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2020 AHL All-Star weekend wrap-up

Alex Barre-Boulet & Cameron Gaunce represent the Crunch in sunny California.

Alex Barre-Boulet in the Skills Competition
A.E. Smith

As the NHL finished up their All-Star weekend in St. Louis, the best the American Hockey League had to offer were on their way to Ontario, California, as their All-Star Classic kicked off two days of festivities on Sunday.

The Syracuse Crunch had two representatives selected for the event: forward Alex Barre-Boulet and defenseman Cameron Gaunce, who was named as a late replacement for the North Division squad.

Another familiar name to Tampa fans was named to the Central Division roster—goaltender Connor Ingram, who was acquired by Nashville after a drama-filled second half of the 2018-19 season saw him banished to the ECHL just after appearing in the All-Star Classic in Springfield.

Sunday, 1/26, All-Star Skills Competition: West 18, East 15

Sunday night, the conferences squared off in the annual 7-round Skills Competition.

In Round 1, the Puck Control Relay, Barre-Boulet helped the East win the first group heat, teaming up with Providence’s Jack Studnicka and Hartford’s Joey Keane.

The conferences split both the individual and group heats.

In Round 2, the Fastest Skater, Belleville forward Matt Formenton took the title with the third fastest time in the event’s history, clocking in at 13.356 seconds. The East also took the fastest average time with 13.538.

In Round 3, the goaltenders competed in the Rapid Fire competition, where a goaltender faced 10 shots from two skaters. Barre-Boulet teamed with Hershey’s Matt Moulson in Round 2...against former teammate Ingram, who took the competition by stopping 9 out of 10 shots faced. The West also took the overall title with the most saves (30/40).

The highlight of the event came in Round 4, the Hardest Shot. Gaunce lead off the round with shots of 93.2 and 96.4 MPH respectively.

But the winner was Ontario forward Martin Frk, who ripped shots of 104.0 and 109.2. No, those are not typos. He actually hit 109.2. See below for proof.

Frk’s shot surpasses the AHL record set by Colin Miller in Utica in 2015 (105.5) and the NHL mark by Zdeno Chara in 2012 (108.8). With an additional West skater, Bakersfield’s Evan Bouchard, also hitting triple digits (he clocked in at 103.0), the West took the team competition as well.

Round 5 saw Accuracy Shooting—with real foam targets! Laval’s Charles Hudon took home the individual honors with 4 targets hit in 5 attempts.

The West again took the overall competition after hitting 14 targets in 29 attempts amongst four skaters.

Barre-Boulet and Gaunce returned for the sixth round, the Pass & Score competition. Three skaters pass the puck back and forth—each skater must touch the puck—then shoot onto the goaltender. Gaunce teamed with Charlotte’s Jake Bean and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Sam Miletic in the fifth round and scored one goal against Rockford’s Kevin Lankinen.

Barre-Boulet teamed with Toronto’s Jeremy Bracco and Cleveland’s Adam Clendening in the seventh round and scored twice on Ontario goaltender Cal Petersen.

Both conferences picked up six goals apiece, giving the West a 12-11 lead going into the final competition, the Breakaway Relay. In this round, all 8 goaltenders each faced 5 shooters, with goals counting towards the team score. Barre-Boulet took a shot against Lankinen in the fifth round and was denied.

Gaunce got his turn against Petersen in the seventh round, and he too was denied a goal. The West clinched the competition by outscoring the East 6-4.

Post-skills, the following awards were handed out:

CCM Fastest Skater: Matt Formenton, Belleville

Lucas Oil Accuracy Shooting: Charles Hudon, Laval

CCM Hardest Shot: Martin Frk, Ontario

Top Goaltender: Three-way tie: Connor Ingram, Milwaukee; Vitek Vanecek, Hershey; Alex Nedeljkovic, Charlotte

After the competition, fans in house had a chance to meet the All-Stars up close for autographs.

State of the League and Hall of Fame

On Monday morning, league president Dave Andrews delivered his final State of the League address, as he plans to retire at the conclusion of this season. Among the highlights:

-The league is on track to 360 player recalls to the NHL this season.

