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Curtain rises on Lowell AHL franchise tonight
 
LOWELL, Mass. – Two years after the team was supposed to begin operations but was delayed twice by construction problems and again by drawn-out lease negotiations, the Lowell Lock Monsters will open their inaugural American Hockey League season at the Tsongas Arena tonight when they face off against the Portland Pirates. Game time is 7:35.

The Lock Monsters, the top affiliate of the New York Islanders, will play an 80-game schedule, with seven of their first eight being played at home. After tonight’s opener against the Pirates, the Washington Capitals’ farm club, Lowell will host the New Haven Beast, a joint affiliate of the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes. Earlier this week, about 1,000 tickets were still available for tonight’s opener. The game will also be broadcast on Fox Sports New England and on radio station WCAP-AM 980.

Lowell will have an even mix of youth and experience when it takes the ice tonight. Marcel Cousineau, a 25-year-old from Delson, Quebec, and a third-round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 1991 Entry Draft, could get the starting nod in net tonight. Cousineau and is one of three goaltenders the team will carry. Mark McArthur, 23, of E. York, Ont., and Steve Valiquette, a 6-foot-5, 205-pounder from Elobicoke, Ont., and the youngest goalie on the roster at 21, are the others.

The defense is led by Dean Malkoc, a 28-year-old enforcer who played the last two seasons for the Bruins before becoming an unrestricted free agent and signing with the Islanders in August. John Namestnikov, 21, also saw time in the NHL with the Islanders last season. Ray Giroux, the ECAC player of the year last season at Yale University, Vladimir Chebaturkin, Mike Gaul, Evgeny Korolev, Jeff Libby, Mike Mader and Ray Schultz make up the rest of the defensive corps.

Up front, the Lock Monsters will an experienced hand in Craig Charron, the 30-year-old center and former University of Lowell standout. Charron, who scored 25 goals and had 53 assists in 75 games for the Rochester Americans (Buffalo) last season, was signed as a free agent this summer. He was Americans’ leading scorer in each of the past three seasons and has 197 goals and 493 points in 444 minor league games in his career.

Ryan Huska, Buddy Wallace and Jason Stewart are the other centers on the roster. Huska was signed by the Islanders after scoring 19 goals and 35 points for Indianapolis of the International Hockey League last season. Wallace played at Clarkson University last winter, while Stewart played for St. Cloud State.

Steve Webb, who played 20 games with the Islanders last season, will be joined at right wing by Dane Jackson, Mark Lawrence and Warren Luhning. Jackson and Lawrence, a 6-4, 215-pound bruiser, also saw time on Long Island last winter.

At left wing, Islander alum Sean Haggerty will share time with Nic Beaudoin, Dmitri Nabakov and Vladimir Orszagh.

Head coach Frank Anzalone comes to the team from Roanoke, the Islanders’ affiliate in the East Coast Hockey League, where he was for five season. He is joined on the staff by assistants Paul Jerrard, a Winnipeg native who played professionally for 10 years and retired in 1997 after helping the Hershey Bears to the Calder Cup, and Steve Stirling, a 48-year-old Toronto native who was captain of the 1971 Boston University national championship team.

Before tonight’s game, Mike Milbury, the coach and general manager of the Islanders, will give a speech, as will AHL president Dave Andrews, and Gil Campbell, one of the Lock Monsters’ owners. Also, a pre-game party has been scheduled from 4-7 p.m. outside of Tsongas Arena. After the game, each fan will get a collectible hockey stick.