Contributed by AJ Cich
February is the month for love. Whether it be true love, man-love or the love of hockey, February was chocked full of it. February was different this year and marked something spectacular. Vancouver was host to the 2010 Winter Olympics, and these games are going to be remembered for a long time by hockey fans all across the North American continent. The gold medal and preliminary games between Canada and the United States (both men’s and women’s) will go down in the record books as some of the best hockey games to ever be played. Congratulations go out to all the squads – North Americans have much to be proud of. When hockey is on the world’s stage, fans hope for an award winning performance, and we received just that.
Although many hockey players and fans, including myself, had our attention focused on the Olympic tournament this past month; other hockey leagues like the AHL did not have a break. The month of February usually marks the time where AHL teams must make every game count because once March hits, time becomes the enemy of those trying to make the playoffs. The three players spotlighted this month have been some of the biggest contributors for their teams during the playoff hunt. Their individual efforts have helped quarterback their squads and earn the first-place positions for a lead in the division heading into the last full month of the season.
Jhonas Enroth, G, Portland Pirates
After a rather slow and unexpected start to the season, the Portland Pirates found their game and springboarded from the very bottom of the Atlantic Division to first place. The Pirates have 78 total points coming from their 35 wins and 18 losses this season. One of the biggest reasons why Portland went from the doghouse to the penthouse was the stellar play by their starting goaltender. Enroth, hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, has been on an absolute tear during the second half of the AHL season. At one point, the Pirates were 12-0-1 through the month of January, thrusting themselves into the top spot in the division, and Enroth was the biggest contributor to that cause. Enroth is currently 27-16-1 on the season with a 2.36 GAA and a .918 SV%. The team is currently on a two-game winning streak going into the month of March. Expect to see Enroth finish the season with at least 10 more wins under his belt before playoff time. If there is anything the Buffalo Sabres do well, it’s being able to draft great goaltenders – just look at American hero and Olympic MVP Ryan Miller.
Brock Trotter, C, Hamilton Bulldogs
The Hamilton Bulldogs have been widely known to be one of the premiere and elite teams among the AHL for past ten or so years. So it is no surprise that going into the month of March, the Bulldogs have amassed a record of 39-14-3-5 during the 2009-10 campaign, good for first place in the North Division. Much of the Bulldogs’ success comes from the almost psychic, drafting gurus in the Montreal Canadiens’ front offices. Much of the Canadiens’ star players have been brought through their farm system to prepare them to step into NHL-caliber roles. One Bulldog to keep your eyes on is third-year man Brock Trotter. Trotter currently has 28 goals and 33 assists for the Hamilton this season. Besides the points he has generated this season, Trotter is a plus/minus god. Trotter, at present, has a plus/minus rating of +26. That is absolutely staggering for someone who plays at the center position. If you do the math, out of the 61 games played for far for the Bulldogs, Trotter is averaging a +2.17 plus/minus every game. With the almost .500 record for the Canadiens, barely good enough for the eighth position in the Eastern Conference; Montreal fans must be looking forward to what next season may bring. I would not be surprised to see Trotter logging some more icetime with Montreal during this important playoff push. Although Trotter was a (-1) with no points for the combined two games he played this month for the Canadiens, keep an eye out for his certain return to the Habs.
David Desharnais, C, Hamilton Bulldogs
As I have gushed over the play of Trotter, my man-love continues to extend to another Bulldog centerman. Desharnais has been the ‘counterpunch’ to Trotter’s ‘punch’ for the already stacked Bulldogs roster. Desharnais has been centering the Bulldogs’ second line for most of the 43 games he has played this season. In this, his second full season played as an AHL player, Desharnais has 20 goals and 37 assists with a +15 rating. Like Trotter, Desharnais is almost always on the ice for a Hamilton goal and with his assist numbers – he’s the guy who is helping make those goals happen. Expect to see his assist total hit 50+ by season’s end. He will need to ride his success and be the strong force that he has been this season as the Bulldogs make their way into the Calder Cup playoffs again this season. Although I do not believe Desharnais is NHL ready at this point, fantasy owners should pay close attention to what this young center is doing in the coming seasons. As the Canadiens have shown over the course of many seasons, they know how to foster the growth and prepare their young talent for the NHL.