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AHL Update

Canucks prospect Virtanen gets first pro look in Utica

Friday, 06.12.2015 / 12:06 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

For the past two seasons, all anyone in the city of Utica, N.Y., can talk about are the Comets.

In their homes, at their schools, in the workplace, the Comets dominate the conversation. Around town, business windows are adorned with newspaper inserts proclaiming, "WE WANT THE CUP." Their home ice, the Utica Memorial Auditorium, sold out 27 times in the regular season and all 13 games in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Buildings light up blue and green at night, and office windows are coordinated to spell out "Comets" once the sun goes down.

In Utica, the Comets are at the heart of what makes the city tick, and Vancouver Canucks prospect Jake Virtanen learned this almost immediately.

"The first game when I got to Utica was pretty cool. I wasn't sure what to expect, but when I got there it was just unbelievable," Virtanen said recently in an interview with radio station TSN 1040 in Vancouver. "The fans were unbelievable, and the atmosphere. … They're behind our team, and it definitely gives the guys momentum to go out there and work hard."

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Shore, Manchester aim for franchise's first Calder Cup

Friday, 06.05.2015 / 1:42 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

For a team that has dominated the American Hockey League from the start of the season, Saturday night will mark the Manchester Monarchs' first Calder Cup Final appearance in the franchise's 14-year history. Despite all the individual and team accolades, and the continued success in 2014-15, the top development affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings remains even-keeled, ready to take on anything.

"Whether we're up in a game or down in a game, everyone is still the same," Monarchs center Nick Shore said. "If we keep playing the way that we can, we still have a really good chance at the end of the night. It was a good series for us to sweep Hartford [in the conference finals] and that earned us the 10 days to rest and get ready for the next one."

After dispatching familiar foes in the Portland Pirates, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and Hartford Wolf Pack, "the next one" is the 2015 Calder Cup Final against the Utica Comets, a team that they haven't played this season.

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Kings' Weal leading AHL affiliate through playoffs

Friday, 05.22.2015 / 11:02 AM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

From the start the American Hockey League season, the Manchester Monarchs have been a force to be reckoned with.

They had 109 points, the most in the league, and the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings hasn't slowed down in the playoffs, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2010. The Monarchs have a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series against the Hartford Wolf Pack, AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers; Game 2 is Saturday.

Jordan Weal, a third-round pick (No. 70) by the Kings in the 2010 NHL Draft, has been an instrumental part of the Monarchs' success. His 69 points were third in the league in the regular season; in the playoffs he has 10 goals and a league-high 15 points.

"These first two series have been really hard battles and kind of two different dynamics," Weal said prior to the start of the conference final. "It was a big rivalry against Portland [in the first round], and then it was more of a systematic series against Wilkes-Barre [in the second round]. Whoever we play, I don't think it’s going to change our game."

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Capitals' patience with goalies paying off in Hershey

Friday, 05.08.2015 / 1:06 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

Though his performance contradicts it, Pheonix Copley wasn't supposed to play for the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League this season.

Originally penciled in for the ECHL, Copley's fortunes started to change when the Bears' No. 2 goaltender, Eddie Pasquale, needed additional hip surgery that sidelined him for the season. Having signed an entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals in March 2014, Copley was first in line to complete the tandem with starter Philipp Grubauer.

"Grubauer's been our MVP. It's his show, so to speak," Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann said. "But it's very refreshing as a coach to know that we have a guy like Copley, that if he needs to go in for whatever reason, he's certainly capable of winning hockey games for us."

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Leipsic's arrival in Toronto 'catalyst' for AHL success

Friday, 05.01.2015 / 12:14 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

When Brendan Leipsic got the call, he was headed to brunch with his parents.

Then a member of the Milwaukee Admirals, affiliate of the Nashville Predators, the 20-year-old wing was one of the top-scoring rookies in the American Hockey League. Milwaukee had an afternoon game that day against visiting Lake Erie, but its game the previous Friday would turn out to have been the last appearance of Leipsic in an Admirals jersey.

"In your first pro season, you never expect to be traded," Leipsic said. "You never expect to get a call from your general manager saying that. It was definitely a surprise, but I'm glad the way it turned out. I'm happy to be here."

