Courtesy of www.theahl.com and www.hartfordwolfpack.com
The Hartford Wolf Pack captured the Emile Francis Trophy as the champions of the American Hockey League's Atlantic Division with a 5-2 win over Lowell tonight.
It is the Wolf Pack's second division title in their seven-year history. They won the New England Division in 2000 en route to a Calder Cup championship.
Ken Gernander and Cory Larose each collected a goal and an assist for Hartford, which scored a pair of shorthanded markers on the night. Jason LaBarbera made 29 saves for his 32nd win of the season.
With the win, the Wolf Pack are the first AHL team to clinch a divisional title. That guarantees home ice advantage for the Pack through the division finals. At this point, the Atlantic Division race is still so close the Wolf Pack could mathematically play Worcester, Providence, Portland or Lowell. In all likelihood, the Pack's Calder Cup run will start Wednesday, April 21, unless there is a Hartford-Portland match-up, when the first game would go Tuesday, the 20th.
The win gives the Wolf Pack 98 points (42-22-12-2), tied with Philadelphia (45-24-6-2) for the conference lead, although the Phantoms have a game in hand. The Pack have lost the least amount of games in the league with 22, and are currently just two points behind Milwaukee for the league title, which would translate to home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Emile Francis Trophy was created by the AHL in 2001 and recognizes a Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender who played more than 300 games in the AHL, including a Calder Cup championship run in 1954. Francis served as both head coach and general manager of the Wolf Pack's parent club, the New York Rangers.
This weekend, the Pack plays at home against Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Saturday (7:05 PM ET) and then on Sunday versus Providence (4:05 PM ET). Saturday is the kickoff of the team's Fan Appreciation Weekend and everyone in attendance will receive a gift, including 2,004 lucky fans who will get the 3rd annual limited edition Sonar bobblehead. This collectable is a fan-favorite. Saturday, the team will also literally give fans "the shirts of their backs." At the end of the game, players will take off their jerseys and 20 lucky Wolf Pack supporters will be randomly chosen to win them. In addition, Dora the Explorer will be in attendance to meet and greet children at the game.
On Sunday, the team salutes their best with the annual Awards Night presentations. Awards will be presented to the Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, the Unsung Hero, Best Defenseman and the Community Service Award. The ceremony will take place at the conclusion of the game.