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AHL Weekly Release: Road to the playoffs resumes

WEEKLY RELEASE #17

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The stars have faded in Binghamton and with the 2008 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Reebok now behind us, the American Hockey League is set to resume its 72nd regular season as the road to the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs kicks into high gear.

The Providence Bruins continue to lead the AHL with a record of 34-8-2-1 (71 points) and are on pace for 60 wins and 126 points, both of which would be all-time league records. Providence has nearly identical records at home (17-4-1-0) and on the road (17-4-1-1), and although they only have one scorer among the AHL’s top 20, the B’s rank second in the league in offense averaging 3.60 goals per game. Providence is also first in the league in shots on goal taken (34.3) and first in fewest shots allowed (24.5), and has only been outshot in a game four times through 45 contests.

Behind Providence in the Atlantic Division, second-place Portland leads third-place Hartford by just one point. The Pirates are 13-2-1-2 since Dec. 21, while the Wolf Pack are an impressive 11-2-1-1 in their last 15 road games. In the race for fourth place, just five points separate Springfield, Manchester and Worcester.

Philadelphia raced out to a quick lead in the East Division with 13 wins in their first 15 games, but the pack has made up significant ground since then. The next five teams are neck-and-neck, with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Hershey and Albany all tied at 54 points, seven back of the Phantoms. Binghamton sits three points behind that trio, and sixth-place Bridgeport has 47 points while bringing a three-game winning streak out of the All-Star break.

The AHL’s largest division is also arguably the best from top to bottom. Seven of the eight clubs in the West are above .500, and eighth-place Iowa is just four points out of a postseason spot as a potential crossover within the Western Conference could see five West Division teams qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs. At the top, Rockford is three points ahead of Chicago, but the Wolves have four games in hand. Another Illinois team, Peoria, is only two points behind the Wolves thanks largely to a 17-4-2-1 road record.

Toronto has the most comfortable lead of any division leader in the AHL, 16 points up on the rest of the field in the North. The Marlies did not lose their first game in regulation until Nov. 17, and their 30-9-1-4 mark already gives them just four fewer wins than they had all of last season. Manitoba sits second at 49 points, with Syracuse (47), Hamilton (44) and Grand Rapids (43) in close pursuit.

The regular season resumes on Thursday when Peoria hosts Grand Rapids and San Antonio visits Lake Erie.

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PACKING THEM IN … The schedule for the final two nights before the All-Star break was filled with the maximum 28 games, and a total of 187,382 fans caught the action in AHL arenas on Friday and Saturday – an average of 6,692 per game over the weekend.

Great crowds on Friday included more than 8,000 in Manitoba and Rochester, better than 9,300 in Providence and 11,208 in Philadelphia. Saturday’s attendance figures included season highs in Norfolk (5,686), Springfield (6,504), Bridgeport (6,728), Toronto (7,219), Peoria (7,658) and Hershey (10,742). Hartford (7,409), Manchester (8,715) and Grand Rapids (9,802) drew their largest crowds since opening night on Saturday, and there were crowds of over 9,000 in Houston and Lake Erie as well.

ROOKIE STARS LIGHT UP BINGHAMTON … The top two point producers at Monday’s AHL All-Star Game are also two of the top rookies in the American Hockey League this season. Teddy Purcell of the Manchester Monarchs registered the fourth hat trick in event history and added the decisive shootout goal in the Canadians’ 9-8 victory, while T.J. Hensick of the Lake Erie Monsters put up two goals and two assists in the losing effort for PlanetUSA.

Purcell’s performance made him the second straight rookie to capture All-Star Game MVP honors. Last year’s winner, Brett Sterling of the Chicago Wolves, went on to claim the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as the outstanding rookie in the AHL for the 2006-07 season.

REWRITING THE RECORD BOOK … Several changes will need to be made in the AHL record book following the 2008 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Reebok.

In Sunday’s Skills Competition, Rochester’s Mark Mancari blasted a slap shot at 102.8 miles per hour to win the hardest shot event, shattering the previous event record of 101.0 set by current Minnesota Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster in 2003. Manchester’s Gabe Gauthier then went 4-for-4 in the accuracy shooting contest, a perfect score achieved previously only by current New York Islanders forward Andy Hilbert in 2005.

On Monday, Iowa’s Toby Petersen scored on the first penalty shot attempt in AHL All-Star Game history, and he and Joey Tenute combined for the fastest two goals ever (eight seconds). Teddy Purcell tied a record with his three goals, and Rockford’s Martin St. Pierre tied John Slaney as the all-time leading scorer in event history with eight career points.

ETC.Drew MacIntyre earned the win in Monday’s AHL All-Star Game, flew cross-continent from Binghamton to Vancouver, and stopped 10 of 11 shots in a relief appearance for the Canucks vs. Dallas on Tuesday… Daniel Taylor has posted three consecutive shutouts for Manchester, and his run of 185:36 of scoreless hockey is less than two periods shy of Travis Scott’s franchise record (219:37)… Quad City’s Grant Stevenson reached the All-Star break on an 11-game scoring streak, with 20 points (12g, 8a) in that time… Hartford rookie Brodie Dupont snapped a 24-game goalless drought with a tally in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Providence… Three of the Bruins’ eight regulation losses this season have been shutouts… Jeff Tambellini has 20 goals in his last 22 games for Bridgeport, and he netted the tying goal for the Canadians in Monday’s AHL All-Star Game… Rockford’s Martin St. Pierre had points in 24 of his last 25 AHL games before being recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday… Houston owned a 20-1 edge in third-period shots vs. San Antonio on Saturday, but the Rampage’s only shot resulted in Daniel Carcillo’s game-winning goal… Former Stanley Cup champion Jeff Friesen has recorded a goal and four assists in five games for Lake Erie since making his AHL debut on Jan. 19.