WEEKLY RELEASE #17
ALL ABOARD … It’s full steam ahead as the 2011-12 season resumes following the All-Star Classic in Atlantic City, and all 30 teams are on board for what could be a historic race to the postseason.
Sixteen teams – eight in each conference – will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs after the regular season ends on Apr. 15, with the three division winners earning the top seeds in each conference, followed by the five teams with the next-best records. As play starts up again following the All-Star break, no team in the AHL is more than five points out of a postseason spot in the standings.
The Oklahoma City Barons (29-11-2-3) solidified their hold on the top position in the overall AHL standings by winning their final six games before the break. The Barons, with the league’s top-ranked defense, allowed more than two goals in a game just once during January and now own a seven-point lead over Midwest-leading Charlotte for the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Toronto has played sub-.500 hockey since the start of December, but still sits atop the North Division with a five-point cushion on Rochester.
San Antonio has climbed into seventh place in the Western Conference thanks to a seven-game winning streak, matching the longest in the franchise’s 10-year history, but behind the Rampage, just four points separate eighth from 15th place in the wild West.
Over in the Eastern Conference, all three division leads have changed since the calendar turned to 2012. The St. John’s IceCaps (27-11-5-1) entered January one point behind Manchester in the Atlantic Division, but open February eight points clear of the Monarchs. In the East Division, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton leapfrogged both Hershey and Norfolk to take over first place on the strength of a 7-1-1-0 run to end the month.
And Bridgeport woke up on New Year’s Day with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, 14 points behind the Northeast Division leaders from Connecticut. But the Sound Tigers went without a regulation loss in January (10-0-0-1) while the Whale were winless (0-6-3-2), propelling Bridgeport all the way into first place in the division and the third seed in the conference. Rookie Casey Cizikas led all AHL scorers in January with 18 points (8-10) and posted a stellar plus-14 rating in 11 games, earning Reebok/AHL Player of the Month honors. Rhett Rakhshani (6-9-15, +14), Matt Donovan (2-10-12, +13) and Reebok/AHL Goaltender of the Month Kevin Poulin (6-0-1, 1.52, .949, 3 SO) all had an outstanding January for the Sound Tigers as well.
The unofficial “second half” of the 2011-12 regular season gets under way Thursday night as Abbotsford heads to Rochester, Texas visits Houston and Oklahoma City entertains San Antonio.
NHL TEAMS LOOK TO THE STARS … In the first 72 hours following the AHL All-Star Game on Monday night, six participants were recalled to the NHL.
Philippe Cornet got word just before Monday’s game that he was being recalled by Edmonton. After helping the Western Conference to an 8-7 shootout victory in Atlantic City, Cornet, who has 21-7-28 in 38 games for Oklahoma City this season, caught an early-morning flight out of Philadelphia and was in the lineup to make his NHL debut on Tuesday night as the Oilers hosted Colorado. Cornet played nearly 11 minutes and collected an assist on his second shift of the game.
Krys Kolanos was rewarded for his remarkable comeback season on Wednesday, when he signed a two-year contract with the Calgary Flames and was recalled from Abbotsford, where he had 18-22-40 in 34 games after missing almost two full years due to injury. Syracuse’s Kyle Palmieri, who has scored 40 goals in his last 40 AHL games, was recalled by Anaheim; Zack Kassian got the call to head from Rochester to Buffalo; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Colin McDonald was summoned by Pittsburgh as the All-Star break wrapped up; and Worcester’s Tyson Sexsmith earned his first career recall to San Jose.
RAMPAGE ON A ROLL … Now seventh in the Western Conference and four points out of the fourth spot, the San Antonio Rampage are eyeing their first trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs since 2008.
The Rampage have outscored their opponents 27-12 during their current seven-game winning streak, which has seen Dov Grumet-Morris go the distance in net to establish a new franchise record for consecutive victories by a goaltender. Twenty-one different San Antonio players have picked up a point during the streak including Jon Matsumoto, who has four goals and three assists in five games since joining the Rampage from Charlotte.
MILESTONE WATCHES … We’re keeping an eye on several moves up the AHL’s all-time leaderboards:
• With two games scheduled in St. John’s this weekend, Worcester head coach Roy Sommer can become the fourth head coach in AHL history with 500 wins. Entering Friday, Sommer’s career record sits at 498-494-90.
• Hershey forward Keith Aucoin comes into the week with 554 career assists, needing one to tie Art Stratton for fifth all-time.
• Aucoin also has 777 career points, six behind Peter White for 14th place all-time.
• Oklahoma City defenseman Bryan Helmer has played 1,067 career regular-season games, fifth-most in AHL history. Mike Nykoluk is fourth at 1,069, and Harry Pidhirny is currently third with 1,071.
• Adirondack goaltender Michael Leighton is sitting on 35 career shutouts in the AHL, one behind Nick Damore and Marcel Paille who are tied for fourth all-time, and two back of third-place Bobby Perreault.
QUICK HITS … Springfield rookie Cam Atkinson led all AHL skaters with nine goals during January… Brian Connelly had played 125 consecutive games for Rockford before being scratched from the IceHogs’ Jan. 27 lineup at Charlotte; later that evening, Connelly was traded to Calgary for former AHL All-Star Brendan Morrison… Yann Danis blanked the Eastern Conference in the second period of Monday’s All-Star Game, the first goaltender to post a shutout period in all-star play since Ryan Miller, Antero Niittymaki and Jason LaBarbera all accomplished the feat in 2005… Gerald Coleman gave up four goals on seven shots in an abbreviated start vs. Toronto on Jan. 26, but bounced back with a 28-save effort in Lake Erie’s 3-1 win over Hamilton two nights later… The crowd of 8,194 fans that saw Albany shut out Adirondack on Jan. 28 was the largest in Devils franchise history and the biggest turnout for an AHL game at the Times Union center since Mar. 15, 2002 (8,407)… Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the first All-Star Game in AHL history, a World War II fundraiser held in Cleveland on Feb. 3, 1942.