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AHL Weekly Release: Dogs on the move in North

ham_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The defending Calder Cup champions are playing some of their best hockey of the season, tightening up the playoff race in the North Division.
The Hamilton Bulldogs have earned points in seven straight games (6-0-1-0) and are just one point out of second place in the North. Each of Hamilton’s top five scorers this season was on their 2007 Calder Cup championship team, led by Corey Locke with 20 goals, 28 assists and 48 points on the year. Locke, in his fourth season with the club, made his National Hockey League debut with the parent Montreal Canadiens earlier this season, and has become the Bulldogs’ all-time leader in goals (75), assists (130) and points (205).

Hamilton’s recent resurgence was boosted by the return of forward Mikhail Grabovski, who was recalled by Montreal today. Grabovski had eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points in his last seven contests, putting forth six multiple-point performances and netting four game-winning goals. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak, also recalled by the Canadiens earlier today, won five of his last six decisions with Hamilton and is tied for the AHL lead in both goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.929).

Matt D’Agostini, who scored 21 goals as a rookie in 2006-07, is second on the team in goals (17), assists (23) and points (40) this season, including eight points in the last seven contests. Duncan Milroy, in his fifth season with the Bulldogs, ranks third in team scoring and first in plus/minus (plus-14), and second-year pro Marvin Degon leads all Hamilton defensemen with seven goals and 23 points.

Including Locke, Grabovski and Halak, eight Bulldogs have seen a total of 164 games of NHL action with Montreal this season including rookie Sergei Kostitsyn, who had 22 points in 22 games with Hamilton and has added 16 points in 33 contests with the Canadiens. Defenseman Ryan O’Byrne, forwards Maxim Lapierre and Kyle Chipchura and goaltender Carey Price have also seen action for both the ’Dogs and the Habs this season.

Hamilton, which has won nine of its last 10 road games, gets an opportunity to improve on its home record when it begins a six-game homestand on Wednesday night as North Division foe Grand Rapids visits Copps Coliseum.

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100 DEBUTS AND COUNTING … Eight AHL players played in their first National Hockey League games during the week of Feb. 18-24, bringing the total number of AHL graduates to debut in the NHL this season alone to 101.

After Albany’s Joe Jensen (Carolina) and Worcester’s Mike Iggulden (San Jose) debuted last Monday, Peoria goaltender Chris Beckford-Tseu saw his first NHL action for St. Louis at Los Angeles on Feb. 21. A pair of 2008 AHL All-Stars – Grand Rapids’ Jonathan Ericsson (Detroit) and Portland’s Andrew Ebbett (Anaheim) – debuted on Feb. 22, and Rochester’s Marc-Andre Gragnani (Buffalo), Grand Rapids’ Garrett Stafford (Detroit) and Manchester’s Erik Ersberg (Los Angeles) all made their first NHL appearances on Feb. 23.

FOUR SCORE ENCORE … Newly acquired Springfield forward Grant Potulny tied a franchise record with four goals in the Falcons’ 7-4 win at Worcester on Sunday night. The only previous four-goal game in club history was by Daniel Briere on Dec. 22, 2000.

It was also the second four-goal game of Potulny’s AHL career. Skating for Binghamton, Potulny scored four times at Rochester on Dec. 30, 2005.

AHL, SHARKS RAISE ALL-STAR BANNER … The Worcester Sharks and the American Hockey League raised a 2009 AHL All-Star Classic banner during a special ceremony before the Sharks hosted the Portland Pirates at the DCU Center on Saturday night. The commemorative banner represents Worcester’s selection to host the 2009 AHL All-Star Classic next winter.

The two-day Classic will feature the AHL All-Star Skills Competition and the AHL All-Star Game at the DCU Center, as well as the Hockey Hall of Fame AHL All-Star Classic Luncheon, the AHL Hall of Fame induction ceremony, social events, community visits and other festivities.

ETC. … Hershey defenseman Josef Boumedienne saw his 16-game scoring streak end in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton… With his 2-0 win over Milwaukee on Sunday, Rockford’s Wade Flaherty became the 20th goaltender in AHL history with 20 career shutouts… Marc-Andre Fleury finished his conditioning assignment for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with a 3-2-0 record, a 1.42 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage… Providence’s Nate Thompson has seven points and a plus-8 rating in his last four games… Lowell has gone into overtime in five of its last seven games, including Sunday’s 11-round shootout win over Hartford… Toronto drew a club-record 8,120 fans for Sunday’s game vs. Hamilton at Ricoh Coliseum… Syracuse, which leads the AHL with 17 shorthanded goals, recorded its third two-SHG game of the season on Friday vs. Houston… Norfolk has earned points in 13 of its last 16 games (10-3-1-2) after going 1-14-0-1 in its previous 16… Hershey kicks off a nine-game road trip – the longest in the franchise’s 70-year history – on Wednesday at Manitoba… Rochester head coach Randy Cunneyworth enters the week with 299 career AHL wins, second only to Worcester’s Roy Sommer (340) among active coaches.