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Bernier continues to excel with Monarchs

by Lindsay Kramer
From an individual perspective, Manchester goaltender Jonathan Bernier already has crossed one ambition off his to-do list this season.

"My goal is to be the best goalie in the league, whatever league I play in," he said.

Bernier's numbers this season (30-21-6, .936, 2.03) strongly pointed in that direction. Official status as the AHL's No. 1 was conferred when he was named the league's goalie of the year.

When might he get a chance to start playing king of the hill in the NHL? Considering the way Bernier's playoffs began, it could be soon because he has little else to prove in the minors.

Bernier carried the Monarchs to a sweep of Portland by denying 125 of 130 shots in the series. When you factor in his numbers with the Los Angeles Kings this season -- 3-0, 1.30 goals-against average, .957 save percentage -- it's easy to imagine these AHL games being Bernier's last for a while.

"The result was good when I played up. Sometimes you get frustrated. You want to be in the best league in the world," he said. "Hopefully they'll give me a good chance next year in training camp and hopefully I can be the guy."

Bernier, the No. 11 pick of the 2006 Entry Draft, has put himself in this position by playing some mind games. He said he targeted improvement in his mental consistency more than anything else this season, approaching each game with the same level of urgency.

For the most part he had that mastered, although he dropped a notch from the Pirates series by giving up four goals on 27 shots in a loss to Worcester in Game 1 of the Atlantic Division finals April 25.

"The biggest thing for me is mental, trying to come out every night and be consistent," he said. "That's what I really wanted to work on this year. If you prepare all year, you just worry about playing good down here. I feel ready to take the next step if they (the Kings) give me a chance."

A 'quiet' 41 -- On a team crammed with all-stars and MVPs, Hershey Bears third-line right wing Steve Pinizzotto earned a distinguishing mark of his own this season.

He may have posted the quietest 41 points in the history of the AHL. At least, that's what the record books credit him with. Since Pinizzotto did not get one shift of power-play time this season, he goes with a different kind of math.

"I figured I'd get 20 more points on the power play," he joked. "Let's just say I got 60 points. Stats are a big thing in this business. A lot of people don't notice people who don't get stats."

Hershey's opponents this season definitely do not fall into that group. While Pinizzotto's points total gets lost amid the blizzard caused by Andrew Gordon, Alexandre Giroux, Keith Aucoin, Chris Bourque, etc., other teams know exactly who Pinizzotto is and what he does. He's the pain in the neck who creates game-changing plays on his own terms.

Bears coach Mark French said in his team's six playoff series last season and this season, annoyed opponents typically start chasing Pinizzotto mere minutes after the first faceoff. He also is a penalty-killing demon (7 shorthanded points this year, tied for second in the league) and is reliable in the Bears' zone (plus-40, third in the AHL).

"It's weird. Growing up, I was pretty offensive," said Pinizzotto, 26. "I don't think they (Hershey) saw me as an offensive guy. (French) gave me a chance to play this year. I went with that. I never shy away from the physical part of the game. This year, I just tried to put everything together."

The total picture was enough to create an image of Pinizzotto as a regular AHL utilityman. In each of the past two seasons, he's spent time in both Hershey and South Carolina of the ECHL. This season, he's been a full-time member of a Bears team bidding to go down as a repeat Calder Cup winner and an all-time great AHL squad.

"I always knew I had a spot in Hershey. You feel like you have to put your time in," he said. "I had to come in, get some time on the ice, show what I had to offer."

Pinizzotto thinks someday that menu could include a little more scoring, although he also appreciates the perks of his current job.

"There's not as much pressure on myself as there is on the Aucoins and the Gordons," he said. "If I'm not putting up numbers, I can still go out and hit someone. When playoffs come around, you want a guy like me going out there and finishing checks. When you finish your checks on somebody, almost nobody likes that. It's more of an eye-opener role. It's a good role, especially in the playoffs."
Albany's allegiance -- Albany may be getting a new AHL franchise before it even has a chance to miss the one heading out the door.

"The biggest thing for me is mental, trying to come out every night and be consistent. That's what I really wanted to work on this year. If you prepare all year, you just worry about playing good down here. I feel ready to take the next step if they (the Kings) give me a chance." -- Jonathan Bernier

Parent club Carolina is moving its affiliate to Charlotte next season, which seemingly would end Albany's stretch of hosting AHL hockey since 1993. But according to the Albany Times Union newspaper, an old friend could be coming to the rescue.

The paper reported the New Jersey Devils, the Rats' parent team from its inception in 1993 through 2006, has given the Albany County Civic Center committee a five-year letter-of-intent to move their franchise from Lowell to Albany.

The move is dependent upon improvements to the 20-year-old downtown arena. In order to approve the upgrades -- which include a new video scoreboard and an LED ribbon advertising board -- the committee needed a commitment from the Devils.

The building improvements still must be approved by the full county legislature, which is expected to happen in early May.
Around the AHL -- Abbottsford became the 15th team in AHL history to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-1 and just the fourth to capture a postseason series by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road by beating Rochester in Game 7 of the North Division semis April 27. Heat goalie David Shantz, who spent parts of the last three seasons with Rochester, pitched a 2-0 shutout. … After defeating Milwaukee 2-1 in Game 7 of the West Division semis April 26, the Wolves are 6-0 in winner-take-all playoff games since joining the AHL in 2001-02, including a 3-0 mark in Game 7s. ... Chicago never has been eliminated in the first round of the AHL playoffs. ... Since 1997, the team scoring first in a Calder Cup playoff Game 7 is 32-3. … Hershey's overtime win against Albany in Game 1 of the East Division finals April 24 marked the Bears' third consecutive Game 1 extra-session victory, following a 4-3 defeat of Bridgeport in the division semifinals and a 5-4 win at Manitoba to start the 2009 Calder Cup Finals. … The Bears trailed in the third period in each of their first three games against the Rats, yet rallied to take each of them. … Mike Angelidis recorded an assist in four-straight games last week to match a Rats playoff record. Sergei Vyshedkevich and John Madden are the only other players in franchise history to compile four-game playoff assists streaks, having done so in 1998. … After dropping four straight to Texas in the West Division semifinals, Rockford has lost 10 consecutive playoff games. The AHL record for most consecutive playoff defeats is 12, set by the Buffalo Bisons from 1950-54.

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