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AHL Weekly Release: Tabulating the votes

WEEKLY RELEASE #25

ahl06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … With ballots from coaches, players and media due today, the American Hockey League begins handing out individual awards this week in recognition of its outstanding performers during the 2008-09 season.

Several sets of teammates are among the frontrunners for the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award, given annually to the AHL’s outstanding rookie. Portland’s Tim Kennedy leads all first-year players with 59 points in 66 games, while fellow Pirate Nathan Gerbe has recorded 50 points in 50 AHL contests. Providence’s Brad Marchand and Mikko Lehtonen as well as Hamilton’s Ben Maxwell and David Desharnais are also near the top of the AHL rookie scoring race. Hershey’s Oskar Osala is tied for third among rookies with 23 goals, and Bears defensemen Karl Alzner leads league freshmen with a plus-27 rating.

Alzner is also in the hunt for the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s outstanding defenseman, an honor that has never gone to a rookie blueliner. He and Hershey teammate Sami Lepisto are tied for third in the AHL in plus/minus, behind only the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton duo of Ben Lovejoy (+43) and Joey Mormina (+38). Providence’s Johnny Boychuk leads all AHL defensemen in goals (20), assists (43) and points (63), and Danny Syvret has more than doubled his previous career high with 50 points for Philadelphia.

Manitoba’s Cory Schneider has been stating his case for the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award as the league’s outstanding goaltender since rattling off 13 consecutive wins over the first half of the season. Schneider (28-7-1) ranks first in goals-against average (1.89) and save percentage (.932) and is tied for second with five shutouts. Milwaukee’s Drew MacIntyre, Providence’s Tuukka Rask and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s John Curry share the league lead with 31 wins apiece, and five rookies are currently among the top 10 in GAA: Bridgeport’s Nathan Lawson (2.10), Milwaukee’s Mark Dekanich (2.14), Hartford’s Matt Zaba (2.29), Quad City’s Leland Irving (2.32) and Hershey’s Simeon Varlamov (2.40).

The winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach traditionally parlays the honor into further success; recent winners include current NHL head coaches Scott Gordon, Claude Julien and Barry Trotz and current NHL assistants Mike Haviland, Randy Cunneyworth, Claude Noel and Geoff Ward.

The award announcements began last week when the AHL revealed the 29 teams’ finalists for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as the AHL’s Man of the Year. The 2008-09 AHL All-Rookie Team will be announced on Wednesday, and the First and Second All-Star Teams will be unveiled on Thursday.

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WOLF PACK MAKE IT A DOZEN … The Hartford Wolf Pack have clinched a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the 12th consecutive year, the longest active streak in the AHL.

The Wolf Pack, who have finished below second place in their division only once (third in 2002-03), have a two-point lead over Providence atop the Atlantic with six games remaining for both teams, including this Friday’s get-together at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

CRUNCH TIME IN THE NORTH … Playing their eighth game in 10 days, the Syracuse Crunch pulled out a 4-3 shootout victory at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto on Sunday evening, catching the Marlies for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division.

Nikita Filatov, who had 10 points to help Syracuse to a 5-3-0-0 mark during the eight-game stretch, scored twice in regulation and once in the shootout on Sunday as the Crunch moved to 38 wins and 82 points on the year. The teams are tied in points but Toronto has two fewer victories; both clubs have played 75 games.

PHANTOMS’ PULSE STILL BEATING … With a 6-2-0-2 mark over the last 16 days, the Philadelphia Phantoms have made up significant ground in their chase for a playoff berth in the East Division.

The Phantoms, who will leave Philadelphia after this season with the impending closing of the Wachovia Spectrum, trailed fourth-place Binghamton by 12 points on the morning of Mar. 14. Now, Philly is just four points back with seven games remaining, including three this weekend against last-place Norfolk.

Jonathan Matsumoto and Rob Sirianni led Philadelphia to a two-game sweep of Grand Rapids in their most recent action. Each scored three goals in Saturday’s 7-4 victory over the Griffins – the first Phantoms teammates ever to record hat tricks in the same game – and each found the net again in Sunday’s 4-1 win.

ETC. … Milwaukee clinched its third West Division title in six years with a 5-2 win at Chicago on Sunday… The Admirals drew 15,602 fans to their game at the Bradley Center on Saturday, the largest crowd in the AHL this season… Grand Rapids and Hamilton, who appear destined for a first-round playoff meeting out of the North Division, will play each other three times over the final 10 days of the regular season… Alexandre Giroux scored twice in Hershey’s 7-2 win over Bridgeport on Saturday, giving him the Bears franchise record with 54 goals on the year… Keith Aucoin had two goals and three assists in that win for his third five-point game of the season… Kevin Dineen won his 190th game (including playoffs) as Portland’s head coach on Friday, surpassing Barry Trotz for the franchise lead… Steve Regier had gone 22 games without a goal before scoring in each of Peoria’s three contests last week… Making his pro debut out of the University of Maine, defenseman Matt Duffy recorded a goal and three assists in three games for Rochester last week… Last year’s AHL scoring champion Jason Krog is 11 points off the scoring lead with five games remaining; the last player to win back-to-back scoring titles was Peter White in 1997 and 1998… Iowa was 0-8 in shootouts before scratching out its first win vs. Milwaukee on Saturday; the Chops then fell to 1-9 with a shootout loss to Quad City on Sunday.