The best and brightest that the American Hockey League has to offer all gathered in Springfield, MA, for the annual AHL All-Star Classic this past weekend. The two-day celebration featured the annual Skills Competition on Sunday night, pitting the Eastern and Western Conferences against each other, followed by a divisional 3 on 3 tournament for the All-Star Challenge on Monday. Representing the Syracuse Crunch were forward Cory Conacher, making his third All-Star appearance, and goaltender Connor Ingram, making his first.
On Day 1, the conferences squared off in seven different events:
In Round 1, the Inglasco Puck Control Relay, both sides battled in two team rounds, then two individual rounds. The conferences split the team rounds, then both East skaters—Cleveland’s Nathan Gerbe and Springfield’s Anthony Greco—won their individual rounds, putting the East ahead 3-1 after one event.
In Round 2, the CCM Fastest Skater, one point went to the fastest individual time, and one point for the team with the fastest average time. Greco blew everyone out of the water with a record time of 13.251 seconds! Not only did he set an AHL record but his time was faster than Connor McDavid’s NHL record.
The West earned the team goal with an average time of 13.760 seconds, but the East maintained a 4-2 lead.
In Round 3, the AHLTV Rapid Fire, all eight goalies had to withstand ten shots in rapid succession from two skaters. The conference with the most saves earns the point.
Conacher got to shoot on San Diego’s Kevin Boyle in round 5. He combined with Laval’s Alex Belzile for four goals.
Ingram got his chance in round 6, stopping four shots out of 10 from Tucson’s Michael Bunting and Manitoba’s Logan Shaw.
The West took the event with 28 total saves, while the East only managed 20. The East still held a 4-3 lead.
In Round 4, the CCM Hardest Shot, one goal was earned for the best individual score, and one goal for the team with the highest average. Only one player managed to break triple digits—Lehigh Valley’s Greg Carey, who took the individual title with a 100.4 MPH shot.
The East also took the team title, with an average shot of 99.3 MPH. They led 6-3 after four events.
In Round 5, Lexus Accuracy Shooting, two players tied for the title: San Jose’s Francis Perron and Utica’s Reid Boucher each went 4 for 6. The East took home the team title, hitting 12 targets in 19 attempts.
Moving to Round 6, the Western Mass Sports Commission Pass and Score, the goalies were tested once again. Three opposing skaters had to pass the puck at least once to each other, then shoot. Ingram got his chance in Round 5, and stopped all three shots faced against the trio of Texas’s Denis Gurianov, Bunting, and Bakersfield’s Joe Gambardella.
Conacher teamed up with Providence’s Jordan Szwarz and Toronto’s Calle Rosen in round 6, and were denied by Boyle.
Each conference earned a point for every goal scored, and the West emerged victorious, picking up three goals to the East’s two. The East lead 10-7 going into the final event of the night.
The finale of the evening was the MGM Springfield Breakaway Relay, where each goalie faced a five skater shootout. Ingram got his turn in Round 5, and only managed 2 saves. Conacher faced Milwaukee’s Troy Grosenick in the final round, and was denied.
The West picked up 10 goals in the final round, compared to just 4 for the East, and took the Skills Competition title in a last-round comeback. Iowa’s Kaapo Kahkonen earned Top Goaltender honors for stopping 16 of 18 shots faced.
A full photo gallery courtesy of yours truly can be seen here.
State of the League
On Monday, AHL president Dave Andrews gave his annual State of the League address. A few highlights:
-The current divisional alignment will remain in place for the 2019-20 season, and there are no plans for any franchise to move.
-An expansion franchise to partner up with the new NHL team in Seattle is projected to join the league for 2021-22, and will be located on the West Coast to even the divisions at 8 teams each.
-The NHL and AHL are working on extending their officiating agreement, including continuing with the two-referee system for all games, into next season.
-The current set up of 76 games for North, Atlantic, and Central teams, and 68 for Pacific teams, will remain in place for next year. The league would like to go to a universal 72 game schedule, but that change would require a 3⁄4 vote among the Board of Governors.
-Feedback for the new AHL TV service has been, to quote Andrews, “terrific.”
-Finally, for all of you that are into analytics:
WE (MEDIA) MIGHT GET TIME ON ICE INFO IN THE AHL SOON!— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) January 28, 2019
Andrews on data-tracking & stats shared with media says he thinks league is moving toward more data-sharing similar to NHL.
Whether or not it happens for next season remains to be seen.
While the address was happening, a few of the All-Stars visited nearby Shriners Hospital.
Also on Monday, the newest members of the AHL Hall of Fame were inducted.
Now on to the Challenge!
To remind everyone how the All-Star Challenge works, here’s a handy chart.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first half, the Atlantic picked up 3 unanswered goals to win the first round of the Challenge. John Gilmour (Hartford), Trevor Carrick (Charlotte), and East captain Colin McDonald (Lehigh Valley) all had goals for the Atlantic, while goaltender Vitek Vanecek (Hershey) was a perfect 4 for 4 in his five minutes of work.
The Pacific jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and had to hold off a North rally late to win this round. Gambardella, Walker, Sheldon Rempal (Colorado), and Cooper Marody (Bakersfield) all had goals for the Pacific. Ingram entered the game in the second half and stopped 5 of 7 shots in just over 4 minutes. Drake Batherson (Belleville) scored twice in 14 seconds for the North.
The North picked up their first win of the night after breaking a 2-2 tie late in the game. Batherson scored two goals for the second straight round. Ingram got the start and stopped all 3 shots faced, including this one:
After Game 3, a pause for Hockey Fights Cancer.
A close 1-1 game turned into a blowout for the Atlantic Division after scoring four in a row. Gilmour scored two more goals, while Andrew Poturalski (Charlotte) added a goal and an assist.
A 1-1 tie was broken up by two goals from Milwaukee’s Matt Donovan in the second half to give the Central a win. One of Donovan’s goals was certainly highlight-worthy:
Joel L’Esperance (Texas) added two assists for the Central.
The North jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back, earning a rematch with the Atlantic in the final. Ingram gave up the lone goal, finishing with 4 saves. Batherson added his fifth goal of the tournament.
It would come down to the best of the Eastern Conference in one six minute game to determine the winner of the Challenge. It turned into a goaltending duel between Vanecek for the Atlantic and Mackenzie Blackwood (Binghamton), as both netminders combined to stop all 9 shots. A shootout was needed to determine the winner, and Ingram was sent in to close it out, while Samuel Montembeault (Springfield) took over for the Atlantic, to the delight of the home crowd.
In the first round, Boucher and Greco were both denied. Batherson and Michael Dal Colle (Bridgeport) both connected in round two. Gerbe and Poturalski were denied in Round 3, then Ingram stopped Carey to begin the fourth round. Then, Trevor Moore (Toronto) stepped up for his shot.
The North Division, coached by Syracuse’s Benoit Groulx, successfully defended their All Star Challenge title.
For his five goal night, Batherson was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
In four rounds, Ingram finished with 12 saves on 15 shots, going 1-1. Conacher was kept off the scoresheet in his four games, but managed 4 shots on goal.
More photos from Monday’s Challenge can be seen here.
A huge thank you to the Springfield Thunderbirds, the Mass Mutual Center, MGM Springfield, and the AHL for a fun 2 day experience! In 2020, the AHL All Star Classic will hit the West Coast for the first time, as the Ontario Reign will take on the hosting duties.