[ issues | nhl archive | home | mailing list | about us | search | comments ]
AHL All-Star Notes
by Tricia McMillan, AHL Correspondent
Can't Hardly Wait: For the Replacements. No All-Star Game would be complete without some players being unable to participate due to injury, callups or in this case, a real nasty case of the flu. As expected, the Islanders did not return Zdeno Chara for the game and he was replaced by the Phantoms' Sergei Klimentiev, which gave the Phantoms five playing representatives at the game, the most of any team. Worcester's Ricard Persson was not returned for the game either, and was replaced by teammate Rory Fitzpatrick. Then the replacement was replaced - Fitzpatrick suffered a neck injury and was replaced by Springfield's Radoslav Suchy.
"I found out two days before the game," said Suchy.
January 17 was not a good day for All-Stars, as two players named to the game were lost to broken wrists. Hamilton's Fredrik Lindqvist had to drop out after Jarrod Skalde broke his wrist with a slash and was replaced by teammate Chris Ferraro. Lowell's Ray Giroux also had to withdraw with a broken wrist, and was replaced by Rochester's Cory Sarich. That gave the Canadian team three defenseman from the Americans. As usual, the Americans have to provide the defense for Canada.
And not even that finished the roster moves - Albany/Canada defenseman Geordie Kinnear came down with the flu the night before, to the extent he had to be hospitalized and was unable to even come to Philadelphia, while Hamilton/PlanetUSA's Jim Dowd suffered a neck injury in practice and didn't play either. No replacements were named for them.
While the absence of Kinnear had no effect on the Canadians (the seventh defenseman isn't here, big deal), Dowd's absence left PlanetUSA with a serious center shortage. So PlanetUSA used their seventh defenseman - and the sixth - as centers. Both Chris O'Sullivan and Jon Coleman saw time centering a line, and both also played defense during the game.
Funny Seeing You Here: PlanetUSA coach John Cunniff saw four of his Albany River Rats at the All-Star Game. Problem was, they were all on the other bench - all four were named to the Canadian team. And nobody saw the Rats for a while - in addition to Kinnear's inability to be present, the remaining Rats were unable to get to Philadelphia until well into Sunday afternoon, missing the team's first practice.
The Last Shall Pick First: Seriously. If you're wondering which coaches selected the balance of the All-Star Teams (the fans picked the starters) as well as the substitutes, look at the bottom of the AHL standings circa early December. The coaches responsible for the rosters are: Cincinnati's Moe Mantha, Adirondack's Glenn Merkosky, Worcester's Greg Gilbert and Fredericton's Michel Therrien. And before you start ranting at them over their choices, consider: only Worcester had more than one player on the team, the second player wasn't released by St. Louis to play; and the way their respective teams are playing, putting together the All-Star teams is the only fun those guys will have this year.
Kids Stuff: In keeping with recent tradition, six local bantam players participated in the Skills Competition. Playing for the Canadian team were Ryan Taft, Tim Wochok and John Brennan; for PlanetUSA it was Chris Armstrong, John Geverd and Joe Viscuse. All of the youngsters are top scorers in the Philadelphia area bantam league and they got to hang out with the big kids all day Sunday.
Skills Competition: There was quite a crowd for the Skills Competition - over 13,000 attended the event, nearly as many as were there for the game.
The proceedings began with the puckhandling events, which required all the participants to take a skate-through in advance to make sure they actually knew where they were going. The bantams knew where they were going, and performed well as the Canadians won the event. The relay came next, and PlanetUSA was just able to edge the Canadians. The individual event was most memorable - PlanetUSA's Sean Haggerty fell over a pylon, but the Canadian Andre Savage, lost the puck - twice. Badly. Haggerty crossed the finish line with an easy win, much to his own shock.
Then came a new event which also appeared at the NHL Skills Competition: "Ambush". Each goaltender faced two shooters (separately), each of whom were provided five pucks to be shot at the goaltenders in any manner the shooter chose. However, someone forgot to tell the participants the rules. Or at least, forgot to tell Jean-Marc Pelletier it was legal to score on rebounds. He gave up two goals on those and was the grand loser in the event. Marc Denis and Robert Esche were the winners, with nine saves each.
