Sterling on verge of joining elite company

Thanks to his third hat trick of the season on Wednesday night, Chicago Wolves forward Brett Sterling is on the verge of joining some very exclusive company.

The 22-year-old Los Angeles native is one goal away from becoming just the fifth rookie in American Hockey League history to score 50 goals in a season.

Sterling, a four-year standout at Colorado College, has exploded onto the professional scene with the run-and-gun Wolves, who are averaging a league-best 4.22 goals per game this season. With 13 games remaining on the regular-season schedule, Sterling leads the entire AHL with 49 goals and is tied for second with 82 points.

Fifty-goal seasons were rare in the earlier days of the American Hockey League. Playing just a 64-game schedule, John Holota of the Cleveland Barons scored 52 goals in 1946-47. Two seasons later, Sid Smith of the Pittsburgh Hornets and Carl Liscombe of the Providence Reds each scored 55 goals, a record that would stand for more than 30 years.

In 1982-83, Mitch Lamoureux had one of the finest seasons of any AHL player to date, rookie or otherwise. In becoming the first rookie to top the 50-goal mark, the 20-year-old Baltimore Skipjacks center set an all-time league record with 57 goals and tallied 107 points, more points than any rookie ever had in a single AHL season. Lamoureux went on to an illustrious AHL career, netting 364 goals and recording 816 points over 14 campaigns, ranking ninth all-time in league scoring.

In 1986-87, a 22-year-old rookie named Brett Hull shined for the Moncton Golden Flames, notching a team-high 50 goals and 92 points in 67 games. Hull, who like Lamoureux four years earlier won the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as the AHL’s rookie of the year, would go on to top the 50-goal mark five times in the National Hockey League. He retired in 2005 with 741 goals, more than any other AHL graduate in NHL history.

Two years after Hull’s standout debut, the AHL was taken by storm by a rookie phenom named Stephan Lebeau. Coming off a four-year junior career that saw him score 281 goals, Lebeau stormed past the 50-goal mark with the Sherbrooke Canadiens and re-wrote the AHL record book. He finished with 70 goals and 134 points on the year, earning the league’s MVP award to go with his rookie of the year honor.

Patrick Lebeau was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1989, just weeks after big brother Stephan completed his amazing season. Patrick turned pro in 1990-91 with Montreal’s AHL affiliate in Fredericton and followed admirably in his brother’s footsteps, scoring 50 goals and recording 101 points to earn the nod as the league’s top rookie.

Sterling’s bid for 50 takes him and his Chicago teammates to Omaha on Friday night. The Wolves will enter the weekend three points ahead of the second-place Ak-Sar-Ben Knights in the AHL’s West Division. Fans can watch the showdown via B2 Networks’ live video webcasts on their computer, cell phone or PDA.