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AHL Weekly Release: All-Star fan balloting underway

WEEKLY RELEASE #11

2009asc_v2.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass.
… From now until January 4, American Hockey League fans logging on at theahl.com will be able to help decide which players will earn a trip to the 2009 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Charter Communications, to be held in Worcester, Mass., on January 25-26.

The 2009 AHL All-Star Classic Fan Balloting presented by Reebok will once again determine the starting lineups for both the Canadian and PlanetUSA AHL All-Star teams, and a committee of AHL coaches will help complete the rosters.

The Canadian AHL All-Stars have won seven of the last nine mid-season classics – most recently a dramatic 9-8 shootout victory last year in Binghamton, N.Y. – and the Canadians should again feature a healthy crop of offensive weapons next month in Worcester. Bridgeport’s trio of Mike Iggulden, Kurtis McLean and Trevor Smith; three-time AHL All-Star Martin St. Pierre of Providence; goal-scoring leader Chris Minard of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton; Hershey sharpshooter Alexandre Giroux; Quad City’s Jamie Lundmark; Portland’s Mark Mancari; and Milwaukee teammates Mike Santorelli and Cal O’Reilly are all among the Canadian-eligible forwards on the league’s scoring leaderboard to date.

The AHL’s top two scoring defensemen are Canadian-born in Providence’s Johnny Boychuk and Philadelphia’s Danny Syvret, as is second-year pro Derek Joslin of the host Worcester Sharks. Other top Canadian blueliners include Milwaukee’s Cody Franson, Hershey’s Karl Alzner and Portland’s Marc-Andre Gragnani. The Canadian roster could also benefit from AHL rookie scoring leader Claude Giroux of Philadelphia, as well as other first-year pros Mathieu Perreault of Hershey, Zack Smith from Binghamton and Ben Maxwell of Hamilton.

Among those in the running for the Canadian squad’s three goaltending slots are Philadelphia’s Scott Munroe and Binghamton’s Brian Elliott – currently tied for the league lead with 14 wins apiece – as well as Houston’s Barry Brust, Lake Erie’s Tyler Weiman and Rockford’s Corey Crawford.

On the PlanetUSA side, three-time AHL All-Star and 2008 team captain Keith Aucoin leads the AHL with 37 points, while Chicago’s Joe Motzko, Providence’s Martins Karsums, Rockford’s Petri Kontiola and Jeff Taffe and Janne Pesonen from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are all enjoying productive offensive seasons. Ryan Potulny from Springfield, Tim Stapleton of Toronto, Joakim Lindstrom in San Antonio, Jon DiSalvatore from Lowell and Ville Leino in Grand Rapids are each averaging nearly a point per game, as is Ryan Vesce from host Worcester. Rookies up for consideration should include Tim Kennedy and Nathan Gerbe from Portland, Oskar Osala in Hershey, Syracuse’s Nikita Filatov and San Antonio’s Chad Kolarik and Brett MacLean.

PlanetUSA-eligible defensemen having strong seasons include Jakub Kindl (Grand Rapids), Alexander Sulzer (Milwaukee), Clay Wilson (Syracuse), and rookies Mattias Karlsson (Binghamton) and Bobby Sanguinetti (Hartford). Several goaltenders are in the hunt for the PlanetUSA spots, among them Cory Schneider of Manitoba, Ondrej Pavelec in Chicago, Simeon Varlamov from Hershey, Providence’s Tuukka Rask, Rockford’s Antti Niemi, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Adam Berkhoel and Portland’s Jhonas Enroth.

Of the 455 players to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic since 1995, more than 94 percent have competed in the National Hockey League, including Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes, Dan Boyle, Brian Campbell, Zdeno Chara, Rick DiPietro, Jiri Hudler, Miikka Kiprusoff, Kari Lehtonen, Ryan Miller, Zach Parise, Martin St. Louis, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Tomas Vokoun.

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LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW … A snowstorm in the northeastern United States on Friday caused the first weather-related postponements of the season on Friday, as games in Worcester and Wilkes-Barre were called off due to the winter weather.

The Sharks have rescheduled their game with Portland for Dec. 29, while the Penguins and Hershey Bears will now play on Jan. 11.

The threat of winter weather also caused the Providence Bruins to tinker with their schedule on Friday. The Bruins moved their game against Toronto up six hours to 1:05 p.m. to beat the storm.

THE STARS ARE BRIGHTLY SHINING … Don Granato will be a beneficiary of the Chicago Wolves’ 2008 Calder Cup championship, as he has been selected to lead the PlanetUSA team at the 2009 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Charter Communications. Granato will be joined at the event in Worcester, Mass., by Wolves assistant coaches Jason Christie and Wendell Young.

A native of Downers Grove, Ill., the 41-year-old Granato will be no stranger to Worcester, having coached the AHL’s IceCats from 2000-05. Granato won the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach in 2000-01.

Granato took over in Chicago for John Anderson, who was named head coach of the parent Atlanta Thrashers after leading the Wolves to their second Calder Cup last spring.

The head coach whose club owns the best points percentage in the AHL after play on Jan. 4 will be selected to lead the Canadian team. The current leaders in that race are Hershey’s Bob Woods (.750), Manitoba’s Scott Arniel (.724), Bridgeport’s Jack Capuano (.694), Grand Rapids’ Curt Fraser (.667) and Milwaukee’s Lane Lambert (.661).

LET US BRING HIM SILVER AND GOLD … The annual Spengler Cup tournament and World Junior Championships are set to get underway in the coming week, and a handful of players will be leaving their current AHL squads to represent their home country in the events.

As it attempts to defend its title at the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, Team Canada’s squad will feature Hershey Bears goaltender Daren Machesney and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman T.J. Kemp.

In his third pro season, Machesney is 10-4-0 (2.79, .883) in 15 appearances for the Bears this season, while Kemp, an AHL All-Star in 2007, has registered nine points (1-8-9) and a plus-5 rating in 21 games for the Penguins.

All 22 members of Canada’s roster for the tournament are AHL graduates, including former Calder Cup champions Randy Robitaille, Micki DuPont, Joel Kwiatkowski, Hnat Domenichelli, J.P. Vigier and Jean-Guy Trudel.

AHL players slated to take part in the World Junior Championships include forwards Nikita Filatov and Maksim Mayorov – both from Syracuse – and Manchester’s Viatcheslav Voynov, all of whom are on Russia’s roster. The World Juniors begin Friday in Ottawa.

AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE … Milwaukee’s Mike Santorelli saw his scoring streak end at 14 games (9-17-26) – tied for an AHL season high – in Friday’s 6-3 loss at Grand Rapids… Houston is 10-0-1-2 against the West Division this season… Albany has been shut out a league-high seven times this season, matching its total from all of 2007-08… Hamilton rookie goaltender Cedrick Desjardins is 3-0-0 (1.00, .973) since a 6-5 overtime loss to Toronto on Dec. 7… Binghamton had been the only AHL team yet to score a shorthanded goal this season before winger Danny Bois tallied two of them last week… Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, who leads AHL rookies with 17 goals and 33 points, has netted a goal in six straight games (7-4-11)… Hershey forward Alexandre Giroux is two goals shy of his sixth consecutive 20-goal season in the AHL… Four of Jonathan Bernier’s six victories in net for Manchester this season have come via the shootout… Norfolk has allowed just three goals total in posting a season-high three-game winning streak… Worcester (16-14-0-0) and Manitoba (21-8-0-0) are the only remaining AHL teams yet to suffer either an overtime or shootout loss this season.

The entire American Hockey League extends best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy holiday season.