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AHL Weekly Release: Wolf Pack on the prowl

WEEKLY RELEASE #17

hfd_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … One of the winningest American Hockey League franchises since joining the circuit in 1997, the Hartford Wolf Pack are once again surging toward the top of the Atlantic Division standings in search of their 12th consecutive trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Led by second-year head coach Ken Gernander, the leading American-born scorer in AHL history who captained the club to the Calder Cup championship in 2000, the Wolf Pack enter the new week having matched a season high with a three-game winning streak, and they wrapped up the month of January at 9-4-1-0 in 14 contests. The surge has vaulted Hartford to second place in the division – where the Pack has finished no worse than in 10 of their 11 seasons – and just two points back of Providence for the top spot.

The Wolf Pack boast two of the AHL’s top four scorers in Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (20-33-53) and Artem Anisimov (21-29-50). Parenteau, a Second Team AHL All-Star with the Pack last season, has already clinched his fourth straight 20-goal season in the AHL and has registered a point in 11 of his last 12 games (5-14-19) and 14 of his last 16 (8-17-25). The 20-year-old Anisimov, a second-round draft pick by the parent New York Rangers in 2006, has found the scoresheet in 15 of his last 17 outings (10-14-24) and leads the Wolf Pack with his 21 goals, earning his first NHL recall on Sunday night.

Third-year pro Greg Moore, an AHL All-Star in 2008 who was voted team captain last Thursday, ranks third on the Wolf Pack with 26 points; second-year forward Tommy Pyatt has already more than doubled his rookie-year totals in goals (11) and points (25) through 46 games this season; and Brodie Dupont currently shows the exact scoring line (9-13-22) through 47 games this season that he totaled in 66 games as a rookie with Hartford in 2007-08. Other forwards making an impact in their second AHL campaigns include Mike Ouellette (9-10-19) and Jordan Owens (8-15-23), who has four game-winners among his eight goals thus far.

Hartford has also benefited from a strong defensive corps, led by rookie Bobby Sanguinetti. A first-round draft pick by the Rangers in 2006, Sanguinetti has racked up 26 points (4-22-26) in 46 games to place fourth on the team and first among all rookie AHL blueliners. Third-year pro Corey Potter has chipped in 17 points (4-13-17), and Brian Fahey, a Calder Cup champion with Chicago in 2008, shows 14 points in his first season with the Pack.

Second-year goaltender Miika Wiikman is 16-14-3 (2.74, .904) with one shutout in 33 appearances between the pipes, while rookie counterpart Matt Zaba has won three of his last four decisions and shows a 9-6-0 mark (2.57, .909) for the campaign.

The week ahead has the Wolf Pack playing three games against Atlantic Division rivals. After hosting Manchester on Wednesday, the Pack will head up Interstate 91 to visit Springfield on Saturday before visiting Lowell on Sunday.

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PACKING THEM IN … The American Hockey League enjoyed one of its highest-attended weekends in recent years on Friday and Saturday, with a total of 197,015 fans witnessing in person the 28 games on the schedule – an average of 7,036 fans per game. It was the fourth-highest total for a two-day span since the start of the 2005-06 season.

Saturday’s league-wide turnout of 102,538 marked the fourth-highest single-day draw in the last four seasons, buoyed by a capacity crowd (4,710) in Binghamton, a franchise-record crowd of 6,504 in Lowell, more than 7,000 in Bridgeport, better than 8,000 in Grand Rapids and Manchester, upwards of 9,700 in Philadelphia and five-digit showings in Hershey (10,001) and Cleveland (12,389).

Friday’s big winners at the gate included more than 8,000 in Providence, Milwaukee, Wilkes-Barre, Iowa, San Antonio and Winnipeg, and 11,838 in Houston.

ICEHOGS PASS ROAD TEST, PART ONE … The Rockford IceHogs entered the AHL’s All-Star break on a 2-4-0-0 skid and with a seven-game road swing looming on the other side. The ‘Hogs aced the first – and arguably the toughest – portion of the stretch with three wins in as many nights last week.

Rockford began the journey with 2-1 and 4-1 wins over Manitoba at the MTS Centre on Thursday and Friday, receiving a pair of stellar performances from first-year goaltender Antti Niemi. The IceHogs then flew to Toronto for a Saturday afternoon game with the Marlies and came away with a 6-3 victory behind three points (1-2-3) from captain Tim Brent and a pair of goals by rookie Judd Blackwater.

The IceHogs’ three-game winning streak matches their longest since October and has given them a three-point cushion for second place in the tight West Division with 56 points overall (26-19-0-4). Rockford continues its voyage this week with tilts in Rochester, Milwaukee and Iowa before wrapping up the stretch in Peoria on Feb. 11.

CLOUSTON MOVING ON UP … Cory Clouston became the latest in a long line of AHL coaching graduates in the National Hockey League when he was promoted by the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

Clouston is now one of 17 former AHL head coaches currently serving as an NHL head coach. AHL graduates are guiding five of the six current NHL division leaders: Boston’s Claude Julien, Washington’s Bruce Boudreau, San Jose’s Todd McLellan, Calgary’s Mike Keenan and Detroit’s Mike Babcock.

ETC.Tyler Weiman rebounded nicely from his forgettable third period in last Monday’s AHL All-Star Game, posting his league-leading sixth shutout of the season on Friday at Syracuse… Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux saw his franchise-record 23-game scoring streak come to an end in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Norfolk; Giroux’s league-record 15-game goal-scoring run also ended at the hands of the Admirals, on Jan. 21… Francis Lemieux’s three-goal effort in Saturday’s 8-4 win over Rochester made him the first Grand Rapids player to notch two hat tricks in one season (also Dec. 19 vs. Milwaukee) since Donald MacLean tallied five en route to earning AHL MVP honors in 2005-06… Worcester’s Ryan Vesce extended his scoring streak to 14 games (7-14-21) with an assist on Sunday in Providence, just hours after returning from his first NHL recall to San Jose… Of the 39 shots Quad City fired on San Antonio goaltender Josh Tordjman in a 4-2 loss on Friday, 25 of them came in the first period… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defensemen Ben Lovejoy (plus-28) and Joey Mormina (plus-24) rank first and second in the AHL in plus/minus… Portland’s Derek Whitmore and Bridgeport’s Jeremy Colliton each attempted a penalty shot in the first period of Saturday’s game between the Pirates and Sound Tigers; neither scored… Hershey has gone over the 200,000 mark in regular-season attendance for the 23rd consecutive season… With the annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo taking over the AT&T Center, the Rampage began a 13-game, 25-day, 6,500-mile road odyssey on Saturday in Worcester… San Antonio has played a league-high 51 games this season; only a league-low three have gone into overtime… Grand Rapids played five consecutive OT games from Jan. 19-30… Syracuse has a league-leading seven wins (7-16-1-1) when trailing after two periods.