AHL Weekly Release

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … News and notes from the week ending Mar. 24:

On Monday night, reigning Louis A.R. Pieri Award winner and Calder Cup champion Jon Cooper was named the eighth head coach in the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Cooper joins the Lightning after nearly three seasons behind the bench of Tampa Bay’s top affiliates in the AHL, the Norfolk Admirals (2010-12) and Syracuse Crunch (2012-13). At the time of Cooper’s promotion, his record of 133-75-13 tied him with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s John Hynes for the highest winning percentage (.631) among active AHL coaches with at least 100 games coached.

Former NHL defenseman Rob Zettler, who was in his first season as an assistant in Syracuse after 10 years as an assistant in the NHL with San Jose and Toronto, takes over as head coach of the Crunch. He will be joined by assistant coach Martin Raymond, who joins Syracuse after serving the last two-plus seasons as an assistant with the Lightning.

Cooper leaves Syracuse with the best record in the AHL at 39-18-3-5 this season. The 45-year-old native of Prince George, B.C., whose Norfolk Admirals won the Calder Cup during a history-making 2011-12 season, becomes the eighth current NHL bench boss with an AHL championship on his coaching resume, joining Nashville’s Barry Trotz (Portland, 1994), the New York Rangers’ John Tortorella (Rochester, 1996), Calgary’s Bob Hartley (Hershey, 1997), Philadelphia’s Peter Laviolette (Providence, 1999), San Jose’s Todd McLellan (Houston, 2003), Winnipeg’s Claude Noel (Milwaukee, 2004) and Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau (Hershey, 2006).

Tampa Bay’s roster currently includes 11 players who have spent time under Cooper in the American Hockey League, including 10 members of this year’s Crunch team.

In what would turn out to be Jon Cooper’s next-to-last game with Syracuse, the Crunch hosted former teammate Dustin Tokarski and the Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday night. Tokarski played 179 AHL games in the Tampa Bay system before being acquired by the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 14, and was 18-8-4 in 33 appearances for the Crunch this season.

Back at the War Memorial for the first time since the trade, Tokarski made 40 saves and earned first-star honors in a 1-0 Hamilton victory. It was his sixth shutout of the season, and third in 11 games since joining the Bulldogs.

Friday’s win marked Tokarski’s second victorious return to an AHL rink this season. On Jan. 4, in his first game at Scope since backstopping Norfolk to a Calder Cup championship last spring, Tokarski made 22 saves in a 3-0 Crunch victory over the Admirals.

Over the first two and a half years of his professional career, Rochester Americans defenseman Alex Biega played in 21 shootout games and was never called on to attempt a shot. That changed earlier this month, and Biega’s prowess has brought the Amerks valuable standings points down the stretch.

On Mar. 10, coach Chadd Cassidy turned to Biega in the bottom of the 10th round of a marathon shootout vs. Abbotsford, and the third-year blueliner snapped a shot home to give Rochester the win. On Mar. 19, Biega got the call in the fifth round and netted the only goal of the shootout, sending the Amerks to victory in Oklahoma City. And on Mar. 23 in Houston, Biega’s goal in the last half of the fifth round made Rochester triumphant again – and made him 3-for-3 with three game-winners.

Rochester, now 7-1 in shootouts this season, finished the week in sixth place in the Western Conference, five points ahead of the four teams who are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Sidelined for 22 months after suffering a concussion during a Memorial Cup game in May 2011, Joey Hishon resumed his pursuit of a National Hockey League career when he made his professional debut with the Lake Erie Monsters last Tuesday night.

Hishon, 21, was a first-round draft pick (17th overall) by the Colorado Avalanche in 2010, and starred for four junior seasons with Owen Sound, earning a spot on the OHL First All-Star Team in 2010-11. After being held scoreless in his debut vs. Toronto, Hishon netted the game-winning shootout goal to lift Lake Erie past Grand Rapids on Friday night, then drew an assist for his first professional point vs. the Griffins on Saturday.

Peoria head coach Dave Allison was honored before Sunday’s game vs. Toronto, and then his Rivermen gave him more reason to celebrate when they came from behind to defeat the Marlies, 3-2 in a shootout. The game was Allison’s 1,000th as a professional head coach.

Allison, whose 10-year pro playing career included 452 games in the AHL from 1979-89, has a career record of 229-226-34 in 489 contests as an AHL coach with Peoria (2012- ), the Iowa Stars (2005-08), the Milwaukee Admirals (2001-02) and the P.E.I. Senators (1994-96). He also spent guided the Grand Rapids Griffins during their first two seasons in the International Hockey League (1996-98), and had a 25-game stint as head coach of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators in 1995-96.

On Saturday night, Hershey Bears captain Boyd Kane became the 85th player in AHL history with 500 career points, reaching the milestone with a first-period goal at Manchester.

A three-time Calder Cup champion, Kane also recorded an assist in the 6-4 loss to the Monarchs, and finished the weekend with 213 goals and 289 assists for 502 points over 15 AHL seasons. His 927 career games put him in a tie for 12th place on the league’s all-time list.

Kane is the fourth player in the AHL to reach the 500-point plateau this season, following Providence’s Graham Mink, Rockford’s Martin St. Pierre and Bears teammate Jon DiSalvatore.

