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2020 AHL All-Star Classic to make history at Ontario’s Toyota Arena

 

Southern California will be serve as a history-making backdrop for the American Hockey League’s (AHL) 2020 All-Star Classic Jan. 26-27 at Toyota Arena in Ontario.

The two-day event will be the first midseason showcase to be held on the West Coast by the league, which has been in operation since 1936.

The AHL serves as the NHL’s primary development league. The AHL All-Star Classic shines a spotlight on rising talent in the league, including top NHL prospects.

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Since 1995, more than 95 percent of AHL All-Star Classic participants have gone on to compete in the NHL.

Golden State connections abound for the 2020 event.

West Hills native Matt Ford will make a celebrated homecoming as a playing captain for the Western Conference All-Stars, while former Los Angeles Kings forward Matt Moulson will guide the Eastern Conference All-Stars in a similar role.

Captains for the AHL All-Star teams are selected by the league president each year in recognition of their outstanding leadership and service.

Ford is in his fourth season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, third as team captain, and 12th season overall in the AHL. An NCAA champion with the University of Wisconsin in 2006, he won a Calder Cup championship with Grand Rapids in 2017.

Despite racking up 203 goals and 422 points in 701 career regular-season AHL contests and 30 points in 45 playoff games, Ford will be making his first trip to the AHL All-Star Classic.

Over the years, his role has shifted from NHL dreamer to AHL mentor. His love for the game endures.

“I want to play as long as I can until they pretty much tell me ‘No,’” Ford told the Detroit Free Press. “And I don’t see that drive and fire and love of coming to the rink every day going away.”

Ford played during the Pacific Division’s inaugural season in 2015-16 with the Bakersfield Condors, collecting 27 goals and 51 points in 64 games to lead the team in scoring.

At 35, Ford remains a key contributor in Grand Rapids with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 37 games to rank fourth in team scoring.

He scored the game-winning goal in the Griffins’ 4-3 victory in San Diego on Dec. 11.

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The 2020 AHL All-Star Classic will also serve as a homecoming for Moulson, who spent five years during two separate stints in the Los Angeles Kings organization and suited up for 121 regular-season and playoff games in two seasons for the Reign.

A veteran of 650 regular-season NHL contests with the Kings, New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild, Moulson, 36, has recorded 176 goals and 369 points in the world’s top circuit.

He first played for the Kings from 2007-09, then rejoined the L.A. organization from 2017-19 before signing with the Hershey Bears this season. He currently ranks second in scoring for Hershey with 13 goals and 27 points in 43 games.

Moulson was very productive during his two years in Ontario. He led the Reign in scoring last season with 28 goals and 62 points in 68 regular-season games after finishing runner-up with 18 goals and 46 points in 49 games during the 2017-18 season.

“It’s a huge honor to represent the East as a captain,” Moulson said. “I think it’s my first all-star appearance. The family is pretty excited to make the trip to California and my old stomping ground. It’s a great little hockey city there.”

Game on

The 2020 AHL All-Star Classic consists of two days of separate events. The All-Star Skills Competition is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 26 (5 p.m. PST), and will match players from the Western Conference’s two divisions (Pacific and Central) against the Eastern Conference’s two divisions (Atlantic and North) in seven skills events.

The 2020 AHL All-Star Challenge will wrap up the festivities on Monday, Jan. 27 (7 p.m. PST). The format pits the four divisional teams in round-robin play, with the top two teams meeting in the championship game. Round-robin games will consist of 10-minute mini-games while the championship game will be a six-minute final.
The Pacific Division All-Stars finished runner-up to the North Division at the 2017 event in Utica, N.Y.

The AHL Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Ceremony is scheduled earlier in the day on Jan. 27.

The NHL Network will telecast both the skills competition and all-star challenge in the United States.

Honor roll

Coaches for the four divisional all-star teams were selected based on team standings (first place teams) as of Dec. 31.

They include Tucson Roadrunners head coach Jay Varady (Pacific Division), Milwaukee Admirals head coach Karl Taylor (Central Division), Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Kris Knoblauch (Atlantic Division) and Rochester Americans head coach Chris Taylor (North Division).

Rosters for the four all-star teams were initially announced Jan. 3 following the selection of coaches. However, due to call-ups and injuries, the league subsequently amended those rosters.

All five of the AHL’s California-based teams are represented on this year’s Pacific Division All-Star team, led by three players from the host Ontario Reign: defenseman Kyle Clague, right wing Martin Frk and goaltender Cal Petersen.

