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Rivermen on Early Season Roll

by Staff Writer / St. Louis Blues
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … It only takes a quick glance at the Peoria Rivermen’s 2010-11 roster to see several key names who were not part of the fold in 2009-10. So far, the new-look Rivermen are meshing quite nicely and have burst out to the top of the AHL standings.

Peoria swept a three-game weekend road swing through Texas to extend its winning streak to five games and improve to 5-1-0-0 under the direction of first-year AHL head coach Jared Bednar. Peoria has been perfect since dropping a 4-3 heartbreaker to Manitoba in its season opener on Oct. 8, a game which the Rivermen led 3-0. A bolstered offensive attack has keyed Peoria’s early success, as the Rivermen have scored a league-high 26 goals through six games and rank second in the AHL with an average of 4.33 per contest. Peoria also sports the AHL’s top power-play unit through two weeks, having converted nine of its first 29 chances (31.0 percent).

After losing five of their top seven scorers from 2009-10, the Rivermen and parent St. Louis Blues retooled over the summer. The most high-profile addition was two-time Calder Cup champion Graham Mink, and the six-time 20-goal scorer has promptly taken the AHL scoring lead with 12 points (4-8-12) in his first six contests – including 2-5-7 and a plus-6 rating in the weekend wins at San Antonio, Houston and Texas. Two-time AHL All-Star T.J. Hensick arrived by trade from Colorado after leading Lake Erie in scoring last season, and the 24-year-old has begun his Rivermen career on a six-game scoring streak (2-6-8). Coming off a 20-goal effort for Milwaukee a year ago, veteran forward Dave Scatchard (651 career NHL games) shows seven points (2-5-7) through the opening two weeks, and David Spina has chipped in two goals and an assist in his first action with Peoria after spending the previous three seasons with San Antonio.

Peoria’s blue line has been aided by the offseason arrivals of former Calder Cup champions Nathan Oystrick (2008 with Chicago) and Dean Arsene (2006 and 2009 with Hershey). Oystrick has registered 3-4-7 and a plus-6 rating in six games, with all three of his goals and five of his seven points coming on the power play.

Among the holdovers from Peoria’s 2009-10 squad, Nicholas Drazenovic leads the team with five goals (5-3-8) as the fourth-year pro looks to build on his career-high 19-goal showing last year, and Chris Porter already has 3-4-7 in six contests.

Several Peoria rookies are off to impressive starts as well. Twenty-year-old defenseman Mark Cundari has contributed six assists and a plus-6 through his first six pro games after racking up 54 points last year for Windsor (OHL). Center Phil McRae, a second-round draft pick by the Blues in 2008, shows a point in four of his last five games (3-2-5), and Stefan Della Rovere, who played two playoff games for Calder Cup champion Hershey last spring, has a goal and three assists.

A former third-round draft pick by St. Louis, third-year goaltender Ben Bishop (4-1-0, 2.41, .933) has made at least 40 saves in each of his last two wins, and rookie Jake Allen, a second-round pick by the Blues in 2008, earned the victory in his professional debut on Saturday with 30 saves at Houston.

The Rivermen close their seven-game road trip with another visit to Texas for four games in five nights beginning Friday.
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