WEEKLY RELEASE #18
ROOKIE CLASS EARNING A’S … Every year, the American Hockey League is home to the best young professional players in the game, and a group of standout rookies is always leading the charge. The 2011-12 season has been no exception.
Undrafted out of Canisius College, Cory Conacher got his first taste of AHL hockey with cups of coffee in Rochester and Milwaukee after finishing up his senior season last spring. The 22-year-old had a strong training camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning and has lit up the AHL in Norfolk, tied for the overall league lead with 25 goals and pacing all rookies with 52 points in 47 games. Conacher is the latest first-year pro to shine in Norfolk; recent AHL all-rookie selections from the Admirals include Troy Brouwer, Rene Bourque and Michael Leighton.
Gustav Nyquist is Grand Rapids’ leading point-getter this season with 14-28-42 in 41 games, placing him second in the AHL in rookie scoring. Nyquist, who had his first two-goal game as a pro in the Griffins’ 5-2 win over Hamilton on Feb. 4, has appeared in five NHL games with Detroit this season as well.
Springfield forward Cam Atkinson is one goal off the league lead with 24 tallies this season, helping to keep the Falcons in the hunt for their first playoff berth since 2003. Atkinson, who made his NHL debut with Columbus earlier this season, could become the Falcons’ first rookie forward to garner league honors since Daniel Briere was an all-rookie pick in 1997-98.
Bridgeport’s Casey Cizikas, the Reebok/AHL Player of the Month for January, is on a remarkable tear for the Sound Tigers, putting up 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-17 rating in his last 15 games, coinciding with the team’s surge to the top of the Northeast Division. Cizikas is currently third among AHL rookies in scoring (14-27-41) and tied for first among all AHL forwards in plus/minus (+22) for the year.
On the blue line, Cade Fairchild has totaled 5-19-24 in 39 games for Peoria and leads the entire AHL with a plus-24 rating. Lake Erie’s Tyson Barrie is the top-scoring rookie defenseman in the AHL (5-24-29), and Tim Erixon has registered 2-19-21 in 28 games for Connecticut while also skating in 13 NHL contests with the parent New York Rangers.
Last week’s AHL All-Star Classic included 13 rookies in the lineup, and nine rookies are currently leading their teams in points, including Jason Akeson in Adirondack, Joe Whitney in Albany, Carter Camper in Providence and Marcus Foligno in Rochester.
BARONS BACKSTOPS RUNNING 1-2 … While the Oklahoma City Barons have owned the AHL’s top-ranked defense for the majority of the 2011-12 season, they can now officially boast the top two goaltenders as well.
Entering the week, Yann Danis and David LeNeveu were first and second, respectively, in goals-against average. Danis sports a league-best 2.04 mark to go with his 19-8-1 record and four shutouts, while LeNeveu is 11-6-2 with a 2.06 GAA. The two are also among the leaders in save percentage, with Danis coming in sixth (.924) and LeNeveu seventh (.923).
The Barons are averaging 2.19 goals allowed per game as a team, a wide margin ahead of Toronto which is second at 2.49.
RYAN’S HOPE … Ryan White’s 2011-12 season started late, but the fourth-year pro got off on the right foot in Hamilton. White suffered a sports hernia in Montreal Canadiens training camp back in September and was finally cleared to play last week. Assigned to Hamilton on a conditioning loan, he made his season debut in a school-day matinee at Copps Coliseum on Feb. 7 and scored a pair of goals in the first 10:37 of the game, earning first-star honors in the Bulldogs’ 4-2 loss to San Antonio.
White, a third-round draft pick by Montreal in 2006, has played 43 NHL games with the Canadiens over the past two seasons, and helped Hamilton reach the AHL’s Western Conference Finals in both 2010 and 2011.
CHECKERS FIND THEIR MUSE … With Justin Peters in Carolina and Mike Murphy on the injured list, rookie John Muse has started five straight games in net for Charlotte and has helped keep the Checkers atop the Midwest Division.
Muse has won four of those five starts and is now 7-1-0 in eight appearances for Charlotte this season, with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage. The 23-year-old Muse, who went 89-39-16 with 12 shutouts and won two national championships at Boston College (2008, 2010), signed as a free agent with the Checkers after his senior season at BC last summer.
QUICK HITS … Playing its last home game before an 11-game road swing on Feb. 3, San Antonio held its Pink in the Rink night in front of a franchise-record 16,151 fans at the AT&T Center and raised more than $48,000 for Komen for the Cure… Roy Sommer earned his 499th career win as an AHL head coach in Worcester’s 4-2 victory at St. John’s on Feb. 4; Sommer is looking to become the fourth coach in league history with 500 wins… Rochester’s Paul Szczechura capped his first career hat trick on Feb. 4 in Syracuse by scoring the tying goal at 15:53 of the third period and the game-winner at 3:53 of overtime… Hershey’s 4-3 shootout win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Feb. 5 ended a nine-game Penguins winning streak at Giant Center… Opening February by playing seven of eight on the road, Charlotte earned weekend wins at Oklahoma City and Texas… A 4-2 defeat in Springfield on Feb. 5 marked Norfolk’s first regulation loss all season when leading after two periods (17-1-1-0)… After beginning the season by extending its AHL-record road points streak to 23 games, Milwaukee lost 11 of 13 away from home before a 2-1 win in Houston on Feb. 5… Entering the week, Chicago had scored 104 of its 133 goals in the first and second periods; the Wolves’ 28 third-period goals were tied for fewest in the AHL.