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All-Star Classic to showcase talent from AHL’s California teams

 

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The American Hockey League will hold its annual All-Star Classic Jan. 29-30 at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pa., home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

The AHL’s five California teams will collectively send eight players to the high profile event. Overall, 12 players have been named to the Pacific Division team.

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The division leading Ontario Reign lead the Pacific Division All-Star selections with three players: forward Jonny Brodzinski, defenseman (and captain) Vincent LoVerde and goaltender Jack Campbell.

Two players will represent the San Jose Barracuda: forward Daniel O’Regan and goaltender Troy Grosenick.

The San Diego Gulls (defenseman Brandon Montour), Stockton Heat (forward Mark Jankowski) and Bakersfield Condors (forward Taylor Beck) each have one player selected to the event.

Other Pacific Division selections include two players from the Tucson Roadrunners (forward Christian Fischer and defenseman Kyle Wood) and one player each from the Texas Stars (forward Matej Stransky) and San Antonio Rampage (forward A.J. Greer).

Ontario head coach Mike Stothers will serve as the Pacific Division All-Stars coach. He was very complimentary in regard to the Reign’s 2017 All-Star selections.

“It’s terrific,” he said. “It’s great for those individuals. It’s great for the organization, the Kings, the Reign. We’re well represented. We were fortunate to have a few guys last year and we have (several) selected this year. I think that’s great.

“Vinny, he just keeps getting better. Just when you think he’s maybe slowing down in his game, he keeps improving. We’re hoping these All-Star selections will lead to bigger and better things for him, maybe a chance in the NHL.

“Jonny is just improving by leaps and bounds. Last year he got out to a slow start but once he scored that first goal, then the pure sniper came out of him and he’s hasn’t stopped since. He’s more than just a goal-scorer. He’s become a real complete player for us. We’re excited for them. It’s terrific news. It’s nice to have some company in Lehigh Valley.”

LoVerde had collected six goals and 23 points in 37 games this season to rank in a tie for third in team scoring – tops among defensemen.

The Chicago native, who is playing in his sixth professional season, called the All-Star selection a “humbling experience.”

“I was fortunate to go last year,” he said. “It’s a great honor to represent your team and your teammates. It’s unbelievable. It’s a very cool honor.”

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Brodzinski ranked second in team scoring with 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 37 games. The 14 goals stood as a team high entering the midpoint of the season.

He acknowledged he was obviously “excited.”

“It’s obviously a great experience,” Brodzinski said. “Talking to Vinny and a couple guys who went last year, it was a great time, so I’m excited to get there.

Campbell, the AHL leader with 19 goaltender wins, was added to the All-Star roster on Jan. 23 following several late roster deletions/additions. He upped his record to 19-6-3 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and .910 save percentage following a 3-2 home ice win over Bakersfield on Jan. 25.

He was making his 22nd consecutive start this season.

“The guys love playing in front of him (Campbell), much the same as they did for Budes (Peter Budaj, now with the Kings),” Stothers explained. “He works hard and the schedule’s been such that he’s been able to carry a pretty heavy workload. He doesn’t seem to be slowing him down any.

“Now, the All-Star weekend might be a little more taxing on him. There’s a guy who could probably use the four-day break over the All-Star events. His play and the way the season’s gone for him, he merits and warrants being there. We’re thrilled for him. It’s awesome.”

The 2017 All-Star rosters feature 39 first-time participants, 12 AHL rookies and 12 former first- and second-round NHL draft picks. Of note, 28 of this year’s all-star selections have received call-ups to their parent NHL teams already this season.

Montour is also making his second appearance in the AHL All-Star Classic. He said he is looking forward to participating once again in the event.

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“Obviously, it’s a good thing to get recognized like that,” explained Montour, who made his first appearance last season as a rookie. “I had a good experience last year. I’ll be excited again this year.

“It’s just me going this year (from the Gulls), so that’s kind of a tough bounce there. The guys who are going are all good guys. It’s good to meet a couple new faces. It will be fun.”

Montour ranked second on the Gulls in team scoring with 11 goals and 28 points in 31 games.

The 22-year-old native of Oshweken, Ontario, received his first NHL call-up on Dec. 28. He appeared in five games with the Anaheim Ducks, the Gulls’ parent NHL club, without registering a goal or assist.

A second-round pick by the Ducks in the 2014 NHL Draft, Montour appeared in all 68 regular season games with San Diego in 2015-16 in his first full professional season, co-leading the club with 57 points.

He earned honors as the USHL’s Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year with Waterloo in 2013-14.

O’Regan and Grosenick have performed very well this season.

