SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League begins handing out individual awards this week in recognition of its outstanding performers during the 2005-06 season.
The AHL’s rookie class of 2006 offers plenty of worthy candidates for the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award, including Houston’s Patrick O’Sullivan and Roman Voloshenko, Hartford’s Nigel Dawes, Portland’s Ryan Shannon, Norfolk’s Martin St. Pierre and forward Jeff Tambellini, who averaged a point per game for Manchester before his trade last month to the New York Islanders.
Rookies Jimmy Howard of Grand Rapids, Al Montoya of Hartford and Pekka Rinne of Milwaukee are also in the running for the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award as the league’s outstanding goaltender. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Dany Sabourin leads the AHL in goals-against average (2.20) and save percentage (.925), Hershey’s Frederic Cassivi is tops in wins (32) and Manitoba’s Wade Flaherty ranks first with six shutouts. Josh Harding was 27-8-0 in 36 appearances for Houston prior to his recall to the Minnesota Wild last month, and Omaha teammates Brent Krahn and Curtis McElhinney both own GAA’s among the top five in the league.
In the race for the Eddie Shore Award, presented annually to the AHL’s best defenseman, two-time winner Curtis Murphy has excelled once again for Houston in 2005-06, trailing only Syracuse’s Andy Delmore and Hartford’s Thomas Pock in scoring among league blueliners. Grand Rapids’ Bryan Helmer leads all AHL defensemen in plus/minus rating, and Mark Giordano (Omaha), Bruno Gervais (Bridgeport), Sven Butenschon (Manitoba), Mike Mottau (Peoria) and Lawrence Nycholat (Hershey) – all selected to play in this year’s AHL All-Star Classic – are having noteworthy campaigns as well.
The winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach traditionally parlays the honor into further success; recent winners include current NHL head coaches Peter Laviolette, Barry Trotz, Marc Crawford and Glen Hanlon. Among the leading candidates this season are several rookie bench bosses, including Kevin Dineen in Portland, Steve Pleau in Peoria, Rob Daum in Houston, Dave Baseggio in Bridgeport and Joe Mullen in Wilkes-Barre.
The award announcements began earlier today when the AHL revealed the 27 finalists for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as the AHL’s Man of the Year. The 2005-06 AHL All-Rookie Team will be announced on Wednesday, and the First and Second All-Star Teams will be unveiled on Thursday.
WILD, WILD WEST … The playoff race in the West Division has caught fire heading into the final two weeks of the 2005-06 regular season, as three of the hottest teams in the AHL are chasing one ticket to the Calder Cup party.
Omaha (16-3-0-3 since Feb. 4) is tied with Iowa (winners of six straight and 11-2-0-2 in its last 15) at 80 points apiece, with one final head-to-head battle scheduled for the Omaha Civic Auditorium this Friday night.
Chicago, meanwhile, sits five points back and rides a seven-game winning streak into Wednesday’s home game with the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. The Wolves then face the Stars three times in four days beginning this weekend.
Without the services of one of their top offensive weapons (Erik Westrum) and their standout goaltender (Josh Harding), both on NHL recall to Minnesota, the Houston Aeros are in a 2-7-2-1 slide and have fallen three points behind the Milwaukee Admirals atop the division. The Admirals, who won the West in 2004 en route to the Calder Cup championship, have become the third team in AHL history to hit the 100-point mark in three consecutive seasons.
Peoria, 20-6-2-2 in its last 30 games, is just eight points behind Milwaukee with six games remaining.
OH ME, OH MY, O’MARRA … Ryan O’Marra made quite an impression in his professional debut with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last week. The 15th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft signed with the parent New York Islanders on Thursday and immediately joined the Sound Tigers for three big weekend games.
In his debut at the venerable Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia, the 18-year-old O’Marra scored two power-play goals, and was a goalpost shy of recording a hat trick. He then scored in Bridgeport’s games against Providence and Binghamton, finishing with four goals in his first three games.