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AHL Weekly: Rivermen rolling

WEEKLY RELEASE #2
AHL standings || Scores and schedules || League leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.
… It only takes a quick glance at the Peoria Rivermen’s 2010-11 roster to see several key names who were not part of the fold in 2009-10. So far, the new-look Rivermen are meshing quite nicely and have burst out to the top of the AHL standings.

Peoria swept a three-game weekend road swing through Texas to extend its winning streak to five games and improve to 5-1-0-0 under the direction of first-year AHL head coach Jared Bednar. Peoria has been perfect since dropping a 4-3 heartbreaker to Manitoba in its season opener on Oct. 8, a game which the Rivermen led 3-0. A bolstered offensive attack has keyed Peoria’s early success, as the Rivermen have scored a league-high 26 goals through six games and rank second in the AHL with an average of 4.33 per contest. Peoria also sports the AHL’s top power-play unit through two weeks, having converted nine of its first 29 chances (31.0 percent).

After losing five of their top seven scorers from 2009-10, the Rivermen and parent St. Louis Blues retooled over the summer. The most high-profile addition was two-time Calder Cup champion Graham Mink, and the six-time 20-goal scorer has promptly taken the AHL scoring lead with 12 points (4-8-12) in his first six contests – including 2-5-7 and a plus-6 rating in the weekend wins at San Antonio, Houston and Texas. Two-time AHL All-Star T.J. Hensick arrived by trade from Colorado after leading Lake Erie in scoring last season, and the 24-year-old has begun his Rivermen career on a six-game scoring streak (2-6-8). Coming off a 20-goal effort for Milwaukee a year ago, veteran forward Dave Scatchard (651 career NHL games) shows seven points (2-5-7) through the opening two weeks, and David Spina has chipped in two goals and an assist in his first action with Peoria after spending the previous three seasons with San Antonio.

Peoria’s blue line has been aided by the offseason arrivals of former Calder Cup champions Nathan Oystrick (2008 with Chicago) and Dean Arsene (2006 and 2009 with Hershey). Oystrick has registered 3-4-7 and a plus-6 rating in six games, with all three of his goals and five of his seven points coming on the power play.

Among the holdovers from Peoria’s 2009-10 squad, Nicholas Drazenovic leads the team with five goals (5-3-8) as the fourth-year pro looks to build on his career-high 19-goal showing last year, and Chris Porter already has 3-4-7 in six contests.

Several Peoria rookies are off to impressive starts as well. Twenty-year-old defenseman Mark Cundari has contributed six assists and a plus-6 through his first six pro games after racking up 54 points last year for Windsor (OHL). Center Phil McRae, a second-round draft pick by the Blues in 2008, shows a point in four of his last five games (3-2-5), and Stefan Della Rovere, who played two playoff games for Calder Cup champion Hershey last spring, has a goal and three assists.

A former third-round draft pick by St. Louis, third-year goaltender Ben Bishop (4-1-0, 2.41, .933) has made at least 40 saves in each of his last two wins, and rookie Jake Allen, a second-round pick by the Blues in 2008, earned the victory in his professional debut on Saturday with 30 saves at Houston.

The Rivermen close their seven-game road trip with another visit to Texas for four games in five nights beginning Friday.

REMEMBERING JACKJack Butterfield, who served a highly influential 28 seasons as AHL president from 1966-94, passed away on Saturday morning in Springfield, Mass., at the age of 91. Butterfield, whose legacy also includes three consecutive Calder Cup championships (1960-62) as general manager of the Springfield Indians, is an honored member of both the AHL Hall of Fame (inaugural class, 2006) and the Hockey Hall of Fame (1980).

Calling hours are scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 21, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Toomey-O’Brien Funeral Home, at 1043 Westfield St. (Route 20) in West Springfield, Mass. The funeral will be at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 22, at Mittenague Congregational Church, located at 1840 Westfield St. (Route 20), also in West Springfield.

The American Hockey League will honor Butterfield’s memory with a moment of silence and a video tribute at all games this coming weekend.

SMOOTH SAILING SO FAR … Coming off three straight seasons of missing the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Norfolk Admirals are making early noise in the East Division with a 3-0-0-0 start, marking the first time the club has begun its season with three consecutive victories since the 2004-05 campaign.

Rookie head coach Jon Cooper has watched his Admirals rack up 18 goals in their first three games, including a 7-4 win at Binghamton to begin the year on Oct. 9 and a 7-2 rout of Worcester on Saturday. Newcomer Marc-Antoine Pouliot has led the way with seven points (1-6-7), and 20-year-old center James Wright, who spent 48 games with parent-club Tampa Bay in 2009-10, shows a goal and four helpers. All told, 11 different players have scored Norfolk’s 18 goals thus far.

Cedrick Desjardins, a Second-Team AHL All-Star for Hamilton last year who led the league with a 2.00 goals-against average, made an immediate impact for Norfolk with a 29-save shutout of Worcester on Friday night.

NO PLACE LIKE THE ROAD … It’s still early, but through two weeks of action AHL teams have combined for an impressive 39-21-1-5 record in road games, good for a .636 points percentage. In the North Division alone, road teams are 11-3-0-1 in the early going, with home teams just 2-9-0-2.

Peoria leads the way with a 3-0-0-0 road record, and other teams starting quick away from their home barns include Hartford (2-0-0-1), Springfield (3-1-0-0), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (2-0-0-0), Hershey (2-0-0-1), Rochester (2-0-0-0), Manitoba (2-0-0-0) and Houston (2-0-0-0).

Atlantic Division-leading Portland has been a notable exception to the trend, posting a 4-0-0-0 mark at the Cumberland County Civic Center before dropping a 4-1 contest at Bridgeport on Sunday in its first road tilt.

ETC. … Portland set a franchise record with its four-game winning streak to begin the season; the 1994-95 Pirates opened with three wins before skating to a tie in their fourth contest… Pirates rookie Luke Adam (4-5-9) already has two four-point performances to his credit this season… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which is off to a perfect 4-0-0-0 start, won three of those games after surrendering the first goal… Rockford allowed eight power-play goals on its first 12 shorthanded chances this season but has killed off 11 of 12 man-down situations since… Chicago defenseman Jaime Sifers’ overtime goal on Friday at Milwaukee was his first game-winning tally in 263 career AHL contests… Oklahoma City had totaled three goals in a season-opening three-game winless skid (0-2-1-0) before racking up 12 goals in consecutive wins to close the weekend, including an 8-2 victory at Houston on Sunday… Charlotte’s Jerome Samson is riding an AHL-high four-game goal-scoring streak (4-0-4)… Springfield’s 3-1 win at Manchester on Sunday snapped the Falcons’ 0-8-0-0 skid at the Verizon Wireless Arena, dating back to a 4-1 victory on Oct. 19, 2008… When Joey MacDonald earned Grand Rapids’ first shutout of the year with his 25-save effort on Friday at Manitoba, it matched the Griffins’ shutout total from all of 2009-10… New Hamilton coach Randy Cunneyworth, whose eight-year tenure as Rochester’s bench boss included seven playoff trips, returned to Blue Cross Arena on Friday as the Bulldogs opened with a 5-2 win over the Amerks.