Weekly Release: Fast start has Knights in front


oma_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Unfazed by a schedule that saw them play six of their first nine games on the road, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights are alone atop the AHL’s overall standings after racking up 17 of a possible 18 points.

The Knights (8-0-1-0) finished the month of October on an eight-game winning streak, including a home-and-home sweep of the previously unbeaten Iowa Stars last week. The win streak surpasses the club record of five, accomplished three times during Omaha’s inaugural 2005-06 season.

Under head coach Ryan McGill, a former AHL and NHL defenseman, the Knights are allowing a league-low 25 shots per game, and rank second in the AHL at 2.00 goals against per contest. Brent Krahn (2.50 GAA) and Curtis McElhinney (2.52 GAA) both finished among the top five goaltenders in the AHL last season, and both have continued their solid play in 2006-07.

Krahn, a first-round draft choice (ninth overall) by the parent Calgary Flames in 2000, was in net for both ends of last week’s showdown with Iowa, propelling the Knights into first place in the West Division. McElhinney, in his second season out of Colorado College, has not given up an even-strength goal all season, only surrendering five power-play markers in four games (1.25, .948).

Featuring an opening-night roster averaging just over 23 years old, Omaha has been led offensively by the youngest Knight of them all, 20-year-old Dustin Boyd. The centerman ranks second among all AHL rookies with nine assists and 13 points, and is tied for the overall league lead with three game-winning goals. Boyd’s four goals overall tie him with second-year pros David Moss and Cam Cunning for tops on the club.

Carsen Germyn, one of the Knights’ veteran leaders despite being just 24, has seven points on the year, while rookie Kris Chucko, the Flames’ first-round pick in 2004, and first-year North American pro Andrei Taratukhin, a second-rounder in 2001, have six points apiece through nine games. Defensemen Richie Regehr and Tim Hambly lead the AHL in plus/minus rating at plus-11.

Omaha returns to action this weekend with a pair of games against division foes, hosting Chicago on Friday night and Iowa on Saturday at the Civic Auditorium.

TALE OF THE TAPE … The average American Hockey League player is a shade over 24 years old, stands just over 6-foot-1 and weighs 200 pounds, according to a study of the 687 players listed on the 27 team rosters submitted to the league on opening night, Oct. 4.

The youngest team in the AHL is the Hartford Wolf Pack, averaging 22 years, 10 months. The Wolf Pack’s opening-night roster featured 13 players age 21 and under, including first-round draft picks Al Montoya and Lauri Korpikoski and second-rounders Brandon Dubinsky, Ivan Baranka, Dane Byers, David Liffiton and Bruce Graham.

The next three youngest teams in the league are division leaders Rochester (23 years), Omaha (23 years, 1 month) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (23 years, 7 months).

The league’s biggest teams are the Springfield Falcons (6-2¼, 205) and the Hershey Bears (6-2, 205). Hershey is home to hulking rookie defensemen Jeff Schultz (6-6, 224) and Sasha Pokulok (6-5, 230), both recent first-round draft picks by the Washington Capitals; Springfield’s lineup boasts heavyweights like Matt Smaby (6-5, 220), Adam Henrich (6-4, 238), Andre Deveaux (6-3, 240) and Mitch Fritz, again the biggest player in the AHL at 6-foot-8 and 259 pounds. Rookie defenseman John Scott of the Houston Aeros (6-8, 255) checks in a shade lighter than Fritz.

Nearly two-thirds of all AHL players (65.5 percent) were under the age of 25 on opening night, including 42.5 percent who were 22 and younger. Canadian-born athletes made up 60.7 percent of the AHL player pool, followed by Americans (24.7 percent), Czechs (3.9%), Finns (2.3%) and Swedes (2.2%).

The prototypical AHL player for 2006-07: Binghamton defenseman Neil Petruic, a native of Regina, Sask., who checks in at 24 years, 3 months, standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 200 pounds.

ETC.Justin Pogge, the Canadian Major Junior Goaltender of the Year in 2005-06, earned his first professional victory and shutout with 49 saves in Toronto’s 4-0 win at Grand Rapids last Friday… Tomas Popperle’s 22-save shutout on Friday ended both Syracuse’s 0-6-0-0 drought to start the season and Rochester’s perfect 7-0-0-0 start… After losing their first six games of the season, Syracuse earned five of a possible six points in three weekend games… Omaha’s Brent Krahn is 5-1-0 with a 0.85 goals-against average, a .967 save percentage and two shutouts in six career appearances at Iowa’s Wells Fargo Arena… After leading Hershey in scoring during its Calder Cup championship run last spring, Tomas Fleischmann has a point in all seven games played in 2006-07, including six straight two-point efforts… The Bears’ home-and-home sweep of Albany last weekend gives them 15 consecutive victories over the River Rats since their last loss on Mar. 28, 2004… Norm Milley (1g, 4a), Blair Jones (2g, 2a) and Eric Healey (2g, 2a) combined for 13 points and Springfield scored six unanswered goals to defeat Lowell on Friday night, 6-4… Chicago’s Darren Haydar (8g, 8a) and Jason Krog (6g, 9a), the top two scorers in the AHL this season, are both riding nine-game scoring streaks… West Haven, Conn., native Eric Boguniecki scored a goal in his Bridgeport debut Friday night at Providence… The top three teams in the East Division – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Hershey and Norfolk – are a combined 21-1-1-1 this season, including 11-0-1-0 on the road… The Penguins show a 17-1-0-0 record in October during the last two seasons… Worcester’s Mathieu Darche leads the AHL with 11 goals, while Sharks teammates Mathieu Biron and Joe Pavelski are tops with 11 assists each… Manchester ranks first in the league on the power play with 16 goals in 50 chances through seven games (32.0 percent) but last on the penalty kill, allowing 13 goals in 43 times shorthanded (69.8 percent).