, and more than 75 percent of the troops leading the charge are graduates of the American Hockey League.

Of the 29 Anaheim players to see action so far this postseason, 24 are AHL alumni, including eight who skated for the Ducks’ affiliate, the Portland Pirates, in 2006-07: Kent Huskins, Ryan Shannon, Shawn Thornton, Joe Motzko, Aaron Rome, Mark Hartigan and rookies Ryan Carter and Drew Miller, who have both made their NHL debuts during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Dustin Penner, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who leads Anaheim with three game-winning goals during the postseason, all gained playoff experience with Portland in 2006.

Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere is one of four Ducks who have played in a Calder Cup Final. Giguere helped backstop the Saint John Flames to the AHL’s title series in 1998 before winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2003.

Sean O’Donnell was a 21-year-old defenseman for the Rochester Americans when he played in the Calder Cup Final in 1993. Francois Beauchemin’s Hamilton Bulldogs were Calder Cup finalists in 2003, and Joe DiPenta won a Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves in 2002.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle spent the 2004-05 season in the AHL as bench boss of the Manitoba Moose, leading them to the conference finals. Assistant coach Dave Farrish won a Calder Cup as a defenseman for the New Brunswick Hawks in 1982, and general manager Brian Burke won a Cup as a player with Maine in 1978.

The Eastern Conference champion Senators feature 15 players on their 23-man roster with Calder Cup Playoff experience, including Jason Spezza, the American Hockey League’s most valuable player during the 2004-05 season. Spezza, who ranks second in the NHL in playoff scoring with 20 points in 15 games for the Senators, was a member of the AHL’s All-Rookie Team in 2003 and played in the AHL’s All-Star Classic in 2003 and 2005.

Ray Emery, who is establishing himself as one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL this postseason, guided the Binghamton Senators to the conference finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs as a rookie in 2003. The two-time AHL All-Star owns a record of 12-3 with a 1.95 goals-against average and three shutouts for Ottawa this spring.

Spezza and Emery joined Chris Kelly, Antoine Vermette, Anton Volchenkov, Chris Neil and Christoph Schubert as members of the Binghamton Senators’ 2005 East Division championship team.

Defenseman Joe Corvo reached the Calder Cup Final with the Chicago Wolves in 2005. Corvo, an AHL All-Star in 2003, scored the winning goal for Ottawa in double overtime of Game 2 of their conference final series vs. Buffalo. 

Lawrence Nycholat, who has not yet appeared in a playoff game for Ottawa, is heading to a league final for the second year in a row. Nycholat won a Calder Cup championship as a member of the Hershey Bears in 2006.

Ottawa head coach Bryan Murray, a veteran of more than 1,200 games behind an NHL bench, made his professional coaching debut in 1980-81, when he led Hershey to a division championship and a trip to the league semifinals.

Assistant coach John Paddock won two Calder Cups as a player (including one as a teammate of Brian Burke’s with Maine in 1978), and is one of the most successful coaches in AHL history, ranking third all-time with 542 victories and owning three Calder Cup championships (Maine 1984, Hershey 1988, Hartford 2000).

Senators general manager John Muckler also has AHL coaching experience, having spent seven seasons at the helm in Cleveland, Jacksonville and Providence.

The 2007 Stanley Cup Final gets underway on Monday night.

Now in its 71st season of play, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 83 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and this season marks the sixth consecutive year in which more than 6 million fans have attended AHL games across North America. Four clubs remain in the hunt for the league’s coveted championship trophy as the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs continue this week.