December 26, 2012 - American Hockey League (AHL)
As the AHL rolled into the final week of 2012, the Binghamton Senators found themselves with the best record in the league.
Led by rookie head coach Luke Richardson, the Senators were 12-2-0-2 since Nov. 7 to sit at 16-6-1-2 overall, good for a league-best .700 points percentage as the season resumed after the holidays. Binghamton is 8-4-1-1 against the rest of the East Division, which has produced the Eastern Conference's representative in each of the last nine Calder Cup Finals and the last four league champions (Hershey in 2009 and 2010, Binghamton in 2011 and Norfolk in 2012). All five teams in the East entered the week at .500 or better.
Right wing Jakob Silfverberg has moved into the team lead in goals (11), assists (11, tied) and points (22) on the strength of 8-5-13 totals in his last nine games. The 22-year-old from Gavle, Sweden, is in his first season of North American play and was a second-round draft pick by Ottawa in 2009.
On defense, Patrick Wiercioch is having a breakout campaign, with 8-9-17 and a plus-13 rating in 23 games after combining for 8-30-38 and a minus-28 in 124 games over his first two seasons.
And the goaltending tandem of 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs MVP Robin Lehner (10-4-1, 1.93, .943) and 2012 AHL Second Team All-Star Ben Bishop (6-2-1, 2.76, .928) has anchored a Senators defense that ranks third in the league in goals allowed (2.52 per game) and second in penalty killing (89.9 percent).
With three games in hand, Binghamton begins the week three points behind Syracuse for first place in the East Division.
REACHING FOR THE STARS
With the 2013 Dunkin' Donuts AHL All-Star Classic in Providence a month away, it isn't just the players around the American Hockey League who are bidding for berths in the league's annual showcase event.
The head coach of the team with the best points percentage in each conference after play on Dec. 31 will be named that conference's head coach for the All-Star Classic, which will take place Jan. 27-28.
Eastern Conference leaders (through Dec. 25)
.700 Luke Richardson, Binghamton
.685 Brad Larsen, Springfield
.679 Jon Cooper, Syracuse
.593 Bruce Cassidy, Providence
.586 Ray Edwards, Portland
Western Conference leaders (through Dec. 25)
.650 Jeff Daniels, Charlotte
.643 Dallas Eakins, Toronto
.630 Jeff Blashill, Grand Rapids
.621 Troy G. Ward, Abbotsford
.607 Willie Desjardins, Texas
In addition, one head coach from each conference will be selected by league president David Andrews to fill out the all-star coaching staffs.
Rosters for the All-Star Classic will be announced in the coming weeks, and AHL fans will then determine the starting lineups for the event.
BEARS WELCOME INAUGURAL CLASS OF HALL OF FAMERS
With the franchise celebrating its 75th season in the American Hockey League in 2012-13, the Hershey Bears inducted the first class of honorees into the Hershey Bears Hockey Club Hall of Fame last week.
The seven honorees included American Hockey League Hall of Famers Willie Marshall, Frank Mathers and Mike Nykoluk, along with Ralph Keller, Lloyd S. Blinco, Arthur Fausnacht and John B. Sollenberger.
Marshall is the AHL's all-time leading scorer who won two Calder Cups in Hershey. Mathers, the person most associated with Hershey Bears hockey throughout its storied history, was a player, coach and executive in Hershey over 35 years until his retirement. Nykoluk is the Bears' all-time franchise leader in games played, assists and points. Keller was a standout defenseman during his 12 seasons in Hershey. Blinco was a Hershey player, coach, president and general manager for more than four decades. Sollenberger, whose name graces the trophy given to the AHL's leading scorer every season, is widely credited as bringing hockey to Hershey by helping found the original Hershey B'ars amateur team in 1932. And Fausnacht served as both an on-ice and off-ice official for the AHL in Hershey for nearly half a century.
The induction ceremony, emceed by Mike Emrick, took place prior to the Bears' game vs. Norfolk on Dec. 19 - the 76th anniversary of the opening of Hersheypark Arena.
MOVIN' ON UP
After Mitch Lamoureux registered his 800th career AHL point on Jan. 30, 1999, membership on the AHL's top 10 career scoring list remained unchanged for nearly 14 years. Until last week.
A four-point night vs. St. John's on Dec. 22 - in his 700th career regular-season game - moved Toronto Marlies forward Keith Aucoin into 10th place, bumping AHL Hall of Famer Bill Sweeney down a spot.
AHL all-time leading scorers (through Dec. 26)
1. 1,375 Willie Marshall 1952-72
2. 1,334 Fred Glover 1948-68
3. 1,048 Jody Gage 1979-96
4. 974 Tim Tookey 1980-95
5. 892 Dick Gamble 1954-70
6. 881 Mike Nykoluk 1956-72
7. 829 Harry Pidhirny 1948-66
8. 821 Jimmy Anderson 1954-70
9. 816 Mitch Lamoureux 1982-99
10. 808 Keith Aucoin 2001-present
Former East Grand Rapids High School three-sport star Luke Glendening made his Grand Rapids Griffins debut a memorable one last week.
The only area native ever to play for the Griffins, Glendening scored on the first shot of his first shift, sparking Grand Rapids to a 4-2 win over visiting Rochester on Dec. 19. It was the first career AHL point for the 23-year-old rookie, who made his pro debut with Providence appearing in three games late in 2011-12.