O’Regan, a fifth-round selection by the San Jose Sharks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, is the AHL’s current active top scoring rookie with 13 goals (four power play goals) and 36 assists in 32 games.

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The 22-year-old native of Needham, Mass., played four seasons with Boston University before signing with the Sharks. He’s appeared in one NHL game this season on a call-up.

The 27-year-old Grosenick, who boasts a league-leading six shutouts to his credit this season, ranks third in the league with a fine 2.16 GAA and fourth in the league with a .926 save percentage. He is 12-6-0 between the pipes and a big reason the Barracuda sit in second place in the division standings.

Grosenick earned honors as the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Dec. 11. During parts of three games, he did not allow a goal in 181:36 of action that included back-to-back 3-0 shutouts over visiting San Diego.

San Jose head coach Roy Sommer calls Grosenick, who has two NHL games with the Sharks in 2014 under his skates, “a guy to root for.”

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“When he is in the net he makes stuff happen,” the Barracuda coach said. “Down the stretch, there have been games we’ve won, and he was the reason, and him making the All-Star game was well deserved.

“He has become our No. 1 guy this year, and he deserves it. He’s who we are leaning on, and I’m just really happy for him.”

Jankowski, 22, a first-round draft pick in 2012, leads Stockton in team scoring with 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 34 games. He ranks seventh in the league among rookie scorers.

A member of Providence College’s NCAA Division I championship team in 2015, Jankowski admitted he received a lot of congratulatory remarks from teammates after being informed of his All-Star selection, calling it an “honor to be in that company.”

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He received a call-up to the NHL parent Calgary Flames on Nov. 25 and has appeared in one NHL game so far this season.

Beck, 25, is the runaway team leader at this point of the season for Bakersfield with 41 points (12 goals, 29 assists) in 27 games. He led the AHL with 30 points when receiving his first call-up this season to the NHL Edmonton Oilers and currently ranks fourth in league scoring.

He’s played in three games for the Oilers this season.

He described his role with the Condors as “chipping in offensively as much as I can and being a sound two-way player.”

“Our top line has been providing a lot of offense and hopefully we can continue to do that,” Beck explained.

Of note: since 1995, 93 percent of AHL All-Star selections have gone on to play in the NHL. Through Jan. 24, a total of 69 players in the league had made their NHL debuts this season.

Top shelf

The 2017 AHL All-Star Classic includes two separate events: an All-Star skills competition on Jan. 29, starting at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. PT), and an All-Star challenge on Jan. 30, also starting at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. PT).

The skills competition will pit players from the Eastern Conference (Atlantic and North divisions) against those from the Western Conference (Pacific and Central divisions) in seven skills events.

Events include puck control relay, fastest skater competition, rapid fire, hardest shot, accuracy shooting, pass and score drill and the breakaway relay.

In the All-Star challenge event, the four teams will participate in a round-robin tournament featuring six games of 10 minutes each played entirely at three-on-three. The two teams with the best records at the end of the round-robin competition will face off for the championship in a six-minute game also played at three-on-three.

The Central Division All-Stars won last year’s all-star challenge championship while the Western Conference defeated the Eastern Conference 19-14 in the skills competition.

The AHL All-Star Classic festivities also include the AHL Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony.

The ceremony will feature the induction of Billy Dea, Bryan Helmer, Rob Murray and Doug Yingst as the AHL Hall of Fame Class of 2017 and will also celebrate honorary All-Star Classic captains Daniel Briere and Terry Murray.

Dea, 83, appeared in 397 NHL games during his long pro career (1953-1972).

Helmer appeared in 28 games for the NHL Phoenix Coyotes during two stints in 1998-99 and 2003-04.

Rob Murray is now in his sixth season coaching the Alaska Aces in the ECHL. He guided the Aces, an original member of the West Coast Hockey League, to the 2013-14 Kelly Cup championship.

What’s trending

Ontario once again finds itself on top of the Pacific Division heading into the final weekend before the All-Star break. The Reign boasts a 22-9-6-0 record (.676 points percentage) to lead second place San Jose (20-11-1-3, .629 points-percentage) and third place Tucson (20-11-5-0, .625 points-percentage).

San Diego has made a significant climb up the division standings – from sixth place to four place – after cobbling together a impressive run that included a five-game winning streak and points gathered in 11 of its last 12 games (8-1-1-2).

The Gulls entered the final weekend prior to the All-Star break with a 19-12-2-2 record and .600 points-percentage after winning eight of their previous 10 games (8-1-0-1).

San Diego engineered a franchise-record eight-game winning streak earlier in the season that propelled the club as high as second place in the division standings.

