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AHL Weekly: 75th season off and running

WEEKLY RELEASE #1

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League officially raised the curtain on its historic 75th anniversary season last weekend as 29 of the league’s all-time high of 30 clubs started down the path to the 2011 Calder Cup championship.

The season kicked off on Friday with six games, including special throwback openers in Cleveland and Providence. An AHL weekend-high crowd of 12,524 packed the Quicken Loans Arena and watched their Lake Erie Monsters – wearing jerseys modeled after the original Cleveland Barons – rally from a 2-0 deficit to post a 3-2 win over the Syracuse Crunch, who were outfitted in old Syracuse Stars attire. The next night, the Monsters traveled to Syracuse and eked out a 2-1 shootout victory as Lake Erie started off 2-0-0-0 for the second time in three years.

Meanwhile, the road team prevailed on both ends of the Springfield/Providence throwback home-and-home. Before 10,461 fans at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Friday, visiting Springfield raced out to a 4-0 lead in its Springfield Indians jerseys and rolled to a 5-1 win over the Bruins, marking the Falcons’ seventh consecutive opening night victory. But on Saturday, Providence rookie forward Maxime Sauve netted a hat trick and first-year defenseman Steven Kampfer also had three points (1-2-3) as the Bruins – sporting Providence Reds uniforms – collected a 6-5 win over the Falcons at the MassMutual Center.

The AHL’s other throwback home-and-home set began on Sunday when reigning AHL MVP Keith Aucoin posted two goals and an assist to help Hershey to its first win of 2010-11, a 5-4 decision at Rochester. The league’s two senior-most franchises will collide again this Saturday in Hershey’s home opener, when the Bears will raise their 2010 Calder Cup championship banner to the rafters of Giant Center.

The new-look Manitoba Moose joined Lake Erie as the league’s only 2-0-0-0 teams after three days of play. Boosted by 20-year-old rookie Kevin Connauton’s first pro goal, the Moose overcame a Graham Mink hat trick and a 3-1 deficit on Friday to spoil Peoria’s home opener with a 4-3 triumph. And Saturday, Connauton scored again, defenseman Lee Sweatt had three points (1-2-3) and forwards Victor Oreskovich and Jonas Andersson joined 2010 AHL All-Star Sergei Shirokov with a goal and an assist each to pace Manitoba’s 5-2 victory in Rockford.

AHL action came to Oklahoma City for the first time on Saturday night, as 9,818 fans packed the Cox Convention Center to watch the Barons take on West Division rival Houston. Also on Saturday, Bridgeport kicked off its 10th anniversary season by welcoming 8,480 fans – tying an Arena at Harbor Yard record – and treating them to a thrilling 5-4 shootout win over Worcester. Up the road in Hartford, the Wolf Pack opened their season with a 4-2 win over the new Charlotte Checkers in front of 7,013 spectators. And a revamped Wilkes-Barre/Scranton squad took on arch-rival Hershey before 8,013 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena and came away with a 4-3 shootout decision.

Hamilton, the lone AHL team with opening weekend off, kicks off defense of its 2009-10 North Division title on Friday in Rochester, and then welcomes Toronto to Copps Coliseum on Saturday. Other home openers will be taking place this weekend in Abbotsford, Adirondack, Charlotte, Manitoba and Norfolk on Friday, and in Chicago, Houston, Manchester and Texas on Saturday.

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ROSTER REVIEW … The 30 AHL team rosters submitted to the league office on opening day included 747 players, from Adam (Portland’s Luke) to Zuccarello (Hartford’s Mats). The average age of an AHL player to start the 2010-11 season was 24 years and 3 months.

The youngest player in the league on opening night was 19-year-old forward Jeremy Morin of the Rockford IceHogs, a second-round draft pick by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009 who was acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks in an offseason trade. Morin is six days younger than Rockford teammate Brandon Pirri, who was recalled by the Blackhawks on Saturday and made his NHL debut that night. Morin and Pirri are two of 16 teenagers on AHL opening rosters, a group that also includes first-rounders John Moore of the Springfield Falcons and Kyle Palmieri of the Syracuse Crunch. All told, there were 309 AHL players (41.4 percent) who were 22 years old and under as of Oct. 8, and 495 players (66.3 percent) under the age of 25.

The Abbotsford Heat (23 years, 0 months) are the youngest team in the league, featuring a 25-man roster that included nine rookies and four second-year pros. Among the newcomers in Abbotsford are forwards Lance Bouma, Carter Bancks, Mitch Wahl and Gaelan Patterson, who all got a taste of pro experience during the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs with the Heat.

AHL rosters are 56.6 percent Canadians and 31.2 percent Americans. Twenty-six Swedes (3.5 percent) make up the largest contingent of European-born players in the league.

AHL ON THE GO … The American Hockey League launched a new and improved mobile web site for the start of the season, with easier navigation to access the latest AHL news and features along with real-time scoring and statistics. Just visit theahl.com on any BlackBerry, iPhone or Android smartphone, or point your mobile web browser to theahl.com/mobile.

AHL COMING TO CBC … The first of 10 American Hockey League broadcasts on CBC this season is coming this Sunday, when the Toronto Marlies host the Binghamton Senators. Coverage on the national network begins at 1:00 p.m. ET. Bruce Rainnie and Brad May will call the action from Ricoh Coliseum, with Jeff Marek handling interviews rinkside and Elliotte Friedman serving as host.

ETC. … The 26 AHL games played on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were won by 26 different goaltenders… Friday’s capacity crowd of 10,834 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids gave the Griffins their 15th consecutive home-opening sellout and 10th straight as a member of the AHL… Prior to his three-goal effort on opening night vs. Manitoba on Friday, Peoria forward Graham Mink had not registered a hat trick since the first game of the 2008-09 season, when he racked up five points (3-2-5) for Hershey in an 8-4 win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton… Springfield scored two shorthanded goals on Friday after totaling just five during all of 2009-10… Rochester opened the season on the road for the first time since 1998-99 and posted a 4-2 win at Toronto on Saturday afternoon… Chicago defenseman Jamie Hunt , who recorded six goals in 42 games for the Wolves last season, scored two power-play tallies 32 seconds apart in a 6-3 loss at San Antonio in Friday’s opener… There were five different four-point performances on opening weekend, including Portland teammates Luke Adam and Mark Mancari and Norfolk forward Marc-Antoine Pouliot , who tied a franchise record with four assists on Saturday at Binghamton… In its first two games, Milwaukee was outscored 5-0 in the first period but owned an 8-0 scoring edge in the second and third.