AHL Weekly Release: 16 teams left to vie for the Cup

cc07_300.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass.
… A thrilling finish to the regular season has set the stage for the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs, which get underway this week.

The final piece of the puzzle didn’t fit into place until the 1,080th game ended on Sunday night, when Omaha wrapped up a 4-2 victory over Chicago in Rosemont, Ill. The win gave the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights the West Division championship and the best record in the Western Conference, and set up a first-round battle between Omaha and Iowa. The Wolves wound up second, and will take on Milwaukee in the division semifinals; the Admirals are trying to reach the Calder Cup Finals for the third time in four years.

Also late Sunday, Grand Rapids secured the 16th and final postseason invitation when Peoria dropped a 4-0 decision to Milwaukee. The Griffins will meet Manitoba in one North Division semifinal, while Rochester will square off against Hamilton in the other. The Americans clinched second place and earned home-ice advantage in the first round with a 2-1 win over the Bulldogs on Sunday.

Hershey, the defending Calder Cup champions, earned the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy for owning the best record in the AHL, the first time since 1988 that the Bears have finished in the top spot in the league’s overall standings. Hershey also captured its first division title since 1994, and will take on Albany in the opening round. The River Rats are heading to the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2000, ending the longest postseason absence in AHL history. In the other East Division series, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Norfolk will collide after each amassed 108 points in the regular season.

Providence and Worcester wrapped up the Atlantic Division’s final two playoff slots on Saturday night, then the Bruins edged the Sharks for third place with an overtime win over division-champion Manchester on Sunday. Providence will face Hartford in the postseason for the fourth time in the last nine years, while Worcester will take on a Monarchs team in search of its first-ever Calder Cup Playoff series victory.

The AHL’s championship trophy is named after Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Calder, who served as the first president of the National Hockey League from 1917-43. During the 1920s, Calder was instrumental in guiding professional hockey into the mainstream of the United States’ major cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Detroit, while also helping form the American Hockey League in 1936.

2006-07 BY THE NUMBERSDarren Haydar’s 122 points tie him with Bruce Boudreau (1982-83) for the seventh-highest total in AHL history, and his 81 assists were tied for eighth-most… Chicago’s 331 goals scored (4.14 avg.) were the most in a season since the Binghamton Rangers scored 333 goals in 1995-96… The Wolves became the first team to boast four scorers among the league’s top 10 since 2000-01 (Kentucky)… Chicago forward Brett Sterling recorded 55 goals and 97 points, the highest totals by an AHL rookie since Stephan Lebeau (70 goals in 1988-89) and Peter Ciavaglia (98 points in 1991-92)… Grand Rapids finished 27th in the league on the power play (12.5 percent) after leading the league a year ago (21.8 percent)… Providence’s David Krejci led the AHL with 10 shootout goals (on 14 attempts)… Omaha and Chicago both tied an AHL record with 27 road victories… After finishing third last year (298), Binghamton’s Jeff Herrema led the league with 315 shots on goal… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Stephen Dixon and Binghamton’s Ryan Vesce played all 80 games for the second straight season, while Hamilton’s Dan Jancevski did so for the third time in four years… Hartford (98) and Milwaukee (96) each fell just short of becoming the first team in AHL history with four consecutive 100-point seasons… Hershey led the league in attendance for the first time since 1976-77, averaging 8,671 fans per game.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS … Some of the statistical leaders for the 2006-07 AHL season:

Points 122 Darren Haydar, CHI   Saves  1,862 Jason LaBarbera, MCH 
Goals 55 Brett Sterling, CHI   Minutes 3,619 Jason LaBarbera, MCH
Assists 81 Darren Haydar, CHI   Points (rookie) 97 Brett Sterling, CHI 
Games Played 80 24 players tied   Goals (rookie) 55 Brett Sterling, CHI 
Penalty Minutes 309 Francis Lessard, HFD   Assists (rookie) 47 Cal O’Reilly, MIL 
Power-Play Goals 21 Brett Sterling, CHI    Points (defenseman) 53 Sheldon Brookbank, MIL 
Shorthanded Goals 5 Five players tied    Goals (defenseman) 18 Micki DuPont, WBS 
Game-Winning Goals 9 Jason Jaffray, MTB
Carsen Germyn, OMA 
  Assists (defenseman) 38 Sheldon Brookbank, MIL
Plus/Minus +34 Brian Sipotz, CHI    Power Play % 21.1 Norfolk
Overtime Goals 3 Ramzi Abid, MIL
Dan McGillis, LOW 
  Penalty Killing % 89.7 Manitoba
Unassisted Goals 11 Joe Motzko, SYR/POR    Power-Play Goals 112 Chicago
GAA 2.00 Jaroslav Halak, HAM    Shorthanded Goals 24 Hershey
Grand Rapids
Save Percentage .933 Jason LaBarbera, MCH    Goals For 331 Chicago
Wins 39 Jason LaBarbera, MCH    Goals Against 182 Manchester
Shutouts 7 Jason LaBarbera, MCH
Curtis McElhinney, OMA
  Attendance 346,842 Hershey (8,671 avg.)

ETC. … Average attendance at the 36 games played over the final weekend of the regular season was 7,451… The top four teams in the overall standings all came out of the Eastern Conference… Carey Price, the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft, made 27 saves in his pro debut to lead Hamilton to a 3-1 win over Grand Rapids on Friday… Brian Boyle, the 26th overall pick in 2003, made his pro debut for Manchester on Saturday night… Philadelphia had three recent first-round draft picks in its lineup on Sunday: Ryan Parent (18th in 2005), Steve Downie (29th in 2005) and Claude Giroux (22nd in 2006)… Chris Stewart, Noah Babin and Brett Hemingway all scored their first professional goals in Albany’s 6-5 loss to Norfolk on Saturday… Hartford’s 3-0 win over Bridgeport on Friday was the Wolf Pack’s ninth consecutive victory over the Sound Tigers… Peoria improved to 10-0-0-0 all-time at the Omaha Civic Auditorium with a 4-0 win on Friday… Iowa was 10-0-0-0 in Texas this season, winning five games each in Houston and San Antonio… Yutaka Fukufuji stopped 111 of 115 shots (0.92, .965) in five AHL appearances for Manchester this season… Hershey’s Dave Steckel finished the regular season on a 12-game scoring streak (6g, 10a).