April 5, 2011

AHL Journal: Thiessen rewarded for stellar season

by Dan Hickling

Marc_Andre Gragnani (photo: Dan Hickling)

It's a rite of spring -- or, as Stravinsky and our Francophonic friends would put it, le sacre du printemps.

That is, the announcements made annually in bits and bites by the AHL of its year-end awards. The laurels began being tossed out in recent days and, thus far, the recipients have a strong New Englandflair.

That begins with Brad Thiessen, the former Northeastern standout and Hobey Baker finalist, who has backstopped Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the best record in the AHL. On Monday, Thiessen was named winner of the Baz Bastien Award as the league's top goaltender.

The first and second All-Star teams were revealed last Friday, and there, too, the regional ties were strong ones.

First-teamers included Thiessen, with a forward line consisting of Mark Mancari (Portland), Corey Locke (Binghamton) and Alexandre Giroux (Oklahoma City). Both Locke and Giroux were All-Stars in Hartford back in the day.

The blue line consists of Marc-Andre Gragnani (Portland), and Maxim Noreau (Houston). Interestingly, neither Gragnani or Mancari were selected for the AHL All-Star Classic staged two months ago.

Among those on the second team are defenseman Slava Voynov (Manchester), Hershey center Keith Aucoin (Chelmsford, Mass./Norwich) and former UNH forward Darren Haydar (Chicago).

Representing New Englandon the All-Rookie team are forwards Luke Adam (Portland) and Rhett Rakhshani (Bridgeport).

Yet to be announced are awards for the top defenseman, rookie and coach, as well as those for Most Valuable Player and Man of the Year.

Around the AHL

Portland holds a one-point lead over Manchester in the Atlantic Division, despite having carded just one win in its last seven games. Before their 4-2 loss to Connecticut on Sunday, the Pirates had scored first in their previous six games, but went on to record just a 3-0 win over Providence. Think they don't miss their top scorer (Mancari), top defenseman (Gragnani) and No. 1 goalie (Jhonas Enroth), all of whom are currently up with Buffalo. … Portland and Manchester have both sewn up their playoff spots, leaving the Connecticut Whale and Worcester Sharks to duke it out for the final Atlantic Division berth. Both teams have three games to play, with the Whale holding a two-point lead (86-84), a three-win edge in the first tie-breaker and an 11-8 advantage in the second tie-breaker (head-to-head points). Connecticut also enjoys the more favorable schedule, with home-and-home tilts with last-place Bridgeport, before wrapping up against playoff-bound Norfolk. All three of the Sharks' remaining games will be against playoff teams. They'll host Portlandtonight, and then must travel to Charlotte for the final two tilts. The clear advantage rests with the Whale, but, of course, things don't always play out according to form. … More college and junior players are landing in the AHL as amateur tryouts (ATO's). Of note are UNH defenseman Matt Campanale and Merrimack forward Chris Barton (both to Bridgeport), goalie Jason Missiaen and winger Tommy Grant (both to Connecticut), Maine defenseman Jeff Dimmen (Portland), Bruins third-rounder defenseman Ryan Button (Providence) and Boston College forward Cam Atkinson (Greenwich, Conn.) to Springfield. Atkinson's BC teammate, Brian Gibbons (Braintree, Mass.) is heading to Wilkes-Barre after inking a free agent deal with the Penguins.

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.