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Defenseman Chris Wideman and goaltender Anthony Stolarz represent the San Diego Gulls while left wing Tyler Benson (Bakersfield Condors), right wing Joachim Blichfeld (San Jose Barracuda) and center Glenn Gawdin (Stockton Heat) round out the California contingent.

The 12-team Pacific Division roster is completed by three players from the division-leading Roadrunners – left wing Brayden Burke, center Lane Pederson and defenseman Kyle Capobianco – and center T.J. Tynan from the Colorado Eagles.

The initial group of 48 players included 33 first-time participants and 12 former first- or second-round draft choices.

Bakersfield right Kailer Yamamoto, a former Los Angeles Jr. King, and Stockton right wing Matthew Phillips were originally named as Pacific Division all-stars. But Yamomoto received a call-up to the NHL parent Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 29 after compiling eight goals and 16 points in 23 games with the Condors, while Phillips, who had collected 30 points in 28 games with the Heat, is out 10-12 weeks after suffering a fractured kneecap in a Dec. 28 game with Bakersfield.

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A No. 1 pick (22nd overall) by Edmonton in the 2017 NHL Draft, Yamamoto has since collected three goals and six points in eight NHL games with the Oilers. The diminutive 5-foot-8 forward represents the growing diversity of playing talent in North America.

All the Kings men

Hometown Reign fans will have plenty to cheer for at Toyota Arena. Petersen is making his second AHL All-Star Classic appearance (the first in 2018) while Clague and Frk both lead the team statistically in their respective areas.

Clague, drafted by the Kings in the second round (51st overall) in 2016, has collected six goals and 15 points in 32 games to top Ontario blueliners.

The 21-year-old also has appeared in four games with the Kings this season.

Clague, who represented Canada at both the 2017 and 2018 World Junior Championships, racked up seven goals and 29 points in 52 games during his rookie pro season in 2018-19 with the Reign to tie for the team scoring lead among defensemen.

Frk, 26, leads the Reign in scoring this season with 19 goals and 29 points in 32 games while also suiting up four times for the Kings with three goals to his credit.

He spent six seasons in the Detroit Red Wings organization (2013-19) where appeared in 98 regular-season NHL games with 12 goals and 31 points. He played in 227 regular-season AHL games with the Wings’ AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, where he collected 132 points, including 50 points in 65 regular-season games for the Griffins during their 2016-17 Calder Cup championship season while tacking on 15 points in 16 playoff games.

Californians Mitch Callahan (Whittier) and Ford were members of that Calder Cup championship team alongside Frk, who represented his native Czech Republic at the World Junior Championships in 2011 and 2013.

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Petersen, 25, has been the primary backstop for the Reign the past three seasons, logging 115 regular-season games with 50 victories between the pipes.

He appeared in 11 games for the Kings during the 2018-19 season, posting a respectable 5-4-1 record with a 2.61 GAA and .924 save percentage that included his first NHL shutout – a 2-0 victory against St. Louis on Nov. 19, 2018.

The Iowa native posted a 2-1 record with a 2.49 GAA as a member of the 2018 Pacific Division All-Star team.

California strong

Benson (32 points in 38 games) and Gawdin (36 points in 38 games) both led their respective teams in scoring while Blichfled (25 points in 27 games) ranked second.

Stolarz (13 wins, 2.80 GAA and .917 save percentage) and Wideman (22 points in 33 games) have been key performers in the Gulls’ midseason climb up the division standings.

Golden Knight

Forward Lucas Elevnes, a fifth-round pick by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 draft, will represent the Chicago Wolves on the Central Division All-Star team.

The 20-year-old Swede is having a breakout North American pro rookie season by leading the Wolves in scoring with 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) in 43 regular-season games to rank fourth among all AHL rookies.

Ice chips

The AHL Hall of Fame’s 15th group of inductees includes Robbie Ftorek, Denis Hamel, Darren Haydar and Fred Thurier.

Ftorek became the first American-born professional ice hockey player to be named a league MVP after winning the Gordie Howe Trophy as a member of the World Hockey Association’s Phoenix Roadrunners in 1977.

Haydar, a two-time Calder Cup champion, is the AHL’s all-time leader in playoff goals (63), assists (80) and points (143).

The third annual Hockey Day SoCal will feature eight hours of continuous coverage of hockey-themed programming on the FOX Sports West, Prime Ticket and FOX Sports San Diego networks on Feb. 1.

Programming starts at 2 p.m. and will transition to live game coverage of the Gulls-Reign AHL game at 4 p.m., followed by the Freeway Faceoff pregame simulcast from the Staples Center between the Anaheim Ducks and Kings at 6:30 p.m.

Photos/Phillip Brents

— Phillip Brents

(Jan. 20, 2020)


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