Game on, AHL style

The American Hockey League begins its 69th season this week as 28 teams begin the road to the Calder Cup 2005 championship.

The 2004-05 campaign gets underway on Wednesday night, Oct. 13, when the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins host the Manitoba Moose at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza, where the defending Eastern Conference champion Pens have recorded an AHL-record 140 consecutive regular-season sellouts since December 2000. Also Wednesday, the Utah Grizzlies take on the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks at The “E” Center in West Valley City, Utah.

The Calder Cup 2004 champion Milwaukee Admirals drop the puck on their title defense on Friday night, Oct. 15, when they host the Chicago Wolves. Also on Friday, the Edmonton Road Runners begin their first season in Alberta’s capital city when they host the Hamilton Bulldogs at Rexall Place.

The AHL has added several new rules for the 2004-05 season, including:

  • Employing a shootout to decide regular-season games which are tied after overtime
  • Permission of “tagging up” to negate off-side plays
  • Implementation of “no-touch” icing
  • Widening the blue lines and center red line to 24 inches (from 12 inches)
  • Moving the goal line back to 11 feet from the end boards (from 13 feet)
  • A seven-week test, ending Nov. 28, restricting the areas where goaltenders may play the puck in an attempt to increase offensive opportunities without wholly eliminating a goaltender’s ability to assist his defensemen.

    The league’s on-ice officials will also have a stricter interpretation of hooking and holding fouls against a puck carrier and of interference in the attacking zone. Additionally, the AHL’s standard of supplementary discipline on acts where there is deliberate attempt or deliberate injury of an opponent will include more severe suspensions without pay.

    The regular season comprises 1,120 games leading up to the start of the Calder Cup 2005 Playoffs in April. On Feb. 13-14, the 2005 Dodge AHL All-Star Classic will be held at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., featuring the top talent in the AHL competing in both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game.

    Established in 1936, the American Hockey League serves as the exclusive top development league for all 30 NHL teams. More than 100 AHL alumni recently competed in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey tournament, and over 80 percent of all players to compete in the NHL in 2003-04 were AHL graduates, with more than 400 players taking the ice in both leagues last year alone. Close to 200 former first- and second-round NHL Entry Draft picks are expected to begin the 2004-05 season in the American Hockey League.

    Eastern Conference
    Atlantic Division

    Hartford Wolf Pack (N.Y. Rangers)
    Hartford Civic Center (9,819)
    03-04: 44-22-12-2, 102 pts. (lost conf. final)
    Head coach: Ryan McGill (3rd yr. in AHL, 77-59-24)
    Ones to watch: F Jozef Balej had an outstanding year in 2003-04, breaking through as one of the AHL’s top players… Ds Fedor Tyutin and Maxim Kondratiev were teammates in Russia.

    Lowell Lock Monsters (Carolina/Calgary)
    Tsongas Arena (6,400)
    03-04: 32-36-6-6, 76 pts. (DNQ)
    Head coach: Tom Rowe (1st year)
    Ones to watch: F Eric Staal and G Cam Ward are Carolina’s top prospects, while F Chuck Kobasew was a first-round pick by Calgary in 2001.

    Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles)
    Verizon Wireless Arena (9,916)
    03-04: 40-28-7-5, 92 pts. (lost div. semifinal)
    Head coach: Bruce Boudreau (6th year, 186-173-41)
    Ones to watch: Rookie F Petr Kanko brings offensive punch to the Monarchs; ’03 first-rounder F Dustin Brown played 31 NHL games with the Kings last year.

    Portland Pirates (Washington)
    Cumberland County Civic Center (6,733)
    03-04: 32-27-13-8, 85 pts. (lost div. semifinal)
    Head coach: Tim Army (3rd year, 65-69-26)
    Ones to watch: Steve Eminger, Jakub Klepis, Boyd Gordon and Shaone Morrisonn were all recent 1st-round draft picks; Maxime Daigneault and Tomas Fleischmann were 2nd-rounders.

    Providence Bruins (Boston)
    Dunkin’ Donuts Center (11,909)
    03-04: 36-29-11-4, 87 pts. (lost qualifier)
    Head coach: Scott Gordon (3rd year, 39-37-13)
    Ones to watch: F Brad Boyes has 136 pts. in his first two AHL seasons… F Patrice Bergeron was one of the NHL’s most exciting rookies in 2003-04.

    Springfield Falcons (Tampa Bay)
    Springfield Civic Center (5,200 – temp.)
    03-04: 26-43-9-2, 63 pts. (DNQ)
    Head coach: Dirk Graham (1st year)
    Ones to watch: Rookie F Adam Henrich led Brampton (OHL) in scoring in 01-02 and 02-03, finished 2nd in 03-04… 2000 first-rounder F Nikita Alexeev missed most of last year with a shoulder injury.

