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AHL Weekly: Drilling for wins in OKC

WEEKLY RELEASE #10

AHL standings || Scores and schedules || League leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … After getting out to a bumpy start in their inaugural season, the Oklahoma City Barons have used a solid blend of budding prospects and veteran leaders to insert themselves into the thick of a tight West Division race after the season’s first two months.

The Barons began 2010-11 inconsistently at 3-4-1-0, scoring 15 goals in the three wins and six in the five losses. However, a nationally-televised 3-2 overtime win at Hamilton on Oct. 24 kicked off a stretch which has seen Oklahoma City go 13-5-0-3 in its last 21 games, and led by first-year AHL head coach Todd Nelson – a Calder Cup champion both as a player (1994) and an assistant coach (2008) – the Barons find themselves just five points behind first-place San Antonio in the West Division.

Despite the slow start on offense, the Barons now rank sixth in the AHL with an average of 3.38 goals scored per contest, scoring at least six in a game on five occasions. Liam Reddox, in his fifth year pro after being drafted by the parent Edmonton Oilers in 2004, is enjoying a breakout season with team highs in goals (15), points (27-tied) and plus/minus (+13) through 29 games. Still only 24 years old, Reddox is just three goals shy of the career-high 18 he scored in Springfield last year and well on pace to eclipse his personal-best 44 points from 2007-08.

Reddox is tied for the Barons scoring lead with two-time defending AHL goal-scoring champion Alexandre Giroux (10-17-27), who joined the Oilers organization after winning two Calder Cups in Hershey and sits one point shy of 600 for his illustrious AHL career. Giroux went 14 games without a goal until scoring four times in a three-game span from Dec. 4-10.

In his first season in North America, Linus Omark racked up 13 goals and 26 points in 26 games – including an AHL season-high five-goal effort on Nov. 7 vs. Toronto – for the Barons before earning a recall last week to Edmonton, where he scored the winning shootout goal vs. Tampa Bay on Friday. A five-time 20-goal scorer in the AHL, Brad Moran boasts nine tallies and 23 points through 29 contests, and fourth-year pro Colin McDonald’s 13 goals in 29 games already match the career high he set in 78 matches combined between Springfield and Edmonton last season.

Twenty-year-old rookie Teemu Hartikainen (9-7-16) arrived from his native Finland this year and is currently riding a season-high three-game scoring streak (2-3-5), including the game-winning goal in overtime on Saturday at Rockford. Former first-round draft pick Ryan O’Marra had 1-13-14 and a plus-11 mark in 22 games before the Oilers came calling last week, and captain Ben Ondrus (3-6-9) has provided veteran leadership in Oklahoma City after spending his first seven pro seasons in the Toronto organization.

Jeff Petry, a second-round draft pick by Edmonton in 2006, is tied for the AHL lead among rookie defensemen with seven goals and is two off the overall blue-line lead with 20 points. Former first-rounder Shawn Belle (2-15-17) is already two points shy his career high; Taylor Chorney, who split 2009-10 between Edmonton and Springfield, has 0-9-9 and a plus-3 through 29 contests; and second-year rearguard Alex Plante, selected 15th overall by the Oilers in 2007, has six points (1-5-6) in 28 outings.

Former Stanley Cup champion Martin Gerber has solidified Edmonton’s goaltending depth and is among the AHL’s wins leaders with an 11-5-1 mark (2.30, .920) in 17 appearances for the Barons, which included a seven-game winning streak from Oct. 24 to Nov. 12. Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, who spent all of 2009-10 with the Oilers, is 4-4-2 in 10 AHL games this year, and the tandem has contributed greatly to Oklahoma City’s top-rated penalty kill, as the Barons have surrendered just 15 goals in 147 man-down situations on the campaign (89.8 percent).

Oklahoma City has the entire week to prepare for a couple of showdowns against division leaders next weekend. The Barons will welcome North-leading Hamilton to the Cox Convention Center for the first time on Friday before hosting San Antonio on Saturday night.

MILESTONE WATCH … While Oklahoma City’s Alexandre Giroux enters the week one point away from 600 for his AHL career – a plateau reached by only 43 other players in league history – a handful of other milestones are also well within reach for players, coaches and teams around the league. Offensively, Adirondack forward Denis Hamel has racked up 297 AHL goals (297-271-568) over 11 seasons and needs three more to become the 19th player ever to reach the 300 mark. Hershey’s Keith Aucoin, who has been out due to injury since Nov. 7, is already the league’s active points leader (653) but is sitting on 199 goals in 588 career contests.

