AHL Weekly Release: River Rats scurry up standings


alb06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … On the morning of Feb. 22, the Albany River Rats were sitting in fifth place in the East Division and preparing to begin a critical stretch of seven games in 10 days. One seven-game winning streak later – including five come-from-behind victories – and they are second in the division, just seven points out of the top spot and sporting their best overall record (35-24-1-3) since the end of the 1998-99 season.

With captain Keith Aucoin on NHL recall to Carolina for the remainder of the season and injuries keeping players like leading scorer Brandon Nolan and touted rookie Bobby Hughes out of the lineup, Albany has turned to their supporting cast as well as some new faces to lead the way.

Jamie Johnson has been Albany’s top scorer during the current winning streak, notching three goals, six assists and a plus-7 rating. In his third AHL season, Johnson has shattered his previous personal bests with 16 goals, 31 assists and 47 points and is the only River Rat to skate in all 63 games so far this year.

After being assigned to Albany by the parent Hurricanes, former AHL All-Star and Willie Marshall Award winner Jeff Hamilton made his Rats debut last week and found the scoresheet in each of his first four games (1g, 4a), and scored the winning goal with 1:06 remaining in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over first-place Philadelphia. Albany native Marc Cavosie also joined the club last week and tallied five points (2g, 3a) in four contests, and former second-round draft pick Kiel McLeod chipped in with two goals and an assist over the weekend in his first three games with Albany.

Jerome Samson is second on the River Rats with 20 goals, and his 12 power-play markers and five game-winning strikes are both tied for the AHL lead among rookies this season. Joe Jensen has five points in 13 games with Albany after tallying four points in 27 contests with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earlier this year. Jakub Petruzalek has registered 37 points on the year, already surpassing the 30 points he put up as a rookie in 2006-07. And rookie defenseman Casey Borer leads the entire team with a plus/minus rating of plus-14, and is one of 12 River Rats to also play in the NHL for Carolina this season.

Albany continues to get some of the best goaltending in the league as well, with 2008 AHL All-Star Michael Leighton leading the AHL in save percentage (.931) while ranking fourth in GAA (2.12) and second in shutouts (five). Stablemate Justin Peters, a second-round draft choice by Carolina in 2004, has won five of his six AHL decisions this season.

With six weeks remaining in the regular season, Albany is bidding for its second consecutive Calder Cup Playoff appearance under head coach Tom Rowe since becoming the Hurricanes’ top affiliate. The River Rats return to action on Wednesday night in search of their first eight-game winning streak since February 1998, as they visit the Binghamton Senators at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. Albany plays 11 of its final 17 games away from home.

THE EXPERIENCE IS CLEAR … The Clear Day lists submitted last week feature 50 players who have won a Calder Cup championship in their careers, including 14 members of last year’s Hamilton Bulldogs title team who are preparing for another Calder Cup run:

Lawrence Nycholat, BNG (2006)
Mark Wotton, BRI (2006)
Darren Haydar, CHI (2004)
Mark Cullen, GRA (2003)
Francis Lemieux, GRA (2007)
Andrew Archer, HAM (2007)
Ajay Baines, HAM (2007)
Mathieu Biron, HAM (2007)
Kyle Chipchura, HAM (2007)
Matt D’Agostini, HAM (2007)
Yann Danis, HAM (2007)
Jonathan Ferland, HAM (2007)
Corey Locke, HAM (2007)
Eric Manlow, HAM (2007)
Duncan Milroy, HAM (2007)
Josh Gratton, HFD (2005)
Andrew Hutchinson, HFD (2004)
Francis Lessard, HFD (2002)
Dean Arsene, HER (2006)
Chris Bourque, HER (2006)
Frederic Cassivi, HER (02, 06)
Eric Fehr, HER (2006)
Jason Morgan, HER (2001)
Louis Robitaille, HER (2006)
Erik Reitz, HOU (2003)
Dan Jancevski, IOW (2007)
Dale Purinton, LEM (2000)
Wyatt Smith, LEM (2004)
Greg Classen, MTB (2004)
Danny Groulx, MTB (2007)
Marc Denis, NOR (1997)
Alexandre Picard, NOR (2005)
Brandon Segal, NOR (2004)
Kyle Wanvig, NOR (2003)
Micki DuPont, PEO (2001)
Jean-Guy Trudel, PEO (2003)
Boyd Kane, PHI (05, 06)
Jeff Hoggan, PRO (2003)
Wade Flaherty, RFD (2004)
Bryan Helmer, SAN (1995)
Travis Roche, SAN (2003)
Joey Tenute, SAN (2006)
Ben Simon, SPR (2002)
Zack Stortini, SPR (2007)
David Cullen, SYR (2003)
Derek MacKenzie, SYR (2002)
Dan Smith, SYR (1997)
Derrick Walser, TOR (2001)
Deryk Engelland, WBS (2006)
Graham Mink, WOR (2006)

Additionally, 10 AHL head coaches – Chicago’s John Anderson, Grand Rapids’ Mike Stothers, Hamilton’s Don Lever, Hartford’s Ken Gernander, Hershey’s Bob Woods, Milwaukee’s Lane Lambert, Philadelphia’s Craig Berube, Rochester’s Randy Cunneyworth, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Todd Richards and Worcester’s Roy Sommer – have won Calder Cups as players, head coaches and/or assistant coaches.

There are also nine AHL players who have won Stanley Cups in their careers: Chicago’s Joe Motzko (2007), Grand Rapids’ Darren McCarty (1997, 1998, 2002), Hartford’s Andrew Hutchinson (2006), Houston’s Steve Kelly (2000), Lowell’s Grant Marshall (1999, 2003) and Richard Matvichuk (1999), Manchester’s Jon Klemm (1996), Manitoba’s Mike Keane (1993, 1996, 1999) and Portland’s Drew Miller (2007).

AHL standings
Scores and schedules
League leaders

ETC. … Chicago (42-14-2-1) defeated Providence (42-14-2-1) on Sunday, 4-1, to pull into a flat-footed tie with the Bruins atop the overall AHL standings… Rochester head coach Randy Cunneyworth earned his 300th career AHL victory – all with the Americans – with a 5-3 decision over Iowa on Sunday evening… The Amerks’ Marc-Andre Gragnani, who moved from defense to wing earlier this season, enters the week on a 10-game scoring streak, tied for the longest by an AHL rookie this season… Connecticut native Jonathan Quick made 37 saves in Manchester’s 2-1 win at Hartford on Saturday… Four of Iowa goalie Tobias Stephan’s five wins in February came via shutout… Hamilton defeated Hershey on Saturday, 3-2, in the teams’ first meeting since the 2007 Calder Cup Finals… Albany’s 2-1 win over Philadelphia on Sunday marked the first time all season that the Phantoms lost a game when leading after two periods (24-1-0-0)… Houston, winners of four in a row, kicks off a nine-game homestand Tuesday vs. Providence… Quad City set an AHL record by participating in its 17th shootout of the season on Saturday at Manitoba.