    Worcester IceCats (St. Louis)
    DCU Center (12,316)
    03-04: 37-27-13-3, 90 pts. (lost div. final)
    Head coach: Don Granato (5th year, 159-107-44)
    Ones to watch: Skilled F Alexei Shkotov had 64 pts. in 43 QMJHL games last season… Mike Glumac finished second in the AHL in rookie scoring in 2003-04.

    East Division

    Albany River Rats (New Jersey)
    Pepsi Arena (6,982)
    03-04: 21-39-11-9, 62 pts. (DNQ)
    Head coach: Robbie Ftorek (10th year, 299-213-71)
    Ones to watch: F Aleksander Suglobov was having an All-Star season before injury struck last winter… 2003 1st-rounder F Zach Parise was a college standout for two years at N. Dakota.

    Binghamton Senators (Ottawa)
    Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena (4,717)
    03-04: 34-34-9-3, 80 pts. (lost qualifier)
    Co-coaches: Dave Cameron (1st year); John Paddock (14th year, 495-366-86)
    Ones to watch: F Jason Spezza, F Antoine Vermette and G Ray Emery were all AHL All-Rookie picks two years ago… F Brandon Bochenski was an All-American at North Dakota in 03-04.

    Bridgeport Sound Tigers (N.Y. Islanders)
    Bridgeport’s Arena at Harbor Yard (8,412)
    03-04: 41-23-12-4, 98 pts. (lost div. semifinal)
    Head coach: Greg Cronin (2nd year, 41-27-12)
    Ones to watch: F Sean Bergenheim tallied 5 pts. in 7 GP in his AHL debut during the 2004 playoffs… G Wade Dubielewicz set AHL records with his 1.38 GAA and .946 sv% in 03-04.

    Hershey Bears (Colorado)
    Giant Center (10,500)
    03-04: 33-34-8-5, 78 pts. (DNQ)
    Head coach: Paul Fixter (2nd year, 33-39-8)
    One to watch: F Cody McCormick skated in 44 NHL games with Colorado as a rookie in 2003-04… G Peter Budaj was chosen to represent Slovakia at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

    Norfolk Admirals (Chicago)
    Norfolk Scope (8,865)
    03-04: 35-36-4-5, 79 pts. (lost div. semifinal)
    Head coach: Trent Yawney (5th year, 146-133-41)
    Ones to watch: D Anton Babchuk was a 19-year-old AHL All-Star in 2003-04… F Matt Ellison, F Matt Keith and D Duncan Keith had strong rookie seasons last year as well.

    Philadelphia Phantoms (Philadelphia)
    Wachovia Spectrum (17,380)
    03-04: 46-25-7-2, 101 pts. (lost div. final)
    Head coach: John Stevens (5th year, 148-139-33)
    Ones to watch: 21-year-old D Joni Pitkanen was a top blueliner for the NHL Flyers last season… Rookie F’s Ben Eager and R.J. Umberger were also first-round draft picks.

    Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh)
    Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza (8,143)
    03-04: 34-28-10-8, 86 pts. (lost Calder Cup Final)
    Head coach: Michel Therrien (6th year, 149-158-32)
    Ones to watch: Marc-Andre Fleury and Andy Chiodo form one of the AHL’s top goaltending duos… D Ryan Whitney made an impact in last year’s playoff run after three seasons at Boston U.

    Western Conference
    North Division

    Cleveland Barons (San Jose)
    Gund Arena (10,231)
    03-04: 37-28-8-7, 89 pts. (lost div. semifinal)
    Head coach: Roy Sommer (7th year, 216-216-48)
    Ones to watch: F Shane Joseph was the Barons’ top player late in 03-04, with 18 pts. in 21 GP (incl. playoffs)… F Marcel Goc and D Christian Ehrhoff skated for Germany at the ’04 World Cup.

    Edmonton Road Runners (Edmonton)
    Rexall Place (16,839)
    03-04 (Toronto): 35-34-8-3, 81 pts. (lost qualifier)
    Head coach: Geoff Ward (3rd year, 51-51-13)
    Ones to watch: D Jeff Woywitka and G Jeff Deslauriers are top Oilers prospects… F Jarret Stoll spent all of 03-04 in the NHL after reaching the Calder Cup Final with Hamilton in ’03.

    Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal/Dallas)
    Copps Coliseum (8,819)
    03-04: 41-25-10-4, 96 pts. (lost div. final)
    Head coach: Doug Jarvis (3rd year, 52-39-13)
    Ones to watch: F Andrei Kostitsyn was the 10th overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft… Among the Stars prospects headed to Hamilton are 2nd-round picks D Trevor Daley and G Dan Ellis and former 1st-rounder F Steve Ott.

