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PlanetUSA AHL All-Stars announced

The American Hockey League announced today the PlanetUSA AHL All-Star team roster for the 2004 Pepsi AHL All-Star Classic, to be played next month at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The team, comprising players born in the United States and Europe, includes 21 skaters and three goaltenders. AHL fans determined the starting lineup via on-line balloting at theahl.com, while a committee of AHL coaches selected the remainder of the roster.

Twenty-two members of the PlanetUSA team have earned their first career AHL All-Star selections, including rookies Noah Clarke of Manchester, Aleksander Suglobov of Albany, Anton Babchuk of Norfolk, Fedor Tyutin of Hartford and Kari Lehtonen of Chicago. All told, 42 of the 48 players selected to head to Grand Rapids will be making their AHL All-Star debuts.

Grand Rapids defenseman Travis Richards will captain the PlanetUSA team, which will include only two players with previous AHL All-Star experience: Hamilton’s Mike Komisarek (2003) and Providence’s Matt Herr (2002, 2003).

Manchester, Hamilton and host Grand Rapids lead all teams with four selections apiece between the two All-Star squads, while Binghamton, Rochester and league-leading Bridgeport will each have three representatives at the event.

Bridgeport’s rookie head coach Greg Cronin will guide the PlanetUSA team, as his Sound Tigers will have the league’s best points percentage after play on Jan. 11. Cronin and his Canadian counterpart, Houston’s Todd McLellan, join a list of former AHL All-Star head coaches that includes current NHL bench bosses Peter Laviolette, Bob Hartley, John Tortorella and Barry Trotz.

Of the 295 players to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic since 1995, more than 91 percent have competed in the NHL, including Daniel Briere, Andrew Brunette, Anson Carter, Pavol Demitra, Rick DiPietro, J.P. Dumont, Mike Dunham, Patrik Elias, Rico Fata, Manny Legace, John Madden, Brendan Morrison, Ladislav Nagy, Vaclav Prospal, Dwayne Roloson, Martin St. Louis, Marc Savard, Jason Spezza, Steve Sullivan and Tomas Vokoun.

The 2004 Pepsi AHL All-Star Classic will take place at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., home of the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. The event gets underway on Sunday, February 8, with the 2004 AHL All-Star Skills Competition at 7:00 p.m. (ET). The annual All-Star Game follows at 7:00 p.m. (ET) on Monday, February 9, and will be televised live in the United States and Canada.

2004 PLANETUSA AHL ALL-STAR TEAM

Forwards
x-Jozef Balej, Hamilton
Pavel Brendl, Lowell
Noah Clarke, Manchester
x-Jeff Hamilton, Bridgeport
Matt Herr, Providence
Jiri Hudler, Grand Rapids
Josh Langfeld, Binghamton
Tony Martensson, Cincinnati
Matt Murley, Wilkes-Barre
Tomas Plekanec, Hamilton
x-Pavel Rosa, Manchester
Aleksander Suglobov, Albany
Miroslav Zalesak, Cleveland

Defensemen
Anton Babchuk, Norfolk
Mike Komisarek, Hamilton
Niklas Kronwall, Grand Rapids
Jaroslav Obsut, Manitoba
x-Travis Richards, Grand Rapids (“C”)
x-Dennis Seidenberg, Philadelphia
Fedor Tyutin, Hartford
Julian Vauclair, Binghamton

Goaltenders
x-Kari Lehtonen, Chicago
Ryan Miller, Rochester
Rastislav Stana, Portland

Head Coach: Greg Cronin – Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Assistant Coach: Dave Baseggio – Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Athletic Trainer: Rob Snitzer – Grand Rapids Griffins
Equipment Manager: Brad Thompson – Grand Rapids Griffins

x-Starters

2004 PLANETUSA AHL ALL-STAR TEAM STARTERS

Kari Lehtonen, Goaltender (Chicago Wolves): The highest-drafted European goaltender in NHL history (second overall in 2002), Kari Lehtonen came to North America after a stellar career in Finland that included leading Jokerit Helsinki to the league title in 2002. A bronze medalist at the 2003 World Junior Championships, the 20-year-old Lehtonen has posted a 13-9-1 record for Chicago this year while ranking among the AHL leaders with a .929 save percentage.

Travis Richards, Defense (Grand Rapids Griffins): Travis Richards was voted to the starting lineup for the PlanetUSA All-Stars after being appointed team captain by the AHL. A Griffin since the franchise’s inception in 1996-97, he has anchored a defense that ranked first in the league in each of the last two seasons. Richards played four years at the University of Minnesota and represented the United States at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Dennis Seidenberg, Defense (Philadelphia Phantoms): Dennis Seidenberg is in his second season in Philadelphia after three years with Adler Mannheim in his native Germany. The 22-year-old blueliner played in the NHL YoungStars game during All-Star Weekend in Sunrise, Fla., last year, and wound up with 13 points in 58 NHL games with the Flyers. A member of Germany’s team at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Seidenberg currently leads the Phantoms in plus/minus (+11) and defenseman scoring.

Jozef Balej, Forward (Hamilton Bulldogs): Jozef Balej followed up a 51-goal junior season in 2001-02 with just five goals a year ago, but the Slovakian winger is back with team-leading totals of 21 goals, 40 points and a plus-15 rating through 41 games with the Bulldogs. A third-round draft pick by Montreal in 2000, the speedy Balej has also recorded five game-winning scores for the North Division leaders, and posted a four-goal effort on Dec. 28 against St. John’s.

Jeff Hamilton, Forward (Bridgeport Sound Tigers): Jeff Hamilton was the offensive catalyst on the league-leading Sound Tigers before being sidelined by an eye injury on Jan. 3. He still leads the AHL with 25 goals, 13 power play markers, nine game-winners and 161 shots on goal, and has 14 multiple-point efforts to his credit, including five straight from Dec. 10-17. The former Yale University standout made his NHL debut with the N.Y. Islanders on Dec. 2 vs. Washington.

Pavel Rosa, Forward (Manchester Monarchs): Manchester’s most consistent producer over the past two seasons, Pavel Rosa has recorded 106 points in 99 games in a Monarchs uniform, and currently leads the AHL in scoring with 43 points this year. The Czech forward, who has taken only five minor penalties in 2003-04, has already put together scoring streaks of eight games and nine games this season. A second-round pick by Los Angeles in 1995, Rosa has appeared in 34 career NHL matches with the Kings.