Alexandre Bolduc is healthy and producing again after seasons of being hindered with shoulder problems.
Last year, the Montreal native underwent left shoulder surgery to correct a problem in which his shoulder kept popping out. He missed most of the 2011-12 season. But feeling fit and as strong as ever, Bolduc has been his old aggressive self this fall with 12 goals and 24 points in 22 games with the Portland Pirates.
The 27-year-old has played so well, he's almost certain to find a spot on the Phoenix Coyotes roster when or if the lengthy NHL lockout gets resolved. The Coyotes signed Bolduc 17 months ago after he spent six years in the Vancouver Canucks organization.
A strong two-way player in junior and solid faceoff man, Bolduc has never scored more than 18 goals since he turned pro in 2005. In his first full season with the Manitoba Moose in 2007-08, he checked in with 18 goals and 37 points. That strong showing prompted the Canucks to sign the 6-foot-3, 200-pound centre.
Bolduc, the Pirates captain, is on pace to beat his pro career highs in goal and point totals this season and possibly earn a full-time spot in the NHL for the first time in his career.
Turning it around
The Grand Rapids Griffins and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have identical 13-7-2 records. Both teams have managed to climb the AHL standings two months into the season despite poor starts.
The Griffins emerged out of the gate at 1-3-2, while the Penguins were even worse with an 0-4-0 start. But through depth and strong goaltending, the Detroit Red Wings farm club (Grand Rapids) and the Pittsburgh Penguins' AHL affiliate have bounced back.
In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins' 25-year-old goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who just happens to be from Detroit, has the league's fifth-best goals against average (2.00) and ninth-best save percentage at .922, plus only Springfield's Curtis McElhinney has more wins at 13 to Zatkoff's 10.
It's no surprise that Eric Tangradi, who has 40 games of NHL experience with Pittsburgh, leads Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with 10 goals in 22 games. But rookie forward Beau Bennett has been a pleasant surprise. He leads the team in points with 19.
A Penguins' first-round pick (20th overall) in 2010, the 21-year-old Bennett, from Gardena, Calif. played for the Penticton Vees in 2009-10 and tied for the BCHL scoring lead. He spent the next two seasons at the University of Denver before signing an entry-level contract with the Penguins last spring.
Rookie defenceman Chad Billins, 23, has been a pleasant surprise in Grand Rapids. The former Ferris State blue-liner has 16 points in 22 games. Signed as a free agent by the Griffins in the summer, Billins hails from Marysville, Mich., not far from Sarnia, Ont.
Veterans help in San Antonio
The San Antonio Rampage signed 34-year-old defenceman Mike Mottau and 35-year-old Jonathan Sim last week and the two made an immediate impact in back-to-back wins at home over Oklahoma City in their first action for San Antonio over the weekend.
Sim has 469 games of NHL experience with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, Florida Panthers, Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers and New York Islanders. The native of New Glasgow, N.S., last played in the AHL for Bridgeport on Nov. 24, 2011. The wait between AHL games has been even longer for Mottau of Quincy, Mass., who finished last season with the Boston Bruins. He last suited up for Lowell on April 15, 2007.
Filling the seats
Some teams have put AHL games in NHL buildings that have been dark due to the 86-day lockout. The crowd of 18,506 fans at the Verizon Center to watch the Washington Capitals' farm team, the Hershey Bears, defeat the Norfolk Admirals 2-1 last Thursday was the 12th largest in AHL history.
The D.C. gathering was only 76 fewer than the 18,582 that watched the Montreal Canadiens' farm club, the Hamilton Bulldogs, get dumped 4-1 by the Syracuse Crunch on Nov. 9. The game in Montreal was the seventh-largest indoor game in AHL history.
Here are the Top 10 largest crowds (indoor and outdoor, regular season and playoffs):
1. 45,653, Jan. 6, 2012*
Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia: Adirondack 4, Hershey 3 (OT)
2. 21,673, Feb. 19, 2011*
Rentschler Field, East Hartford: Providence 5, Connecticut 4 (SO)
3. 21,508, Feb. 20, 2010*
New York St. Fairgrounds, Syracuse: Syracuse 2, Binghamton 1
4. 20,672, Jan. 18, 1997
Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro: Carolina 5, Kentucky 4
5. 20,565, Jan. 21, 2012*
Ivor Wynne Stadium, Hamilton: Toronto 7, Hamilton 2
6. 20,103, June 10, 2005**
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia: Philadelphia 5, Chicago 2
7. 19,730, Feb. 10, 2001
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia: Philadelphia 5, Syracuse 5 (OT)
8. 19,532, Feb. 28, 1999
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia Philadelphia 3, Kentucky 3
9. 18,907, Nov. 20, 1998
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia: Philadelphia 2, Hartford 1
10. 18,626, Jan. 22, 2010
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland: Lake Erie 5, Texas 4 (OT)
*Outdoor game. **Playoff game.
Future AHL games in NHL rinks
There are more games planned this season for NHL arenas.
Dec. 26: Hamilton at Toronto (Air Canada Centre)
Dec. 28: Lake Erie vs. Rochester (First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y.)
Jan. 6: Norfolk vs. Charlotte (RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.)
Feb. 22: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton vs. Adirondack (Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia)
Feb. 22: Rochester vs. Hamilton (Bell Centre in Montreal)
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