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Wolf Pack Send Five Players to AHL All-Star Classic

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
The American Hockey League announced today that five members of the defending Calder Cup champion Hartford Wolf Pack have been selected to participate in the 2001 First Union AHL All-Star Classic, to be held in Wilkes-Barre., Pa., next month. No other AHL team has more than four representatives.

Right wing BRAD SMYTH was voted a starter for the Canadian All-Star Team, where he will be joined by center DEREK ARMSTRONG. Left wing JOHAN WITEHALL, defenseman TOMAS KLOUCEK, and goaltender VITALI YEREMEYEV will play for the PlanetUSA team.

The starting lineups were chosen by on-line fan balloting through the league’s official web site. Reserves were selected by a committee of AHL coaches.

By virtue of the Wolf Pack’s 2000 Calder Cup championship, Canada will be led by Hartford head coach JOHN PADDOCK and his staff, including assistant coach MIKE BUSNIUK, athletic trainer TIM MACRE, and equipment manager JASON LEVY.

Armstrong will be participating in his third consecutive All-Star Game, Witehall will be appearing in his second All-Star Game, and Smyth, Kloucek, and Yeremeyev are first-time All-Stars. The game will feature a squad of Canadian-born All-Stars facing off against PlanetUSA, a team of All-Stars born outside Canada.

This will be the seventh AHL All-Star Game since the event was revived after a 36-year layoff. In 1995, players from Canadian-based teams defeated players from U.S.-based teams, 6-4, in Providence. Team U.S. turned the tables in Hershey a year later, posting a 6-5 victory. The game changed to its current format in 1997, when the World Team defeated Canada 3-2 in a shootout in Saint John. Syracuse hosted the 1998 event, with Canada rallying for an 11-10 win over PlanetUSA. In Philadelphia in 1999, PlanetUSA took a 5-4 decision in a shootout. And last winter in Rochester, Canada claimed an 8-3 victory.

The First Union Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre will host the 2001 First Union AHL All-Star festivities. The AHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Sunday, January 14, and will be broadcast on five networks in the U.S. and Canada, including the New England Sports Network (NESN). The 2001 AHL All-Star Game will be played on Monday, January 15, at 4:00 p.m., and televised live to more than 80 million households, including an ESPN2 audience in the United States.

Brad Smyth, forward, Canadian All-Stars
- Despite being one of the most dangerous snipers in the AHL over the last six seasons, Smyth is making his first All-Star appearance in 2001. The 27-year-old Ottawa native is leading the league with 21 goals, and his 14 power-play tallies this year have already established a Wolf Pack single-season record.
- Originally undrafted, Smyth signed his first pro contract with the Florida Panthers in 1993. As a member of the Carolina Monarchs in 1995-96, Smyth launched an assault on the league record books. In just 68 games, he recorded the second-highest goal output (68) and fourth-highest point production (126) in AHL history, and tied the standard for power-play goals with 27. Smyth was rewarded with the Les Cunningham Trophy as the MVP of the American Hockey League.
- Smyth has picked up 11 goals and 12 assists in 72 NHL games with the N.Y. Rangers, Nashville, Los Angeles, and Florida, and 182 goals and 153 assists in 267 AHL contests with Hartford, Carolina, and Springfield. The 2000-01 season is already his seventh 20-goal campaign as a pro.

Derek Armstrong, forward, Canadian All-Stars
- A 27-year-old native of Ottawa, Armstrong will be playing in his third consecutive AHL All-Star Game. He scored a goal and was the Bauer Canadian Player of the Game at the 1999 event in Philadelphia, and recorded two assists to help Canada to an 8-3 win in Rochester last year.
- Armstrong enters this week as the team leader with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) in 26 games. He is the Wolf Pack’s all-time leader in assists (154) and points (236). Armstrong was also the recipient of the Jack Butterfield Trophy as MVP of the 2000 Calder Cup Playoffs.
- An eighth-year pro, Armstrong was originally drafted by the New York Islanders in the fifth round of the 1992 Entry Draft. He is a veteran of 83 NHL games with the Rangers, Islanders, and Ottawa Senators, and has played more than 400 contests for five teams in the AHL and IHL. In addition to his Calder Cup from last year, Armstrong was a member of the 1995 Denver Grizzlies, who captured the IHL’s Turner Cup.
- Armstrong set personal single-season highs in assists (54) and points (82) in 1999-2000, playing in 77 games with the Wolf Pack. For the third consecutive season, Armstrong is averaging better than a point per game.

Johan Witehall, forward, PlanetUSA All-Stars
- One of the speediest skaters in the AHL, Witehall is making his second appearance in an AHL All-Star Classic; he represented the Wolf Pack at the 1999 event in Philadelphia.
- Witehall, who turns 29 on January 7, has recorded 10 goals and eight assists in 19 games with the Wolf Pack this season. In addition, the native of Goteborg, Sweden, has suited up in nine NHL games for the New York Rangers this year, recording two assists.
- Drafted by the N.Y. Rangers in the eighth round (207th overall) of the 1998 Entry Draft, Witehall is in his third season of North American hockey after playing in Sweden. In 154 career AHL matches, Witehall has recorded 41 goals and 47 assists, and he has added one goal and three assists in 22 games with the Rangers.

Tomas Kloucek, defenseman, PlanetUSA All-Stars
- After a stellar 1999-2000 campaign that earned him a spot on the Bauer AHL All-Rookie Team, Kloucek will be making his first appearance in the AHL All-Star Classic.
- In 18 games with the Wolf Pack this season, Kloucek has two assists and ranks second on the team with a plus-6 rating. He also made his NHL debut, appearing in four matches with the N.Y. Rangers. Last year, Kloucek, 20, ranked fourth among rookies and fifth among all defensemen and tied a team record with a plus-22 rating.
- Drafted by the Rangers in fifth round (131st overall) of the 1998 Entry Draft, Kloucek is a native of Prague, Czech Republic.

Vitali Yeremeyev, goaltender, PlanetUSA All-Stars
- After beginning the season with the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers, Yeremeyev was assigned to Hartford after the New York Rangers dealt J-F. Labbe to the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. In the six weeks since the trade, Yeremeyev has settled into the top spot on the AHL goaltending leaders page.
- Drafted by the Rangers in the ninth round (209th overall) of the 1994 Entry Draft, Yeremeyev (yeh-reh-MAY-ev) had spent his entire career in the former Soviet Union before coming to North America this fall. A representative of his native Kazakhstan at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Yeremeyev led Dynamo Moscow to the Russian league championship in 2000.
- After joining the Wolf Pack on November 10, Yeremeyev posted a shutout in his AHL debut (Nov. 13 at St. John’s), and despite his 4-4-1 record, the 25-year-old netminder leads the AHL with a 1.81 goals-against average and a sparkling .946 save percentage.
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