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AHL Weekly Release: Teams ready for second half


WEEKLY RELEASE #16

ahl06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The two star-packed nights in Worcester are over, and with the successful 2009 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Charter Communications now behind us, the American Hockey League is set to resume its 73rd season as the road to the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs kicks into high gear.

The Hershey Bears have set the pace in the AHL all season and currently lead the circuit with a record of 32-12-0-3 (67 points), good for a 10-point cushion atop the East Division. The Bears’ league-leading offense is averaging 3.89 goals per game and has scored at least seven goals in a game on seven occasions. Hershey is home to the AHL’s top two scorers in Keith Aucoin (17-43-60) and Alexandre Giroux (36-20-56), who comes out of the All-Star break on a 22-game scoring streak.

Bridgeport and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are tied for second in the East Division with 57 points apiece, with fourth-place Philadelphia (54 points) and fifth-place Binghamton (52 points) in close pursuit. The Phantoms have won six of their last seven contests (6-1-0-0) and are in the midst of a five-game homestand.

Manitoba won six straight games prior to the All-Star break and leads the North Division at 32-13-0-2 (66 points), but the Moose have not been able to shake second-place Grand Rapids (28-9-6-3, 65 points), which has been buoyed by a 17-3-3-3 record on home ice. Third-place Hamilton is seven points back of the Moose, and Toronto currently owns the fourth spot with 51 points. Syracuse, which suffered through a 1-8-1-1 December, has rebounded to go 7-2-1-0 in its last 10 games and pull just two points back of the Marlies.

Providence, last season’s regular-season points champion, is back atop the Atlantic Division at the All-Star break this season with a record of 25-18-2-1 (53 points), but four other teams are each within five points of the Bruins. Portland and Hartford are tied for second place with 51 points, Worcester occupies fourth with 50 points, and Lowell sits just two points back of the Sharks for the division’s final playoff entry.

Milwaukee (29-12-2-2) enjoys the most comfortable lead of any division leader in the AHL, 12 points up on the tightly packed field in the West. The Admirals went on a 9-0-2-1 tear from Dec. 21 to Jan. 13 and won 10 straight games at the Bradley Center from Nov. 16 to Jan. 3. Behind Milwaukee, just nine points separate the division’s other seven teams, five of which are above the .500 mark. Rockford and Houston are tied for second at 50 points apiece, with Iowa (49), Peoria (48), and Chicago (47) hot on their heels. San Antonio, which had two wins when the calendar hit December, is 18-7-0-0 since to close to within eight points of a playoff spot.

The AHL’s regular season resumes on Thursday with five games. West Division battles pit Iowa at Chicago and Quad City at Houston, while Binghamton visits San Antonio for the teams’ first-ever meeting. In other action, Norfolk hosts Albany, and Rockford travels to Manitoba for the first of a two-game set north of the border.

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ALL-STAR CLASSIC FOR THE RECORD BOOKS … Numerous changes will be forthcoming in the AHL record book following the 2009 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Charter Communications.

A slew of records were broken in Monday’s All-Star Game. PlanetUSA’s nine-goal third period and 14 goals overall were both records, as were the 25 combined goals by the two squads. Philadelphia’s Jared Ross was named MVP after tallying a record six assists and seven points, and Houston’s Corey Locke registered the first four-goal game in event history. Following his hat trick in 2008, Teddy Purcell racked up five assists and now shows eight points (3-5-8) in two All-Star appearances, tying him with Locke, Martin St. Pierre and John Slaney atop the career scoring list.

Houston’s Barry Brust registered the first-ever assist by a goaltender in an AHL All-Star Game, earning a helper on regular-season teammate Locke’s goal in the second period.

In Sunday’s Skills Competition, Milwaukee’s Mike Santorelli became just the third player in event history to go a perfect 4-for-4 in the accuracy shooting, joining Gabe Gauthier (2008) and current New York Islanders forward Andy Hilbert (2005).

SCHNEIDER SHINES IN WORCESTER … Massachusetts native and former Boston College standout Cory Schneider made the most of his return to his home state for the All-Star Classic, putting up impressive numbers on both nights of the event.

Schneider, from the town of Marblehead on Boston’s North Shore, set an AHL record with 18 saves on 19 shots to earn the Reebok Top Goaltender award at the Skills Competition on Sunday. The Manitoba Moose’s only representative at the event stopped nine of 10 shots in the Rapid Fire event before going a perfect 3-for-3 in the Pass and Score and 6-for-6 in the Breakaway Relay.

Schneider then started for the PlanetUSA squad in Monday’s All-Star Game and stopped 13 of 16 shots in the opening period. The 22-year-old former first-round draft pick of Vancouver enters the post-break schedule atop the AHL in goals-against average (1.61) and save percentage (.940) while going 16-2-0 in 19 appearances for the Moose.

STREAKING INTO THE SECOND HALF … A handful of AHL All-Stars will resume their regular-season schedules looking to extend lengthy scoring streaks. The list is headlined by Alexandre Giroux’s 22-game run, which is the longest in the league since Darren Haydar’s record 39-game streak in the 2006-07 campaign.

Worcester’s Ryan Vesce took a 13-game scoring streak (7-13-20) into the All-Star break, and he scored his league-leading fourth overtime goal of the season on Friday in Springfield. Another pair of All-Stars each has a point in eight consecutive games – Syracuse’s Derek MacKenzie (3-5-8) and Hartford’s Artem Anisimov (5-6-11), who has also found the scoresheet in 15 of his last 16 outings (10-12-22).

ETC. … A total of 173,891 fans attended the maximum 28 AHL games across North America on Friday and Saturday – an average of 6,210 per game over the weekend… Despite facing an average of 40.9 shots per game over his last seven outings, Philadelphia goaltender Scott Munroe is 6-1-0 in that span… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton second-year pro Mark Letestu has a goal in a career-high five straight games (5-1-6)… Manitoba (eight games) and San Antonio (five games) are currently riding franchise record-setting road winning streaks; the Rampage kick off a 13-game road trip on Saturday in Worcester… Syracuse’s 6-3 triumph over Hamilton on Jan. 19 was the Crunch’s 500th win in franchise history… Rochester’s David Brine beat Manitoba goaltender Curtis Sanford on a penalty shot Friday, just the 12th successful attempt of the season in 43 penalty shot tries across the league… Portland’s Mathieu Darche shows 14 goals for the season, seven of them for game-winners… Hershey defenseman Bryan Helmer hasn’t scored a regular-season goal since Mar. 20, 2008, but he netted one in Monday’s All-Star Game… Quad City blueliner Brett Palin, who had one goal in 209 games over his first three AHL seasons, has scored four this year – not counting the one he potted in Worcester on Monday… Last season, 14 of the 16 teams who hit the All-Star break in a playoff position went on to qualify for the postseason.

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