SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Coming up on the midway point of the 2007-08 season, the San Antonio Rampage are approaching uncharted waters as they bid for their first Calder Cup Playoffs berth since 2003.
In their first season under head coach Greg Ireland, whose career AHL head coaching record now stands at 129-86-13 (.594), the Rampage sit nine games over .500 at 20-11-2-3, matching the franchise’s high-water mark last achieved in March 2003 during the club’s inaugural campaign. San Antonio has won three in a row and seven of its last 10, and currently trails only Rockford and Chicago in the West Division’s eight-team horse race.
Matt Murley, who ranked second on the Albany River Rats in scoring in 2006-07, leads the Rampage with 23 assists and 30 points through 36 games, including seven points in his last three outings. A former second-round draft pick by Pittsburgh who has played 59 career NHL games with the Penguins, Murley was a Calder Cup finalist with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2004.
Another experienced newcomer to the Rampage is Joey Tenute, whose first two AHL seasons resulted in two Calder Cup Finals appearances and a championship with Hershey in 2006. Tenute paces San Antonio with 15 goals this year and has scored four game-winners, one off the league lead.
Joel Perrault has recorded 27 points, already just one shy of his personal high for a single AHL season, while adding three goals and an assist in 11 games for the parent Phoenix Coyotes. He is one of nine Rampage players to earn NHL recalls this season, a group that also includes Bill Thomas and Enver Lisin, who have identical 11-11-22 totals for San Antonio.
Travis Roche, who skated in 50 NHL games for Phoenix a year ago, has 22 points and a plus-10 rating on the Rampage blue line. Brendan Bell, Keith Yandle, Ryan Caldwell and Bryan Helmer also bring NHL experience to San Antonio’s corps of defensemen. A once-crowded goaltending situation has worked itself out and second-year pro Josh Tordjman and former AHL All-Star David LeNeveu have emerged as a strong tandem for the Rampage.
San Antonio is 12-5-2-1 at the AT&T Center midway through its home schedule, and is two games into a seven-game homestand that will lead into the team’s annual month-long road haul while the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo takes over the arena. The Rampage are next in action on Friday when they host in-state rival Houston.
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OKPOSO TO THE SOUND … The New York Islanders have assigned forward Kyle Okposo, the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, to Bridgeport, where he is expected to make his professional debut with the Sound Tigers this weekend.
The 19-year-old Okposo, a WCHA Second Team All-Star as a freshman at the University of Minnesota last season, recorded six points in six games for the United States at the recent 2008 World Junior Championships.
ALL-STAR COACHING BERTH UP FOR GRABS … Two teams remain mathematically in the race to send their coaches to the 2008 AHL All-Star Classic. The team with the best points percentage at the end of play on Sunday, January 13, will have its staff lead the PlanetUSA squad in Binghamton later this month. Providence, with head coach Scott Gordon and assistant Rob Murray, are in the lead with a league-best .824 mark (29-5-2-1), while Toronto, led by head coach Greg Gilbert and assistants Joe Paterson and Jim Hughes, sports a .771 points percentage (25-6-0-4) entering the week.
Both teams are in action three times before Sunday’s deadline. Providence hosts Worcester (Friday), visits Portland (Saturday) and entertains Springfield (Sunday); Toronto kicks off an eight-game road trip in Milwaukee (Thursday), Rockford (Friday) and Chicago (Saturday).
By virtue of winning the Calder Cup championship in 2007, Hamilton head coach Don Lever and assistant coach Ron Wilson will guide the Canadian AHL All-Star team.
ETC. … Milwaukee’s line of Rich Peverley, John Vigilante and Matt Ellison combined for 11 points and a plus-12 rating in the Admirals’ 5-3 win over Rockford on Dec. 31, the IceHogs’ first regulation loss in 17 games… Jeff Tambellini has scored a goal in seven straight games and 11 of his last 12 for Bridgeport… Former Admiral Darren Haydar netted a hat trick in Chicago’s 6-3 win at Milwaukee on Saturday, spoiling the night for 13,843 in attendance at the Bradley Center… Niko Dimitrakos recorded two goals and an assist in regulation and two goals in the shootout to lead Binghamton past Manchester on Saturday night… Eric Manlow recorded his 400th career AHL point in Hamilton’s 4-1 win over Grand Rapids on Friday, becoming the sixth player to reach that milestone this season… Toronto’s Justin Pogge is 19-5-3 in his last 27 decisions at Ricoh Coliseum, including 9-1-2 this season… Providence’s Tuukka Rask has made 13 of his 17 AHL starts this season away from the Dunkin’ Donuts Center… Two former Calder Cup winning goaltenders made their returns to the AHL last week as Marc Denis (Hershey, 1997) joined Norfolk and John Grahame (Providence, 1999) suited up for Albany… Lowell rookie Trevor Kell picked up a goal and an assist in his AHL debut on Jan. 2 and has recorded a point in each of his first three games with the Devils… Behind Gilbert Brule’s hat trick, Syracuse defeated Albany, 6-1, on Friday night in the franchises’ 100th regular-season meeting… Norfolk is 0-7-1-1 when scoring exactly three goals in a game, but 5-2-0-0 when scoring exactly two goals… Between Norfolk last season and Rockford this year, the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliates finished calendar year 2007 with a record of 48-21-5-6 (.669)… Houston had been 9-0-0-1 in its previous 10 home games before a 3-1 loss to Iowa on Friday… Providence suffered its first shootout loss in seven tries this season, dropping a 4-3 decision to Worcester on Saturday.