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The Official Site of the New York Rangers

2004-05 American Hockey League Preview

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

by Bob Crawford

The Wolf Pack look to be a strong club headed into the start of this 2004-05 AHL season, but that can also be said about most of the teams that they'll be seeing quite a bit on their schedule. A few things that jump out about some of the big rivals' rosters:

Springfield: The Falcons finished 22 points out of a playoff spot in their last year as a Phoenix affiliate last season, but they could easily be a powerhouse this year in their first campaign as the sole affiliate of the Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Bolts prospects like Nikita Alexeev and Adam Henrich will be honing their games in Springfield, and the Lightning and Falcons have combined to bring in solid veterans such as Jarrod Skalde, Shane Willis, Craig Darby, Darren Rumble and old friend Terry Virtue, and Jamie Storr, who has logged 219 games of NHL net action in his career, has been signed to help guard the Falcon cage. The Wolf Pack have held sway in the season series' with their Massachusetts neighbors every year after their first season of existence, but most likely they'll find that a tougher challenge this year.

Manchester: The Monarchs have lost a big part of their division-best offense from last year, with Pavel Rosa, Steve Kelly and Bryan Muir all no longer in the fold. 2003-04 All-Rookie selection Noah Clarke is back, however, and the parent L.A. Kings have signed our buddy Brad "Shooter" Smyth to make his return to the AHL. Nobody knows better than Wolf Pack fans how regularly Smyth can fill the net, and after a year playing in Finland he's got to be glad to get back to the smaller rinks, where it takes fewer strides to get to those prime scoring areas. Also, L.A. picked up former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton captain Tom Kostopoulos, who will start the season in Manchester. Kostopoulos has always been one of those guys that I've always thought highly of as a player, a guy who's not blessed with otherworldly skills but really works his tail off every night and you always notice out there. While they've had a tough time finding any success in the playoffs, the Monarchs have been an excellent regular-season team each year, and there's no reason to assume that will change this season.

Lowell: The Lock Monsters have missed the playoffs two years in a row, and that's been largely due to the twin scourges of injuries and recalls. They can't do anything about injuries, but at least callups won't be a worry for the first part of the season. And with two parent clubs, Carolina and Calgary, Lowell has a large talent base upon which to draw. Eric Staal is one premier player that I'm looking forward to seeing up close. He was the second overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft by the Hurricanes and managed 11 goals and 31 points with the 'Canes last year as 19-year-old. Chuck Kobasew, a Calgary first-rounder who played 70 games with the big club last season, has been assigned by Calgary to the Lock Monsters, and they've also received Matthew Lombardi, a 16-goal-scorer in 79 contests with the Flames a year ago.

Portland: Judging by Alexander Semin's performance in the playoffs against the Wolf Pack and Providence this past spring, not to mention the fact that he got into 52 games in Washington with the Capitals, one could reasonably expect that he would not be spending any further time in the AHL. The Pirates will get a chance to welcome him back, though, and I'll be interested to see if the competitiveness that he showed in that five-game series against the Pack will sustain itself through the majority of an AHL or NHL season. If it does, Semin should be a great player, one who is capable of carrying a team...he certainly has top-drawer skills.

Providence: The Bruins should have excellent top-end talent, with Brad Boyes back from last season and Patrice Bergeron in from Boston for as long as the lockout lasts. Bergeron just turned 19 in July and normally wouldn't be eligible to play in the AHL, but with him having spent all of last year with the parent club, an accommodation was worked out with the governing body of Canadian Junior hockey to let Bergeron join the P-Bruins rather than go back to his Junior club. Providence has also added some solid experience in long-time AHL stalwarts like former Wolf Pack Brent Thompson and three-time 20-goal-scorer Jeff Daw.

Bridgeport: The Sound Tigers will be undoubtedly hurt by the Pack's signing of former Wolf Pack-killer Jeff Hamilton, and Derek Bekar and his 24 goals have migrated to Providence, but the cupboard is hardly bare down by the Sound. The Islanders have replaced one AHL goal-scoring champ (Hamilton) with another, Justin Papineau, who co-led the circuit with 38 tucks for the 2001-02 Worcester IceCats. Veteran sniper Jim Campbell is also on the Bridgeport roster this year, as are Justin Mapletoft, who played 27 games in the Show last season, and 2002 first-rounder Sean Bergenheim. And the goaltending tandem of Wade Dubielewicz and Dieter Kochan that combined to set a league record of only 140 goals-against last year is also back in Sound Tiger colors.

Worcester: The IceCats have much of their nucleus back from last season, including their top four scorers, and have added a familiar name in blueliner Mike Mottau, one of the true good guys in the AHL. Worcester lost a real skilled player in Jeff Panzer, who was grabbed off waivers by Columbus, and also is missing Jame Pollock, who always seemed to wear out the Wolf Pack whenever they saw him. St. Louis got Jason Bacashihua as a nice complement in net to Curtis Sanford, though, and also signed South Windsor native Jon DiSalvatore, who struck for 22 goals with Cleveland as a rookie last year.
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