|Ice Hockey Spotlight:
Pitkanen & Niittymaki Named to 2005 PlanetUSA AHL All-Star Team
Thursday, January 27, 2005
By Al Cohen
Philadelphia Phantoms Correspondent
Philadelphia Phantoms defenseman Joni Pitkanen and goaltender Antero Niittymaki were among the 20 skaters and three goaltenders named today to the PlanetUSA team roster for the 2005 Dodge AHL All-Star Classic, to be held Feb. 13-14 at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H.
The Finnish duo will both be making their first AHL All-Star Game appearances. Pitkanen was chosen a starter via on-line balloting at theahl.com, while a committee of AHL coaches selected the remainder of the roster.
"We think both players are very deserving of being named," said Phantoms head coach John Stevens. "Niittymaki has proven to be one of the best young goalies in the AHL, and Pitkanen, in my opinion, is the best defenseman in the league. They are both worthy selections."
Pitkanen has recorded 21 points (3G, 18A) and a plus-seven rating in 41 games this season. He is tied for 15th among AHL defensemen in points and ranks tied for second on the Phantoms in assists. The 21-year-old has put together four multi-point games, including a two-goal performance on Dec. 11 in Wilkes-Barre, and had a five-game point streak from Dec. 22-Jan. 1.
A first-round selection (fourth overall) by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Pitkanen totaled 27 points (8G, 19A) in 71 games with the Flyers last season. He ranked second among NHL rookies in plus/minus (+15) in 2003-04, finished second among NHL rookie defensemen in points and played for the Eastern Conference Team at the 2004 NHL YoungStars Game.
Niittymaki is 15-9-4 with two shutouts and a 1.96 goals-against average in 28 games this season. He ranks fourth in the AHL in GAA and won 12 consecutive starts from Oct. 22-Nov. 26, including his 100th victory as a pro on Nov. 21 at Providence, which earned him the Toyota Phantoms Player of the Month award for November.
Originally selected in the sixth round (168th overall) of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the Flyers, Niittymaki is in his third season with the Phantoms. Last year, he ranked fifth in the AHL in wins (24), tied for fifth with a club-record seven shutouts and ninth in GAA (2.02). The 24-year-old also went 3-0 in his first-ever NHL starts as a Flyer.
Pitkanen and Niittymaki will be joined at the All-Star Game by Phantoms center Patrick Sharp, who was named to the Canadian team on Wednesday.
The 2005 Dodge AHL All-Star Classic gets under way on Sunday, Feb. 13, with the Skills Competition at 7:00 p.m. The annual All-Star Game follows at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 14, and will be televised live nationally on ESPN2.
The Phantoms return to action on Friday at 7:05 p.m., when they host the Hartford Wolf Pack at the Wachovia Spectrum. Philadelphia then plays at Bridgeport on Saturday.