The Speed Skating came with a surprise - one of the Canadian entries was Rochester defenseman Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre. Shows what we know - Grand-Pierre won the event handily in 14.056 seconds, over half a second better than Peter Bondra's time at the NHL event. For that matter, five of the six skaters in the event topped Bondra's time - Grand-Pierre, Witehall, Martin St. Louis, Andrei Zyuzin and Sean Haggerty all performed better than the NHL guys. The only guy who didn't top the NHL time was Shane Willis, who would find redemption shortly.
"I didn't know I was that fast in comparison to everyone else here, because in a game you don't really know that kind of thing," said Grand-Pierre later. "The coach asked me if I wanted to be in the fastest skater, so I said I'd give it a try and I'd say it worked out pretty well. I knew I had pretty good wheels and I'm excited and proud I won tonight."
For an encore, Grand-Pierre was also entered in the more expected Hardest Shot event, and darn near one that one too, notching a 94.6. But Shane Willis was a tick better at 95.0 to win the whole shebang. PlanetUSA's Rich Brennan didn't win as he didn't even come close to his time last year, but this year he didn't break his stick or fall on his behind. He merely missed the net entirely. No matter though, because despite Grand-Pierre and Willis' scores, PlanetUSA's entrants were more consistent than the Canadian entries and picked up a point for average score.
The Rapid Fire came next, with all goaltenders facing two guys in their face with a pile of pucks. What fun. Marc Denis and Steve Passmore found it entertaining anyway, stopping eight shots each, while Jim Carey stopped only half the shots he faced.
The Accuracy Shooting was borderline ugly. None of the Koho kids could hit water from a boat apparently, with only Viscuse hitting more than one target. The big kids weren't much better, especially the PlanetUSA players; none of them managed more than two hits. But a couple of Canadians nailed three, and Andre Savage made up for his puckhandling faux pas by being the only player to hit all four targets. He needed only five shots to do it. Teammate Randy Robitaille was the only other player to hit at least three.
Last but not least was the Breakaway, as every skater in the competition got a shot against a goaltender. Each goalie faced six shots from six different shooters. Pelletier made up for earlier struggles, stopping every shot he faced. Conversely, Esche only stopped two. Some players turned in moves you wouldn't expect - defenseman Suchy managed to undress Martin Biron with a half dozen dekes.
"I used to play forward, this year I played three or four games at forward," explained Suchy. "In practices I do lots of drills with those moves, so some of those worked out tonight."
The most amazing shot of the night though, was a mistake on the part of the shooter. Jean-Pierre Dumont miscalculated the distance to the net and found himself behind the net before he could shoot. "I went too far, and I was kind of off-stride, so I just threw the puck and it went in, I don't know how," shrugged Dumont. Frankly, none of us know how it went in - it must have bounced off the post and Jim Carey, but the actual sequence is a mystery.
The final result was in Canada's favor, 15-12. The weakest goaltender in the contest was the only guy who'd done it before - Carey, who appeared in the 1995 All-Star Game, had 16 saves. But parity ruled the goaltenders, as the winning score was 20 saves as done by Marc Denis.
Philadelphia fans boo incessantly to start with, they hate the Hershey Bears even more than most, and after the Phantoms were swept in a home-and-home with the Bears leading into the All-Star weekend it really wasn't a good time to be a Bear. So Hershey's lone representative, Denis, went and won the goaltending contest. And was booed so lustily the television crews couldn't interview him on the ice.
"I was really expecting it," Denis said afterwards. "You don't expect too many cheers from the Phantoms fans, certainly not after this weekend when we beat them, so I wasn't expecting too many cheers from our arch-rival fans." Maybe, but Denis' treatment from the fans was still butt-ugly.
Most of the players stood or kneeled to watch the events of the Skills Competition. Canada's Bob Wren belly-flopped onto the ice. And of course, somebody had to video the events from the ice - Grand-Pierre and Martin Biron both had the camcorder running.
The fans let the players know what they thought during introductions - and some of the players did likewise. Home boy Jim Montgomery demonstrated his tongue-wagging expertise, while the much-booed Andrei Zyuzin egged on the hostile crowd.
For the Post-Skills party entertainment, everyone crossed the parking lot. No kidding. The party was held in the Spectrum's bar, Ovations, and was quite packed. Entertainment inside Ovations included the first of several appearances by a Dixieland band, pizzas made to order, and a magician who worked his way around the room to great response. Several guests thought he was the best magic act they'd ever seen.
