AHL announces All-Star Classic coaches

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League announced today that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Toronto Marlies, Milwaukee Admirals and Ontario Reign have clinched the right to be represented by their coaches at the 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Classic, to be held Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in Syracuse, N.Y.

This year’s All-Stars will be divided into four teams, one representing each of the league’s four divisions, for the 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Challenge on the evening of Feb. 1. Instead of a traditional 60-minute game, the teams will play a round-robin tournament featuring six games of nine minutes each; the first half of each game will be played at 4-on-4, and the second half at 3-on-3. The two teams with the best records at the end of the round-robin tournament will face off for the championship, a six-minute game played at 3-on-3.

The 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 31 will keep its traditional format, with All-Stars from the Eastern Conference squaring off against All-Stars from the Western Conference in seven skills events.

The Penguins, Marlies, Admirals and Reign all owned the best record in their respective divisions as of the pre-determined deadline – the end of play on Dec. 31.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will be represented by associate head coach and Syracuse native Jay Leach, who will coach the Atlantic Division All-Star team. Leach began the season as the Penguins’ assistant coach before being named interim head coach upon Mike Sullivan’s promotion to Pittsburgh on Dec. 12; he was appointed associate head coach when Clark Donatelli was named head coach on Dec. 22. With the 36-year-old Leach on the staff, the Penguins have posted a record of 21-8-0-1 (.717) and rank third in the AHL in both offense and defense.

Toronto’s Sheldon Keefe will coach the North Division team as the Marlies currently sport the AHL’s best record at 25-7-2-0 (.765), including a remarkable 15-2-1-0 mark on the road. Keefe, the youngest head coach in the league at 35, is in his first season in the AHL after three years guiding Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Hockey League.

Dean Evason, 51, has Milwaukee in first place with a mark of 22-10-1-0 (.682) and will guide the Central Division All-Stars. The fourth-year head coach of the Admirals previously spent seven seasons as an assistant with the Washington Capitals, and played 803 games during his NHL career with Washington, Hartford, San Jose, Dallas and Calgary.

The reigning winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s coach of the year, Mike Stothers has led Ontario to a 17-6-2-1 mark (.712) after winning the Calder Cup championship with Manchester last season. The 53-year-old Stothers will lead the Pacific Division All-Star team in his second consecutive All-Star coaching appearance and fourth overall; he was an assistant coach at the 1998 and 1999 events.

Playing rosters will be announced in the coming week.

Tickets for the two-day 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Classic are on sale now. Ticket prices range from $40-60 and can be purchased either in person at the Syracuse Crunch office located in the War Memorial Arena at 800 South State Street in Syracuse, by calling (315) 473-4444 or through all Ticketmaster outlets.

The 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Classic in Syracuse will feature the top young talent in the American Hockey League: Of the 679 players to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic since 1995, more than 93 percent have competed in the National Hockey League, including Patrice Bergeron, Ben Bishop, Troy Brouwer, Ryan Callahan, Zdeno Chara, Logan Couture, Jiri Hudler, Tyler Johnson, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Miller, Gustav Nyquist, Zach Parise, Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne, Bobby Ryan, Cory Schneider, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, P.K. Subban and Mats Zuccarello.

In operation since 1936 and celebrating its 80th-anniversary season in 2015-16, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 88 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and for the 14th year in a row, more than 6 million fans attended AHL games across North America in 2014-15.