AHL Morning Skate: Getting things started

Every game day from now until the end of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the AHL Morning Skate takes a spin around the AHL ice with recaps and previews, news and notes, facts and figures, and the top headlines from around the American Hockey League.

Game 1 – Portland at Providence, 7:05
Game 1 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00
Game 1 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30

Atlantic Division Semifinal – Series “A” (best-of-7)
A1-Hartford Wolf Pack vs. A4-Worcester Sharks || Series Preview
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 16 – Worcester at Hartford, 7:00
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – Worcester at Hartford, 7:00
Game 3 – Mon., Apr. 20 – Hartford at Worcester, 6:35
Game 4 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Hartford at Worcester, 6:35
*Game 5 – Thu., Apr. 23 – Worcester at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Hartford at Worcester, 7:05
*Game 7 – Mon., Apr. 27 – Worcester at Hartford, 7:00

Atlantic Division Semifinal – Series “B” (best-of-7)
A2-Providence Bruins vs. A3-Portland Pirates || Series Preview
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 15 – Portland at Providence, 7:05
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 17 – Portland at Providence, 7:05
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 19 – Providence at Portland, 4:00
Game 4 – Thu., Apr. 23 – Providence at Portland, 7:00
*Game 5 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Portland at Providence, 7:05
*Game 6 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Providence at Portland, 4:00
*Game 7 – Tue., Apr. 28 – Portland at Providence, 7:05

East Division Semifinal – Series “C” (best-of-7)
E1-Hershey Bears vs. E4-Philadelphia Phantoms ||
Series Preview
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 16 – Hershey at Philadelphia, 7:05
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – Hershey at Philadelphia, 7:05
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Philadelphia at Hershey, 7:00
Game 4 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Philadelphia at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Philadelphia at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Hershey at Philadelphia, 5:05
*Game 7 – Tue., Apr. 28 – Philadelphia at Hershey, 7:00

East Division Semifinal – Series “D” (best-of-7)
E2-Bridgeport Sound Tigers vs. E3-W-B/Scranton Penguins ||
Series Preview
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 17 – W-B/Scranton vs. Bridgeport, 7:30 (at Uniondale, N.Y.)
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – W-B/Scranton vs. Bridgeport, 7:00 (at Uniondale, N.Y.)
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 19 – Bridgeport at W-B/Scranton, 5:05
Game 4 – Wed., Apr. 22 – W-B/Scranton at Bridgeport, 7:00
*Game 5 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Bridgeport at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Bridgeport at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 7 – Sun., Apr. 26 – W-B/Scranton at Bridgeport, 4:00

North Division Semifinal – Series “E” (best-of-7)
N1-Manitoba Moose vs. N4-Toronto Marlies ||
Series Preview
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 15 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 17 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 19 – Manitoba at Toronto, 4:00
Game 4 – Tue., Apr. 21 – Manitoba at Toronto, 7:00
*Game 5 – Thu., Apr. 23 – Manitoba at Toronto, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30
*Game 7 – Tue., Apr. 28 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30

North Division Semifinal – Series “F” (best-of-7)
N2-Hamilton Bulldogs vs. N3-Grand Rapids Griffins ||
Series Preview
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 17 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 7:30
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 7:00
Game 3 – Mon., Apr. 20 – Hamilton at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 4 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Hamilton at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 5 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Hamilton at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 6:00
*Game 7 – Mon., Apr. 27 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 7:30

West Division Semifinal – Series “G” (best-of-7)
W1-Milwaukee Admirals vs. W4-Rockford IceHogs ||
Series Preview
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 16 – Rockford at Milwaukee, 8:00
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – Rockford at Milwaukee, 8:30
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 19 – Milwaukee at Rockford, 6:05
Game 4 – Tue., Apr. 21 – Milwaukee at Rockford, 8:05
*Game 5 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Rockford at Milwaukee, 8:00
*Game 6 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Milwaukee at Rockford, 6:05
*Game 7 – Mon., Apr. 27 – Rockford at Milwaukee, 8:00

West Division Semifinal – Series “H” (best-of-7)
W2-Peoria Rivermen vs. W3-Houston Aeros ||
Series Preview
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 15 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 17 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00
Game 3 – TBA – Peoria at Houston
Game 4 – TBA – Peoria at Houston
*Game 5 – TBA – Peoria at Houston
*Game 6 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00
*Game 7 – Mon., Apr. 27 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00

*if necessary… All times Eastern

GAME NOTES (all times ET):
Game 1 – Portland at Providence, 7:05
Portland and Providence kick off their Atlantic Division semifinal tonight at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Rhode Island’s capital… It marks the rivals’ fourth playoff clash in the last six years; the Pirates ousted the Bruins in 2004 (division qualifying series), 2006 (division semifinals) and 2008 (division finals)… This series features four of the AHL’s top seven rookie scorers in the regular season in the Pirates’ Tim Kennedy (18-49-67) and AHL Rookie of the Year Nathan Gerbe (30-26-56) and the Bruins’ Brad Marchand (18-41-59) and Mikko Lehtonen (28-25-53)… Pirates forward Mathieu Darche racked up a team-high nine goals and 13 points in 10 regular-season meetings with Providence; Darche shows 25 points (10-15-25) in 37 career AHL playoff games and won the Calder Cup with Milwaukee in 2004… Johnny Boychuk led all league defensemen in goals (20), assists (45 – tied) and points (65) for the Bruins… Providence was an impressive 27-12-0-1 at home during the regular year… Portland has lost four consecutive Game 1’s, including all three last postseason.

