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Second-half preview

Hamilton's Guy Boucher is a serious contender for coach of the year in the AHL this season. (Pellerins Photography / Hamilton Bulldogs)

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Hamilton's Guy Boucher is a serious contender for coach of the year in the AHL this season. (Pellerins Photography / Hamilton Bulldogs)

The American League's first half is in the history books. With the AHL all-star break now concluded, clubs begin their push toward the Calder Cup playoffs.

Traditional powers Hershey, Hamilton, Manchester and Milwaukee all rank amongst the AHL's best right now, but there is still a half-season remaining.

Here is a look at some questions to track in the second half.

CHASING THE RANGERS
Can the Hershey Bears challenge the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers' mark for the best season in AHL history? Maybe. The Rangers rang up 57 wins and 124 points that season, good enough for a .775 winning percentage. At this season’s all-star break, the Bears owned 32 wins in just 43 contests and have played at a .767 clip. The Bears won 16 of 17 games going into the break and responded emphatically to setbacks. After a 4-3 loss at Norfolk last week, the Bears took the ice two nights later and scored 10 goals in a win at Albany.

CROSSING OVER
The fifth-place team in the Atlantic Division is eligible to cross over to the East Division for the Calder Cup playoffs if it finishes with more points than the East Division's fourth-place club. At the break, the fourth- through seventh-place teams in the Atlantic – Hartford, Bridgeport, Portland and Providence – all had more points than the East’s third-place Adirondack and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

So, for an East Division club, finishing in at least third place will be crucial to avoid falling victim to a crossover opponent. Of course, finishing in at least third place in the East Division would also likely mean missing out on a first-round date with powerhouse Hershey.

COZY AT HOME, CRAZY ON THE ROAD
The Milwaukee Admirals have only played 16 home games so far, which means their second-half schedule will feature plenty of home cooking for a team sitting second in the Western Conference.

At the other end of the Western Conference, the San Antonio Rampage is barely flickering in the playoff picture and they have yet to face their annual mid-winter extended road trip. This season, the Rampage is staring down a 14-game excursion that will bring stops against Hamilton, Manitoba, Milwaukee and Rockford. Any hiccup likely would bury the Rampage's playoff aspirations for good.

ROSTER-SHUFFLING
Will any AHL prospects serve as bait when the NHL's trade deadline rolls around? The AHL has its own ‘Clear Day’ deadline to factor in. Any player moved in an AHL deal after the NHL’s deadline is ‘loaned’ to the club, but his NHL rights do not change. Each season usually brings a few last-minute roster changes as AHL clubs hustle for playoff positioning.

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AFFILIATION ISSUES
A number of NHL-AHL affiliations are set to expire at the end of the season. Which marriages will survive? Will the Edmonton Oilers affiliation land in Oklahoma? If so, how will fans in that city welcome an NHL parent club whose AHL affiliate is set to miss out on the playoffs again?

THIS AND THAT
A seven-goal week won Hershey's Alexandre Giroux player of the week honors. Giroux, who also contributed four assists in the Bears' four games, pumped in a hat trick and a two-goal outing. In games against Albany and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last Friday and Saturday the Bears scored 17 goals...

A 2-7-1-0 skid cost Norfolk coach Darren Rumble his job last Saturday. Tampa Bay management replaced Rumble with associate coach Jim Johnson, a long-time NHL defenseman. Rumble went 50-61-6-5 in 122 games piloting Norfolk. Leigh Mendelson remains as an assistant on Johnson's bench...

The AHL inducted John Paddock into its Hall of Fame this week. Paddock owns 585 AHL coaching wins and three Calder Cups. Also inducted were executive MacGregor Kilpatrick, goalie Marcel Paille and scoring ace Bill Sweeney...

A published report in the (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union stated the Carolina Hurricanes are considering setting up their AHL affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., where an ECHL franchise now plays. The Hurricanes are currently in the fourth season of an affiliation with the Albany River Rats. If the Carolina affiliation did depart Albany, it is unclear which NHL club, if any, would affiliate with the River Rats.

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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