-Palm Springs will break ground on their arena next month in anticipation of joining the league in the 2021-22 season.

-Vegas is interested in buying an AHL franchise.

-A successor for Andrews should be named in the next couple of months.

-2021 All-Star Classic venue will be announced on Friday. Only hint: it’s not a Pacific team.

Later in the morning, four new members were added to the AHL Hall of Fame: Denis Hamel, Darren Haydar, Robbie Ftorek, and the late Fred Thurier.

Also, the All-Star participants did some community work, as Gaunce and a few others visited sick children at a local hospital.

Time for the Challenge!

Monday night came the All-Star Challenge. The North Division was hoping for a threepeat, while the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions were looking for their first win since the format began in Syracuse in 2016.

Let’s remind everyone on how this works with this handy diagram.

Game 1: Pacific 6, North 5 (SO)

It was an offensive affair to kick off the Challenge.

The Pacific dropped four goals in the first half against Rochester goaltender Jonas Johansson, but the North stayed in it with goals from Utica’s Brogan Rafferty and Barre-Boulet.

In the second half, the North stormed back to take a 5-4 lead off goals by Rudolfs Balcers (Belleville), Bracco, and Gaunce.

The Pacific squad tied the game at 5 with 25 seconds remaining in the second half thanks to a goal by Joachim Blichfeld (San Jose), sending the game to a shootout. Barre-Boulet and Formenton were denied by San Diego’s Anthony Stolarz, while both Pacific shooters—T.J. Tynan (Colorado) and Chris Wideman (San Diego) connected, giving the “host” the win.

Game 2: Central 3, Atlantic 1

What started as a goaltending duel turned into a comeback win for the Central. The Atlantic took a 1-0 lead in the first half on a goal from Vinni Lettieri (Hartford), while Vanecek stopped both shots faced. The Central’s offense woke up during the second half, with goals from Lucas Elvenes (Chicago), West playing captain Matthew Ford (Grand Rapids), and an empty netter from Gerald Mayhew (Iowa).

Game 3: Central 6, North 5

The Central won their second game of the night with an offensive explosion in the first half, scoring the first four before Bracco and Joey Anderson (Binghamton) cut the lead in half in the last two minutes. In the second half, the North would get to within one goal, only to see the Central answer, then hang on late. Anderson finished with a hat trick in defeat, while Gaunce and Barre-Boulet were held off the scoresheet.

Game 4: Atlantic 3, Pacific 2

The Atlantic Division took their second game of the Challenge with a two-goal second half. Miletic lead all Atlantic skaters with a goal and an assist. Vanecek and Nedeljokvic combined to stop 8 of 10 Pacific shots. Wideman and Tynan had goals for the Pacific.

Game 5: Atlantic 5, North 2

The North Division’s hopes for a threepeat in the Challenge were officially snuffed out after a four-goal first half for the Atlantic. Morgan Frost (Lehigh Valley) and Studnicka lead the balanced Atlantic attack with two points each. Gaunce picked up an assist on the North’s second goal of the game.

Game 6: Pacific 5, Central 4 (SO)

A late comeback by the Central in the second half turned a two-goal Pacific advantage into a shootout win for the host division. Kale Clague (Ontario) and Tyler Benson (Bakersfield) lead the Pacific with two points each. Joel L’Esperance (Texas), Alexandre Carrier (Milwaukee), and Elvenes each had a goal and an assist for the Central.

Championship: Atlantic 3, Central 1

With the Atlantic, Central, and Pacific Divisions going 2-1 in their respective games, a tie-breaker determined that the Atlantic and Central Divisions would face each other for the title (both Pacific wins were shootout wins). Two goals and an assist from Studnicka would clinch the first ever title for the Atlantic Division. Vanecek and Nedeljkovic combined for 5 saves on 6 shots in the 6:00 finale.

After going 2-0 and stopping 11 of 13 shots in 17:27 of work over four games, Vanecek was named the Challenge’s MVP.

With the All-Star Classic done for another year, the league gets a few more days off before resuming the season on Friday. Syracuse will begin the unofficial second half in Rochester against the Amerks before returning home on Saturday to host Providence.