AHL Weekly Release: Puck drops on 71st season

ahl.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … An exciting beginning to the American Hockey League’s 71st season saw a reversal of fortune as the long road to the 2007 Calder Cup championship got underway. Teams that missed last spring’s Calder Cup postseason got off to a quick start in 2006-07, going a combined 11-4-1-1 out of the gate.
The Rochester Americans, who failed to qualify for the playoffs last year for the first time since 1989, were impressive in opening their season with wins over Albany and Manitoba , outscoring their two opponents by a 12-3 margin. Drew Stafford, a first-round draft pick by Buffalo in 2004, picked up two goals and an assist in his pro debut on Friday, while Daniel Paille, a 2002 first-rounder, leads the club with five points in the two games.
Also on Friday night, the San Antonio Rampage opened their fifth season with a 5-4 overtime victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins, last year’s regular-season champions in the AHL. The parent Phoenix Coyotes have given the Rampage a makeover in 2006-07, adding veteran leaders like 2006 league MVP Donald MacLean and Second Team AHL All-Star defenseman Bryan Helmer to a cast of bright prospects that includes Matt Jones, Matthew Spiller, rookie Enver Lisin and goaltender David LeNeveu.
The Philadelphia Phantoms and Hamilton Bulldogs, bystanders when the postseason came around six months ago, posted wins in their 2006-07 openers on Friday. And the Worcester Sharks debuted with a 4-3 shootout win at the reigning Atlantic Division champion Portland Pirates; San Jose ’s AHL club in Cleveland failed to qualify for the AHL postseason in both 2005 and 2006 before moving to Worcester this fall.
On Saturday night, the Springfield Falcons held on for a 3-2 win at Hartford, the Chicago Wolves handed Peoria a 5-0 setback, the Albany River Rats struck for a 5-3 decision at Lowell, the Binghamton Senators opened their campaign with a 4-1 victory over Syracuse and the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights thumped the defending Western Conference champions in Milwaukee, 7-1, in the Admirals’ opener.
The week ahead begins on Thursday night when the Iowa Stars (2-0-0-0) open the home portion of their second season entertaining the Houston Aeros. Other home openers on tap for this weekend will be taking place in Manitoba , Norfolk , Providence and Syracuse on Friday, and in Albany , Chicago , Grand Rapids and Worcester on Saturday.

FACE LIFT FOR THEAHL.COM … The beginning of the 2006-07 season also brought a new look for the official Web site of the American Hockey League, theahl.com. Partnering with Infinity Pro Sports, the AHL has made over its internet home with a bold new look, easier navigation and improved content. The re-design went live on Oct. 4, coinciding with the launch of the AHL’s 71st season.
WELCOME TO THE PROS Rochester ’s Drew Stafford (see note above) was one of several AHL rookies to begin his professional career on the right foot over the weekend.
Omaha forward Dustin Boyd, Calgary ’s third-round pick in the 2004 NHL draft, recorded five points in his first two games, including two assists in the first period of his debut on Friday at Peoria . Portland ’s Drew Miller, who skated in one postseason game for the Pirates last spring, tallied a goal and three assists in his second regular-season contest, a 7-2 win over Providence on Saturday night. Bridgeport’s Blake Comeau also got his feet wet during the 2006 playoffs, but made his regular-season pro debut on Sunday and dished out four assists in the Sound Tigers’ 5-3 win at Binghamton.
ROSTER REVIEW … The 27 AHL team rosters submitted to the league office on opening day included 687 players, from Abid ( Milwaukee ’s Ramzi) to Zingoni ( Philadelphia ’s Peter). The average age of an AHL player to start the 2006-07 season was 24 years and 3 months; the youngest player in the league is 18-year-old Toronto forward Jiri Tlusty, the Maple Leafs’ first-round pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft who was born on Mar. 16, 1988.
Tlusty was one of 10 teenagers on opening-night rosters in the AHL; five other players turned 20 during training camp. All told, 292 American Hockey League players (42.5 percent) were 22 years old and under as of Oct. 4, and 450 (65.5 percent) were under the age of 25.


  • Stefan Ruzicka picked up a natural hat trick in Philadelphia ’s 5-4 win over Norfolk on Friday, including the game-tying goal at of the third period and the winner 15 seconds into overtime
  • Carl Corazzini had two shorthanded goals in that game for the Admirals
  • Brad Moran scored a goal in each of Manitoba ’s four road games to start the season, including his 100th career AHL tally on Friday night at Hamilton
  • Alexander Radulov, last year’s Canadian major junior player of the year, scored a goal in his pro debut for Milwaukee on Saturday night
  • Hershey began its Calder Cup defense by defeating Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday, 7-4; the last time the Bears scored seven goals on opening night was at Rochester in 1988, also coming off a Calder Cup championship
  • Friday’s 6-0 win over Albany marked just the fourth time in 51 years that Rochester posted a shutout in its home opener
  • Worcester netted the game-tying goal in the final minute of regulation in each of its first two games; both contests would go to a shootout, with the Sharks going 1-1
  • Sean Burke, who played five seasons with the NHL’s Hartford Whalers from 1992-97, made his AHL debut for Springfield on Saturday and stopped 30 shots in the Falcons’ 3-2 win at Hartford
  • Coincidentally, Wolf Pack head coach Jim Schoenfeld was also Burke’s first NHL head coach with New Jersey in 1987-88
  • Saturday’s loss marked Hartford ’s first opening-night defeat since their inaugural season opener in 1997
  • Former University of New Hampshire teammates Jason Krog (3g, 1a) and Darren Haydar (2g) led Chicago to a 5-0 win at Peoria on Saturday
  • Grand Rapids had won 13 straight overtime decisions on the road (10 regular season, three playoffs) over nearly four years before Saturday’s 5-4 OT loss in San Antonio
  • The Houston Aeros honored hockey great Gordie Howe by retiring his number 9 prior to their game Sunday against Iowa; Howe led Houston to a pair of Avco Cup championships (WHA) during his four seasons with the club.