SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Another exciting regular season has concluded, setting the stage for the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs to begin this week.
The final pieces of the puzzle fit into place over the final weekend, as Milwaukee secured its second division championship in three years, Iowa locked up fourth place in the West Division, and Manchester held on for a third-place finish in the Atlantic, relegating Providence to fourth.
The Stars claimed the 16th and final postseason invitation on Friday night with a 4-3 shootout victory in Peoria. Iowa finished the regular season with a 16-4-0-2 mark in its final 22 games, and will meet Milwaukee in the West Division semifinals. The Admirals pulled out a 5-3 victory in Grand Rapids on Saturday night, then waited as Houston’s comeback from a five-goal deficit fell short in Chicago, giving Milwaukee the division title. The Aeros, who wound up with 50 wins on the season, will face Peoria in the first round.
Grand Rapids held on to claim the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy for finishing with the best record in the AHL. The Griffins have drawn Toronto to open their Calder Cup Playoff run, while Syracuse edged out Manitoba for second place in the North Division and will have home-ice advantage in those teams’ division semifinal series.
Providence’s 7-3 loss in Lowell on Sunday afternoon prevented them from moving up in the Atlantic Division standings, and set up a first-round matchup between the Bruins and the division champions from Portland. Manchester, which squeaked out a third-place finish, will search for its first-ever Calder Cup Playoff series victory against Hartford.
In the East Division, Bridgeport is looking to turn the tables on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, two years after the Penguins’ epic seven-game upset of the Sound Tigers in the first round of the 2004 postseason. And Norfolk, eliminated by Hershey in the 2001 and 2002 Calder Cup Playoffs, gets another crack at the Bears, who won the Calder Cup in two of the three previous years they topped 100 points in the regular season.
For the fifth time in AHL history, both defending Calder Cup finalists failed to qualify for the playoffs, leaving 16 teams trying to succeed Philadelphia and Chicago as conference champions. The AHL’s championship trophy is named after Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Calder, who served as the first president of the National Hockey League from 1917-43. During the 1920s, Calder was instrumental in guiding professional hockey into the mainstream of the United States’ major cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Detroit, while also helping form the American Hockey League in 1936.
2005-06 BY THE NUMBERS … Scoring in the AHL was up 15.8 percent from a year ago to 6.20 goals per game in 2005-06, the highest average since 1999-2000... Grand Rapids led the AHL in offense with 323 goals, becoming the first team since the 1998-99 Providence Bruins to average more than four goals per game... The Griffins also scored 120 power-play goals, four off the league record... Portland’s 27 road victories were an AHL record... Houston became the first team to boast the top two scorers in the league since Rochester in 1985-86, and the first with three of the top four AHL scorers since Baltimore in 1973-74... Aeros forward Patrick O’Sullivan finished with 47 goals and 93 points, the highest totals by an AHL rookie since Patrick Lebeau (50 goals, 1990-91) and Darcy Tucker (93 points, 1995-96)... Thanks to Grand Rapids’ Donald MacLean and Binghamton’s Denis Hamel (56 each), this was the first season since 1993-94 with two 50-goal scorers in the AHL... Hamel’s 27 power-play goals matched the single-season AHL record... Houston’s Kirby Law, Grand Rapids’ Bryan Helmer and Binghamton’s Charlie Stephens played all 80 games for the second straight season... Milwaukee and Hartford are the third and fourth teams in AHL history to top 100 points in three consecutive seasons... Syracuse (594) and Hershey (572) topped the previous AHL record of 559 power-play chances in one season, while 12 teams – led by Binghamton (589) – surpassed the old mark of 529 times shorthanded... Manchester led the league in attendance for the third time in four years... More than 360 AHL players have appeared in the National Hockey League as well this season.
FOLLOW THE LEADERS … Some of the statistical leaders for the 2005-06 AHL season:
Points - 110, Kirby Law, HOU
Goals - 56, Denis Hamel, BNG and Donald MacLean, GRA
Assists - 67, Kirby Law, HOU
Games Played - 80, 21 players tied
Penalty Minutes - 431, Dennis Bonvie, WBS
Power Play Goals - 27, Denis Hamel, BNG
Shorthanded Goals - 6, Alexandre Giroux, HFD and Karl Stewart, CHI
Game-Winning Goals - 9, Donald MacLean, GRA and Mark Hartigan, SYR
Plus/Minus - +41, Dustin Penner, POR
GAA - 2.26, Dany Sabourin, WBS
Save Percentage - .9221, Dany Sabourin, WBS and .9220, Josh Harding, HOU
Wins - 34, Frederic Cassivi, HER
Shutouts - 6, Wade Flaherty, MTB
Saves - 1,736, Frank Doyle, ALB
Minutes - 3,538, Frederic Cassivi, HER
Points (rookie) - 93, Patrick O’Sullivan, HOU
Goals (rookie) - 47, Patrick O’Sullivan, HOU
Assists (rookie) - 59, Ryan Shannon, POR
Points (defenseman) - 72, Andy Delmore, SYR
Goals (defenseman) - 17, Andy Delmore, SYR
Assists (defenseman) - 55, Andy Delmore, SYR
Power Play % - 21.8, Grand Rapids
Penalty Killing % - 86.0, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Power Play Goals - 120, Grand Rapids
Shorthanded Goals - 22, Hartford
Goals For - 323, Grand Rapids
Goals Against - 178, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Attendance - 344,490, Manchester (8,612 avg.)
ETC. … Friday night’s crowd of 17,653 fans at the Bradley Center was the largest for a regular-season AHL game in more than five years, and ranked ninth all-time... Grand Rapids and Detroit combined to become the first AHL/NHL affiliates since 1976-77 (Nova Scotia/Montreal) to capture their respective regular-season league championships in the same season... Brad Smyth’s goal in Hartford’s 3-1 win at Providence on Friday night was the 326th of his American Hockey League career, moving him into sole possession of 10th place on the all-time list... Making his professional debut, Stephen Gionta scored three goals and assisted on the game-winner as Albany snapped a 13-game winless skid with a 5-3 win over Springfield on Thursday; he added two goals in Sunday’s 5-4 win in Binghamton... Eight days after earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the NCAA Frozen Four for the national champion University of Wisconsin, Robbie Earl made his pro debut with the Toronto Marlies on Sunday... Portland’s Dustin Penner and Zenon Konopka both ended the regular season on 12-game point-scoring streaks.