April 12, 2011

AHL Journal: Storylines abound for N.E. entrants

Monarchs goalie Martin Jones (photo: Dan Hickling)

It took an exhausting 80-game regular season schedule (which, by the way, will shrink to 76 beginning next year) to whittle seven down to three.

Which is to say that four New England-based teams were shut out of the Calder Cup playoffs, while the Portland Pirates, Manchester Monarchs and Connecticut Whale all made it in.

That number is guaranteed to be reduced by at least one after one round, the loser of the Portland/Connecticut series that begins on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Monarchs will host the “crossover” team from the East Division, the Binghamton Senators, in a series that will bring promising Sens rookie Bobby Butler (Marlboro, Mass.), a former University of New Hampshire star, back to his old Granite State stomping grounds.

“I feel good (about that),” said Butler, who finished up his rookie pro regular season by scoring for the parent Ottawa Senators against his hometown team, the Boston Bruins, on Saturday. “I'm definitely excited about playing down there. I'm ready to go.”

Butler and the Sens will be going against a Manchesterteam that has been hit hard by injuries (Andre Loktionov) and call-ups to the parent L.A. Kings (Oscar Moller).

However, the Monarchs do have strong goaltending in the form of rookie Martin Jones and second-year man Jeff Zatkoff.

Manchesters hould prevail, here, but it'll be far from easy. The best guess here is 'Cats in six.

The other New England-centric series will feature the Pirates and the Whale, who perhaps are trading on a nautical theme.

It doesn't appear that Portland will be getting back its quartet of top players – Marc-Andre Gragnani, Mark Mancari, Jhonas Enroth and Matt Ellis – anytime soon.

However, they do have center Luke Adam, freshly anointed as the AHL's Rookie of the Year. Adam has brought plenty of jam to his game in recent weeks.

Connecticut did enjoy some success against the Atlantic Division winners, largely because of the presence of center Tim Kennedy.

However, Kennedy can't help the Whale now, as he was traded at the deadline to the Rochester Americans.

The best guess here is that Portland will win the series in six games.

Around the AHL

Definite playoff no-shows – for the eighth season in a row – were the Springfield Falcons, who finished sixth in the Atlanticin their first year as a Columbus Blue Jackets affiliate. However, one can point to some strong player development success stories scrawled by coaches Rob Riley and Brad Larsen. Among them would be rookie defenseman David Savard, the Jackets' fourth-round pick in the June 2009 Entry Draft. Savard appeared in 72 games and fired in 13 goals while setting up 30 more. “I think I played pretty well,” said Savard, who hails from just outside Montreal. “We had a good veteran group that really helped me a lot. I can't wait to get ready for next year. I'll train hard during the summer and will do all I can to make the team.”

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