WEEKLY RELEASE #26
THE ENVELOPES, PLEASE … The annual voting among American Hockey League coaches, players and media is complete, and the AHL will begin handing out individual awards later this week in recognition of its outstanding performers during the 2011-12 season.
Once again the AHL has been home to a deep pool of bright young candidates for the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as the league’s outstanding rookie. The Norfolk Admirals, whose record 22-game winning streak has vaulted them to the top of the AHL standings, have been led all season by first-year pros Cory Conacher (34-39-73) and Tyler Johnson (29-34-63), the top two rookie scorers in the league. Texas’s Matt Fraser (33-18-51) trails only Conacher in goals scored among all AHL skaters, and Connecticut’s Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (23-37-60) and reigning Reebok/AHL Rookie of the Month Peter Holland of Syracuse (22-36-58) are having standout seasons as well. Six rookies – Conacher, Albany’s Joe Whitney, Bridgeport’s Casey Cizikas, Grand Rapids’ Gustav Nyquist, Providence’s Carter Camper and Rochester’s Phil Varone – currently lead their clubs in scoring.
Rookies Matt Donovan of Bridgeport (10-32-42), Cade Fairchild of Peoria (7-25-32, +28) and Eric Gelinas of Albany (16-17-33) are excelling on the blue line, garnering attention in the voting for the Eddie Shore Award as the top defenseman in the AHL. Second-year pro Mark Barberio (11-46-57) leads all rearguards in assists and points and is second with a plus-23 rating for Norfolk, and third-year pros Brian Connelly of Abbotsford (6-40-46) and Paul Postma of St. John’s (13-31-44) are among the AHL’s top scoring defensemen as well.
The race for the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender is wide open also. Toronto’s Ben Scrivens (21-14-1, 2.07, .925) enters the week leading the league in goals-against average; Lake Erie’s Cedrick Desjardins (13-10-5, 2.09, .933) is tops in save percentage; Dustin Tokarski (29-11-0, 2.30, .911) has a league-best 29 victories for Norfolk; and Ben Bishop ranks first with six shutouts in his 41 appearances between Peoria and Binghamton. Yann Danis of Oklahoma City (25-12-2, 2.11, .924), Eddie Lack of Chicago (19-18-3, 2.33, .924) and rookies Eddie Pasquale of St. John’s (21-11-1, 2.36, .913) and Anders Nilsson of Bridgeport (15-8-2, 2.42, .921) have all been excellent for first-place clubs
Contenders for the AHL’s First and Second All-Star Teams, as well as the Les Cunningham Award as the league’s most valuable player, include Hershey’s Keith Aucoin, the 2009-10 MVP who was far and away leading the AHL in scoring with 11-59-70 in 43 games before his recall to Washington following the All-Star break. Bears teammate Chris Bourque (26-64-90) has taken over top spot in the scoring race, outdistancing Norfolk’s Cory Conacher (34-39-73) and Syracuse’s Patrick Maroon (31-40-71). Peoria’s T.J. Hensick (21-46-67) will average better than a point per game for the third consecutive season, and Trevor Smith has 22-40-62 and a plus-27 rating in 58 games for Norfolk on the year.
The winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach frequently translates the honor into success at the NHL level. Past winners include current NHL head coaches Guy Boucher (2010), Kevin Dineen (2006), Randy Cunneyworth (2005), Claude Noel (2004), Claude Julien (2003), Peter Laviolette (1999) and Barry Trotz (1994), as well as NHL assistants Scott Gordon (2008) and Mike Haviland (2007).
The award announcements began earlier this week when the AHL revealed the 30 team finalists for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as the AHL’s Man of the Year. The 2011-12 AHL All-Rookie Team will be announced on Wednesday, and the First and Second All-Star Teams will be unveiled on Thursday.
OVER IN A CLINCH … Four teams clinched playoff berths last week and three wrapped up division titles, but there are still 11 postseason invites still left to hand out as the 2011-12 regular season enters its final fortnight.
On Friday night, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton secured a playoff spot with a 3-0 win over Connecticut. The Penguins scored all three of their goals in a span of 2:12 during the first period, and Scott Munroe made 32 saves for his fourth shutout of the season. Wilkes-Barre will be in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the 10th consecutive spring, the longest active streak in the AHL. (Milwaukee, currently four points out of eighth place in the Western Conference, is bidding for a 10th straight trip also.)
Elsewhere Friday, the Oklahoma City Barons wrapped up their second playoff berth in as many seasons with a 3-2 win in Milwaukee. The Barons, the first Edmonton Oilers affiliate ever to post back-to-back 40-win campaigns, added the West Division championship to their list of accomplishments when San Antonio lost on Sunday.
St. John’s pulled out a 3-2 win over Hershey at Giant Center on Saturday, but both the IceCaps and Bears would be celebrating by the end of the night. The victory gave the IceCaps the Atlantic Division title, becoming the first AHL team to win a division crown in its inaugural season since the 2002-03 Binghamton Senators. The Bears got help from Portland and Adirondack, whose losses on Saturday allowed Hershey to clinch its seventh straight trip to the postseason. And the Bears’ loss was also a boon for Norfolk, which wrapped up first place in the East Division as a result.
Five teams have clinched playoff berths and only two have been mathematically eliminated, leaving 23 clubs to fight it out for the final 11 tickets to the 2012 Calder Cup dance.
QUICK HITS … Norfolk extended its winning streak to 22 games with victories over St. John’s on Wednesday and Friday; the Admirals’ last 16 victories have all come in regulation, tying the 1984-85 Baltimore Skipjacks’ record for most consecutive non-shootout wins… Toronto’s Ben Scrivens, who is 6-1-0 with three shutouts in his last seven games, has won eight consecutive road starts for the Marlies… Patrice Cormier scored twice for St. John’s in Saturday’s 3-2 win at Hershey, three weeks after he recorded a hat trick against the Bears on Mar. 9… Rockford went 9-3-0-1 during March to climb within two points of a playoff spot; the IceHogs were 9-4-1-1 in March 2011… With a 5-4 shootout victory in Abbotsford on Thursday, Chicago became the last team in the AHL this season to win a game it had trailed after two periods… Syracuse, in 14th place in the Eastern Conference as recently as the morning of Mar. 14, is on an 11-1-1-1 roll and now sits in seventh, three points ahead of ninth-place Portland… The Crunch’s Iiro Tarkki was 10-1-0 in March, the first 10-win month by an AHL goalie this season… Despite playing two fewer road games this season, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (26-7-0-3) and Norfolk (25-9-0-1) can both tie the AHL record for most road victories in a season by winning out the remainder of their road schedules; the 2007-08 Providence Bruins and last year’s Penguins both won 28 games during a 40-game road slate.