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Young talent headlines All-Star rosters

WEEKLY RELEASE #15

While the American Hockey League’s annual All-Star Classic is traditionally a showcase for the top young talent in the sport, this year’s group of 48 All-Stars is especially deep in highly-touted prospects, including eight former first-round draft picks and 13 AHL rookies.

The most notable rookie is Chicago Wolves goaltender Kari Lehtonen, the second overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. In 27 games with the Wolves this season, the 20-year-old Lehtonen has posted a record of 14-10-1 with two shutouts, and was voted by AHL fans to start in net for the PlanetUSA All-Star team.

Lehtonen is joined on PlanetUSA by fellow rookies Fedor Tyutin of Hartford, Aleksander Suglobov of Albany, Noah Clarke of Manchester and Anton Babchuk of Norfolk, who at 19 years, nine months will be one of the youngest All-Stars in AHL history. The Canadian AHL All-Star team features eight first-year pros, including Carlo Colaiacovo and Kyle Wellwood of St. John’s, Aaron Johnson of Syracuse, Scottie Upshall of Milwaukee, Derek Roy of Rochester, Doug Lynch of Toronto, David LeNeveu of Springfield and starting goaltender Wade Dubielewicz of Bridgeport. All told, 23 players on the two All-Star team rosters are under the age of 23.

The event in Grand Rapids will be a homecoming for some former area college players. Rochester goaltender Ryan Miller, a native of East Lansing, Mich., won the Hobey Baker Award in 2001 and recorded 26 shutouts in three seasons at Michigan State. Matt Herr (1996, 1998) and Josh Langfeld (1998) won NCAA championships at the University of Michigan, and Mike Komisarek helped the Wolverines to the Frozen Four in 2001 and 2002. Houston Aeros assistant coach Cam Stewart, who will be behind the Canadian All-Star bench, starred at Michigan from 1990-93.

Thirty of this year’s All-Stars have already played in the NHL this season, including 17 who made their NHL debuts.

The 2004 Pepsi AHL All-Star Classic, to be held Feb. 8-9, will feature 24 players selected in the first three rounds of an NHL Entry Draft, including former first-rounders Lehtonen (2nd overall in 2002), Upshall (6th in 2002), Babchuk (21st in 2002), Komisarek (7th in 2001), Colaiacovo (17th in 2001), Niklas Kronwall (29th in 2000), Pavel Brendl (4th in 1999) and Steve Kelly (6th in 1995).

MORE SHINING STARS … 2004 AHL All-Stars Chad Wiseman and Josh Langfeld each scored his first NHL goal last week against the same goaltender – future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur of New Jersey. Langfeld got his on Tuesday in a 4-0 Ottawa win, while Wiseman’s goal came Thursday in the N.Y. Rangers’ 3-3 tie with the Devils.

Halfway through the 2003-04 season, 271 AHL players have already spent time in the National Hockey League, including 113 former AHL All-Stars and 75 former Calder Cup champions. A total of 90 graduates have made their NHL debuts this season, with 55 alumni recording their first NHL goals.

OFF THE ICE … The annual Evening with the Mighty Ducks charity event, at which fans can mix and mingle with Cincinnati players and bid on auction items, will be held on Jan. 29 to benefit the American Cancer Society… The Rochester Sports Fan Package offers fans a chance to see an Americans game, a Buffalo Sabres NHL game and indoor lacrosse’s Rochester Knighthawks, all for just $30… Several members of the Cleveland Indians will be on hand to sign autographs at Friday’s Cleveland Barons-Houston Aeros game at Gund Arena.

ETC.… The appearance of Roger Clemens to drop the ceremonial first puck sparked a turnout of 13,342 fans at the Toyota Center in Houston on Friday night, the largest crowd in the AHL this season… Cleveland’s Miroslav Zalesak and Manchester’s Pavel Rosa are tied for the league lead in points, with Hamilton’s Jozef Balej one point back; no European player has ever won the AHL’s scoring title… Bulldog Olivier Michaud’s effort against Albany on Saturday was the 100th shutout of the season in the AHL; Manchester’s Mathieu Chouinard and Hartford’s Jason LaBarbera upped the total to 102 later that night… Six games on Friday night were decided on an overtime goal, including Toronto’s wild 7-6 win at Syracuse after the Crunch had rallied from four goals down… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenseman Brendan Buckley’s streak of 226 consecutive games played was snapped on Wednesday when he was scratched from the Penguins’ game with Toronto, his first DNP since Feb. 16, 2001… Boyd Gordon (Jan. 10) and Steve Eminger (Jan. 14), both first-round picks by the Washington Capitals in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, made their AHL debuts with Portland in the last two weeks… Jiri Hudler has a point in his last 12 AHL games for Grand Rapids, the longest scoring streak in the league this season… Cincinnati defenseman Chris Armstrong currently has a point in eight straight… Following back-to-back overtime wins on Friday and Saturday, the Griffins are 13-2-25 in OT over the past three regular seasons… Philadelphia improved to 7-0-0 against Hershey this season with a 4-0 win on Friday… Springfield assistant coach Gord Dineen, Utah’s all-time franchise leader in games played, had his number 2 retired by the Grizzlies on Saturday night… The Falcons’ Peter Ferraro ended a 17-game drought with two goals in Friday’s win over Worcester… Following an official scoring change, Chicago’s Brian Swanson finished Saturday night’s game with four points (one goal, three assists), still more than enough to help the Wolves to a 5-1 win over Manitoba.