AHL Weekly Release: The envelopes, please…

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League begins handing out individual awards this week in recognition of its outstanding performers during the 2006-07 season.

The AHL’s rookie class of 2007 offers plenty of worthy candidates for the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award, including the top two goal-scorers in the entire league in Chicago’s Brett Sterling (52) and Norfolk’s Troy Brouwer (40) and the top-ranked goaltender in the AHL in Hamilton’s Jaroslav Halak (2.00 GAA). David Krejci of Providence, Kris Versteeg of Norfolk, Nathan Oystrick of Chicago, Ryan Callahan of Hartford and Omaha teammates Andrei Taratukhin and Dustin Boyd are also having standout debut seasons.

Halak’s impressive numbers also make him one of the leading candidates for the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award as the league’s outstanding goaltender. Manchester’s Jason LaBarbera, who won the award in 2003-04, ranks second in the AHL with a 2.20 GAA, first in save percentage (.933), first in shutouts (seven) and tied for first in wins (36) while playing more minutes than any other goalie in the league. Norfolk’s Corey Crawford, Manitoba’s Drew MacIntyre, Omaha’s Curtis McElhinney, Hartford’s Al Montoya and Hershey’s Frederic Cassivi all have their teams either in or near first place.

In the race for the Eddie Shore Award, presented annually to the AHL’s best defenseman, previous winners Curtis Murphy of Houston (2003, 2004) and Andy Delmore of Chicago (2006) are again having noteworthy seasons. Milwaukee’s Sheldon Brookbank (48 points), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Micki DuPont (16 goals) and Chicago’s Brian Sipotz (plus-32) are all on top of one of the league’s leaderboards among blueliners.

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 Peter Laviolette, Barry Trotz, Marc Crawford and Glen Hanlon. Among the leading candidates this season are several rookie bench bosses, including Mark Morris in Manchester, Todd Richards in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Scott Arniel in Manitoba and Kurt Kleinendorst in Lowell.

The award announcements began today when the AHL revealed the 27 finalists for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as the AHL’s Man of the Year. The 2006-07 AHL All-Rookie Team will be announced on Wednesday, and the First and Second All-Star Teams will be unveiled on Thursday.

ALL BY MYSELF … Portland Pirates forward Joe Motzko set an American Hockey League record on Saturday night when he potted his 11th unassisted goal of the season. Motzko’s feat is even more impressive considering no other player in the AHL this season has more than four unassisted goals to his credit.

Motzko’s 11 self-made tallies are among the 27 goals he has scored this year, one shy of his career high set with Syracuse in 2004-05. The 2007 AHL All-Star is also one off the league lead with four shorthanded goals on the season.

JACK OF ALL TRADES … Fresh off two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, 19-year-old forward Jack Skille recorded his first five professional points last week for the Norfolk Admirals.

Skille, the seventh overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, had two assists vs. Philadelphia on Wednesday, scored his first pro goal against the Phantoms on Friday, and picked up two more goals in Albany on Saturday.

Jake Dowell, Skille’s teammate with the Badgers from 2005-07, scored the first goal of his own pro career on Wednesday night.

QUICK DRAWConnor James scored two goals in a 13-second span late in the third period as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rallied for a 3-2 win in Hershey on Sunday evening. They were the fastest two goals by one player in Penguins history.

The Bears had a 2-0 lead until Robert Nilsson scored with 4:25 to play. James tied the score at the 18:01 mark and put the Penguins in front at 18:14.

James’s outburst came just a week and a half after he set a team record for the fastest goal from the start of a game, scoring 15 seconds into what would be a 4-0 win over Philadelphia on Mar. 21.

ETC. … Albany’s Keith Aucoin led all AHL scorers in the month of March with 27 points (8g, 19a) in 17 games… Norfolk rookie Troy Brouwer was tops with 12 goals last month… San Antonio had one 30-goal scorer over its first four seasons in the AHL (Jeff Toms, 2002-03); Yanick Lehoux and Donald MacLean have both scored 30 for the Rampage in 2006-07… Jeff Campbell was whistled for a tripping minor in the first period of Grand Rapids’ 2-1 overtime win vs. Chicago on Saturday night, the first penalty of his 63-game AHL career… Following Friday’s 3-1 win in Iowa, Omaha goaltender Brent Krahn is 7-1-0 lifetime (1.27, .954) at Wells Fargo Arena… Manchester is 7-0-0-0 this season when scoring a shorthanded goal… Hartford has won eight straight meetings with in-state rival Bridgeport… Houston has lost 10 straight games against Eastern Conference opponents since beating Hartford on Mar. 4, 2005… Norfolk is home for two games against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this week, needing to win both to set a new AHL record for home victories in a season (current mark is 33)… With two weeks remaining in the regular season, 23 of the league’s 27 teams are still mathematically alive for a playoff berth, and 14 could still finish first in their division.