The Rochester Americans took another step on their quest to win their seventh Calder Cup last Wednesday by beating the Hamilton Bulldogs 2-1 at the Blue Cross Arena.

The Amerks clinched the Mid-Atlantic Division title with the win.

Rochester has won 13 regular season division titles in the 45-year history of the franchise.

The Amerks won the regular season and playoff division titles in each of the last two years in the Empire Division.

Rochester leads all Western Conference teams with 98 points and, with four games left, should top 100 for the third straight season. Only the Worcester Ice Cats, with 100 points, have more than the Amerks.

The key to the Amerks? season has been their defense, led by 21-year-old goalie Mika Noronen. Noronen, the Amerks only all-star, leads the AHL in goals against average ? 2.16 ? and is second in wins with 25, including four shutouts.

Defenseman Mike Hurlbut is the team?s captain for the fourth straight year, although injuries have limited him to 29 points.

Hulbut was out from Dec. 7 to Jan. 3 with a sprained ankle and has been sidelined since fracturing his larynx March 11 in a game against Kentucky.

However, he expects to be back for the final week of the season.

Paul Traynor is another important defenseman for the team with has the best defense in the AHL, allowing just 2.41 goals per game. Traynor is not a threat offensively, but the Amerks have scored 25 more goals than they have allowed with him on the ice this season.

The Amerks do not have a premiere goal-scorer, but Francois Methot has emerged as an offensive threat. The 22-year-old center has 29 points in his last 27 games.

Methot ? 20 goals, 30 assists ? and left wing Jeremy Adduono ?23, 27 ? each have 50 points to lead the Amerks, which is one of only three teams without a 60-point scorer and the only team without a 25-goal scorer.

The offense just needs to give the defense a lead to work with, as the Amerks are 30-3-5 when leading after two periods.

The Calder Cup playoffs start next week, and the Amerks are guaranteed home-ice advantage for the first two rounds.

Home ice could be important for the Amerks, who have not lost their last 12 home games. Rochester, which leads the league in attendance with 8,543 fans per game, is 22-9-6 at home and 21-15-3 on the road.

The Amerks won the last of their six Calder Cups in 1995-96, beating the Portland Pirates after finishing the season third in the Central Division. The team has been to the finals 15 times, including appearances the last two seasons. They lost to the Hartford Wolf Pack in six games last year and to the Providence Bruins in five games the year before.

If the saying ?defense wins championships? is true, then the Amerks are the team to beat this year.



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