Houston at Peoria, 8:00
Looking for its first-ever win in a Calder Cup Playoff game, Peoria hosts Houston tonight in Game 1 of their West Division semifinal… The Rivermen went 7-0-0-3 down the stretch to grab hold of second place in the West and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, when they suffered an opening-round sweep at the hands of the Aeros… That marks Houston’s only series victory since capturing the Calder Cup in 2003… 2007 Calder Cup champion Corey Locke (25-54-79) and 2008 winner Jesse Schultz (22-33-55) paced the Aeros in scoring during the regular season… Krys Kolanos scored five of his team-leading 31 goals (31-20-51) on the campaign’s final weekend… Rivermen captain Trent Whitfield has played 617 regular-season AHL games but just three in the Calder Cup Playoffs, the last one coming nine years ago tonight (Apr. 15, 2000) with Portland… Peoria’s Yan Stastny registered nine goals and 11 points in his last 10 contests… Steve Regier, who shared the team scoring lead with Whitfield in the regular season, is making the second postseason trip of his five-year career.

Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30 (Leafs TV)
AHL regular-season champion Manitoba (50-23-1-6, 107 points) begins its playoff run against Toronto tonight at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg… The Moose reached the 50-win plateau for the first time in team history and are making their seventh postseason appearance in eight years since joining the AHL… AHL Goaltender of the Year Cory Schneider led the league in goals-against average (2.04) and save percentage (.928) while amassing a 28-10-1 record for Manitoba… Moose leading scorer Jason Krog (30-56-86) was MVP of the 2008 playoffs and ranks 11th on the league’s all-time postseason scoring list (29-55-84 in 65 games)… The Marlies are in the playoffs for the third time in four years and reached the Western Conference Finals in 2008, where they were eliminated by Krog’s Chicago Wolves… Toronto won its last six regular-season tilts against Manitoba, including four over the campaign’s final month… Tim Stapleton led the Marlies in goals (28), assists (51) and points (79) during the regular season… Manitoba has lost five of its last six home playoff games.


Kevin McGran, Toronto Star
Perhaps in years to come, young players coming to the Marlies will talk about the legend of John Mitchell. It was a year ago that Mitchell turned his game around, leading the Toronto Marlies through an impressive run through the AHL playoffs. “He started to realize there’s more to the game than scoring goals,” said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert on the eve of the playoffs. “He became a player that could be used by the coaching staff in a lot of situations. He opened his mind, he decided he wanted to learn, accepted what he was taught and became a better player.” The Marlies went to the conference finals and Mitchell parlayed his eyebrow-raising performance into a full-time NHL gig with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Gary Lawless, Winnipeg Free Press
They’re the big dog. The 10-point buck. The catch of a lifetime. Everyone wants them. And that makes the Manitoba Moose more vulnerable than they’ve ever been. The Moose will open the Calder Cup playoffs tonight as favorites to make a run and perhaps capture the first championship in franchise history. But along with a 50-23-1-6 mark and the blingy 107 points hanging around their collective necks comes pressure. The pressure to win and the added bonus of every team in the post-season eyeballing you as the team to beat. Don’t believe the Toronto Marlies are licking their lips at the prospect of hanging a Moose-head over the mantel following a first-round upset? Think again.

Andrew J. Ferraro, Houston Chronicle
If the Aeros are going to end five years of playoff heartache and get out of the first round for just the second time since winning the Calder Cup in 2003, they are going to have to figure out how to win on home ice. The Aeros, who start their first-round, best-of-seven series tonight at Peoria, have played 20 playoff games since beating the Hamilton Bulldogs for the ’03 title. But success has not been part of the formula since the team moved to the Toyota Center. The Aeros have won just one playoff series – a 4-0 sweep of Peoria in 2006 – and are 2-10 overall in the downtown arena. They are 6-14 overall in postseason play since winning the title in their second year in the American Hockey League.

Dave Eminian, Peoria Journal Star
The last time the Peoria Rivermen made the playoffs, it was their inaugural trip through the AHL and the Houston Aeros were an immovable object, sweeping Peoria out of the first round of the 2005-06 playoffs. Trent Whitfield watched it all from the grandstand, helpless, a veteran player called up to the parent club St. Louis Blues late in the season who never came back down. The Rivermen are back in the playoffs Wednesday at Carver Arena. It’s Houston again. And this time, Whitfield will have a better seat, leading Peoria’s top line with Chris Porter and Yan Stastny alongside in the best-of-seven West Division semifinals.

