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AHL stars today, NHL stars tomorrow

AHL WEEKLY RELEASE #16

As the American Hockey League prepares for the 10th installment of its modern All-Star Classic, a look at All-Star rosters past shows an impressive list of talented players parlaying their experience in the AHL’s showcase event into National Hockey League careers.

Since 1995, when the AHL All-Star Game returned after a 35-year absence, a total of 295 players have taken part in the festivities, with nearly 92 percent playing in the NHL as well. This year alone, 115 former AHL All-Stars have skated in the NHL, including at least one for each of the NHL’s 30 teams.

The Buffalo Sabres, led by former AHL forward Lindy Ruff, have employed an NHL-high eight former AHL All-Stars: Daniel Briere (1998), J.P. Dumont (1999), Dmitri Kalinin (2000), Rory Fitzpatrick (1997, 1998), Brian Campbell (2001), Jason Botterill (2003), Martin Biron (1999) and Mika Noronen (2002). Seven one-time AHL All-Stars have played this season for the Atlanta Thrashers, including Marc Savard (1998) and Randy Robitaille (1999), and seven more have hit the ice for the Los Angeles Kings, including Derek Armstrong (1999, 2000) and 2003 All-Star Game MVP Jon Sim.

Eight former AHL All-Stars are currently leading their NHL teams in scoring, including Chicago’s Steve Sullivan (1995, 1996), Florida’s Valeri Bure (1995), Minnesota’s Andrew Brunette (1997), Nashville’s Scott Walker (1995) and New Jersey’s Patrik Elias (1997).

Among the NHL goaltenders with AHL All-Star experience are Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff (2000, 2001), Phoenix’s Brian Boucher (1998), Columbus’s Marc Denis (1999), Philadelphia’s Robert Esche (1999) and the New York Rangers’ Mike Dunham (1996).

While the NHL stars of tomorrow gather in Grand Rapids in two weeks, the AHL stars of yesterday will be in St. Paul, Minn., for the 2004 NHL All-Star Game on Feb. 8. Fifteen AHL alumni have been selected to participate in the event, including former AHL All-Stars Martin St. Louis (1999), Mattias Norstrom (1995), Tomas Vokoun (1997) and Dwayne Roloson (1995, 1996, 2001).

Fifteen more AHL graduates are among the 22 players picked to play in the NHL YoungStars Game on Feb. 7. Among them are the NHL’s leading rookie scorer in 2003-04, Montreal’s Michael Ryder, along with former AHL All-Stars Philippe Sauve, Trent Hunter and Jonathan Cheechoo, two-time Calder Cup finalist Raffi Torres and 2004 AHL All-Star selection Derek Roy.

MULICK SHOOTS, FINALLY SCORES … Cleveland defenseman Robert Mulick ended an AHL-record drought when he scored his first professional goal on Friday night in the Barons’ 5-3 win over Houston at Gund Arena. Mulick, playing in his 239th career AHL game, beat Aeros goaltender Frederic Cloutier with a shot from the blue line at the 11:58 mark of the second period.

A 1998 draft pick by San Jose, the 24-year-old Toronto native has played exclusively with the Sharks’ AHL affiliates in Cleveland and Kentucky since turning pro at the start of the 1999-2000 season.

The longest active scoring drought in the AHL now belongs to Albany defenseman Victor Uchevatov, who has been held scoreless through the first 153 games of his pro career.

FAN-TASTIC WEEK IN THE AHL … Big crowds, great games and fierce rivalries highlighted an exciting Saturday night in the AHL, as witnessed in person by 100,358 fans in 13 arenas. The largest turnout on Saturday was in Houston, where the Aeros gave away bobblehead dolls of Calder Cup 2003 MVP Johan Holmqvist. The crowd of 11,624, combined with the season-high crowd that saw the Aeros play on Jan. 16 against San Antonio, means nearly 25,000 fans have attended Houston’s last two games at the Toyota Center.

The Giant Center was packed with 10,669 fans on Saturday for the latest installment of the bitter rivalry between Hershey and Philadelphia. The Bears also drew 10,572 fans on Wednesday against Springfield, the largest mid-week regular-season crowd in the AHL since Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre entertained 11,180 at the Spectrum on Apr. 5, 2000.

Crowds of 10,000-plus also packed houses in Providence on Friday and Worcester and Hartford on Saturday. Also Saturday, a franchise record 8,239 fans cheered on Bridgeport against Albany, and Binghamton battled arch-rival Rochester in front of 4,717 fans, the 10th sellout of the year at the Broome County Arena. On Sunday, Lowell played Portland before 7,116 at Tsongas Arena, the Lock Monsters’ biggest turnout of the season.

ETC. … Philadelphia took over first place in the East Division with a 3-2 win over Springfield on Sunday… In 11 victories between Dec. 18 and Jan. 24, the Phantoms saw 11 different players score the game-winning goal… Grand Rapids’ Michel Picard tallied his 1,000th career point as a professional on Saturday night; Picard’s total includes 618 points in 550 career AHL matches… Providence’s Tim Thomas has recorded three shutouts this season, all on the road, and all by 1-0 scores… Following a two-game sweep over the weekend, Chicago has won 10 straight meetings with Utah… All five games this season between Portland and Lowell have been decided by one goal, including four by a score of 3-2… The Lock Monsters are 10-0-0-0 this season with Ryan Bayda in the lineup… Rochester’s Paul Gaustad was scratched from Sunday’s game against Toronto, ending his ironman streak at 124 games… Hartford linemates Benoit Dusablon, Bobby Andrews and Paul Healey teamed up for four goals in 8:28 during a 4-2 win over Manchester on Sunday… Albany has lost nine in a row on the road (0-6-0-3), but is 6-2-0-0 in its last eight at home… 2004 AHL All-Star forward Noah Clarke of Manchester will chat live on theahl.com this Thursday afternoon, Jan. 29, at 12:30 p.m. ET.