The Canadian team was subject to an 8:30 am practice on the day of the game and amazingly only Brad Tiley overslept and missed the bus. It was an improvement over the first days' practice, which saw only half the players even in Philadelphia.
The Hall of Fame banquet was supposed to fete Bill Barber and Ed Snider, but Snider was unable to attend due to illness. So he was replaced by Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Clement, Bill Torrey and Gary Bettman. We'll have to get substitutes more often.
A lot of other folks stopped by at some point or another during the weekend. Ron Hextall showed up for the game and wound up interviewing players for ESPN2. Dainius Zubrus also stopped by but was able to duck media duty. Also floating through were various Phantoms and Bears, Providence coach Peter Laviolette, and Boston Bruin Peter Ferraro, who stopped by to help twin brother Chris celebrate their birthday.
We found out why Peter White was a Team Captain - and why he's still with Philly despite posting numbers which should put him in the NHL. Seems he married Bobby Clarke's daughter; a job he will always have.
The annual State of the League address by AHL President David Andrews was moved from just after the Hall of Fame banquet to just before the game, and ran considerably overtime to boot. Then the shuttlebus to the First Union Center didn't show. The end result was most of the print media didn't get to the building until the warmup skate was about to start.
Andrews had a lot of unsurprising things to say, but a few that were surprising. Probably the biggest news of his address was that the IHL was caught poaching AHL territory. Seems the IHL would like to return to a developmental league status and began their plans by plying NHL teams currently affiliated in the AHL with the promise of larger fees. Andrews, saying "it's tough to be friends with someone stealing your lunch," has gone on the offensive to ensure the AHL remains the resident developmental league.
Other points of interest include an earlier schedule release date, predicated on a new deadline for teams to move into or drop out of the league after this season. Starting in 2000, look for set teams in March and schedules in May. While Andrews had nothing new to say about the status of various teams, Scranton representatives indicate that team's building should be ready in October after all, sparing the new Penguins one heckuva road trip.
Andrews also demonstrated some serious naivete regarding the host city, wondering out loud how on earth Bob Wren was booed at the Skills Competition. In the city that booed Santa Claus, and he can't figure out the hostile reception for all non-Phantoms?
Not only did the Phantoms fans get on every non-Phantom, they weren't even crazy about former Flyers coach Bill Dineen, or Phantom Sergei Klimentiev who was greeted in lukewarm fashion. At least he doesn't have to worry about it anymore - Klimentiev was traded a few hours after the game, to Nashville.
If nothing else, Philadelphia knows how to get into your wallet. Parking for the two hour banquet started at $14 and went nowhere but up. Staying in the Marriott with the team? That'll be $23 to park your car. Yikes.
You know somebody's gonna shoot for something in the intermission. Fran Zhafarelli of Philadelphia took her first ever hockey shot hoping to get a million dollars. Needless to say, she missed the hole - but for a first try, her shot was remarkably good, clearing the goal line in the vicinity of the net. She did take home $130.
After the game it was off to Dave & Buster's, a huge bar/entertainment complex in one of Philly's more upscale neighborhoods. The entertainment included pool, darts, shuffleboard and a giant games arcade with casino-style games, video games and virtual reality games. Winning goaltender Bob Esche kept on winning after the game in the arcade, taking home a four-foot tall Tweety Bird for his efforts.
The Stanley Cup made the rounds on game day, spending the afternoon touring the Philadelphia Marriott with baby brother Calder Cup in tow before moving on to the First Union Center and then to Dave & Buster's. The Cup arrived at Dave & Buster's just as I did, leading many people in the bar to think I was part of the Cup's entourage. Number one question - is that the real thing? No, they always give a police escort to a ball of tin foil. Of course it was real. The Cup not only had a police escort, it rode in a limo. But the Cup was also consigned to a side room and most of the revelers were unaware it was even in the building, although Bob Wren got his first good look at the Cup.
As a whole, the weekend went well and the players had a blast. "It was a great time, great bunch of guys here, great fans...overall a great experience for us," said Landon Wilson.
Derek Armstrong enjoyed the social aspect. "Meeting all the guys, everyone's different on the ice so it's great seeing how nice everyone is."
"What you enjoy most is just being in an atmosphere like this," explained Jon Coleman. "It's a good break from the rigors of every day action all the time, it's good to meet different guys and run into familiar faces again. The city of Philadelphia did a great job, it was a great overall experience and something to remember for the rest of your life."