    Manitoba Moose (Vancouver)
    Winnipeg Arena (9,777)/MTS Centre (8,863)
    03-04: 32-35-11-2, 77 pts. (DNQ)
    Head coach: Randy Carlyle (1st year)
    Ones to watch: F Ryan Kesler, a first-round pick in 2003, helped Team USA to gold at the ’04 WJC… F Jason King was the NHL’s Rookie of the Month last November.

    Rochester Americans (Buffalo)
    Blue Cross Arena (11,200)
    03-04: 37-28-10-5, 89 pts. (lost conf. final)
    Head coach: Randy Cunneyworth (5th yr., 146-126-48)
    Ones to watch: F Thomas Vanek was MVP of the NCAA Frozen Four as a freshman in 2003… F Jason Pominville led the AHL with 22 PPG last season.

    St. John’s Maple Leafs (Toronto)
    Mile One Stadium (5,813)
    03-04: 32-36-8-4, 76 pts. (DNQ)
    Head coach: Doug Shedden (2nd year, 32-40-8)
    Ones to watch: F Matt Stajan had 27 points in his first pro season with the parent Leafs last year… F Kyle Wellwood was the top rookie scorer in the AHL with 55 points in 2003-04.

    Syracuse Crunch (Columbus)
    Onondaga Co. War Memorial at Oncenter (6,230)
    03-04: 38-25-10-7, 93 pts. (lost div. semifinal)
    Head coach: Gary Agnew (5th year, 137-140-43)
    Ones to watch: F Alexander Svitov went third overall in the 2001 draft… D Aaron Johnson had 21 pts. in 49 games as a rookie last year and scored two goals for the Canadians at the 2004 AHL All-Star Game.

    West Division

    Chicago Wolves (Atlanta)
    Allstate Arena (16,692)
    03-04: 42-26-9-3, 96 pts. (lost div. final)
    Head coach: John Anderson (4th year, 122-94-24)
    Ones to watch: F Karl Stewart led the team with a +24 rating and 186 PIM as a rookie in 2003-04… G Kari Lehtonen was the top-rated prospect by The Hockey News last year.

    Cincinnati Mighty Ducks (Anaheim)
    Cincinnati Gardens (10,326)
    03-04: 29-37-13-1, 72 pts. (lost div. semifinal)
    Head coach: Brad Shaw (3rd year, 55-79-26)
    Ones to watch: F’s Alexei Smirnov (2000), Stanislav Chistov (2001) and Joffrey Lupul (2002) were first-round picks by Anaheim… G Ilya Bryzgalov played an AHL-high 3,748 minutes in net last season.

    Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit)
    Van Andel Arena (10,834)
    03-04: 44-28-8-0, 96 pts. (lost div. semifinal)
    Head coach: Danton Cole (3rd year, 92-52-16)
    Ones to watch: F Jiri Hudler, 20, finished third in team scoring with 49 pts. in 57 games last year… 2000 1st-rounder D Niklas Kronwall split his first season between the Griffins and Detroit in 2003-04.

    Houston Aeros (Minnesota/Dallas)
    Toyota Center (8,939)
    03-04: 28-34-14-4, 74 pts. (lost qualifier)
    Head coach: Todd McLellan (4th year, 114-95-31)
    Ones to watch: Dallas prospect F Junior Lessard won the Hobey Baker Award in 2004… F Pierre-Marc Bouchard played 111 NHL games in his first two pro seasons with Minnesota.

    Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville)
    Bradley Center (17,845)
    03-04: 46-24-7-3, 102 pts. (won Calder Cup)
    Head coach: Claude Noel (2nd year, 46-27-7)
    Ones to watch: F Jordin Tootoo averaged 64 pts. and 220 PIM a year in junior from 2000-03… D Ryan Suter, a 1st-round pick in 2003, starred at Wisconsin as a freshman last season.

    San Antonio Rampage (Florida)
    SBC Center (7,035)
    03-04: 30-42-8-0, 68 pts. (DNQ)
    Head coach: Steve Ludzik (2nd year, 8-3-1)
    Ones to watch: F Stephen Weiss, D Jay Bouwmeester and F Nathan Horton were all top-4 draft picks by Florida, while F Petr Taticek went 9th overall in 2002.

    Utah Grizzlies (Phoenix)
    The “E” Center (10,207)
    03-04: 27-42-6-5, 65 pts. (DNQ)
    Head coach: Pat Conacher (1st year)
    Ones to watch: Rookie D Keith Ballard won two NCAA titles at Minnesota… G David LeNeveu, an AHL All-Star in 2004, was also named the team MVP in Springfield last season.