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AHL Weekly: Potential All-Stars making cases

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The 2010 Time Warner Cable AHL All-Star Classic is less than a month away, and players around the American Hockey League are making their cases heard in advance of the selection of the event’s team rosters.

Through Sunday night, Dec. 27, AHL fans logging on at theahl.com will be able to help decide which players will earn a trip to the 2010 Time Warner Cable AHL All-Star Classic, to be held in Portland, Maine, on January 18-19. The 2010 AHL All-Star Classic Fan Balloting presented by Reebok will determine the starting lineups for both the Canadian and PlanetUSA AHL All-Star teams, and a committee of AHL coaches will help complete the rosters.

The PlanetUSA AHL All-Stars have won two of the last three mid-season classics, most recently a 14-11 victory last year in Worcester, Mass. Hershey’s Keith Aucoin, who has 32 points in 24 games and is bidding for his fifth straight AHL All-Star appearance, headlines this year’s list of PlanetUSA-eligible forwards. Brandon Bochenski of Norfolk and Brett Sterling of Chicago are tied for the league lead with 15 goals apiece, while Rockford’s Mark Cullen; Providence second-year pro Mikko Lehtonen; rookies Lars Eller of Peoria and Sergei Shirokov of Manitoba; and Toronto rookies Christian Hanson and Viktor Stalberg are all having strong offensive years.

The AHL’s top three scoring defensemen are all American-born in former NHL first-round draft picks John Carlson of Hershey and Bobby Sanguinetti of Hartford; and Providence’s Andy Wozniewski, whose 23 points in 29 games have already topped the 21 he put up in 74 contests last year. Other leading rearguards eyeing PlanetUSA berths include Lowell rookie Matt Taormina, 2009 AHL All-Star Jonas Junland of Peoria, second-year pro Sean Sullivan from San Antonio and Mike Weber of the host Portland Pirates. Among those in the race for the PlanetUSA squad’s three goaltending slots are Rochester rookie Alexander Salak and his league-leading 16 wins, Houston’s Anton Khudobin, 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs MVP Michal Neuvirth of Hershey, defending AHL goaltender of the year Cory Schneider from Manitoba, and Worcester rookie Alex Stalock.

Twelve of the AHL’s top 14 scorers to date are Canadian-born, including three-time AHL All-Stars Corey Locke of Hartford and Martin St. Pierre of Binghamton; Hershey forwards Alexandre Giroux and Andrew Gordon; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Dustin Jeffrey; and Milwaukee’s Cal O’Reilly.

Tyler Ennis from Portland tops the AHL’s rookie scoring list; former NHL first-round draft pick Logan Couture of Worcester is averaging better than a point per game, as is Springfield’s Charles Linglet and Chicago’s Jason Krog; and Rochester’s Jamie Johnson, Abbotsford’s Jason Jaffray, and Albany teammates Jerome Samson and Zach Boychuk are all enjoying productive seasons.

Canadian-eligible defensemen having stellar campaigns include Maxim Noreau (Houston), Tyler Eckford (Lowell) and rookie P.K. Subban (Hamilton). Among the goaltenders in line for the Canadian spots are Brent Krahn of Texas, Jonathan Bernier of Manchester, Justin Peters from Albany, Hartford’s Chad Johnson, and Hamilton’s Cedrick Desjardins and Curtis Sanford.

Of the 488 players to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic since 1995, more than 93 percent have competed in the National Hockey League, including Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes, Dan Boyle, Danny Briere, Brian Campbell, Zdeno Chara, Rick DiPietro, Miikka Kiprusoff, Kari Lehtonen, Ryan Miller, Zach Parise, Bobby Ryan, Martin St. Louis, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, and Tomas Vokoun.

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I PLAYED MY BEST FOR HIM … Courtesy of the Hershey Bears’ record 10th Calder Cup championship last spring, Bears head coach Mark French has been selected to lead the Canadian team at the 2010 Time Warner Cable AHL All-Star Classic next month. French will be joined at the event in Portland by Hershey assistant coach Troy Mann.

A native of St. Catharines, Ont., French is in his first season as head coach after serving as an assistant with the Bears for a season and a half. He took over as bench boss when Bob Woods was promoted to an assistant coaching position with the parent Washington Capitals after guiding Hershey to the 2009 Calder Cup. French served as an assistant coach for the Canadian squad at the 2009 AHL All-Star Classic in Worcester.

The head coach whose club owns the best points percentage in the AHL after play on Sunday, Dec. 27, will be selected to lead the PlanetUSA All-Star team. If Hershey is leading the league, the honor will go to the coach of the second-place team. The four contenders remaining in that race are Hamilton’s Guy Boucher (.694), Manchester’s Mark Morris (.682), Rochester’s Benoit Groulx (.677), and Texas’s Glen Gulutzan (.667).

GOOD TIDINGS WE BRING … Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux became the 77th player in history to reach 500 career AHL points in the Bears’ 5-4 win over Rochester on Saturday; Chris Taylor notched his 1,000th professional point that night for the Americans… Five of Saturday night’s 14 AHL games were decided in the final five minutes of regulation or in overtime… All three of Lowell defenseman Rob Davison’s goals this season have been game-winners… The Devils tied a franchise record with five power-play goals in a 6-1 win over Springfield on Tuesday… Jeremy Williams’ career-high seven-game scoring streak (5-4-9) ended Sunday in Grand Rapids’ 5-3 loss at Houston… Rockford’s Bracken Kearns shows 19 points (7-12-19) in his last 24 games after beginning the year with two points in his first 10 outings… 2009 AHL All-Star goaltender Mike Brodeur made his NHL debut for Ottawa on Saturday and made 22 saves in a 4-1 win over Minnesota… Chicago is 8-1-0-0 this season when Chris Chelios records a point and 4-6-0-2 when the veteran defenseman is held scoreless… Springfield is 9-6-3-1 this season with Devan Dubnyk between the pipes, and 1-10-2-1 without him… Prior to allowing four goals at Rochester on Sunday, Hamilton’s Cedrick Desjardins had stopped 121 of 122 shots (0.20, .992) and posted four shutouts in his five previous starts… Texas had been 18-0-1-0 when leading after two periods before Grand Rapids rallied from a 2-1 deficit to post a 4-2 win over the Stars on Saturday… Milwaukee, which is 6-1-0-0 in its last seven games overall, has played 19 of its first 30 contests this season on the road.

The entire American Hockey League extends best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy holiday season.