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Four Former Rivermen Still Chasing Calder Cup

May 13, 2011 - American Hockey League (AHL) - Peoria Rivermen News Release

While the Peoria Rivermen were eliminated in the first round of the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, championship dreams are still alive for four former Rivermen as the Conference Finals begin. Of the four teams still remaining, only the Binghamton Senators do not have Rivermen representation on their roster.

Aaron Palushaj, Curtis Sanford and the Hamilton Bulldogs are taking on Jon DiSalvatore and the Houston Aeros in the Western Conference Finals while Zack FitzGerald and the Charlotte Checkers are facing the Binghamton Senators in the East.

Palushaj (puh-LOOSH-eye), 21, put up impressive numbers in his second professional season and has continued that success into the playoffs for Hamilton. He has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 12 postseason games for the Bulldogs to rank second on the team. His seven power-play points are tied, with teammate Nigel Dawes, for the most in the AHL. During the regular season, Palushaj appeared in 68 games for Hamilton and racked up 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists) and made his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens on Mar. 17. He appeared in total of three NHL games this season without recording a point.

A native of Livonia, Mich., Palushaj was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the second round (#44 overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and made his professional debut with the Rivermen on April 4, 2009 after completing his sophomore season at the University of Michigan. He competed in four regular season games and four playoff games in 2009 and returned to Peoria for his first full season in the fall. After recording 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 44 games, Palushaj was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for current Blues forward Matt D'Agostini on March 3, 2010.

Sanford, 31, was one of the best goaltenders in the AHL this season before it ended on Feb. 26 following a shoulder injury. He underwent successful shoulder surgery on Mar. 17 but will not play during the playoffs. He finished 2010-11 with a 22-13-2 record, a 1.93 goals-against average and a 0.930 save-percentage.

A native of Owen Sound, Ont., Sanford played for the Rivermen in both the ECHL and the AHL. He first joined the Rivermen for the 2000-01 season and won 15 games as a 21-year-old rookie. The next season he appeared in 24 games while shuttling back and forth the with the AHL's Worcester IceCats. In 2002-03, he stuck in Worcester and made his NHL debut with the Blues that season. Still under contract with St. Louis, he returned to Peoria for brief stints in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

DiSalvatore (deh-SAL-vuh-tor), 30, served as the captain for the West Division Champion Houston Aeros. He registered a career-high 28 goals this season and has registered at least 20 goals in all eight of his AHL seasons. He led the Aeros in goals and points (61) and has five points (two goals, three assists) in 11 playoff games.

A native of Bangor, Maine, DiSalvatore spent two seasons in Peoria (2005-07). He led the Rivermen in points (67) during his first season and helped guide the team to a playoff berth in their first AHL campaign. He also made his NHL debut for the Blues that season. After leaving Peoria, DiSalvatore played a season in San Antonio, and Lowell before joining the Aeros in 2009-10.

FitzGerald, 25, led the Charlotte Checkers in penalty minutes this season with 229 in 76 games. He also chipped in eight assists from the blueline. He now has 1,040 penalty minutes in 299 career AHL regular season games. He has recorded 28 penalty minutes, and one assists, in eight postseason contests for Charlotte.

After beginning his rookie season with the Alaska Aces (ECHL), he made his AHL debut with the Rivermen in 2005. He played in a total of 42 games with Peoria over the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons and registered 133 penalty minutes. He made his NHL debut on Feb. 5, 2008 while a member of the Vancouver Canucks.

Rivermen season tickets are now on sale for the 2011-12 season. For more information on the many affordable ticket plans, visit

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