At 297-228-44, Chicago head coach Don Lever needs three more victories to become the 16th member of the AHL’s 300-wins club. Manitoba’s Claude Noel is five victories shy of 200 AHL wins, and Worcester’s Roy Sommer is up to 988 AHL games coached, poised to become just the fourth man in league history to reach 1,000 when the Sharks host Albany on Jan. 11.

The next goal scored by Rochester, meanwhile, will be the 15,000th regular-season marker in the franchise’s 55-year history. That impressive total trails only the Hershey Bears, who have tallied 19,060 goals in their 73 seasons as members of the AHL.

ALL-STAR COACHING RACES IN FULL SWING … While Hershey head coach Mark French and assistant Troy Mann will guide the Eastern Conference team at next month’s 2011 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Capital BlueCross by virtue of the Bears’ 2010 Calder Cup championship, the races are underway to determine the two-man staff for the West contingent. The AHL has announced that the two head coaches whose teams have the best points percentage in their respective conference at the end of play on Jan. 9 will serve as co-coaches for the Western Conference All-Star squad.

If the staff for the Western team were being determined today, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s John Hynes (.778) and San Antonio’s Ray Edwards (.732) would be selected to lead the Western Conference All-Stars. Jon Cooper of Norfolk (.696) and Kevin Dineen from Portland (.667) are Hynes’s nearest followers, while Peoria’s Jared Bednar (.685) and Hamilton’s Randy Cunneyworth (.667) are chasing Edwards.

ETC. …  Alexandre Giroux’s two goals for Oklahoma City on Dec. 10 vs. Manitoba were the 317th and 318th of his AHL career, moving him into 14th place on the league’s all-time list past his former head coach Bruce Boudreau (316)… Rookie Casey Wellman scored four goals – including a natural hat trick in the first period – to lead Houston over San Antonio, 5-3, on Friday night… Adirondack’s Erik Gustafsson, who leads all AHL rookie defensemen with 18 assists and 21 points, had a hand in all five goals (1-4-5) on Friday in the Phantoms’ 5-2 win over Syracuse, snapping a 10-game losing skid (0-9-1-0)… Milwaukee’s Chris Mueller, who has 17 points (11-6-17) in his last 16 games, already boasts 12 goals in 29 games this season (12-6-18) after totaling 13 markers (13-14-27) in 67 games for Milwaukee in 2009-10… Lake Erie’s Ryan Stoa managed just four assists in his first 16 contests this season, but the second-year pro has racked up nine goals and 12 points in 12 games since… Texas forward Raymond Sawada is on a six-game scoring streak (3-3-6) and needs just three more goals to match his career-best eight from last year… Hamilton’s Max Pacioretty earned an NHL recall to Montreal on Sunday after erupting for 13 goals in and 11-game span, including one in each of his last four contests (4-1-5)… Springfield’s Matt Calvert is now third in the AHL rookie scoring race (13-9-22) and hasn’t been held scoreless in back-to-back outings since a three-game drought from Oct. 23-30… Syracuse’s Mat Clark and John Mitchell scored their first professional goals just 1:23 apart on Saturday in a 4-3 loss to Bridgeport… Friday’s and Saturday’s setbacks to Norfolk marked the first time all season in which Wilkes-Barre/Scranton lost back-to-back games; the Admirals (17-6-4-1) are now the lone AHL squad yet to drop two straight in regulation in 2010-11… Rockford scored 16 goals in three games last week after totaling 16 goals in its previous 10 games combined… Houston has made a habit of striking early, scoring first in 19 of its last 22 games and 21 of 29 overall (15-4-0-2) and outscoring opponents 31-14 in the first period this season… Rochester is just 3-7-2-0 within the North Division but shows a 9-6-0-1 mark against non-division foes… Hershey is 12-2-0-0 against the AHL’s five teams from New York state… The road team has won all five games thus far in the season series between Providence and Springfield… Connecticut went 1-5-2-0 in its first eight home games this year but is 6-1-0-1 in its last eight at the XL Center, and is still unbeaten in regulation overall (6-0-0-1) since becoming the Whale on Nov. 27… Charlotte plays just three games in a 15-day span from Dec. 13-27, and then hits the ice for 18 games in the next 33 days… Portland and Manchester, who enter the week tied with 36 points each atop the Atlantic Division, meet in a home-and-home series this Friday and Saturday… This Friday (Dec. 17) will be the busiest night in AHL history, with 15 games and all 30 teams in action for the first time.