"Here" is the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, which acquired Leipsic along with Olli Jokinen and a 2015 first-round draft pick in a Feb. 15 trade with Nashville that saw forward Mike Santorelli and defenseman Cody Franson head to the Predators. Leipsic was dropped into a Marlies team in the midst of playoff hockey two months too soon.

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Lightning-Red Wings series familiar to AHL followers

Friday, 04.17.2015 / 1:28 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

From behind the lens of the American Hockey League, the Eastern Conference First Round matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings is more than just two divisional rivals going head-to-head: it’s an opportunity to revisit some recent history.

When the Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Syracuse Crunch to win the AHL's Calder Cup championship in 2013, it also marked a graduation for many players in the series to the NHL. Two years later, their parent clubs are doing battle with many of the same faces hitting the ice in pursuit of another Cup.

Of the players on Detroit's playoff roster, 10 have their names engraved on the Calder Cup as members of the 2013 Grand Rapids Griffins: forwards Joakim Andersson, Landon Ferraro, Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Teemu Pulkkinen, and Riley Sheahan, defenseman Danny DeKeyser, and goalie Petr Mrazek.

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Avalanche's Pickard thriving with AHL workload

Friday, 04.10.2015 / 3:25 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

Goaltender Calvin Pickard's ability to handle a heavy workload is starting to pay off.

Making his NHL debut, doing so under the watchful eye of one of his childhood idols and earning the top spot in ESPN "SportsCenter’s" Top 10 Plays are all things the 22-year-old can check off his to-do list. Between the Colorado Avalanche and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, Pickard has appeared in 61 games this season. That includes his first appearance and victory in the NHL.

“It seems like both places I've been in, I've been able to play a lot of games,” said Pickard, Colorado's third-round pick (No. 49) in the 2010 NHL Draft. “That’s how you develop, and I've been earning a lot of experience this year, playing at both levels and in different situations. It’s been a big year for me, for sure.”

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Blue Jackets pick Tynan leading charge in Springfield

Friday, 04.03.2015 / 11:32 AM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

Before the season began, Jared Bednar's biggest concern with TJ Tynan was his size.

The rookie is listed at 5-foot-8 -- the smallest on a Springfield Falcons roster made up of mainly players 6-foot-plus -- and plays a defensively demanding, two-way position in center.

But now, after almost a full American Hockey League season, the Falcons coach's concerns have been completely alleviated.

"I think at first when you see a smaller, undersized guy that has some skill, you wonder as a coach, 'How is this guy going to play in traffic against bigger opponents every night for the course of a really long season?'" Bednar said. "The worries I had as a coach have really dissipated over the course of the season. He's proven to me that he has the ability to be a top player every night on both sides of the puck."

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Lightning prospect Koekkoek handling rigors of AHL

Friday, 03.27.2015 / 11:20 AM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

Slater Koekkoek might have one of the best names in hockey, and it's one Tampa Bay Lightning fans should be hearing for a long time.

About to finish up his first professional season as a rookie with the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, Koekkoek is settling in nicely after four junior seasons in the Ontario Hockey League.

"I expected [the AHL] to be a rough and tough league, and that's what it is. The guys are bigger, stronger, faster," he said. "There was a bit of a learning process, but everything has been going well. I'm happy so far."

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Kings prospect Miller continuing breakout season

Friday, 03.20.2015 / 2:12 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

Colin Miller hasn't yet finished his second season with the Manchester Monarchs, but he's already written himself into the American Hockey League history book.

During the AHL All-Star event in Utica, N.Y., the 22-year-old defenseman fired a 105.5 mph shot during the AHL All-Star Skills Competition, the hardest shot in the event's 20-year history.

"I had never done anything like that before so I was really kind of going into the whole thing blind and just trying to really not embarrass myself too much," Miller said. "I was happy when I hit the net and had a really good time at the entire event."

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Quote of the Day

Obviously there's a lot of expectations around me but it's something I try not to focus on. I'm just trying to go out there, be myself on the ice every day, try to get better, be myself around the guys in the locker room. I think that's what's made me successful and the person that I am.

— Sabres forward Jack Eichel on transitioning from college hockey to the NHL