The Gulls scored a franchise-record eight goals in 8-1 win over Tucson on Jan. 25 in their first visit to Arizona to extend their current unbeaten streak to seven games (6-0-0-1).

The division standings continue to remain fluid, however, with the top three teams separated by .051 percentage points. The three teams occupying second through fourth place in the divisions standings were separated by .029 percentage points, with the second and third place teams separated by just .004 percentage points.

Going down the standings, 0.062 percentage points separated teams in fourth through sixth place. The teams sitting in seventh and eight place were separated by just .002 percentage points in a remarkable display of parity all the way down the line.

“The parity in the division is intense,” San Diego head coach Dallas Eakins said. “It’s a division where you can win five or six in a row by one goal or lose five or six by a goal. I think that makes for some exciting hockey for all the fans in the division.”

Streaks have defined the season – and the division standings, for that matter – throughout the 2016-17 season.

For example, Stockton catapulted into first place in early December on the strength of a 16-6-1-1 start to the 2016-17 season. The Heat has since cooled off (3-6-1-0 in its last 10 games) to slide down the division standings into fifth place.

Meanwhile, San Jose rode its own hot streak that landed it in second place, just percentage points behind Ontario, in early January. The Barracuda had to chance to move ahead of the Reign into sole possession of first place but dropped a 3-2 home ice decision to Ontario on Jan. 13.

Tucson rode a franchise-record five-game winning streak briefly into first place, leaping over both the Reign and the Barracuda into the top spot following its solid 4-1 victory against visiting Ontario on Jan. 18. However, Tucson dropped to third place after earning just one point (0-1-1) in a two-game East Coast swing to Charlotte, N.C., against the Checkers Jan. 20-21.

The first-year Roadrunners have enjoyed multiple stays atop the division standings this season.

The Gulls, Heat and the Stars appear to be currently battling for fourth place – the division’s final berth for the Calder Cup playoffs – but any of those teams could easily move up or move down in the standings.

San Antonio (19-20-4-0, .488 points-percentage) and Bakersfield (15-16-4-1, .486 points-percentage) still remain within striking distance of a playoff berth but will have to get hot at the right time in order to make up ground in the division standings.

San Antonio embarks on a marathon nine-game road swing Feb. 4-26 that will eat up most of the calendar month.

Turning up the Heat

Jankowski and Hunter Shinkaruk set franchise records for most goals and assists in a single game in a weekend series against the visiting Condors Jan. 20-21. The team also set a club record for quickest goals during the weekend set.

Jankowski became the first player in Heat history to record a hat trick in the team’s 6-3 win over the Condors on Jan. 20 while Shinkaruk became the first Heat player to record four assists in a single game that same night. Both Shinkaruk (four assists) and Jankowski (three goals, one assist) tied the team record for most points in a single game with four.

Shinkaruk’s four assists also tied the mark for the most assists in a single game by a player in the AHL this season.

In a 6-3 loss to Bakersfield on Jan. 21, the Heat set a new team record with two goals scored in 19 seconds with goals from Matt Frattin and Ryan Lomberg. The previous record was two goals in 21 seconds set on Feb. 14, 2016, by Kenny Agostino and Turner Elson.

The Heat also set a new team record for the fastest time with three goals in just 3:36 in the Jan. 21 game with goals from Frattin, Lomberg and Mike Angelidis.

Two Stockton players are approaching personal milestones: center Linden Vey is a point away from 200 in his AHL career while Shinkaruk is an assist away from 50 in his AHL career and also a point away from 100 in his AHL career.

The Heat was set to close out the first half of the season with games in Milwaukee (Jan. 27) and Grand Rapids (Jan. 28).

Stockton’s Teddy Bear Toss took place on Jan. 21, with a record 9,502 stuffed bears collected for charity through the United Way of San Joaquin County for distribution to local schools and charities. The bears came crashing down on the ice following Frattin’s goal late in the first period.

The game, which drew 8,502 fans, marked the 12th such toss in Stockton hockey history. Last year’s toss collected 8,231 bears to break the existing record of 5,835 bears collected during an ECHL game in 2011.

“The Teddy Bear Toss is always an amazing event that the people of Stockton and the Central Valley love and support,” team president Dave Piecuch said. “It’s amazing to see two new records established in back-to-back years now to help the children in our community. We hope to make it a ‘hat trick’ of records next year and collect over 10,000 bears during the 13th annual Teddy Bear Toss.”

Stockton defenseman Oliver Kylington returned from his loan to Team Sweden on Jan. 6 after competing in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. Kylington, 19, had four assists during the event — tied sixth best among all defenseman during the tournament.

