AHL Southern Division Report
By Al Alven
Covering the Hershey Bears, Norfolk Admirals,
Philadelphia Phantoms and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
With 13 days to go until the start of the 66th season
of AHL hockey, things are beginning to take shape.
This past week, in the Southern Division alone, a
number of developments went down. From rookie/prospect
games to Mario Lemieux demoting himself to the minors
(huh?), it’s been an interesting week.
Let’s take a closer look…
O.K., so that thing about Lemieux sending himself
to the minors was a little misleading. Still, it’s
something I never thought I’d be typing. “Lemieux” and
“minors” just do not belong in the same sentence.
Anyway, for those who haven’t heard, Mario Lemieux
will be playing for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
in an exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Penguins
on Saturday night at the First Union Arena in
Lemieux will wear three different jerseys (one
for each period), each of which will be auctioned off
after the game. Proceeds will be donated to various
charitable causes, including the Twin Towers Fund.
You may recall Wayne Gretzky doing a similar
thing a few years back. During his time with the Los
Angeles Kings, the “Great One” suited up for the IHL’s
Phoenix Roadrunners in an exhibition game versus L.A.
For the record, Lemieux has never appeared in a
minor league game. He jumped straight from the junior
ranks (QMJHL) to the NHL after being selected with the
first overall pick of the 1984 Entry Draft.
On the ice, the highlight of the week was the
pair of rookie/prospect games played between members
of the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins
organizations. The contests were held on Monday (Sept.
17) in Hershey and Tuesday (Sept. 18) in Wilkes-Barre.
The Avalanche took a 4-3 victory in the first
contest, thanks to the late game heroics of Mikhail
Kuleshov. The 20-year-old Russian left winger deked
around two defenders before scoring the game-winner
with just 1:38 left in regulation.
Darryl Bootland (the younger brother of former
Bear Nick Bootland), Evgeny Lazarev and Jaroslav Obsut
scored the other three goals for the Avs. Shane
Endicott (two goals) and Colby Armstrong appeared on
the scoresheet for the Pens.
In addition to the seven goals scored, the game
featured a total of six fights and 110 penalty
minutes. In all, 17 powerplay opportunities were
awarded. The Avalanche went 3-for-8 with the man
advantage. The Penguins went 2-for-9.
Aaron Molnar stopped 12 of 13 shots for the Avs.
He was relieved midway into the second period by Chris
Madden, who earned the win by stopping 11 of 13 shots.
Petr Hamerlik turned aside 29 of Colorado’s 33 shots.
The Pens returned the favor the following night,
handing the Avs a 3-2 overtime loss. With just 4.9
seconds left in the extra session, Alexandre Mathieu
put the rebound of a Mark Moore shot past goaltender
Molar to seal the victory for Pittsburgh.
Moore (the older brother of Avalanche center
Steve Moore) and Martin Sonnenberg also scored for the
Pens. Brian Willsie and Aaron Miskovich tallied for
Goaltender Peter Budaj played the first two
periods for the Avs, stopping 23 of 25 shots against.
Molnar recorded 14 saves on 15 shots in the third
period. For the Pens, Sebastien Caron was excellent.
He played the entire game, stopping 40 of 42 shots.
From Hershey to Denver… and back?
Eight players from the Hershey portion of the
Colorado Avalanche training camp were summoned to the
team’s primary camp on Wednesday (Sept. 19). Forwards
Kelly Fairchild, Mikhail Kuleshov, Evgeny Lazarev,
Moore, Radim Vrbata, Brian Willsie and defensemen
Jaroslav Obsut and Jeff Paul all received the call to
join the big club in Denver.
Of this group, Kuleshov, Moore and Vrbata stand
out as the best longterm prospects. Fairchild, a
veteran minor leaguer, scored five goals in three
scrimmages before the rookie/prospect games.
Regardless, all eight of the call-ups are expected to
be returned to Hershey before the start of the season.
Each of the recalled players should get plenty of
opportunities to at least make an impression in
Denver. Colorado plays six preseason games before the
team opens the regular season on October 3 at
Fourteen other players will remain in Hershey,
including forwards Darryl Bootland, Aaron Miskovich
and Charlie Stephens (all of whom are still without
contracts). The Bears officially open their training
camp on Monday at Hersheypark Arena.
Admirals Setting Sail
In preparation for their training camp (which
opens on Saturday), the Norfolk Admirals have signed a
number of players to AHL standard player contracts
over the past several weeks.
The team signed defenseman Jonathan Aiken and
forward Shawn Thornton on Sept. 6, then inked
defensemen Jeff Helperl and Chris Bogas, and forwards
Olivier Morin and David Thibeault on Tuesday (Sept.
Also on Tuesday, sixteen players officially
accepted invitations to attend the team’s training
camp. The invitees are: forwards Brad Both, Bret
DeCecco, Ryan Dolder, Rick Kowalsky, Troy Lake,
Quintin Laing, Nick Lent, Jason Stewart, Chris
Pittman, Bobby Russell, Mark Scott and Kelly Smart,
defensemen Mike Josefowicz, Jaroslav Kerestes and Dion
Lassu, and goaltender Tyler MacKay.
