April 24, 2013
East Lansing, Mich. - As the teams in the National Hockey League are either fighting for positions or resting their top players with a post-season spot already secured, playoff hockey is about to begin in the American Hockey League (AHL) , the NHL's top affiliates. In the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), the first round of playoffs have already been completed, and the semifinal rounds are in heated competition as the squads make their playoff pushes.
Several Spartans are representing their current professional teams in the upcoming battle for the AHL's Calder Cup, or in the run to the ECHL's Kelly Cup, which is well underway. In all, 12 players in the AHL and ECHL are involved in post-season action with their teams.
AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE
Torey Krug (2009-12) and the Providence Bruins were the best team in the AHL all season long, compiling a record of 50-21-0-5. The P-Bruins will take on No. 8 seeded Hershey in a best-of-five series which starts Friday, April 26. The Baby Bruins clinched the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL's regular-season points champions for 2012-13, and will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Krug is the top-scoring defenseman on his team and ranks fourth among defensemen in scoring in the AHL, and is 11th among league rookies. With a 13-32-45 scoring line in 63 games, Krug was named the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for February and was also the CCM/AHL Player of the Week on April 14.
The Binghamton Senators, featuring Derek Grant and Dustin Gazley, are the No. 5 seed and will face off against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a series that begins on Saturday. Grant (2009-11) made his NHL debut earlier this season with the Ottawa Senators, and has a 19-9-28 line in 63 games with the B-Sens. Grant , who has played 60+ games for his AHL team in each of the last two seasons, got five games with the parent club in February, averaging 13 shifts and nine minutes of ice time in those five games.
Gazley (2007-11) has played 39 games in Binghamton this season after a call-up from the Elmira Jackals, the franchise's ECHL affiliate. He owns a 4-5-9 scoring line in those 29 games, and is a +2. Prior to his recall to Binghamton, Gazley posted a 14-35-49 scoring line in 37 games, making him the third-leading scorer for the Jackals overall on the season. Last season, Gazley was the fifth rookie in ECHL history to lead the league in scoring (25g, 60a) and was named the ECHL Rookie of the Year, and First Team All-ECHL in addition to his spot on the All-Rookie Team.
The Milwaukee Admirals, the No. 8 seed in the west, will tangle with the Texas Stars. Chris Mueller (2004-08) is currently in his second stint in Nashville this season, and has played in 55 games for the Ads this year. He owns an 18-18-36 scoring line in those AHL games, which at the time of his most recent recall, he led Milwaukee in goals and ranked second in points. Mueller has played the last nine games with the parent Predators, and scored his first NHL goal on March 19 at Columbus. He will be returned to Milwaukee at the conclusion of the NHL regular season, as Nashville failed to qualify for the playoffs.
The Syracuse Crunch are the No. 3 seed in the east, and will play the Portland Pirates. The Tampa Bay affiliate has been the home for Jared Nightingale (2002-06) this season. Nightingale, a defenseman, signed as a free agent in Syracuse last summer and appeared in 56 games with a 2-5-7 scoring line for the Crunch. Nightingale spent the previous two years with the Connecticut Whale, where he was the team's IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year in 2011.
Corey Tropp, (2007-10) who has missed most of the 2012-13 season with an injury, has returned to action for the Rochester Americans. The Amerks, the top affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres, are the No. 7 seed and will take on the No. 2-seeded Toronto Marlies. Tropp, who tore his ACL early in the season, has made his return to the Amerks , appearing in six games total with a 2-2-4 line. Last season, Tropp played in 34 games for the parent Sabres, and posted a 3-5-8 scoring line; over two seasons with the team's AHL affiliate (which was located in Portland, Maine, in 2010-11), Tropp owns a 19-43-62 scoring line in 103 regular-season games, along with a two goals and five assists in 15 playoff games over two seasons.
EAST COAST HOCKEY LEAGUE
Brock Shelgren (2009-12) played in 42 regular-season games with the Reading Royals in 2012-13, posting a 2-5-7 scoring line in his first full professional season. The top-seeded Royals defeated the Greenville Road Warriors in the first round (4-1), and have advanced into the semifinals against the reigning Kelly Cup Champion Florida Everblades. Two Spartans are suiting up for Florida, Mike Merrifield (2009-12) and Michael Ratchuk (2006-08). Merrifield played in 36 games, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists (16 points). Ratchuk, a defenseman, started the season in Austria, where he played 42 games for Ljubljana Olimpija HK. He returned stateside to play in 31 games with a 3-17-20 scoring line in Florida. Ratchuk played in 2011-12 for the Everblades, helping the team to the Kelly Cup, and through eight playoff games this season, he has a goal and five assists.
In the quarterfinal round, the Everblades eliminated the Elmira Jackals, where Andrew Rowe (2007-10) was the team's top scorer with a 29-43-72 scoring line in 66 games. Rowe ranked seventh in the ECHL in scoring overall, and was eighth in goals. Until his recall by the Binghamton Senators, Spartan classmate Dustin Gazley was Rowe's teammate in Elmira.
Kevin Estrada (2001-05) is in his second season with the Ontario Reign, and put up six goals and five assist in the regular season; in 65 games over the two seasons, he has a 24-25-49 scoring line with 113 PIM. The No. 2-ranked Reign is in a 1-1 semifinal series tie with the Idaho Steelheads. Ontario won first playoff series in club history, defeating Utah 4- 0 in Western Conference Quarterfinals
Daultan Leveille was on the roster of the San Francisco Bulls late in the regular season after being assigned by Hamilton (AHL), the team's parent club. The Bulls played their inaugural season in the ECHL in 2012-13 and were eliminated by Alaska in the league quarterfinals. He appeared in six games for Las Vegas after playing 25 games in Wheeling, which failed to qualify for the playoffs. Leveille did not play in a post-season game for the Bulls.