By the numbers

Ontario forward T.J. Hensick recorded his 500th career AHL point in a Jan. 21 game against San Jose with a first period assist. He picked up two assists in an eventual 7-2 win over the Barracuda to become the 90th player in AHL history to reach 500 regular season points.

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The 10-year veteran credited linemates and teammates over the years to enable him to reach the personal milestone.

“It’s been a great ride,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed my time in the American Hockey League and hopefully there’s more to come.”

Hensick, 31, led the Reign in team scoring with 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 37 games. He has appeared in four AHL All-Star Classic events (2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012).

With the relocation of the NFL San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles, the Gulls have scheduled Feb. 18 to host a “Join the Nest” pregame tailgate party for Chargers season ticket-holders.

Participants will receive a free ticket to the game, a t-shirt, food and drink specials and entertainment at the event. The team is offering a limited number of tickets to the game and requests Chargers season ticket-holders to RSVP for the event (http://www.sandiegogulls.com/fan-zone/join-the-nest/).

The addition of NFL football fans could be a boon to the Gulls’ already prolific attendance numbers. The San Diego team hosted Star Wars Night on Jan. 20 — a week after the Chargers announced their move – in front of a sellout audience of 12,920. It was the second sellout in franchise history; the first came during the team’s inaugural Opening Night to face off the 2015-16 season.

San Diego leads the eight Pacific Division teams in attendance with an average of 8,235 fans, followed by Ontario (7,923), San Antonio (5,627), Bakersfield (5,144), Texas (4,958), San Jose (4,282), Stockton (4,271) and Tucson (3,769).

Outdoor Classic

Bakersfield defeated Ontario, 3-2, in overtime to win the Three-Way Chevrolet Condorstown Outdoor Classic to highlight the 18-day Winterfest festivities. The game, played Jan. 7 at Bakersfield College’s Memorial Stadium, made history with the largest crowd (12,330) to ever see a Condors’ home game.

The game started amid light rain that turned into a steady downpour during the second period. The rain stopped for the remainder of the game, though standing water could be seen on the ice.

“It was coming down pretty good but once you get started you want to finish it,” commented Stothers. “You don’t want to leave a job unfinished. Actually the players were great about it. They wanted to keep playing. There was a lot of water on the ice but our guys wanted to play and I talked to (Condors coach) Gerry (Fleming) and his guys wanted to play. So, why not?”

Ontario took a 2-0 lead in the game on goals by Brett Sutter and Justin Auger. But host Bakersfield responded with three unanswered goals to win the game. Mark Fayne and Josh Currie scored third-period goals to tie the game and Griffin Reinhart notched the game winner 46 seconds into overtime.

“We stuck with it, we kept it simple,” an obviously excited Reinhart said. “The ice wasn’t in the best condition that second period.”

Memorial Stadium can accommodate 19,000 fans.

Trading places

The Ducks have made a number of recent transactions that have directly impacted their AHL affiliate.

On Jan. 25, the NHL New Jersey Devils claimed right wing Stefan Noesen off waivers from the Ducks. In 12 games with Anaheim this season, Noesen, 23, had scored two goals for his only points with the team. In 22 games in San Diego this season, Noesen had collected six goals and nine assists to rank as one of the club’s top scorers.

On Jan. 19, the NHL Nashville Predators acquired defenseman Andrew O’Brien in a trade with the Ducks. O’Brien set a career AHL high with six goals in 2015-16 with the Gulls and had two assists in 10 games in San Diego this season.

On Jan. 11, the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs traded goaltender Jhonas Enroth to Anaheim. Enroth, with 153 career NHL games to his credit, has been a boon for the Gulls between the pipes with a 1.00 GAA and prodigious .963 save percentage in a 3-0 start with San Diego.

The Barracuda added veteran forwards Buddy Robinson and Zach Stortini from the AHL Binghamton Senators in a Jan. 25 trade between San Jose and Ottawa at the NHL level.

Budaj remains with the Kings after receiving a call-up at the start of the current AHL campaign. In 42 games with the Kings this season, he has compiled a 2.06 GAA and .919 save percentage to support a 22-14-3 record.

San Jose forward Ryan Carpenter, the AHL’s Man of the Year with the Barracuda last season, has been making frequent trips back and forth between the AHL and NHL this season, though he hasn’t had to pick up a lot of frequent flyer miles as the Barracuda and Sharks play in the same building.

Carpenter has appeared in seven games for the Sharks this season with two goals and two assists. He’s played in 22 games for the Barracuda with eight goals and 20 points.

Photos/Phillip Brents

— Phillip Brents