On Wednesday (Sept. 19), four more players were
added to the training camp mix when the parent Chicago
Blackhawks assigned forwards Tyler Arnason and Matt
Henderson, and defensemen Kent Huskins and Arved Rekis
Today, center Syl Apps III accepted an invitation
from the Admirals to attend training camp as well.
This addition brings Norfolk’s camp roster to 30
Apps is grandson the great Syl Apps, a Hockey
Hall of Famer who led the Toronto Maple Leafs to three
Stanley Cup Championships in the 1940s. His father,
Syl Apps II, was a member of the 1969-70 Calder Cup
Champions Buffalo Bisons.
In other Admirals news, the team recently
announced that the proceeds from the Sept. 28
exhibition “Blue and White” game will be donated to
the United Way Attack on America Relief Fund.
What’s up in Philly?
The Philadelphia Phantoms opened their exhibition
schedule with a 5-1 win over the Albany River Rats on
Thrusday night (Sept. 20) at Continental Airlines
Arena in East Rutherford, NJ. Rookie J.F. Caudron
scored twice for the Phantoms and Maxime Ouellet
stopped 18 of 19 shots in 60 minutes of play.
Guillaume Lefebvre, Mark Freer and Patrick Leahy
also scored for Philadelphia. Sylvain Cloutier notched
Albany’s lone goal.
Ouellet, primed for his first full season at the
pro level, outplayed the New Jersey Devils’ top
goaltending prospect Ari Ahonen (who played the first
two periods). As a member of Team Finland, Ahonen
defeated Ouellet and Team Canada in the semifinals of
last year’s World Junior Championships.
Brendl making his case
Of the nineteen players listed on the Flyers
roster for tonight’s (Friday, Sept. 21) preseason game
vs. the New York Islanders, eight are expected to play
primarily with the Phantoms this season. These players
are: forwards Mark Greig, Mark Freer, Petr Hubacek,
Guillaume Lefebvre and Marty Murray, defensemen Joe
DiPenta and John Slaney, and goaltender Neil Little.
Pavel Brendl will make his second appearance of
the preseason tonight as well. Although many have him
pegged to start the season with the Phantoms, he is
making a strong case for himself to earn a roster spot
with the Flyers.
The knock on Brendl, the wildcard in the Eric
Lindros deal, has always been his perceived lack of
conditioning, commitment and motivation. In New York,
the Rangers became convinced that Brendl was a
headcase and were more than happy to ship him to
Philadelphia, along with Kim Johnsson and Jan Hlavac.
However, Brendl arrived in training camp this
season in excellent condition. He looked sharp in
early practices and scrimmages, then put on a show in
the Flyers’ first exhibition game, a 6-1 win at
Washington. Brendl had two powerplay goals and an
assist in that contest and, at many times during the
game, was clearly the best player on the ice.
Obviously, we’re only talking about one game
here. Still, Brendl has shown an instant chemistry
with linemates Jeremy Roenick and John LeClair. As it
is now, Rick Tocchet has been penciled in as the right
winger on that line.
If Brendl is indeed sent to the Phantoms, it
won’t be until near the end of the preseason. The
Flyers want to give him every opportunity to show them
what he can do. So far, he seems intent on complying
with their wishes.
Other probable Phantoms looking good in early
preseason action with the Flyers include forwards
Hubacek, Murray, Jesse Boulerice, Tomas Divisek and
Vaclav Pletka, and defensemen DiPenta, Francis Lessard
and Bruno St. Jacques.
Scrimmage set for this Wednesday
The Phantoms recently announced that the team
will hold an intrasquad scrimmage at the new Polonia
Bank Flyers Skate Zone in Northeast Philadelphia on
Wednesday, Sept 26. The game will feature Phantoms
players broken into “white” and “black” squads.
The opening faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Preseason schedule announced
On Wednesday (Sept. 19), the American Hockey
League announced its preseason exhibition schedule for
the coming two weeks. The following is a listing of
games involving Southern Division teams…
Saturday, Sept. 22
Albany @ Philadelphia (First Union Center, 11 a.m.)
Tuesday, Sept. 25
Syracuse @ WBS (First Union Arena, 7 p.m.)
Thursday, Sept. 27
WBS @ Syracuse (War Memorial at Oncenter, 7 p.m.)
Friday, Sept. 28
Hershey @ WBS (First Union Arena, 7 p.m.)
Saturday, Sept. 29
Wilkes-Barre @ Hershey (Hersheypark Arena, 7 p.m.)
Norfolk @ Philly (Flyers Skate Zone at Voorhees, NJ, 7
Sunday, Sept. 30
Philly @ Hershey (Hersheypark Arena, 6 p.m.)
That’s all for now. See you next week…
(I would like to take this opportunity to dedicate
and the rest of my written work this season to the
memory of those who lost their lives during the tragic
events of September 11, 2001, as well as to all of
those who suffer from the evils of terrorism around
the world. Please, keep hope alive… always.)