SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … With just three weeks remaining on their 2005-06 regular season schedule, the Grand Rapids Griffins have pulled away from the pack and now have AHL history in their sights.
Somewhat overshadowed by the impressive records of teams like Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Houston for much of the season, Grand Rapids has emerged as the cream of the AHL crop, heading into the final week of March with seven more wins and nine more points than any other club in the league. The Griffins’ current 10-game winning streak is the longest in the AHL all season, and their .826 clip since Dec. 18 (34-6-1-2) has them running away with what was once a tight race for the North Division title.
Grand Rapids needs just six more goals to become the first AHL team since the 1998-99 Providence Bruins to score 300 goals in a season. Donald MacLean continues to lead the way with 53 goals himself, joining Jiri Hudler (36), Tomas Kopecky (28), Darryl Bootland (24), Matt Ellis (20), Eric Manlow (20) and Kent McDonell (20) among the seven Griffins to hit the 20-goal plateau so far.
Although the Binghamton Rangers’ AHL record of 124 points, set in 1992-93, is safe for another year, the Griffins need five wins in their final seven games to match that Binghamton team’s single-season mark of 57 victories. Grand Rapids’ league-leading 110 power-play goals this season are the most by an AHL team since the B-Rangers scored 116 in 1995-96, and their 23 road wins are three shy of their own AHL record, set in 2002-03.
Nate DiCasmirro (+26), a Calder Cup finalist with Hamilton in 2003, is second in the league in plus/minus, and Bryan Helmer (+23), who won a Cup with Albany in 1995, is tops among all AHL defensemen in that category. Newcomer Terry Virtue also brings championship experience to the Griffins locker room in the form of two Calder Cup rings (1999, 2000).
Rookie netminder Jimmy Howard has extended his personal winning streak to 11 games, a Griffins franchise record. The former second-round draft pick by Detroit is 20-2-1 in his last 23 decisions since Dec. 21, and now places tied for fifth in the AHL with 24 victories on the season.
Grand Rapids eases into the Calder Cup Playoffs with just seven games over the final 21 days of the regular season, and can wrap up home-ice advantage throughout the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs as early as this weekend. The Griffins are in Winnipeg for a two-game set with Manitoba on Friday and Saturday.
BACK TO SCHOOL … Several AHL arenas were selected to serve as hosts to NCAA tournament action as the collegiate hockey and basketball seasons wrap up.
The men’s ice hockey tournament is down to the Frozen Four, to be held next week at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Regional action took place this past weekend at the Pepsi Arena in Albany and the DCU Center in Worcester, which next season becomes home to the AHL’s Sharks.
The men’s basketball tournament included first- and second-round action at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, part-time home to the AHL’s Phantoms and site of their 2005 Calder Cup championship last spring. The women’s brackets included opening-round games at the Allstate Arena (Chicago) and regional finals at the AT&T Center (San Antonio), the Arena at Harbor Yard (Bridgeport) and the Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland). And the Division II men’s basketball championship was held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
GERRY EHMAN (1932-2006) … Four-time AHL All-Star forward Gerry Ehman passed away last week following a battle with lung cancer. He was 73.
Ehman played parts of 11 seasons in the AHL, and ranks 15th on the league’s all-time list with 311 career goals. He won Calder Cup championships with Rochester in 1965 and 1966, and was recently named to the Amerks’ 50th Anniversary Team.