AHL Weekly Release

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … News and notes coming out of the AHL’s All-Star break:

Capacity crowds at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, television broadcasts reaching more than 100 million households internationally, 46 of the best players in the American Hockey League and two nights of last-second drama all combined to make the 2013 Dunkin’ Donuts AHL All-Star Classic another memorable showcase event.

The excitement began with the 2013 Pepsi AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Sunday night. In the CCM Fastest Skater event, Houston Aeros rookie Jason Zucker completed his lap in 13.550 seconds, the fastest time in the 18-year history of the AHL All-Star Skills Competition. That record lasted only as long as it took the next competitor, Chris Summers of the Portland Pirates, to clock a time of 13.324 seconds and etch his own name in the record books.

Down 6-1 after three of seven events, the Western Conference began mounting a comeback. Brayden McNabb of the Rochester Americans became the fifth AHL player ever to crack triple digits in the CCM Hardest Shot contest, winning the event with a blast of 101.8 miles per hour. Matt Fraser of the Texas Stars then took the Pepsi Accuracy Shooting title by breaking four targets in five attempts.

The Western Conference still trailed 11-8 through the first round of the final event, the H&R Block Breakaway Relay, but with goaltenders Barry Brust, Petr Mrazek and Justin Peters combining to deny each of the last 14 attempts by Eastern Conference shooters, the West pulled out a 12-11 victory – the first one-goal margin since the Skills Competition was instituted in 1996.

The dramatics continued on Monday night, when Toronto Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton scored his third goal of the night with 11.2 seconds remaining in regulation to give the West a 7-6 win and a sweep of the two-day event for the second consecutive year. Hamilton, who earned game MVP honors, took a pass from Oklahoma City’s Mark Arcobello (three assists) and tucked a shot under the crossbar behind Binghamton’s Robin Lehner for the seventh hat trick in All-Star history.

AHL All-Star Game hat tricks
2013 – Ryan Hamilton, Western Conference All-Stars
2009 – Corey Locke, Canadian All-Stars (4 goals)
2009 – Jeff Taffe, PlanetUSA All-Stars
2008 – Teddy Purcell, Canadian All-Stars
2002 – Jeff Farkas, PlanetUSA All-Stars
2002 – Mike Craig, Canadian All-Stars
1954 – Dunc Fisher, AHL All-Stars

Since 2005, seven of the nine AHL All-Star Games have been decided either by a single goal or by a goal plus empty-netters, including four games that extended to a shootout and two that were decided in the waning moments of the third period.

Attendance at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Monday night was 10,846, the largest for an AHL All-Star Game since the 2006 event at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

As this year’s participants certainly know, the American Hockey League All-Star Classic showcases some of the best young talent in hockey and offers a glimpse into the future of the National Hockey League. Of the nearly 600 players who played in a midseason showcase in the AHL between 1995 and 2012, nearly 93 percent have gone on to skate in the NHL.

Eighteen players who participated in the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic a year ago have already been in the NHL during the first week and a half of that league’s season, a list that includes Tampa Bay’s Cory Conacher, Columbus’s Cam Atkinson, Anaheim’s Kyle Palmieri, Vancouver’s Zack Kassian and Ottawa’s Ben Bishop.

Meanwhile, the list of All-Star alumni in the NHL continues to grow. San Antonio’s Drew Shore made his NHL debut with Florida last week and appeared in three games with the Panthers; he joined his Western Conference teammates in Providence and then returned to Florida after the event. Sixth-year pro Matt Anderson, an AHL All-Star in 2011, got in his first NHL game with New Jersey on Tuesday night after being summoned from Albany, and Lake Erie’s Mike Sgarbossa, Texas’s Jamie Oleksiak and Springfield’s Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Tim Erixon have all been recalled since Monday night.

In addition, 11 players – Norfolk’s Peter Holland and Emerson Etem (Anaheim), Hamilton’s Brendan Gallagher (Montreal), Binghamton’s Andre Benoit (Ottawa), Hershey’s Tomas Kundratek (Washington), Zach Redmond of St. John’s (Winnipeg), Portland’s David Rundblad and Alexandre Bolduc (Phoenix), Providence’s Chris Bourque (Boston) and Toronto’s Mike Kostka and Matt Frattin (Toronto) – were all named to the 2013 All-Star rosters but missed the event due to NHL recall.

Reigning AHL coach of the year Jon Cooper of the Syracuse Crunch joined Twitter and, as promised because he reached 500 followers over the weekend, offered up his first tweets from behind the Eastern Conference bench during Monday’s All-Star Game.

Some of the wit and wisdom of @CoopersLaw:

The Albany Devils wrapped up their pre-All-Star slate on a high note with a 5-2 win over the rival Adirondack Phantoms on Saturday afternoon. Harri Pesonen scored twice and Keith Kinkaid made 26 saves as the Devils entered the break just two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Saturday’s game drew 10,218 fans to the Times Union Center, a Devils franchise record and the highest attendance for an AHL game in Albany since Feb. 27, 1999, when a crowd of 13,146 saw the Albany River Rats defeat the Adirondack Red Wings, 3-2.

