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AHL kicking off 71st season

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League begins its 71st season as 27 teams start down the road to the 2007 Calder Cup championship. The 2006-07 campaign gets underway tonight when the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins host the Manitoba Moose at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza. It marks the seventh consecutive year in which the Penguins have hosted the AHL’s regular-season opener.
 
The 2006 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears drop the puck on their title defense on Saturday night, Oct. 7, when they visit Wilkes-Barre. After opening the season with four consecutive road contests, the Bears will celebrate their ninth AHL championship at their home opener at the Giant Center on Sat., Oct. 21, when they host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
 
The Lowell Devils begin their first season on Oct. 7 when they take on the Albany River Rats at Tsongas Arena. Those teams swapped NHL parent clubs in the offseason, with the New Jersey Devils taking over in Lowell and the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche now supplying players to Albany.
 
The AHL’s other first-year club, the Worcester Sharks, kicks off its inaugural season in Portland on Oct. 6. The Sharks’ home opener at the DCU Center is scheduled for Oct. 14, also against the defending Atlantic Division champion Pirates.
 
The AHL has added several new rules for the 2006-07 season, the most noticeable being the mandatory use of facial protection. All AHL skaters, regardless of age or experience, are now required to wear approved visors.
 
The regular season comprises 1,080 games leading up to the start of the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs in April. On Jan. 28-29, the 2007 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic will be held at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, featuring the top talent in the AHL competing in both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game.
 
Established in 1936, the American Hockey League serves as the exclusive top development league for all 30 NHL teams. More than 82 percent of all players to compete in the NHL in 2005-06 were AHL graduates, and more than 6.3 million fans have attended AHL games across North America in each of the last five seasons.