Paul Kenyon, Providence Journal
If it’s April, it must be time for Portland and Providence to meet in the American Hockey League playoffs once again. It is the second year in a row and the fourth time in the last six that the teams have met in the post-season. As is usually the case, both rosters are very different than last year. Portland even has changed affiliations, going from the Anaheim Ducks to the Buffalo Sabres. Still, there is a definite rivalry between the teams. “I know that geographically Worcester should be our biggest rival, but I think just from the fact that we’ve played Portland multiple times in the playoffs there seems to be more animosity between the teams,” said Providence coach Rob Murray.

Tim Leone, Harrisburg Patriot-News
On March 23, Michal Neuvirth turned 21, legal drinking age in Pennsylvania. As the goalie expected to carry the load, he’ll play a crucial role in determining whether the Hershey Bears sip champagne from the Calder Cup in June. “I’m a big guy on going with one guy,” Bears head coach Bob Woods said. “Right now, Neuvy’s got the upper hand.” With fellow rookie Simeon Varlamov backing up Jose Theodore in Washington, Neuvirth has emerged as Hershey’s No. 1 goalie amid a whirlwind rookie season.

Tom Venesky, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach Todd Reirden saw something during Tuesday’s practice at the Ice Box that he hadn’t seen in a while. He watched his players go through practice with a renewed desire and dedication that could only mean one thing: the pressure of the playoffs is looming. “In terms of our pace, I hadn’t seen that in a long time,” Reirden said. In six games against Bridgeport this season, the Penguins are 2-2-1-1. During the six games, the Penguins have scored 17 goals against Bridgeport and allowed 17. Things are about as even as they can get between the two East Division opponents as they head into a best-of-seven series. The pressure’s on.

Garry McKay, Hamilton Spectator
They are the same – only different. The Hamilton Bulldogs team that opens the American Hockey League playoffs Friday night against the Grand Rapids Griffins has a lot in common with the Dogs squad that won the Calder Cup championship two years ago. “There really are a lot of similarities,” says interim head coach Ron Wilson, who with players Dan Jancevski and Kyle Chipchura are the only ones still around from the 2006-07 team that won Hamilton’s first professional hockey championship. “We have a big defense and we had that back then. Offensively, we had four good lines and we have four good lines here. We have good goaltending and we had good goaltending back then. Actually, there are a lot of similarities.”

Five head coaches in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs have won a Calder Cup as a bench boss in the AHL: Washington’s Bruce Boudreau (Hershey, 2006); Philadelphia’s John Stevens (Philadelphia, 2005); San Jose’s Todd McLellan (Houston, 2003); the New York Rangers’ John Tortorella (Rochester, 1996), and Calgary’s Mike Keenen (Rochester, 1983)… Other former AHL head coaches guiding NHL teams into the postseason include Boston’s Claude Julien, Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma, Carolina’s Paul Maurice, Detroit’s Mike Babcock, Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault, and Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle.

9-6 – Series record of teams that captured Game 1 during the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs, including a 5-3 mark during the division semifinals round.

April 15, 2006Darren Haydar recorded two goals and two assists as Milwaukee clinches the West Division title with a 5-3 win over Grand Rapids.

April 15, 2004 – Alexander Semin tallies a goal and two assists to help Portland to a 7-1 win at Providence in Game 1 of their best-of-3 Atlantic Division qualifying series.

April 15, 2001 – Chris Clark’s goal at 2:06 of the third overtime period gives the Saint John Flames a 3-2 win at Portland and a three-game sweep of the teams’ first-round playoff series… In Norfolk, Mark Bell scores twice in the Admirals’ series-clinching 4-3 overtime victory over Cincinnati.

April 15, 2000 – Springfield scores three times in the final 3:48 of regulation and then again 52 seconds into overtime, stunning Hartford with a 6-5 win in Game 2 of their division semifinal series.

April 15, 1966 – Bob Courcy scores twice as Cleveland runs its postseason winning streak to 11 games – then the longest in AHL history – with a 6-2 win over Pittsburgh.

April 15, 1961 – The Springfield Indians complete a four-game sweep and wrap up their second consecutive Calder Cup championship with a 3-0 win at Hershey.

April 15, 1947 – Behind Gord Henry’s third shutout of the series, the Hershey Bears capture their first Calder Cup with a 5-0 win over Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the Finals.

Don’t miss a step on the road to the 2009 Calder Cup championship. AHL Live continues to bring AHL action to your computer all postseason long with live video webcasts and highlights of every AHL game, as well as behind-the-scenes features and interviews in the Video On Demand section… Visit theahl.com or ahllive.com for details.