SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Last season’s San Antonio Rampage suffered an October and November to forget before turning it around over the final four months. This year, boosted by a talented group of young forwards, San Antonio has charged out of the starting gate with the AHL’s best record after three weeks.
The Rampage check in at 6-1-1-0 for an AHL-high 13 points following impressive victories over Grand Rapids last weekend. The franchise had never scored more than four goals in a period before striking six times on seven shots in the first period of Saturday’s 7-4 win, then posting a five-goal second period in Sunday’s 7-2 decision. Since Dec. 5, 2008, the Rampage have a record of 40-19-3-3 after starting the 2008-09 campaign at 2-20-0-1.
San Antonio’s roster features 21 players under the age of 25 (including 11 who have yet to celebrate their 23rd birthday) and five former first-round draft picks. Twenty-year-old Kyle Turris, 23-year-old Kevin Porter and 20-year-old Brett MacLean are pacing a Rampage offense that has averaged 4.13 goals per game, third-best in the league. Drafted third overall by the parent Phoenix Coyotes in 2007, Turris has 4-5-9 on the campaign; Porter, who won the 2008 Hobey Baker Award, has recorded 2-7-9 in six contests; and MacLean, an AHL All-Star as a rookie last season, shows eight points in seven tilts, including a team-high six goals.
A first-round draft pick in 2008, 21-year-old Viktor Tikhonov has begun the 2009-10 season with seven points (1-6-7) in eight games for the Rampage. Joel Perrault, coming off a career-best 18-goal and 49-point showing for the Rampage a year ago, has four goals and seven points in the first three weeks. Other forwards making an early impact include veteran captain Jeff Hoggan (2-4-6), second-year pro Chad Kolarik (4-1-5) and 19-year-old Mikkel Boedker, the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft who has 1-4-5 in three games with San Antonio.
San Antonio’s blue line has been anchored by Sean Sullivan, a third-year pro who leads the team with 10 points (2-8-10), including a pair of overtime goals. Newcomer Shaun Heshka has four points (2-2-4) in eight games after reaching the 2009 Calder Cup Finals with Manitoba, and David Schlemko has chipped in five assists thus far. Rookie rearguard Mark Mitera, a first-round draft pick by Anaheim in 2006, has appeared in three games for the Rampage after making his professional debut for Iowa late last season.
Goaltender Al Montoya, drafted sixth overall in 2004 and in his fifth pro season, is out to a 4-2-0 start (2.78, .905) through six appearances. Counterpart Josh Tordjman has won both of his starts thus far (2-0-0, 2.46, .911) as he seeks to build on a career-best 25-win campaign in 2008-09.
Under their third-year head coach Greg Ireland, San Antonio is preparing for a stretch of three games in three nights this weekend as it continues a six-game homestand. The Rampage welcome Hamilton to the AT&T Center on Friday night before intra-state rival Houston visits on both Saturday and Sunday.
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DEFENSEMAN BRINGING THE OFFENSE … Providence Bruins defenseman Andy Wozniewski continued his torrid start to the season with two goals and two assists for a career-high four points in a 7-2 victory over Lowell on Sunday, helping the Bruins to a 2-0-0-0 weekend.
Wozniewski, who has never registered more than 26 points in his previous five professional seasons, currently sits atop the AHL’s scoring leaderboard with 13 points (4-9-13) in six games. The native of Buffalo Grove, Ill., has five multiple-point efforts in his first six outings for Providence and has netted a pair of game-winning goals.
Signed in the offseason by parent-club Boston, Wozniewski has picked up 10 of his 13 points on a Providence power play which currently ranks first in the AHL at 31.1 percent (14-for-45).
SESTITOS MAKE IMPACT … Lowell’s Tim Sestito put together a night to remember at Worcester’s DCU Center on Saturday, racking up four goals on four shots as the Devils outlasted the Sharks by a 7-5 final. Sestito, a 25-year-old forward who entered the game with 16 goals in 145 career AHL contests, became the first AHL player this season to score four goals in a game and the third in Devils history. Matt Halischuk also accomplished the feat against Worcester on Oct. 11, 2008, and David Clarkson lit up Philadelphia for four scores on Jan. 12, 2007.
Sesito’s brother Tom also had a productive weekend for the Syracuse Crunch. The younger Sestito registered a goal and an assist on Friday in a 5-4 come-from-behind win over Norfolk and added another goal in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Tom Sestito, a third-round draft pick by Columbus in 2006, has totaled five points (3-2-5) through six games in his third professional campaign.
FINDING THEIR WAY BACK HOME … Twenty-seven of the AHL’s 29 teams have played at least one home game, and Grand Rapids and Milwaukee will finally open their respective home slates this weekend. The Griffins dropped three games in Texas last week and finished 1-4-0-0 on a five-game road swing to begin the campaign. The Admirals are 2-2-0-1 thus far on a six-game jaunt, which concludes on Friday at Rockford before the Ads take on Manitoba in their home opener on Saturday.
Grand Rapids opens with three home games in three nights next weekend, as the Griffins will welcome Abbotsford on Friday and Sunday, with a Saturday visit from Toronto in between.
ETC. … Abbotsford (3-0-2-1) and Hamilton (3-0-0-1) are the last two AHL teams yet to suffer a regulation defeat this season… After going scoreless in his first four games, Portland rookie Tyler Ennis picked up three goals and an assist in the Pirates’ 6-3 win over Hartford on Friday… Albany forward Jerome Samson, who ended the 2008-09 season with a point in 14 of his last 18 games, has begun this year on a six-game scoring streak and leads the River Rats with 10 points (4-6-10)… Four of Peoria’s first six games have extended beyond regulation, and the Rivermen show a 2-0-1-1 mark in those four contests… Providence forwards Vladimir Sobotka (4-6-10) and Brad Marchand (2-6-8) have each registered a point in all six games this season, and both were recalled by parent-club Boston on Sunday night… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s penalty kill is 7-for-10 (70.0 percent) in two games against Syracuse thus far and a perfect 13-for-13 in its three other contests… Hershey set a franchise record for shots in a period when it fired 27 on Binghamton goaltender Andy Chiodo in the second period of a 3-2 overtime win on Saturday… Hartford dropped road games in Portland and Springfield last weekend by scores of 6-3 and 2-1, respectively; the Wolf Pack went a combined 9-0-0-0 in those two rinks last season… Texas goaltender Matt Climie, who is out to a 2-0-1 start, has stopped 89 of 92 shots (.967) on the season and leads all AHL netminders with a 0.95 goals-against average.