Monday's Catch Up & Links 5/18

Monday, May 18, 2015
The AHL announced today that Syracuse will host the 2016 All-Star Classic January 31st - February 1st.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Plenty of hockey related news on a busy Monday in mid-May, so perfect timing to bring back Monday's Weekly Catch Up & Links this week. The plan is to have this weekly Monday post throughout the duration of the summer.

In the American Hockey League, the final four is almost set as Grand Rapids Griffins eliminated the Rockford IceHogs in five games to advance to the Western Conference Finals. The Utica Comets could join the Griffins in the third round with a win tonight at home in Game Six against the Oklahoma City Barons. A win by the Barons would force a winner-take-all Game Seven on Wednesday night.

The Eastern Conference Final is already set, with the top seeded Manchester Monarchs taking on the Hartford WolfPack for the rights to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2015 Calder Cup Finals.

The AHL announced earlier this afternoon that the Syracuse Crunch will be hosting the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic in the league's 80th anniversary season, with the Skills Competition Sunday January 31st followed by the AHL All-Star Game on Monday February 1st. Here's the league's press release.

As for a content schedule of what to expect here online in the next few weeks, I have come up with a loose calendar of sorts for what you'll be able to read here:
  • I'm going donate a week of content space online for each of the AHL teams I covered this season, starting with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins next week (May 25th - 31st) and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms the following week (June 1st - 7th).
  • I'll have end of the year progress reports with a look at each prospect in the organization with a synopsis of their season, some insights on their development and what to expect in 2015-16. I'll also have a deeper look at the rosters of each team at the AHL level, who is under what kind of contract, the impending free agents and some simple explanations of words you will see all summer long (i.e. restricted versus unrestricted free agents, etc.)
After the jump, some extra reading you might have missed over the past week with the weekly links.

Saturday's Morning Skate 5/16

Saturday, May 16, 2015
Manchester will face Hartford in the Eastern Conference Finals starting Thursday night.
EDITOR'S NOTE: First off, stay tuned here all summer long for the latest off-season news surrounding the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Lehigh Valley Phantoms. I'll be working on putting together an off season post with a preview of what's to come this summer and all the dates you need to remember, etc. I have decided to bring back Monday's Catch Up & Links weekly feature that I will run throughout the off-season starting next Monday, May 18th.

Last night, the Eastern Conference Finals match up was set as the Hartford WolfPack ousted the Hershey Bears 6-3 in Game Six and will face the Manchester Monarchs in the third round - four wins away from the 2015 Calder Cup Finals.

A quick look at the Eastern Conference Finals schedule:

Game 1 – Thu., May 21 – Hartford at Manchester, 7:00
Game 2 – Sat., May 23 – Hartford at Manchester, 7:00
Game 3 – Tue., May 26 – Manchester at Hartford, 7:00
Game 4 – Wed., May 27 – Manchester at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., May 30 – Hartford at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sun., May 31 – Manchester at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 7 – Tue., June 2 – Hartford at Manchester, 7:00

In the West, the Utica Comets are up 3-2 in their best-of-seven series against the Oklahoma City Barons with Game Six Monday in Utica. Game Seven of that series, if necessary,is also in Utica and would be played on Wednesday night.

The Grand Rapids Griffins are also one win away from the Western Conference Finals, up three games to one on the Rockford IceHogs. Game Five of that series is Sunday evening, 5 p.m. ET.

AHL Phantoms/Penguins Added To New 'Atlantic Division' for 2015-16 Season

Thursday, May 14, 2015
The new division alignment for the AHL next season via the league's official website.
The American Hockey League (AHL) announced Tuesday the approval of new divisions for the AHL's 2015-16 season. In a move similar to the NHL, the AHL will also now have four divisions - Atlantic and North Divisons in the Eastern Conference and Central and Pacific Divisions in the Western Conference.

A deeper look at the similarities/differences the new divisions present for AHL fans after the jump.

Fast Starts Help Manchester Advance to AHL Eastern Conference Finals

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Manchester eliminates W-B/Scranton in five games with 2-1 win tonight.
The Manchester Monarchs fast starts in this postseason have helped them to the Eastern Conference finals after an another early goal - 2:01 into the first period tonight in Game Five - propelled the Los Angeles Kings affiliate to a series clinching 2-1 over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the second round.

While the Monarchs' top line was held in check, their depth as a team showed as the second and third lines cashed in for back-to-back goals in the opening period for a lead they would never look back on.

Conor Sheary got the Penguins on the board with 1:17 left in the second period - making it a one-goal game heading to the third - but despite several flurries of pressure in the final frame were unable to force a Game Six in Manchester this weekend.

A tough finish for Matt Murray after a tremendous rookie season, who was pulled 14:57 into the game after allowing two goals on six shots. Jeff Zatkoff stopped all 22 shots he faced in relief to keep the Penguins in it, but it wasn't meant to be for the WBSPenguins in their 16th season as an AHL franchise.

The Monarchs will face the winner of the other Eastern Conference Semifinals series between the Hershey Bears and Hartford WolfPack, with the top-seeded Monarchs guaranteed home-ice advantage in the next round.

Thoughts from Monarchs head coach Mike Stothers and forwards Brian O'Neill and Michael Mersch after the jump.

Monarchs Put Penguins On The Brink

Monday, May 11, 2015
Manchester puts Penguins on the brink.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are one game away from a second round exit in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs following a 5-2 loss to the Manchester Monarchs tonight in Game Four. The Monarchs lead the series three games to one and can close things out Tuesday night in Wilkes-Barre in Game Five. 

The Monarchs' top line of Michael Mersch, Jordan Weal and Brian O'Neill re-ignited their prior offensive firepower from the opening face-off - scoring 42 seconds into the game and never really looking back. The trio combined for four goals and three assists and has caused their opposition fits all postseason long.

The Penguins tallied two goals 37 seconds apart in the final frame by Tom Kostopoulos and Bryan Rust to get the Pens on the board and close the 5-0 gap to 5-2, but it was too little too late and the Penguins face elimination for the first time this postseason tomorrow night in Game Five at home.