AHL Weekly Release: 72nd season underway

ahl06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League’s 72nd season got underway last week with 28 of the league’s 29 teams beginning on the road to the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Among teams who have played more than one game, only two still have perfect records through Sunday’s action. The Philadelphia Phantoms, who are bidding to return to the postseason for the first time since winning the Calder Cup in 2005, began the season with a 4-3 victory over Norfolk on Friday night to snap a nine-game winless skid against the Admirals (0-6-2-1). The Phantoms then posted a 4-1 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday, getting three points from Stefan Ruzicka and 29 saves from Brian Boucher, who returned to the Phantoms crease this weekend for the first time since Oct. 24, 1999.

The Peoria Rivermen are also perfect through two games, defeating Milwaukee and Quad City by identical 4-2 scores. The Rivermen, who like Philadelphia missed out on postseason action last year, have gotten an early offensive jolt from a pair of newcomers. Martin Kariya, back in the AHL for the first time since spending his rookie campaign in Bridgeport in 2003-04, scored three goals on the weekend, and Jean-Guy Trudel, a postseason AHL All-Star selection in each of his previous four years in the league (1999-2003), added a goal and an assist in the two wins. Charles Linglet has three assists in two games after posting 31 goals and 60 points for the Rivermen in 2006-07.

The Springfield Falcons began their first season as the top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers with two wins over the weekend. Edmonton’s 2002 second-round draft choice Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers made 34 saves in Friday’s 3-2 victory in Portland; Jean-Francois Jacques, who played 37 NHL games with the Oilers last season, picked up a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Worcester; and former first-rounder Rob Schremp was the overtime hero on Sunday as the Falcons downed Manchester, 3-2.

The week ahead begins on Thursday night when the Manitoba Moose open their 2007-08 season, hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins in a rematch of last year’s seven-game North Division semifinal playoff series. Other home openers on tap for this weekend will be taking place in Bridgeport, Hamilton, Iowa and Milwaukee on Friday, and in Albany, Chicago, Lowell, Syracuse and Worcester on Saturday.

CLEVELAND ROCKS ON OPENING NIGHT … A crowd of 15,132 fans packed the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Saturday night for the first game in Lake Erie Monsters history. It marked the sixth-largest opening night crowd in AHL history, and the largest for any AHL game since Apr. 14, 2006 (17,653 at Milwaukee).

There were several big crowds welcoming the arrival of the new season, with average attendance up 11.6 percent from opening week last fall. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which has led the league in sellouts eight years running, had a capacity crowd for opening night on Wednesday (8,157). Rochester drew 9,088 fans on Friday, its largest crowd for a home opener since 2002. Hartford had 9,769 fans at its first game on Saturday, the Wolf Pack’s best turnout since Jan. 6, 2006. And Quad City opened its inaugural AHL season with 7,548 fans at the I Wireless Center to witness a 5-1 victory over Rockford.

Additionally, Manchester (8,827) and Houston (8,418) both topped the 8,000 mark for their home openers on Saturday night.

’DOGS BEGIN DEFENSE WITH WIN … With only nine players in the lineup who also skated in their Calder Cup championship run four months earlier, the Hamilton Bulldogs opened their title defense with a 3-2 win over Rochester on Sunday evening.

Maxim Lapierre, who had a goal and an assist in the Cup-clinching game on June 7, picked up three points against the Americans, including the game-tying goal in the second period and the game-winning goal 39 seconds into overtime.

ROSTER REVIEW … The 29 AHL team rosters submitted to the league office on opening day included 719 players, from Albers (Houston’s Paul) to Zubov (Binghamton’s Ilya). The average age of an AHL player to start the 2007-08 season was 24 years and 2 months; the youngest player in the league is 19-year-old Hartford center Artem Anisimov, the New York Rangers’ second-round pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft who was born on May 24, 1988.

Anisimov was one of 12 teenagers on opening-night rosters in the AHL; four other players turned 20 during training camp. All told, 311 American Hockey League players (43.3 percent) were 22 years old and under as of Oct. 3, and 493 (68.6 percent) were under the age of 25. Rochester is by far the league’s youngest team to start the season, with an average age of just 21 years, 10 months. The Amerks’ 23-man roster included 10 players who qualify as AHL rookies, among them forward Tanner Glass, Rochester’s oldest player at 23 years, 10 months.

ETC. … The Rockford IceHogs are wearing commemorative patches with the initials WWW in remembrance of William W. Wirtz, president of the parent Chicago Blackhawks who passed away on Sept. 26… Following off-season knee surgery, Jose Theodore made a rehab start for Lake Erie on Saturday and became the first former Hart Trophy winner to play in the AHL since 1959 NHL MVP Andy Bathgate skated for the Pittsburgh Hornets in 1966-67… Former first-round draft choice Tuukka Rask made 27 saves in his professional debut for Providence on Saturday, outdueling Manchester’s Dan Cloutier for a 2-1 win… Chris Minard recorded a natural hat trick in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 5-4 win over Hershey on Wednesday… Rochester was 4-for-11 on the power play in its 6-4 win over Syracuse on Friday, and a combined 0-for-12 in its losses on Saturday and Sunday.