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AHL Weekly Release: Monsters rising from deep

lem07_250.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … In their first season in the American Hockey League, the Lake Erie Monsters have begun to surface and are making a push towards bringing Calder Cup Playoff hockey to Cleveland for the first time since 2004.

Despite being riddled by recalls to the parent Colorado Avalanche, rookie head coach Joe Sacco’s Monsters are on a season-best seven-game points streak (4-0-2-1) and sit just seven points out of a playoff spot in the North Division. Not including Jose Theodore, who started Lake Erie’s season opener on a conditioning assignment, nine Monsters have played a total of 159 NHL games for Colorado already this season.

Three of Lake Erie’s top four scorers are rookies, led by David Jones. Jones, who ranks third in the AHL with 12 power-play goals this season, is one of five Monsters to make his NHL debut with the Avalanche this season, getting his first taste of the bigs on Dec. 21. Chris Stewart, a first-round draft pick by Colorado in 2006, leads the Monsters with 15 goals and has tallied 10 points in his last nine contests. And T.J. Hensick, who last week racked up four points for PlanetUSA in the 2008 AHL All-Star Game, has 21 points in 25 games for Lake Erie to go with eight points in 23 games for Colorado, including four goals in his last two outings with the Avs.

Forward Cody McLeod, defenseman Johnny Boychuk and goaltender Tyler Weiman have also made their NHL debuts this season, and Wyatt Smith, Cody McCormick, Brad Richardson and Kyle Cumiskey have also split time between Cleveland and Denver. Goaltender Mike Wall earned his first recall of the season on Monday and served as Colorado’s back-up netminder that night. First-round draft picks on Lake Erie’s roster include Stewart, Jamie Lundmark, Jeff Jillson and goaltender Jason Bacashihua.

Off the ice, Lake Erie ranks among the AHL’s top 10 in attendance, averaging better than 5,500 fans per game at the Quicken Loans Arena. For their 14 weekend dates so far (Fridays and Saturdays), the Monsters’ average attendance is 7,396 fans per game.

Calder Cup Playoff qualification rules allow for the fifth-place team in the West Division to cross over if it finishes with more points than the fourth-place team in the North Division, so only the top three clubs in the North are guaranteed postseason berths. Sixteen of Lake Erie’s final 34 games come against Grand Rapids (7), Hamilton (5), Syracuse (3) and Manitoba (1), the teams directly ahead of the Monsters in the standings, beginning with Wednesday night’s visit to the Bulldogs at Copps Coliseum.

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GRADUATION PARTY … Saturday night saw several AHL alumni make a splash in the National Hockey League.

A day after being named the Rbk Edge/AHL Rookie of the Month for January, Brian Boyle made his NHL debut for Los Angeles and recorded a goal and an assist in a 6-3 loss at New Jersey. Boyle currently leads all AHL rookies with 21 goals for Manchester this season.

Robbie Earl, the third-leading scorer on the Toronto Marlies with 33 points in 44 games, made his NHL debut on Hockey Night in Canada and assisted on the game-winning goal in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 4-2 victory over Ottawa.

Derick Brassard, who had 25 points in 21 AHL games earlier this season for Syracuse, netted his first career NHL goal for Columbus in a 4-1 loss to Minnesota.

And 2008 AHL All-Star T.J. Hensick scored twice for Colorado on Saturday in a 6-4 win at St. Louis.

FLAMES TAKING IT FOR GRANT-ED … Quad City forward Grant Stevenson extended his scoring streak to 13 games with three points in a two-game set at Houston last weekend. Stevenson has 13 goals and 10 assists during the streak, giving him points on 23 of 36 Flames goals over that span.

Stevenson, the grandson of Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall, has vaulted to fifth in the AHL scoring race with 54 points and second with 25 goals, both already career highs for the fifth-year pro.

FLY AWAY … The Springfield Falcons have found themselves a home away from home, about 100 miles to the northeast. The Falcons have dropped 10 of their last 15 road contests (5-8-1-1), but all five wins in that time have come at the Paul E. Tsongas Arena against the Lowell Devils.

Springfield, which is 8-5-2-4 this season in road games against Atlantic Division rivals, will not pay another visit to Lowell in 2007-08, but the Falcons do have one more trip to Providence scheduled; the Falcons are 2-1-0-1 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, handing the Bruins two of their five home losses all season.

ETC. … Three-time Stanley Cup champion Darren McCarty, who spent the 1992-93 season in the AHL as a rookie with the Adirondack Red Wings, has signed a tryout with the Grand Rapids Griffins… Keith Aucoin had five points (5a) in Albany’s 5-2 win over Syracuse on Friday, tying a franchise record held by Patrik Elias, Brendan Morrison and Steve Sullivan, among others… New Syracuse Crunch forward Mark Rycroft’s father, Al, put up 56 points in 70 games for the AHL’s Syracuse Eagles in 1974-75… Including his 4-0-0 mark this season, Providence goaltender Jordan Sigalet is 23-5-3 lifetime in the regular season at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center… Peoria captain Aaron MacKenzie skated in his 300th professional game – all in the AHL, all in the St. Louis Blues organization – on Friday night vs. Rockford… Duncan Milroy’s goal with 52 seconds left in regulation at Manitoba on Friday snapped Hamilton’s team scoring drought at 199:55; Milroy later scored in the shootout to lift the Bulldogs to a 2-1 win over the Moose, and he added the winning goal in Saturday’s 2-0 rematch victory… Rockford had a 15-game road points streak (10-0-1-4) come to an end in a 4-2 loss at Chicago on Saturday… Norfolk’s 4-3 victory at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday snapped the Admirals’ 17-game regular-season winless streak at the Wachovia Arena… Bridgeport is 7-0 in shootouts this season, converting on 17 of 28 attempts (60.7 percent) while stopping 25 of 31 (80.6 percent); the league success rate for shooters this season is 33.1 percent… The AHL’s eight West Division teams are a combined 70-31-2-6 (.710 points percentage) in games outside their division… Former Hershey Bears goaltender and current Manchester Monarchs general manager Ron Hextall is being inducted into the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame on Wednesday.