SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The stars have faded in Toronto, and with the 2007 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic now in the history books, the American Hockey League has resumed its 71st regular season on the road to the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs.
The East Division remains home to three of the top four teams in the entire league, with Norfolk hanging onto the lead over Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Admirals, who are currently on a 13-game home winning streak and own a season record of 25-1-2-0 at Scope, lost two of their top offensive weapons when Brandon Bochenski was traded to the Boston Bruins and Troy Brouwer was recalled by the parent Chicago Blackhawks last week. But Norfolk has still has plenty of able-bodied sailors in its fleet, including Martin St. Pierre, second in the AHL with 70 points in 43 games; Pierre Parenteau and Carl Corazzini, both one goal shy of 20 for the season; and newcomer Kris Versteeg, who ranks third in the league’s rookie scoring race.
Behind the Admirals, Bears and Penguins, Bridgeport currently holds a two-point edge over Albany for the fourth and final playoff position in the East, and Philadelphia (with points in seven of its last nine) sits just six points back.
Despite not having a scorer among the AHL’s top 35, Manchester has reeled off nine consecutive wins to take a 12-point lead over the rest of the Atlantic Division. The Monarchs, 22-4-1-0 since Dec. 3, play three big division games this week at the Verizon Wireless Arena, where they have just one regulation loss in their last 19 outings (15-1-3-0).
The rest of the Atlantic remains close, with 11 points separating Hartford (57), Providence (56), Worcester (55), Lowell (49), Portland (49) and Springfield (46).
After missing the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in 17 years last spring, the Rochester Americans are back atop the North in search of their 15th division championship. The Amerks have won 10 of their last 12 and lead second-place Hamilton by eight points.
Manitoba sits two points behind the Bulldogs, and Grand Rapids, Toronto and Syracuse are battling for fourth place.
In the West Division, Chicago lost AHL scoring leader Darren Haydar to NHL recall by the parent Atlanta Thrashers over the weekend, but the Wolves remain in the hunt for their second division title in three years with a six-point lead over Omaha, thanks to a league-best 21 road victories.
The Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, 10-3-1-0 in their last 14 contests, have four games in hand on Chicago, but have lost five straight meetings head-to-head.
Over the past four years, 68 of the 72 teams who hit the All-Star break in playoff positions went on to qualify for the postseason.
ALL-STAR WRAP … An official scoring change added an assist on the first PlanetUSA goal to Chicago’s Brett Sterling, whose MVP performance now shows two goals and two assists… Sterling is only the second rookie in event history to record at least four points in an All-Star Game (Denis Shvidki, 2001, five points)… PlanetUSA’s 7-6 triumph marked their first regulation victory since the current All-Star Game format was adopted in 1997; the PlanetUSA squad won in shootouts in 1997, 1999 and 2005… Martin St. Pierre followed his two-goal performance in 2006 with a goal and two assists in last week’s game, and his nine shots on goal were an AHL All-Star Game record… The site of the 2008 AHL All-Star Classic will be announced later this month.
SHOOTING STAR … Vojtech Polak set career highs with four goals and six assists in Iowa’s 7-5 win over Milwaukee at the Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday night.
Polak, whose only previous career multiple-goal game came on Nov. 3, 2005 at Houston (2g), scored all three of the Stars’ goals in the third period to secure the win. He also picked up a goal and two assists in a span of 3:07 early in the second period.
The 21-year-old Polak, a second-round draft choice by Dallas in 2003, became the fourth AHL player to score four goals in a game this season.
SPECIAL DELIVERY … Manitoba forward Jason Jaffray, who had a goal and an assist in last Monday’s 2007 AHL All-Star Game, was by his wife Michelle’s side on Saturday morning when she gave birth to their first child, daughter Kennedy.
That evening, Jaffray dished out three assists in the Moose’s 4-3 victory over Chicago at the MTS Centre.
ETC. … Including five last week – Providence’s David Krejci (Boston), Lowell’s Rod Pelley (New Jersey), Syracuse’s Tomas Popperle (Columbus), Rochester’s Martin Lojek (Florida) and Bridgeport’s Drew Fata (N.Y. Islanders) – a total of 96 AHL alumni have made their NHL debuts in 2006-07… Rookie Brett Sterling became the first 40-goal scorer in the AHL this season with a goal in Chicago’s 3-2 overtime win at Manitoba on Friday night… Milwaukee’s Rich Peverley has five goals and three assists in his last four games, moving up to sixth in the AHL’s scoring race… Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton’s first-round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, made 23 saves to get the win in his first AHL start on Saturday, a 5-4 shootout victory by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over Hamilton… Binghamton’s 6-5 win in Albany on Friday night was the Senators’ first regulation win since Dec. 26… Rookie Andrew Ebbett scored two shorthanded goals in the third period of that game, including one on a penalty shot… Corey Crawford established a Norfolk club record with his 28th win of the season vs. Philadelphia on Saturday night, surpassing the mark set in 2001-02 by Michael Leighton – Crawford’s opponent in the Phantoms cage for the record-setting win… Toronto snapped a nine-game home winless slide (0-8-0-1) with a 3-1 win over Springfield on Saturday… Making his first appearance since suffering a broken clavicle in a game on Dec. 20, Frederic Cassivi made 37 saves in Hershey’s 2-1 win at Hartford on Friday… On Thursday, Chris Durno became the third player ever to skate for both the Milwaukee Admirals and the Norfolk Admirals in the same season (Bill Bowler, 2001-02; Scott Reid, 2005-06)… Portland, which set an AHL record with 27 road victories last season, is winless in its last 10 away from home (0-6-2-2) and has just six road W’s in 2006-07, second-fewest in the league… Indianapolis (AHL Capitals, NFL Colts) is the third city ever to win both a Super Bowl and a Calder Cup, following Pittsburgh (Hornets, Steelers) and Chicago (Wolves, Bears).