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Bears bringing it

Bears center Keith Aucoin has been called up by the Capitals three times this season and played nine NHL games, scoring a goal and five points. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

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Bears center Keith Aucoin has been called up by the Capitals three times this season and played nine NHL games, scoring a goal and five points. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

A Calder Cup championship can often breed a rocky sequel the following season for an American League club.

NHL scouts flock to winners and often raid the roster. European opportunities also beckon and the rigors of a playoff run extending into June can physically take a toll on a roster.

The Hershey Bears, however, have experienced no such difficulties two months into their defense of the franchise’s AHL-best 10th Calder Cup. The Bears rank among the AHL’s elite, despite having lost 10 regulars to the NHL’s Capitals through recall at various points.

Consistency via a top-flight penalty kill and the league’s most dangerous offense has carried the Bears. Coach Mark French’s troops have not dropped more than two consecutive games. Hershey is also 4-1 in Saturday games following a Friday night loss.

“We follow up bad efforts really well and I think it’s a sign of leadership and character in our room,” French explained.

Hershey has found plenty of reinforcements to accommodate the flow of traffic to Washington. Andrew Gordon had a breakout year in last season’s 21-goal effort, but the third-year winger’s scoring touch has exploded this season with 15 goals over his first 27 games to tie for the AHL lead in goals.

Hershey can also put together a statement game. The Bears ripped apart elite-level peer Rochester 6-2 on Dec. 12 following a dreadful loss the previous evening at Albany.

The Bears faced standout goalie Alexander Salak and knocked him out of the game with four first period goals. At the other end, stopping 34 shots, was rookie goalie Braden Holtby, who has a 3-1-1 record when stepping in for starter Michal Neuvirth.

One of those leaders is gritty center Keith Aucoin, who rang up a hat trick against the Amerks.

“Keith is a true professional,” French said. “He is a player who can go up to the NHL and play in a scoring situation or play a fourth-line checking role. He’s a multi-dimensional kid and he can play any role that he wants.”

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CHANGING UP THE LINES
Joining Hershey’s Gordon at the top of the AHL scoring chart are a number of surprising names.

Texas forward Greg Rallo bounced between four AHL and ECHL teams in his first three seasons, never surpassing four goals in any one AHL campaign. This season with the Stars, Rallo has rung up 12 goals in his first 30 games.

Two seasons in Finland suited Binghamton forward Ryan Keller’s scoring touch very well. After limited AHL opportunities during his first two pro seasons, Keller has averaged more than a point per game over the opening two months of the season.

Springfield’s Charles Linglet has rebounded from a disastrous 25-point campaign in 2008-09, one that got him shipped out of Peoria mid-season. He now statistically ranks among the league’s best playmakers.

THIS AND THAT
Manchester added a pair of AHL veterans to supplement what is already among the AHL’s best rosters. Center Shawn Bates, a veteran of 465 NHL games, joins the Monarchs after a brief Austrian stint with Klagenfurt . Defenseman Doug Nolan also re-joins the Monarchs after playing in Europe for two seasons. He spent parts of five seasons with Manchester earlier this decade…

The Lowell Devils are struggling mightily as usual at the box office and rank dead last in AHL attendance. The on-ice product continues to shine, however. The Devils hosted Springfield Tuesday night before an announced crowd of 1,005, but used a five-for-nine performance on the power play to thump the Falcons, 6-1. Cory Murphy's four-assist evening and an Alexander Vasyunov hat trick carried the Devils…

Springfield’s season has crumbled in the past month and they’ve lost No. 1 goalie Devan Dubnyk on recall to the Oilers. Entering Friday’s play, the Falcons have not won since Nov. 21. Springfield signed Jean-Philippe Levasseur to replace Dubnyk earlier this week. Levasseur logged 51 AHL games in the Anaheim organization over the past two seasons.

From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiling prospects destined for the next level. It appears every weekend only on TheHockeyNews.com.

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