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AHL Update

AHL Notebook: All-Star Classic takes on new format

Tuesday, 11.24.2015 / 3:00 AM / AHL Update

Patrick Williams - Correspondent

Never afraid to try new ideas and challenge conventional hockey thinking, the American Hockey League will blend some new- and old-school concepts for its 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Classic.

To celebrate the AHL's 80th anniversary, the Syracuse Crunch will host the event at Onondaga County War Memorial Arena. Portions of the movie "Slap Shot" were filmed in the 64-year-old building. AHL president Dave Andrews said that players will wear throwback jerseys for the two-day event that starts Jan. 31, 2016.

"[Syracuse] is a great place to celebrate the league," Andrews said.

But the event will have a decidedly modern wrinkle for what the league is calling an "All-Star Challenge." Much like the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game, each of the AHL's four divisions will ice a team with 11 skaters and two goaltenders. The teams will compete in a round-robin format; each of the six games will be nine minutes. A six-minute final game between the divisional teams with the two best records will settle the event's championship.

AHL Notebook: Blues talent pipeline powering Wolves

Tuesday, 11.17.2015 / 3:00 AM / AHL Update

Patrick Williams - Correspondent

The American Hockey League has evolved into an operation where player development is the undisputed priority for its 30 member teams.

Even the old-school Chicago Wolves have made the transition, though the evolution has not harmed the on-ice bottom line for the St. Louis Blues' AHL affiliate.

Since moving into the AHL from the former International Hockey League in 2001, the Wolves carved out a reputation as something of an independent operation. Their Chicago location, financial clout and win-now approach made it a very attractive destination for AHL veterans. Success followed as well; Chicago won the Calder Cup in 2002 and 2008, and reached the Cup final in 2005.

But the AHL has changed and the Wolves have had to change along with it. After affiliations with the former Atlanta Thrashers and the Vancouver Canucks, the Wolves partnered with St. Louis before the 2013-14 season.

"We like to mirror our game after the Blues," Wolves captain Pat Cannone said.

AHL Notebook: Pacific Division creates new landscape

Tuesday, 11.10.2015 / 3:00 AM / AHL Update

Patrick Williams - Correspondent

"Location, location, location," goes the old axiom, and it applies as much as ever to the NHL and American Hockey League's mutual relationship and needs.

AHL president Dave Andrews completed an offseason project more than 20 years in the making when he made the league's new Pacific Division a reality.

Five NHL teams shifted their AHL affiliates to California looking for the same geographical advantages East Coast NHL teams had enjoyed for years. Long the foundation of the NHL-AHL relationship, player development has taken on even greater importance in the NHL salary-cap era.

Having worked in different capacities in the AHL going back to the 1980s, Andrews has seen the league's evolution up close. Andrews said an investment in player development by NHL teams has fueled many of the changes as NHL front offices look to gain any possible edge in the development process.

AHL notebook: Coach's job more than coaching

Tuesday, 11.03.2015 / 3:00 AM / AHL Update

Patrick Williams - Correspondent

Manning an American Hockey League bench means being part-coach, part-career counselor, part-psychologist, part-father figure and juggling those roles constantly.

Manitoba Moose coach Keith McCambridge's to-do list this season is especially busy as he works to introduce nine rookies into pro hockey. Helping his players handle the transition to the pro game is McCambridge's job.

"You wear many different caps as a coach in this league," said McCambridge, 41, who is in his fifth season as coach of the Winnipeg Jets' AHL affiliate.

AHL Notebook: Lake Erie has options for Blue Jackets

Tuesday, 10.27.2015 / 3:00 AM / AHL Update

Patrick Williams - Correspondent

The Lake Erie Monsters have plenty to deal with at the start of the American Hockey League season without worrying about the fortunes of their new NHL parent club two hours south.

Lake Erie is in the first season of an affiliation with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and each of the teams trumpeted the new all-Ohio affiliation this past summer.

"They get to play in front of management more often," Lake Erie coach Jared Bednar said of the Monsters, who have started 3-1-0-1. "I think they're excited about that."

But amid the Blue Jackets' 1-8-0 start that has led to the arrival of new coach John Tortorella, Bednar knows he must keep his players' attention firmly in Cleveland, not Columbus. But it would be natural with a roster full of young prospects to have attention and gazes drift to the NHL. The Blue Jackets' struggles and the start of the Tortorella era could bring change to the roster in Columbus.

AHL Notebook: Kings' affiliate begins Reign in Ontario

Tuesday, 10.20.2015 / 9:48 AM / AHL Update

Patrick Williams - Correspondent

The Ontario Reign completed a cross-country move this summer, and they brought a Calder Cup pedigree with them.

Playing as the Manchester Monarchs last season, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings won the Calder Cup before relocating to California. The move from New Hampshire put the Reign less than an hour from Staples Center, making for much easier player recalls and regular access for Kings management to keep an eye on its AHL prospects.

The move west has already started to pay off for the Los Angeles organization logistically.

"We've had a lot of communication with the Kings," Ontario coach Michael Stothers said. "It's a lot easier for [management] to get in and just even see a couple of practices. We have [Kings assistant general manager] Rob Blake coming in, [vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel] Mike Futa coming in, as well as our developmental [staff]."

Ontario is off to a 3-0-0-0 start and has allowed one goal. Imprinting the Kings' identity on AHL prospects remains a key organization point of emphasis.

AHL Notebook: Marlies' Keefe key in Toronto rebuild

Tuesday, 10.13.2015 / 9:00 AM / AHL Update

Patrick Williams - Correspondent

Adding general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock attracted most of the headlines for the Toronto Maple Leafs this past summer.

But what happens a five-minute drive from Air Canada Centre with the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies this winter is where the on-ice future begins for the Maple Leafs.

The Maple Leafs' organizational overhaul and the rebuilding process that begins this season will hinge on new Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe being able to open a pipeline of talent from Ricoh Coliseum to Air Canada Centre. Toronto management has provided Keefe, 35, with plenty of resources and raw talent to do so.

"I know that when I played we didn't have [dressing] rooms or amenities like this here at Ricoh [Coliseum]," said Keefe, who played in parts of four AHL seasons. "In this organization, the resources around the players and the attention to detail in all areas of development is top-notch."

New-look AHL opens season with West Coast element

Friday, 10.09.2015 / 2:53 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - For

For the first time, the American Hockey League's opening night will include California-based franchises when the league's 80th season starts Friday.

First announced in January, the formation of the Pacific Division was a project with many moving parts, and an initiative with multiple outcomes that will benefit the long-term future of hockey in North America. It speaks volumes to the crucial role the AHL plays in professional player development, as well as to the growth and support that the game of hockey has been experiencing on the West Coast.

"The importance of the AHL's new Pacific Division to western-based clubs cannot be overstated," San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. "The moves eliminate cross-country travel for players being recalled and re-assigned, and allows our entire hockey staff to monitor and take part in each player's growth and development."

Canucks prospect Virtanen gets first pro look in Utica

Friday, 06.12.2015 / 12:06 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to

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."

Shore, Manchester aim for franchise's first Calder Cup

Friday, 06.05.2015 / 1:42 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to

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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Quote of the Day

Yeah, I guess so. That empty-netter was pretty lucky, but I'll take it.

— Senators forward Mike Hoffman when asked if his two-goal game was a good way to celebrate his 26th birthday
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