WEEKLY RELEASE #20
BOUNCE BACKS … If the Calder Cup Playoffs were to start today, seven arenas that were quiet last spring would be hosting postseason action.
In the Western Conference, the Toronto Marlies have opened up a 10-point lead atop the North Division in search of their first playoff appearance in three seasons under head coach Dallas Eakins. Veteran forwards Mike Zigomanis (15-33-48) and Ryan Hamilton (21-19-40) lead the Marlies in scoring, while Joe Colborne (16-19-35), Nazem Kadri (9-16-25) and Matt Frattin (12-4-16) have provided added offensive punch while splitting much of the season between the Marlies and the parent Maple Leafs.
The Chicago Wolves have won nine of their last 11 and sit at 30-18-1-3 – their best mark since the end of the 2009-10 season. In their first season affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks and with Craig MacTavish at the helm, the Wolves rank fourth in the league in defense on the strength of one of the AHL’s top goaltending tandems in Eddie Lack (14-12-3, 2.38, .923) and Matt Climie (16-7-0, 2.42, .926).
The Abbotsford Heat lost leading scorer Krys Kolanos (18-22-40) to recall by Calgary earlier this month, but have added offensive defenseman Brian Connelly (5-34-39) and forward Hugh Jessiman (21-6-27) to try to help their 30th-ranked offense. On the flip side, the Heat, who missed the playoffs in 2011 after qualifying in their inaugural season, are second in the AHL allowing 2.49 goals per game. San Antonio, which has reached the playoffs just twice (2003, 2008) in its first nine seasons, is tied with Abbotsford and Peoria for sixth place in the conference, going 4-2-0-1 to begin its 11-game “rodeo trip” while the Stock Show & Rodeo takes over the AT&T Center.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Calder Cup Playoffs are poised to return to the Rock for the first time since 2005 as the league-leading St. John’s IceCaps own a 14-point lead over the rest of the Atlantic Division. The IceCaps, in their first season of play, are also an AHL-best 18-3-2-1 on the road.
Sitting 29th in the overall standings on the morning of Jan. 1, Bridgeport has gone 16-1-0-1 since and is now just one point behind Connecticut for the third seed in the Eastern Conference; Casey Cizikas, the Reebok/AHL Player of the Month for January, shows 9-15-24 and a plus-19 rating in those 18 games for the Sound Tigers. And Worcester currently occupies the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference, one point ahead of two other 2011 postseason bystanders, Albany and Providence.
Eight weeks remain in the 2011-12 regular season. In each conference, the three division winners plus the next five best teams in order of points will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs when the season ends on Apr. 15.
CLEAR DAY SET … With the NHL’s trade deadline approaching on Feb. 27 (3 p.m. ET), the AHL’s Clear Day deadline, when all 30 teams must submit their 22-man Clear Day lists, is set for Monday, Mar. 5, at 3 p.m. ET.
Only those players included on a team’s Clear Day list are eligible to compete in the remainder of the AHL regular season and in the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension. Teams may also add signed junior players or players on amateur tryout contracts, but only once their respective junior or college seasons are complete.
WEIRD (GOOSE) EGGS … It’s an odd week for goalie stats when Ben Bishop stops all 36 shots he faces in a 1-0 win but doesn’t get credit for a shutout, while John Muse makes 32 saves in a 1-0 loss and does.
On Feb. 15, Bishop was perfect for Peoria, making 36 saves to preserve a 1-0 win in Rockford. But he left the game for nearly nine minutes in the second period due to illness, during which time Jake Allen held down the fort and made six stops. It goes down as a team shutout for Peoria, which was outshot by a 42-13 margin.
Three nights later, Charlotte and Chicago dueled for 65 scoreless minutes, with Muse stopping 32 shots for the Checkers and Eddie Lack turning aside 31 shots for the Wolves. By rule, both goaltenders get credit for a shutout, although Lack would prevail in a six-round shootout, denying four Charlotte attempts to get the win – his second career 1-0 shootout victory.
STALOCK-ED IN … Seeing his first AHL action in 54 weeks, Alex Stalock quickly got right back in the win column on Feb. 19, stopping 15 of 16 shots and backstopping Worcester to a 2-1 victory in Springfield.
Stalock, an AHL All-Star in 2009-10, set an American Hockey League record for wins by a rookie goaltender that season when he went 39-19-2 and helped Worcester to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Shortly after he made his NHL debut with San Jose last year, Stalock was injured in a game vs. Manchester on Feb. 4, 2011, when the back of his leg was accidentally stepped on, resulting in a deep laceration that required surgery and lengthy rehab.
MAN OF IRON … It’s not usually noteworthy when Hamilton Bulldogs defenseman Alex Henry is in the lineup, but it was on Feb. 19.
The 13th-year pro, in his seventh season in Hamilton (1999-2002, 2008- ) and third as team captain, played in his 200th consecutive regular-season game as the Bulldogs visited Rochester. It’s the longest current streak in the AHL; Henry hasn’t missed a game since sitting out the first 12 contests of the 2009-10 season, and has also skated in all 39 of Hamilton’s Calder Cup Playoff games in that time.
Billy Dea holds the AHL record for consecutive games played, appearing in 548 straight regular-season matches for the Buffalo Bisons between Oct. 8, 1958, and Feb. 9, 1966.
QUICK HITS … Down by a goal with less than five minutes remaining, Hamilton scored three times in 38 seconds and went on to defeat Rockford, 5-2, on Feb. 17… Blake Geoffrion had a goal and two assists in his Bulldogs debut that night, his first game in the Montreal organization that his father (Danny Geoffrion), grandfather (Bernie Geoffrion) and great-grandfather (Howie Morenz) all played in… Chicago captain Nolan Baumgartner enters the week with 999 professional games played for his career, including 143 in the NHL and 856 in the AHL… Acquired by Anaheim from Winnipeg on Feb. 13, Riley Holzapfel had 2-4-6 in his first three games with Syracuse… Colton Sceviour has a point in 11 consecutive home games for Texas (7-10-17)… St. John’s is 22-5-3-1 against the Atlantic (15-5-1-1) and East (7-0-2-0) Divisions this season… Fifteen former or current Grand Rapids Griffins have played at least one game during the Detroit Red Wings’ NHL-record 23-game home winning streak.