Another successful AHL All Star Classic is in the books.
This year, the venue was Allentown, home of the Phantoms. Albany looked to be well represented, with John Quenneville, Joe Blandisi, and Vojtech Mozik selected to represent the North Division. Then…Sunday morning all three were mysteriously pulled from the event. A highly contagious virus had struck a few members of the roster (i.e. Reece Scarlett, Blake Pietila), and due to risk of possible exposure, the team and league determined it was best everyone stayed home to recover.
But for me, even though I was now left without a team in the fight…the show must go on.
First, both conferences battled in the Skills Competition.
Leading off, the Puck Control Relay: the West would win the first three heats, with former Devil Matt Lorito (now with Grand Rapids) part of the first winning team. The East would win the final individual round (Lehigh Valley’s Jordan Weal would be the winner).
Second event, the Fastest Skater: This year’s event was record setting, as Bridgeport’s Devon Toews would become the second fastest ever in the event’s history, winning with a time of 13.478 seconds. All but one skater would finish at 13.8 or faster. The East picked up the individual point, while the West took home team honors for lowest average with 13.769 seconds.
Third event, the Rapid Fire: Both teams would earn a point, as they tied with 23 saves each. Former River Rat Michael Leighton (now with Charlotte) and Rochester’s Linus Ullmark would each stop 8 shots in their respective rounds.
Fourth event, the Hardest Shot: Another two points to the West, as Tucson’s Kyle Wood took home the individual title with 99.3 MPH. The West also grabbed team honors with an average shot of 98.1 MPH.
Fifth event, Accuracy Shooting: No one went 4 for 4, but Cole Schneider of Rochester came the closest, getting 4 targets in 5 attempts. The East took the team honors, hitting 15 targets in 25 total attempts.
Sixth event, Pass and Score: In the three on none round, the East would win 6-3 and take the overall competition lead. Troy Grosenick (San Jose) and Tristan Jarry (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) were the only two goaltenders to stop all three attempts. The trio of former River Rat Chris Terry (now with St. John’s) and Utica teammates Alexandre Greiner and Jordan Subban scored all three of their goals against Cleveland’s Anton Forsberg.
Seventh event, Breakaway Relay: All four West goaltenders–Grosenick, Jack Campbell (Ontario), Forsberg, and Leighton–would stop every shot they faced. On the East side, Ullmark would be the only goaltender to shut out his round. Five West skaters would pick up goals, giving the West the overall win.
Ullmark would take home Top Goaltender honors, as he stopped 15 of 18 total shots faced.
Monday: The day began with the annual State of the League address. Other than, well, the obvious…some highlights:
-Next year’s schedule will come out 5-6 weeks earlier than normal. Which means you can start making your plans in July instead of nearly having to wait till September!
-With Las Vegas joining the NHL next season, talk of a 31st AHL team was brought up. It may not come to fruition until 2018-19 at the latest. Outside of the three North Division moves, everyone else appears to be staying put for the long haul. Realignment also appears to be on the radar for next season as well.
-Later Monday morning, former River Rat Bryan Helmer was one of four men to be inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame.
All-Star Challenge Results:
Leading off the 3 on 3 tournament, the Atlantic took on the Central. The Atlantic would score both their goals during the first five minute half, as Mackenzie Weegar (Springfield) and Travis Boyd (Hershey) would score 36 seconds apart. Oliver Bjorkstrand (Cleveland) would break up the Atlantic shutout bid with 48 seconds left in the second half. Zane McIntyre (Providence) stopped 6 of 7 shots, while Leighton stopped 3 of 5.
The other two divisions faced off in the second game…and this one was no contest. After both teams went back and forth during the first half, the North Division would explode for four goals in the second half. Justin Bailey (Rochester) scored twice in a 14 second span, while former Devil Matt Taormina (now with Syracuse) and Alexandre Grenier (Utica) added two assists each. Ullmark would stop 5 of 6 shots in the first half, while Charlie Lindgren (St. John’s) took over in the second half and stopped just one of three. Campbell had a rough go in the second half, stopping 5 of 9 North shots.
Unlike the previous round, this was a low scoring affair. Casey Bailey (Binghamton) would put the North ahead late in the first half. Alex Tuch (Iowa) would tie things up early in the second half. With the first tie of the evening, it would be settled by the shootout. Kenny Agostino (Chicago) and Spencer Abbott (Rockford) would each score, while Anton Forsberg (Cleveland) would stop 2 of 3 North shooters for the win. He stopped 11 of 12 shots before that. Ullmark would stop all 4 shots faced in the first half, then Lindgren would stop 6 of 7 in the second half.
Another blowout performance against the Pacific in this round. Hometown boys T.J. Brennan and Jordan Weal would score 1:12 apart for a 2-0 start, then Daniel O’Regan (San Jose) would cut the lead in half. But the Pennsylvania connection would put the game away for the Atlantic…Hershey teammates Chris Bourque and Boyd would score :45 apart, then the third Phantom representative, Taylor Leier, would make the hometown crowd happy with two goals in the second half. The Pacific was held shotless in the second half, while Campbell and Troy Grosenick (San Jose) combined for 6 saves on 12 shots overall.
Poor Pacific Division. Apparently they should have practiced more…oh wait. (I’ll show myself out.)
Anyway…the Central would get off to a very quick start in this round, taking a 3-0 lead within the first minute of the contest. Lorito, Agostino, and Tuch would all score within :43. Christian Fischer (Tucson) would get the Pacific on the board, only to see Oliver Bjorkstand (Cleveland) answer with a goal late. In the second half, Lorito would pick up his second of the game for a 5-1 advantage. Wood and O’Regan would pick up goals, but it was too little too late. Leighton and Forsberg combined to stop 9 of 12 shots. Grosenick and Campbell would only save 2 of 7. With the win, the Central clinched a spot in the championship game.
So who would be taking on the Central for the title? It would be an offensive struggle for the North in this one, as they could not get a goal past Tristan Jarry (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) in the first half. Nicklas Jensen (Hartford) would get the Atlantic on the board. Zane McIntyre (Providence) would take over in the second half, and he too would keep the North in check. Leier would add an empty netter late to send the Atlantic to the championship game. Ullmark and Lindgren would combine for 11 saves on 12 shots.
One from the East, one from the West. But only one division can be the winner. And both teams battled to a scoreless tie through regulation, combining for just 5 shots in the 6:00 round. It would go down to a sudden death shootout…Weal, Agostino, Bourque, Abbott, Boyd, Bjorkstrand, and Leier were all unsuccessful. But it would be the former Devil, Lorito, who would score on McIntyre in the fourth round, clinching the Challenge for the Central Division for the second year in a row.
Leier would take home MVP honors, scoring 3 goals on the night.
As for my experience: as always, everything was wonderful, despite the fact I had no one show up. (For those of you who continue to think it’s New Jersey screwing us…you’re wrong. I have confirmation that it was indeed illness. I get it, you’re ticked, but for the love of all things holy STOP IT.) It was my first visit to Allentown and…if you can make the trip to the PPL Center, absolutely do it. The building is awesome…and not just because there’s a Tim Hortons attached to it (give me all the Timbits!). Sight lines were great from nearly all angles, the atmosphere was energetic…no complaints here. If the 2018 version stays in the east and I can drive there…I may make the trip for the fourth year in a row.
For more photos check out my Flickr album!
Now the Farewell tour begins, starting Thursday.