AHL Eastern Conference notebook, April, 2014

By Tony Androckitis

John Gibson - Norfolk Admirals

Photo: Norfolk Admirals goaltender and Anaheim Ducks prospect John Gibson was having a strong showing in the 2014 AHL playoffs before getting the call to play for the Ducks in Game 4 of their series against the Los Angeles Kings (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

The 2014 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs are in mid-swing and there have been plenty of upsets in the Eastern Conference, which saw all three regular season division champions fall in the first round. While the Western Conference might have taken the spotlight winning most of the league’s awards and honors, there are plenty of Eastern Conference players who continue to show they’re ready to take on a larger role with their respective NHL affiliates next season.

Penguins Goalies Win Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award

For the third time in the last four seasons, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goaltenders have won the award given to the team that allows the fewest goals in the regular season. The award was given to Jeff Deslauriers and Eric Hartzell, who both appeared in at least 25 games this season.

Oddly enough, their playoff goaltender is none other than Peter Mannino, whose journey from a suspension for failure to report to the Penguins' ECHL affiliate to becoming the Penguins’ starter down the stretch has been quite remarkable.

Mannino appeared in 18 games for the Penguins and tallied 11 wins, including four shutouts in the final stretch of regular season games to secure the fewest goals allowed title for the Penguins for another season.

Playoff Performers

As the field in the East was cut in half from eight to four teams, several players stood out and helped their team advance to the second round. Surprisingly, the top three seeds heading into the playoffs were all eliminated in their best-of-five Eastern Conference quarterfinals series.

The eighth-seeded Norfolk Admirals took care of the top-seeded Manchester Monarchs in four games and, despite managing only seven goals in the first round, they couldn’t have done so without some great goaltending and timely scoring.

John Gibson was 3-1 with a 1.42 goals-against average and .947 save percentage heading into the second round, including an impressive 35-save shutout in Game Three which marked a turning point in that series with Manchester. It’s only a matter of time before the Pittsburgh native is an NHL regular.

Rookie forwards Max Friberg and Nic Kerdiles each tallied a goal and an assist in the first round. Friberg, who tallied 40 points (17G-23A) in his first pro season, has formed quite a trio with newcomer Andre Petersson (acquired from Ottawa for defenseman Alex Grant) and the recently added rookie Kerdiles.

Kerdiles, Anahiem’s second round pick in 2012, finished up an impressive season at the University of Wisconsin, posting 38 points (15G-23A) in 28 games. He came to the AHL and made an immediate impact, scoring his first pro goal before the end of the weekend in his third game with the Admirals.

The Admirals also got timely goal scoring from Maxime Sauve, who scored the overtime game-winner in Game Three and the series-winning goal in the third period of Game Four. Sauve was scratched for Game One of the series, but made sure to make an impact in the three games he played.

An already strong Norfolk team could receive help in the form of forwards Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly should their parent NHL club Anaheim get knocked out of the postseason by the Los Angeles Kings, although the Ducks have come back from a 2-0 series deficit to tie that series.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins took care of the Binghamton Senators in the first round for the second straight year, relying heavily on their veteran duo of Andrew Ebbett (2G-4A) and Chuck Kobasew (3G-3A).

The Penguins also got solid production from their second year pro Brian Dumoulin (1G-3A) and steady defense from rookie Scott Harrington and sophomore Reid McNeill, not to mention some key saves from Peter Mannino against the AHL’s top scoring team in the regular season.

The St. John’s IceCaps defeated the Albany Devils in the first round, thanks to some solid goaltending from Michael Hutchinson and a Game Four hat trick from Andrew Gordon. A pair of rookie defensemen – Brenden Kichton (2G-0A) and Josh Morrissey (1G-2A) – anchored the blue line offensively

The Providence Bruins face the Penguins for a second straight year in the Eastern Conference semi-finals after failing to win last year after a 3-0 series lead. Rookie forwards Seth Griffith (2G-4A) and Alexander Khokhlachev (2G-2A) lead the way for the Bruins up front, while Zach Trotman (0G-4A) and David Warsofsky (1G-3A) have contributed from the blue line through the first round of the postseason.

Hot List – April

1. Jerome Samson – RW, St. John’s IceCaps

Samson finished the regular season on an offensive tear, tallying 13 points (6G-7A) in his last eight games and being named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the final week of the regular season.

2. Emerson Etem – RW, Norfolk Admirals

Etem finished the regular season on a seven-game point-scoring streak in which he tallied 10 points (7G-3A). In his second pro season, Etem finished with above a point-per-game average in the AHL with 54 points (24G-30A) in 50 games.

3. Carter Camper – C, Springfield Falcons

After being traded at the deadline, Camper has led the Falcons in scoring this season and has 19 points in 20 games since coming over in the trade. Camper tallied 12 points (4G-8A) in his last 11 games of the regular season and will be relied on heavily in their first round series against his former team, the Providence Bruins.

4. Jonathan Marchessault – LW, Syracuse Crunch

Marchessault started to form chemistry with his new teammates in Syracuse after a deadline day trade sent Marchessault from the Columbus organization to Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate. Marchessault tallied 14 points (9G-5A) in his final 14 games of the season, including eight points (6G-2A) in his last seven games.

5. Peter Mannino – G, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

Before allowing five goals in his final start of the regular season, Mannino had gone 14 straight appearances without allowing more than two goals. In his last 10 starts of the season, Mannino posted a record of 7-3-0 with four shutouts.

Hot List – Season

1. Mike Hoffman – LW, Binghamton Senators

Hoffman took the next step in his fourth pro season. Despite not appearing in an AHL game since late-February, he still finished eighth in the league in scoring after racking up 34 points (15G-19A) in his final 22 games with Binghamton before earning a recall to Ottawa.

2. Jason Akeson – RW, Adirondack Phantoms

Despite playing on a Phantoms team that had trouble scoring goals all season long, Akeson was one of the lone bright spots in the Philadelphia Flyers' AHL system. Akeson finished tenth in the league in scoring with 64 points (24G-40A) in 70 games and played for the Flyers in their first round series against the New York Rangers.

3. Brenden Kichton – D, St. John’s IceCaps

Kichton appeared in all 76 games for the IceCaps this season and did not disappoint. His 48 points (10G-38A) led all rookie defensemen in the AHL this season and was sixth among all defensemen in the league. The WHL’s top defenseman from 2012-13 was one of the best offensive defensemen in the AHL this season.

4. John Gibson – G, Norfolk Admirals

The rookie goaltender was very impressive in his first professional season, tallying 21 wins and five shutouts and leading his team into the playoffs. Gibson made his NHL debut at the end of the NHL’s regular season and earned a shutout in his first NHL game with Anaheim. Gibson also earned a shutout in his first NHL playoff start, the first goaltender to pick up shutouts in his NHL regular season and playoff debuts since Tiny Thompson did so in the 1928-29 season.

5. Andy Miele – C, Portland Pirates

In his third pro season, Miele eclipsed the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his pro career. He finished third in the league in scoring with 72 points (27G-45A) in 70 games on a Portland team that didn’t have a lot of firepower this season. Miele, along with rookies Lucas Lessio and Tobias Reider, look to turn things around in Maine next season.

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