Glendening, who served as team captain at the University of Michigan in both his junior and senior seasons, has also scored 14 goals in 27 ECHL games with Toledo this year.
FIVE TO WATCH
Match-ups to look forward to in the week ahead:
Connecticut vs. Bridgeport, Wednesday (7 ET at Bridgeport) and Thursday (7 ET at Connecticut) - In-state foes Connecticut and Bridgeport meet in a home-and-home to begin their post-Christmas schedules. The teams have combined to score 35 goals in their four previous meetings, with the Sound Tigers' John Persson and the Whale's Kris Newbury leading the way with three each.
Syracuse at Binghamton, Wednesday (7 ET) - Syracuse, with the most points in the AHL (38), visits Binghamton, with the highest points percentage in the league (.700), in the teams' fifth of eight meetings this season. The Crunch are looking to avoid their first three-game winless slide of the season and have split two trips to Broome County this year, including a 6-5 overtime win on Oct. 20 in which they trailed 5-0. The Senators are 12-2-0-2 in their last 16 games.
Texas vs. Oklahoma City, Thursday (8:30 ET at Texas) and Monday (7 ET at Oklahoma City) - After splitting two meetings last weekend, Texas and Oklahoma City square off twice more to close out 2012. Cristopher Nilstorp had back-to-back shutouts for the Stars - including a 3-0 win over the Barons - before giving up four goals in the first period of a 6-2 loss to OKC on Dec. 22. Rookie defenseman Justin Schultz has five goals and an assist in four games against the Stars.
Toronto at Grand Rapids, Friday and Saturday (7 ET) - Division leaders Toronto and Grand Rapids meet for a pair of games at Van Andel Arena this weekend, closing out their four-game regular-season series. The Marlies, 9-1-1-0 in their last 11 games after a Boxing Day matinee win over Hamilton, shut out the Griffins 5-0 on Dec. 16, Grand Rapids' last loss before its current three-game winning streak.
Abbotsford at Chicago, Saturday (8 ET) and Sunday (4 ET) - Chicago, which enters the week on a 4-0-1-0 run, hosts Abbotsford for a two-game set at Allstate Arena this weekend. Matt Climie has made nine straight starts in net for the Wolves, allowing a total of 18 goals in that span. The Heat head to Chicago on their first three-game losing streak of the season, and having scored just 12 non-shootout goals in 10 games during December (2-6-1-1).
ON THE AIR
Here is this week's broadcast schedule for national and regional TV and radio (full TV schedule including local games is here: bit.ly/Q7sLcg). All games are also streamed at AHL Live (ahllive.com).
Friday - St. John's at Hamilton, 7:30 ET (all regions)
Saturday - Abbotsford at Chicago, 8 ET (Sportsnet ONE)
Friday - St. John's at Hamilton, 7:30 ET
SiriusXM NHL Network Radio (Sirius 207, XM 92)
Thursday - Providence at Portland, 7 ET
Friday - Binghamton at Albany, 7 ET
Saturday - St. John's at Syracuse, 7:30 ET
Sunday - Norfolk at Springfield, 5 ET
Monday - Bridgeport at Adirondack, 3 ET
Monday - St. John's at Binghamton, 6 ET
Tuesday - Oklahoma City at Houston, 6 ET
There have been 18 hat tricks and 64 shutouts recorded in the American Hockey League through Dec. 25:
Last week's hat tricks (1)
Tyler Toffoli, MCH Dec. 22 vs. Portland
Last week's shutouts (5)
Matt Climie, CHI Dec. 19 vs. Abbotsford
Braden Holtby, HER Dec. 19 vs. Norfolk
Cristopher Nilstorp, TEX Dec. 19 vs. San Antonio
Cristopher Nilstorp, TEX Dec. 21 at Oklahoma City
Curtis McElhinney, SPR Dec. 22 at Hershey
Oklahoma City's Justin Schultz hit the Christmas break with 16 goals and 40 points, tops among all AHL rookies and all AHL defensemen... Among AHL players not named Justin Schultz, Toronto's Mike Kostka leads blueliners with 28 points (including two on Dec. 26), Rochester's T.J. Brennan leads defensemen with 11 goals, and Lake Erie forward Mike Sgarbossa is tops in rookie scoring with 27 points... Since allowing a goal to Norfolk's Brandon McMillan 10 seconds into the contest on Dec. 6 in Washington, Hershey's Braden Holtby has stopped 61 consecutive Norfolk shots he has faced, including a 35-save shutout on Dec. 19... Texas rookie Reilly Smith has five multiple-point games during the month of December, and has scored seven of his 10 goals this season in his last six games... Syracuse rookie Alex Killorn scored a goal in each of his last six games before Christmas, while Rochester's Luke Adam entered the break with the longest active point-scoring streak in the AHL at eight games (5-4-9)... Curtis McElhinney's sixth shutout of the season, a 19-save effort at Hershey on Dec. 22, set a single-season Springfield Falcons franchise record and made him the first goalie with at least six shutouts in a season for a Springfield team since AHL Hall of Famer Marcel Paille posted eight shutouts for the 1960-61 Calder Cup champion Indians... Worcester is 6-6-0-1 this season when trailing after the second period; the Sharks were 5-44-4-7 in that situation the last two seasons combined... Entering the week, five points separated first place from fifth in both the Atlantic and Midwest Divisions.