All told, 27 games on Friday and Saturday combined to attract 201,486 fans to AHL arenas, an average of 7,462 fans per contest for the weekend – with at- or near-capacity crowds in most venues. Average league attendance at the All-Star break was 5,522 fans per game, up from 5,350 fans per game at the break last year.

Binghamton’s Robin Lehner was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week after stopping 78 of 80 shots in a pair of shootout wins over the weekend, helping to keep the Senators atop the AHL standings.

Lehner, who had spent the previous two weeks in the NHL with the parent Ottawa Senators, is 8-1-0 in his last nine decisions and leads the league with a .948 save percentage in 23 outings overall (16-5-1, 1.80).

Lehner earned his second shutout of the season on Friday night in a showdown with Syracuse’s Dustin Tokarski as the last two Calder Cup-winning goaltenders dueled to a 0-0 draw through 65 minutes. Lehner made 40 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping all five Crunch attempts in the shootout to give Binghamton a 1-0 victory; it was the 11th time since the current tiebreaking procedure was adopted in 2004 that a goaltender did not allow a single goal in regular play plus the shootout.

Match-ups to look forward to in the week ahead:

Abbotsford at Lake Erie, Thursday (7 ET) and Friday (7:30 ET)
Toronto at Rochester, Friday (7 ET)
– As the unofficial second half of the season gets under way, four points separate the top four teams in the North Division and all four face off against each other to begin the weekend. The Heat (51 points) head to Cleveland for a pair of games with Lake Erie (50 points) having gone 3-0-0-1 against the Monsters this season; Toronto (50 points) has won 10 consecutive meetings with Rochester (47 points), including a three-game sweep of last year’s first-round playoff series and all five games so far in 2012-13.

Providence at Bridgeport, Thursday (7 ET) – With attention turning to the playoff races, Providence finds itself two points up on the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference while Bridgeport has dropped to 12th place – but three points out of eighth – heading into their matchup at Webster Bank Arena. The Bruins won three of four before the break, while the Sound Tigers have lost eight of their last 10 (2-7-1-0).

Syracuse at Springfield, Friday (7 ET) – Owners of the second- and third-best records in the AHL coming out of the All-Star break, Syracuse (25-10-2-4, 56 pts.) visits Springfield (25-11-3-3, 56 pts.) in their first of two meetings this season. The Crunch, who snapped a four-game winless streak with a 6-3 win over St. John’s on Saturday night, have won six of their last seven on the road, while the Falcons are coming off back-to-back regulation losses for just the second time all season.

Chicago at Milwaukee – Friday (8 ET)
– Chicago and Milwaukee meet for the sixth of 12 times this season when the Wolves visit the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Friday night. The Admirals are 4-1-0-0 against their I-94 rivals this year, with rookie Austin Watson tallying 4-3-7 to lead the Milwaukee offense. Chicago hits the weekend two points out of eighth place in the Western Conference, with the Admirals one point further back.

There have been 26 hat tricks and 91 shutouts recorded in the American Hockey League through Jan. 27:

Last week’s hat tricks (2)
Juuso Puustinen, MIL Jan. 25 vs. OKC
Justin Dowling, TEX Jan. 26 vs. San Antonio

Last week’s shutouts (7)
Martin Jones, MCH Jan. 23 vs. Providence
Jake Allen, PEO Jan. 23 vs. Chicago
Brad Thiessen, WBS Jan. 23 vs. St. John’s
Darcy Kuemper, HOU Jan. 25 at Grand Rapids
Robin Lehner, BNG Jan. 25 at Syracuse
Dustin Tokarski, SYR Jan. 25 vs. Binghamton
Frederik Andersen, NOR Jan. 26 vs. Bridgeport

Acquired by Pittsburgh from the New York Rangers in exchange for Benn Ferriero on Thursday, 2013 AHL All-Star Chad Kolarik scored a goal 1:36 into his debut with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday night at Rochester… Tom Kostopoulos, signed to a tryout by the Penguins last Wednesday, enters the week with 999 regular-season games played as a professional, including 615 in the NHL and 384 in the AHL… Justin Dowling, who recorded his first pro hat trick in Texas’s 4-1 win over San Antonio on Saturday night, has 5-2-7 in eight games with the Stars and has netted the game-winning goal in each of the team’s last three victories… Chicago’s Darren Haydar, who had 0-6-6 in his first 16 games of the season, shows 9-12-21 in 18 games since Dec. 8… Norfolk goaltender Frederik Andersen has been loaned to the Danish national team as they prepare to participate in an Olympic qualifying tournament next week… Despite having 19 fewer points in the standings in the same number of games played (44), St. John’s has allowed one fewer goal this season (128) than it had at the All-Star break last year (129)… Texas spotted Rockford a 3-0 lead in both of its visits to the BMO Harris Bank Center this season but rallied to win both times, posting a 5-4 victory on Nov. 27 and a 6-3 win on Jan. 21… Last season, four teams who were not in a playoff spot at the All-Star break (Connecticut, Syracuse, Milwaukee, Rochester) wound up qualifying for the Calder Cup Playoffs.