Updated every morning until the end of the regular season on theahl.com, the AHL Playoff Primer offers a snapshot of the current race to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

To check out the Playoff Primer, visit theahl.com and click on “Playoff Primer 2013” under the Standings link.

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

Texas at Houston, Tuesday (8 ET) – With nine of its final 12 games on home ice, Houston continues its stretch run by hosting Texas, its first of three games this week against division leaders. The Aeros, fifth in the Western Conference and four points out of fourth place (and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs), are 5-1-0-2 in their last eight games overall but have lost four of their last five meetings with the conference-leading Stars.

Manchester at Worcester, Wednesday (7 ET) – With less than four weeks remaining in the regular season, Manchester and Worcester are both on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture heading into a crucial meeting at the DCU Center. The Monarchs, four points back of eighth place, have lost four of their last five on the heels of a nine-game points streak (7-0-1-1), while the Sharks – six points out of eighth – have dropped three of four. Manchester’s Linden Vey leads all scorers in the season series with 2-6-8 in nine games.

Oklahoma City at Chicago, Wednesday (8 ET) – Tied for eighth place in the Western Conference in points (69) and regulation/overtime wins (26) and both with 14 games remaining, Oklahoma City and Chicago meet at Allstate Arena – the first of three meetings over the next 12 days that could decide who makes the playoffs and who stays home. The Wolves have the early edge in the head-to-head series (the second tiebreaker) thanks to a 6-3 win over the Barons back on Jan. 6.

Lake Erie at Milwaukee, Wednesday (8 ET) – As it embarks on a five-game road trip, Lake Erie sits in 13th place in the Western Conference, but the Monsters are still just three points out of eighth despite a 4-12-1-5 mark since the start of February. Milwaukee, meanwhile, is 6-0-1-0 in its last seven games to pull into seventh place in the West, eyeing an 11th consecutive trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Lake Erie has won all three meetings from the Admirals this season by a combined score of 12-3.

Syracuse at Norfolk, Friday (7:30 ET) and Saturday (7:15 ET) – While many members of last year’s Calder Cup championship team have been promoted to Tampa Bay – including head coach Jon Cooper – Syracuse returns to Scope for a two-game set. The Crunch begin the week with a magic number of 7 points to clinch a playoff spot, making it a possibility for this weekend. Norfolk, meanwhile, has gone 13-5-2-0 in its last 20 games to pull within four points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference entering the week.

There have been 42 hat tricks and 140 shutouts recorded in the American Hockey League through Mar. 18, and 69 AHL players have made their National Hockey League debuts this season:

Last week’s hat tricks (1)
Adam Almquist, GR — Mar. 23 at Lake Erie

Last week’s shutouts (6)
Frederik Andersen, NOR — Mar. 20 vs. Adirondack
Curtis McElhinney, SPR — Mar. 20 vs. Manchester
Cedrick Desjardins, SYR — Mar. 20 vs. W-B/Scranton
Dustin Tokarski, HAM — Mar. 22 at Syracuse
Mike McKenna, PEO — Mar. 23 vs. Chicago
Nathan Lieuwen, RCH — Mar. 24 at San Antonio

Last week’s NHL debuts (3)
Eric Selleck, SA — Mar. 19, Florida
Taylor Beck, MIL — Mar. 19, Nashville
Brett Bellemore, CHA — Mar. 21, Carolina

Prior to his recall to Philadelphia on Monday, Tye McGinn notched eight points (3-5-8) in four games for Adirondack last week, including two goals and two assists in a 4-1 win over Norfolk on Mar. 19 and a goal nine seconds into Sunday’s 4-2 win over Portland… Peoria’s T.J. Hensick has 6-19-25 in 23 games since the All-Star break and is now tied with Grand Rapids’ Gustav Nyquist and Hershey’s Jeff Taffe for the league scoring lead at 60 points… Mark Mancari’s shorthanded goal at Texas on Friday night gave the Rochester winger 20 goals for the seventh consecutive season… Brett Sterling returned to the Chicago lineup on Friday after more than two months on the injured list and scored a pair of goals in regulation plus the only shootout marker to lift the Wolves to a 4-3 victory over Toronto… Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, made his pro debut for the Marlies in that game and scored the tying goal late in the third period… With his blanking of Manchester last Wednesday, Springfield’s Curtis McElhinney became the ninth goaltender in AHL history with as many as nine shutouts in a single season; the record is owned by current Phoenix Coyotes netminder Jason LaBarbera (13 with Hartford in 2003-04)… Peoria’s 4-1 win over Grand Rapids last Tuesday was the Rivermen’s sixth consecutive victory over the Griffins; the teams meet twice more, Apr. 13 and Apr. 19 in Grand Rapids… Six penalty shots were attempted last weekend, including four on Friday night alone… Adirondack scored on each of its first four power-play opportunities en route to a 5-2 win at Connecticut on Saturday night; the Phantoms are 7-for-11 with the man advantage in their last two visits to Hartford… Toronto finished the week having earned a standings point in eight straight games (6-0-0-2), two shy of the 10-game run (8-0-1-1) they had from Dec. 15 to Jan. 5… Five of the AHL’s top six offenses can be found in the Western Conference (Grand Rapids, Toronto, Rochester, Oklahoma City, Rockford), while each of the top five defenses are in the East (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Springfield, Binghamton, Hershey, Providence).